Report from Velo-city 2017 by BQ Committee Member Katie Panaretto
May and June saw me head off to Europe for a holiday which included a week cycling in Crete and a week in the Netherlands to attend Velo-city 2017.
Over the last five years my husband and I have been taking regular cycling holidays and this year we headed to Greece’s biggest island. I myself went with some apprehension about how much climbing I might need to do! We signed on for an organized tour so we just needed to leave our city lives behind, land in Crete to be picked up from the airport and begin a fantastic week riding across Crete.
The routes each day were well planned on quiet, narrow roads, through small, old villages which were of course up some spectacular mountain valleys. Those climbs were hard work but the reward was scintillating downhills through gorges or to the coast. We had a couple of cooking lessons, visited olive farms, vineyards, caves, vegetable farms, ancient cities and ruins. It was a joy riding on very quiet well-paved back roads, drinking freddo cappuccinos and raki, eating great food with friendly Cretans.
After Crete it was onto Amsterdam to experience a city where cycling is a norm, complemented by great Dutch infrastructure. The Amsterdammers were a little scary at first – no helmets, mobile phone or umbrella in one hand, whizzing around, almost oblivious to cars who really know their place (2nd to the bicycle). The cycleways, the separation on neighbourhood roads, the escalator fed underground parking, the trains, the ferries designed with ramp-based instant loading of rows of pedestrians and bikes was pretty stunning. I often pondered why cycling is embedded in Dutch life compared to Queensland. Was it the combination of flat terrain, cooler temperatures and dense city living? Or just those 30km speed limits, the separation from cars and kilometres of cycleways? No doubt it’s both.
Finally, we explored Arnhem and Nijmegen, two old river cities which hosted Velo-city, the European Federation Cycling Conference, where the theme this year was the ‘Freedom of Cycling’. This was a very inspiring conference for someone used to going to somewhat sobering medical conferences. There was much discussion about happiness and the role of the bicycle in promoting good individual and community mental health, and its role as a transit and congestion solution. Hearing about the progress in Copenhagen from their mayor was impressive – some 280 million Euros spent in recent years building their network. There were also presentations from some amazing women reporting on their work from the USA to Afghanistan, Manilla, Delhi and Sao Paulo.
I found the Bicycle Mayor workshop very interesting. We have Australia’s first in Sydney, which is one of 5 worldwide under the guidance of the Netherlands-based program Cyclespace. The passion and work of these people from Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Amsterdam and Vadodara is tireless. The session on the use of benchmarking tools to rank cities in terms of their cycling friendliness to drive competition between Dutch and German cities to enhance their infrastructure, was insightful, especially hearing what had worked, the different methods and communication strategies used, and the positive results.
A highlight of the conference were the excursions. I took three rides to look at infrastructure projects, which were just so impressive – roundabouts where the cyclists on the cycleways had right of way over cars, super highways where you could ride 30 km between two cities of 150,000+ and stop at only one traffic light while crossing magnificent bike bridges or through short tunnels under all the roads, or those great bike parking stations. The social nights and mass rides were fun too. There were 26 Australians at Velo-city 2017, including some from Queensland government. John Giles and Kevin Kwok gave a good talk on initiatives in Queensland. If you ever get the chance go to a cycling conference or congress, take it. They are inspiring events where you will meet people from many professions and all over the world.