Copenhagen, New York and Jan Gehl, were some of the most mentioned words at the opening of the Velo City Global 2010 conference at Øksnehallen in central Copenhagen today.
Copenhagen, of course, because the city hosts the conference and excels in cycling on a level hardly any city can boast of. And both Lord Mayor, Frank Jensen, and Technical Mayor, Bo Asmus Kjeldgaard, proudly shared insights in the successes and welcomed the many conference participants to the city of cycling. But both mayors were also looking ahead. Frank Jensen restated the ambition of Copenhagen to have a 50 % cycling modal share for everyday commuters in 2015 and also told how increasing the modal share for cycling lays the ground for innovations in green-tech at large and how the city benefits from this.
Technical Mayor, Bo Asmus Kjeldgaard, referred to Jan Gehl paraphrasing the Danish urban planning legend, when he said that ‘Prioritizing cycling is prioritizing people’. He also stated how important learning from each other is and how we need to look across borders to learn and to raise the bar for our ambitions even higher. But even if Copenhagen is a success story he also humbly acknowledged, that the real heroes of the Copenhagen cycling story are the thousands of ordinary people, the citizens of Copenhagen, who chose to use the cycle every day and thus are the true source of the fantastic modal share numbers, the city can boast of.
New York City Transportation Commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, gave an insight into one of recent years most impressive turnarounds when it comes to cycling: The New York story. Cycling here is part of a comprehensive plan to prepare the city for the challenges facing it, the PlaNYC, launched by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. But cycling and improving conditions for cyclists is an integral part and the success is already evident in the city, that now has more than 320 km of protected cycle lanes, and adding every year more than 80 km. Also Janette Sadik-Khan referred to Jan Gehl, both for the inspiration and contribution to the change that New York City is undergoing, but also when she quoted him and said ‘That there is more to cycling than cycling’, a quote that underlines the importance of all the issues that need to be tackled to really create a cycling culture – from proper cycle racks to supporting the cycling culture through public activities such as Summer Streets in New York City.
Finally professor Pan Haixiao from Tongji University in Shanghai told how cycling is faced with severe challenges in China – a country that can still boast of having the most cyclists in the world and the longest cycling network of any – but of course also has the most citizens of any country! But cycling is being put under pressure in China. Increase in car ownership and a struggle in the streets of the big cities for space to cater for transportation needs of an increasing urban population, means that cycling lanes – formerly an integral part of Chinese planning – is now being cut away in many cities to make space for cars.
Before the ‘professional’ speakers began, former CEO and now cycling advocate, Anders Hedin, gave an insight into how the real challenge we (continue) to face, when we speak of increasing the modal share of cycling in any society, is the car! “Cars is what we are up against,” he said and described how he himself had lived a full life being a ‘car-afficionado’ that only in recent years had re-discovered cycling, even if this was the mode of transportation he grew up with. “We must create stronger and more positive connections between cycling and identity,” he said, in order to face the challenge of cars, that in many if not most countries continue to play a role as both an aspiration connected to growth and wealth, and the identity that owning a private car continues to lend to most people.
Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists, was the Master of Ceremonies for the day and is so for the conference as such, and he told how this years conference has participants from almost 60 countries. In the audience he also acknowledged a couple of participants, who had been part of the Velo City journey all the way from the beginnings in Bremen in 1980!