On June 21, 2010, the first day of the Velo City conference, city representatives and bicycling advocates from multiple countries – including Canada, Mexico, Australia, China, Turkey and the United States – met at the office of Gehl Architects to investigate how cycling is a means to contribute to create a City for People (please find the presentations from the workshop at the bottom of this post). The multi-disciplinary background of the attendees came together across nationalities to share experiences and best practice in terms of promoting cycling, as well as ways to most effectively shift advocacy in order to successfully gain ridership and city support, were discussed amongst the group.
The discussion was kicked-off by Senior staff at Gehl Architects – David Sim, Lin Skaufel, Jeff Risom and Gil Penalosa – that stressed the importance of consideration of the human scale and experience of mobility in urban planning, as well as strategies for promoting bicycle infrastructure.
A key topic of discussion was the sense of urgency with which the movement for cycling should be approached. After hearing a presentation by Gil Penalosa encouraging the stakeholders present to take action quickly, many agreed that the time has come to “step up” the movement. City officials, private interests, and the general public must be pushed through action– encouraging words and good ideas are not enough to promote effective change. A key aspect of this “push” is the way in which bicycling is perceived by the public. The idea that cycling is a counterculture movement, an activity pursued only by isolated groups such as teenagers, alternative minds, and environmentalists – must be changed, especially in nations such as the U.S. and Canada. In order to do so, marketing of bicycle culture should promote its universality, sex appeal, practical advantages, and social aspects. From an early age, members of the public should feel individually empowered to ride – this can perhaps be achieved by rebranding cycling as a positive experience associated with personal mobility rather than larger environmental or political concerns. Attendees agreed that a balance must be struck between supply and demand driven change – infrastructure such as bicycle lanes must be better incorporated into cities, while at the same time, public attitudes towards cycling must become more positive, perhaps reconciling the notion of the automobile as a status symbol.
The last words of the workshop were given by Jan Gehl. Bringing the discussion back to the perspective of the experience of the individual within the city, he stressed the importance of humanistic urban planning. Gehl stressed that a key component of high- quality urban environments is the ease, independence, and comfort with which people can move through the city. As the room broke out into applause, it was clear that a general agreement had been reached: Creating Cities for People is strongly supported by the mobility, personal freedom, and societal benefits that bicycling affords.
Here are the presentations from the workshop: