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There is a revolution going on in the way we build our cities

Caroline Cerfontaine

Caroline Cerfontaine, Director of Velo-City

In Flanders, the motto is legacy

The conference that you are organizing here must have a lasting positive impact on your sector and the community. We spoke about cycling legacy with Caroline Cerfontaine, Director of Velo-City. This conference is widely considered to be the premier worldwide annual cycling summit, serving as a global knowledge exchange platform.

The conference brings together all those involved in the policies, promotion, and provisions for cycling, active mobility, and sustainable urban development.

Since its inception in 1980, the Velo-City series has played a valuable role in promoting cycling as a sustainable and healthy means of transport for all.

When you organize a congress, the goal is to create legacy. What kind of legacy do you want to build with Velo-City?

“One of the big reasons for organizing these conferences is to promote cycling around the world. We want to have an impact in the city that is hosting us. Usually, local politicians use the Velo-City conferences for exactly that purpose. The next edition is in September 2021, in Lisbon, and the deputy mayor has already said that the city is busy implementing its cycling strategy, because this international community of experts comes to Lisbon. That’s one of the reasons why they accelerate developments in cycling infrastructure, in bicycle parking. In his opinion, the city better delivers because its cycling policy will be evaluated by the biggest experts during the conference. Boosting cycling developments is one of the goals when we choose our host cities. We have certain key questions, including: what are your ambitions for a sustainable mobility and cycling strategy? What is the political commitment? How do you plan to implement these objectives?”

What is the most impressive result you have achieved in a city to date?

“That’s a tricky question, because it depends on the level that cities start at. We are not just looking for cities where the cycling infrastructure is already well advanced.

If that were the case, then we could only organize Velo-City in places such as Flanders, the Netherlands, or Denmark. We are also keen to find starter cities, like Lisbon.

Two decades ago, they had three kilometres of bike lanes, now there are up to 200 km. So, we see a lot of progress. In fact, we see an impact with every new conference. The last conference was in Dublin, in 2019, and it gave cycling there a huge boost. Velo-City was the very first time that all of Ireland’s cycling communities came together and this created a nationwide network. Many things have been discussed at Velo-City and were implemented six months later.

But we must also keep in mind that there are various levels of legacy. Even in a highly developed country people can always learn and find innovative approaches. Or they may need to refresh their approach and think out of the box.

So, innovation remains important, and that can also come from a country which is less developed in terms of cycling. It may be that they can apply a totally new approach, and thus inspire more developed countries. The cycle node network is a good illustration of this. It was developed in Flanders, but adopted wholesale by the Netherlands.”

Is it realistic to think that one day all member cities will have lots of cycle lanes and every resident will be cycling?
“Look at the goal of being climate neutral in 2050, or at the European Green Deal. Emissions are still growing in the transport sector, but I think that cities are really rethinking things. Cycling is certainly part of the solution. It’s not just about creating cycling cities. It’s basically about giving people a choice. Many people have discovered or rediscovered the joy of cycling during the pandemic. During the lockdown, car use was reduced drastically, and this made room for cyclists, who felt safer.

Now it’s up to cities to give space to different forms of mobility. In the past, our cities were built around cars. Now, it’s about building cities around people and their needs. We have to create places where people can meet and interact. Cities must be liveable and attractive places. Otherwise, our economies will plunge. We won’t be able to attract talent to cities, because people will want to live elsewhere. To achieve this economic recovery in the greenest way possible, cycling must be part of the equation. Of course it is our wish to encourage as many people as possible to cycle and make it accessible to anyone, but that doesn’t mean that everybody has to cycle. It’s about giving space back to the people, to reallocate the space differently so people have an alternative to the car.


Dublin became much more bike-friendly after hosting the Velo-City conference

That is not easy. It will lead to conflicts after the pandemic, because car users do not see why they should give up space to other forms of transport. At the same time, cyclists want to keep on cycling and they feel insecure when the cars return. There’s limited space in the cities, it’s the most precious commodity we have. Right now, it’s not distributed in a fair way. We must make room for pedestrians, for cyclists, for public transport and for shared cars, but why should all this space only be used for cars if they are parked 95 per cent of the time?

Cities must be open to new solutions such as e-bikes and other types of e-mobility that lead to more sustainable transport behaviour. They will help cities regain space and reduce air pollution. In fact, the redistribution of available space in the city is happening now. It’s not the aim of city councils and industry to create chaos in cities. They want to provide solutions that are popular with the citizens. We all need to cooperate to find the best solutions. I believe cities are doing a great job in finding new ways and creating zones where new types of mobility solutions can emerge. There is a kind of revolution going on in the way we build our cities. Of course, it takes time.”

Kortrijk © Piet De Kersgieter

Kortrijk © Piet De Kersgieter

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