Velo-city 2017: Day 1 Highlights
With a pull on a lever and a bike ride, no less than his Royal Majesty the King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, got to open officially the 24th world cycling congress Velo-city, this time held in Arnhem-Nijmegen.
With pulling the lever, the King opened symbolically a wall, which stood for opening the hearts and minds for cycling and thus: happiness. Because in all the discussions about safety and infrastructure for instance, we tend to forget that cycling is a perfect medicine for happiness as well.
That is what also journalist and philosopher Leo Bormans told the audience. His book The World of Happiness caught worldwide attention, including that of former UN secretary general Kofi Anan. The happiest countries in the world are not the one with sandy beaches and palm trees, he told, but the nordic countries and the Netherland, where confidence in institutions and each other is high. Furthermore, Dutch children are among the happiest in the world. A big reason is cycling, Bormans told. Cycling is a way to communicate with each other and is a symbol of freedom.
The Dutch minister of Infrastructure and Enviroment, who is responsible of putting the bicycle on the national agenda for the past years, told the 1,500+ audience how The Netherlands adopted the bicycle as an answer on the rising road toll in the seventies. Nowadays, the bike is used by immigrants as a symbol of integration, but also by the prime minister and even the daughter of the King to go to school. The road toll has plumbed with 80 percent.
But professors Kevin Krizek and Ruth Oldenziel came with a reality check: there is no magic potion for becoming a successful cycling city, let alone cycling nation. It takes years of effort and (public) debate and even then: some countries are facing with geographical circumstances which are sometimes hard or even impossible to encounter.
In different parallel sessions, experts from different countries, such as The Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark and Colombia gave their views on how cycling could be taken to the next level. That includes not only good infrastructure (such as the RijnWaalpad cycling route between Arnhem and Nijmegen), but also good advocacy and - in case of (Western) Europe - an integrated approach from the European Commission in Brussels.
The programme was concluded by Maria Hopman, Clarisse Linke and Martha Roskowski who took the audience back to where the day began: people, happiness and health. Hopman, working as a researcher at the Radboud University Medical Hospital, gave a glimpse at the health risks related with inactivity, while Linke told that we shouldn’t underestimate the sociological benefits of cycling. In developing and emerging countries, such as South Africa and Brasil, governments are focussing on protecting private property and less on public space. Especially, cycling ridership among women is very low. But als in rich countries, such as the US, the lack of good public space and infrastructure plays a key role in segregation and inequality. Whole cities are ethnically divided by highways. With the new administration in place, it is more than ever a task of people themselves to become active and make a difference.