After a cancellation in 2020 and a hybrid version in 2021, the big Velo-City conference was back in its usual formula last June in Ljubljana, capital of Slovenia. With the great acceleration of cycling during the pandemic, progress was visible through the various presentations given by speakers from all over the world. Beyond the usual leaders like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, several cities offered inspiring presentations on the place of cycling as a mobility tool and a vector of social change.
An exceptional host city
It must be said: the city of Ljubljana in Slovenia is a jewel. With a population of 280,000, the country’s capital made a bold choice in 2007 to pedestrianize its downtown area. At the time, only 40% of residents were in favour of this project. Through various evolutions and adaptations, more than 17 hectares are now accessible to pedestrians and cyclists. Today, more than 97% of the population supports these major changes that have made the city much more pleasant on a human scale. Of course, now that everything is in place, no one could imagine going backwards.
This success is mainly due to the political will and the sharing of knowledge with other cities around the world, which has made it possible to design a city center adapted to the needs and lifestyles of its residents. As for the cohabitation of pedestrians and cyclists, it is quite successful. By adopting a similar approcach to that of Mount Royal Avenue in Montréal, the sharing of space aims to encourage good behaviour and make its users more responsible rather than limiting access by segmenting spaces according to the mode of transportation.
France, soon the world’s number one destination for bicycle tourism?
Among the most striking elements of the conference, the acceleration of bicycle infrastructure in France was certainly impressive. On the one hand, the French Federation of Bicycle Users has deployed several programs in recent years. Whether it is for bicycle education in schools, professional training in active mobility, bicycle parking or even subsidies for the purchase or maintenance of bicycles, investments for cycling in France are booming. In total, a budget of more than 300 million euros has been set up since 2020 to support cycling.
On the community side, the work of Vélo et territoires is noteworthy. The development of data through its various observatories provides a clear understanding of the acceleration of cycling in the territory. So much so that France has set a goal of becoming the world’s leading destination for bicycle tourism. On this subject, the director of the association is clear: “we must measure our tourist success differently and stop only measuring success by the tourists who arrive by plane. We must demonstrate the importance of domestic tourism”. These are a few ideas for the Québec government’s action plan for sustainable and responsible tourism.
Resistance to change, a global issue
Throughout the various presentations and speeches by elected officials, the theme of opposition came up repeatedly. The removal of space for cars stirs passions. From city to city, the stories are similar: no matter how big the plan, the attacks and threats are fierce. Fortunately, we see that elected officials who stay the course always succeed in advancing the common good in their cities.
In this context where resistance is equal no matter the plan, ambition is the best avenue. Sigrid Z. Heiberg, a member of the Oslo City Council, had a colorful quote: “There will be opposition, but cities have to evolve, even if old men don’t usually change their opinions!” The elected official responsible for mobility in Ghent, Belgium, was also adamant that cycling must be included in all projects in order to make progress.
Leaving Ljubljana, the bottom line was clear: cycling is on the rise everywhere. It’s not just a movement, a cause, isolated examples; cycling is emerging as one of the most obvious solutions to a host of critical societal issues ranging from climate change to urban sprawl to the physical and psychological health of the population. That’s why cycling is progressing everywhere, and why places that choose not to join in this progress can only go backwards.
Vélo Québec President and CEO