From Nantes: Three Little Words to Shape the Future of Cycling

Philippe Crist - with bike but no nameWe are pleased to be able to share with you the speaking notes prepared by a friend of many years and emerging pillar on the international transport policy scene, Philippe Crist of the International Transportation Forum for his opening keynote address to this year’s Velo-City conference in Nantes.

Philippe, who for years has spent more than an hour each day peddling through Paris traffic to work at the OECD,  takes a few steps back from the immediate concerns of the many workshops and events, and invites us to contemplate the big picture and hopefully in the process remember three words that he has chosen for the core of his presentation, three words that he proposes can help us understand, shape and support the future of cycling in our cites, smaller towns and rural communities around the world. The words are: Serendipity (stumbling on something important by keen eye and happy chance); the concept of Resilience; and the initially puzzling neologism “Supernormal”. To put this presentation to work, we invite you to review it in parallel enjoying the illustrated 12 minute video of his address which you will find at the Opening Plenary Part 3 at (start viewing at 36:30).

Thank you, I am so immensely happy to see all of you come to not only my home country, but my home region as well !

Please allow me to start off with a few words in French briefly as I thank our hosts and tell you about our programme.

Je vais vous parler des thématiques majeurs du programme de cette conférence –

Un programme qui a été élaboré à plusieurs mains par des équipes motivées à vous présenter un terreau  apte au partage et à l’apprentissage du savoir immense que nous réunissons tous dans cette salle et pendant ces trois jours.

Ces équipes menées par Hadrien Bedok, de Nantes Metropole, par Annie-Claude Thiolat de la Cité, par Céline Meunier de l’agence Indiggo, par tous ceux qui m’ont épaulé au comité de programme et bien sûr par Bernard Ehnsink et Marcio Deslandes de la Féderation Europeene des Cyclistes.

Avant de devenir votre conférence aujourd’hui, Velo-city 2015 a éte notre conference pendant de long mois d’elaboration.

Et c’est avec un très grand plaisir et une que nous vous la présentons finalement !

Merci de les applaudir tous !

Pour nos amis venu du monde entier, je vous demande de me permettre de passer à l’anglais maintenant – mettez-vous au canal xx pour  une traduction en français.

What then will we speak about over the course of the next few days at this conference ?

You have detailed programme in your hands and you can see that much will be covered and many topics will be discussed.

I would like to take a step back now and talk about the big picture.

This year’s Velo-city conference is held under the banner of cycling as a future-maker.

Cycling as a future-maker….

This may seem counterintuitive to those who see the bicycle as an invention of the 19th century.

Today’s world is complex, and the challenges we face are numerous.

They include poverty reduction, ensuring economic prosperity, managing growth in our cities, securing a safe and healthy environment for our citizens…and doing all this while contributing to sustainable development.

What could the bicycle possibly contribute to these imperatives?

If you are asking yourself this question at this stage, then let me tell you, you are going to learn a lot at this conference!

Because cycling is an essential part of the strategies to answer each and every one of those challenges!

Cycling is a future maker.

But for whom and where?

In the context of this  discussion, we should bear in mind that most bicycle trips in the world  – by far – take place outside of the EU.

Indeed we should remember that there are many cities around the world that boast as high or higher bicycle mode shares than many cities in Europe.

For example, 27 out of the largest 30 cities in India have bicycle mode shares orders of magnitude greater than London and Paris.

And 4 of these cities have cycling mode shares greater than Copenhagen and Amsterdam for all trips.

But in these cities, like here in Amritsar – a city as large as Amsterdam and Copenhagen combined, travel by bicycle is undertaken in chaotic, unsafe and generally unpleasant conditions.

It is a mode of transport for the most poor and the most disenfranchised.

And in Kolkata, it is a mode of transport that has been excluded from many of the major thoroughfares in the city rendering it criminal as well, despite the fact that it represents 11% of all trips – more than the mode share for cars in that city.

And yet it is in cities outside of Europe, North America and the developed economies in Asia that almost all of the population and mobility growth will take place in the world.

Velo-City the forum where we can learn from the best practice that our colleagues and friends facing such formidable constraints have developed and with whom we can share our own experience.

This year’s velo-city is not in a global capital, nor is it in a particularly large city. The urban agglomeration of Nantes has approximately 600,000 inhabitants and the city of Nantes itself nearly 300,000.

Looking globally, 50% of the global urban population lives in urban agglomerations the size of that of Nantes Métropole or smaller.

Helping active transport to address the mobility challenges in these mid-sized towns and cities is a critical for urban areas under extreme pressure in emerging economies like here in Indonesia.

But it is also a crucial challenge, in Europe, North America, and upper income Asian and Pacific countries.

This Velo-city’s programme will challenge you to look beyond the megacities, capital regions and the large cities of this world.

And in so doing, we would like to suggest three adjectives to help guide us over the next three days :

  • Serendipitous
  • Resilient
  • Supernormal



Serendipity is the phenomenon of looking for one thing and finding something altogether different.

Cycling is fundamentally serendipitous.

From the point of view of policy, local officials seek to promote cycling to help the environment, only to find that it helps the city function better and more efficiently.

Individuals start cycling to beat traffic and to reliably move about their cities, only to discover it makes them healthier and less stressed.

We sometimes start out on a ride with our focus on the complexities in our daily lives, but as we go along, that focus fades, and we simply enjoy the pleasant and simple act of feeling the wind in our hair.

Cycling leads us to benefits we did not expect, discoveries we did not anticipate and opens a window to better know ourselves.

Cycling is serenditpitous.



Cycling makes our cities resilient, it makes us resilient  and it makes our society resilient…. sometimes under the  most extreme of situations.

When accommodated, cycling allows us to move quickly and conveniently through our cities and this in turn makes our cities more competitive, prosperous and attractive.

When accommodated, cycling builds resilience into our daily schedules – cycling is for those who have important things to do and who cannot afford to be late.

And crucially, especially for this year which will culminate with the 21st meeting of the Conference of Parties to the Climate Change Convention,

cycling makes our planet more resilient by supporting low carbon mobility.

Let me be clear though, – cycling is not the answer to reducing our GHG emissions in line with our climate goals… we should remain modest and not overplay a good hand here.

It is not the answer — but the answer to this defining challenge for the 21st century lies squarely in part with cycling.

And that is because cycling is a gateway to a low-carbon lifestyle.

The climate change challenge is often couched as a choice among a set of sacrifices, each more constraining than the other, that would be necessary to have a chance to avoid disruptive climate change.

But when well-planned, cycling is not a constraint. Cycling is an enabler of attractive and fulfilling lifestyle that also happens to be one that can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Let us be sure to take that message to Paris this year.



Fish don’t talk about water, birds don’t talk about air, and when we succeed in the cities of the 21st century, we can only hope that citizens would no longer talk about bicycles.

The bicycle needs to be supernormal. That is, so ubiquitous, banal and fully integrated into our lifestyle that we no longer consciously notice it.

To be supernormal, we must succeed at inviting a greater share of our citizens to start and continue to cycle …

And to do this we will have to continue to moderate the speed of cars and trucks in those parts of the city where we want to see the number of cyclists grow, we will have to provide state of the art separated facilities in order to entice people to start riding

and we will have to engage in a difficult but necessary conversation about how to reallocate space in our cities away from cars

and towards people, including to those who ride bicycles.

Cycling is serendipitous, it contributes to resilience and, if we succeed , it will become supernormal.

And so over the next few days, take advantage of the programme and the incredible range of expertise that we have packed into it. Share with your colleagues here and reach out to those who you do not yet know – I guarantee that you will receive as much as you give. And of course, enjoy all that Nantes has to offer you!

In closing

In closing, I would like to issue a call to this conference…. a call to you for the next few days that we are together here.

I have lived a half-century now, which is probably double as long as I would have undoubtedly lived had I not switched from a motorcycle to a bicycle more than a quarter century ago.

Though 50 years is not old, it is not young either and with these years comes a very small amount of experience and a possibly smaller yet accumulation of wisdom which I would nonetheless like to share with you.

My call has three points and they are simple and straightforward:

  1. Stop talking about bicycles
  2. Do not focus on cycling infrastructure
  3. Ignore cyclists like me


We talk entirely too much about bicycles at conferences like these… that is unfortunate.

Let us talk rather about the women, men young and old who ride bicycles and how everyday riding improves us as humans.

We focus entirely too much on infrastructure at conferences like these… that is regrettable

Let us focus rather on what kind of cities we get when we re-allocate space to people rather than to cars, when we focus on speed management and invest in state of the art cycling facilities.

Entirely too much energy has been spent planning for cyclists like me – relatively young, male, and likely to ride no matter what the conditions. This has been damaging.

Let us redouble our efforts to  attract those that do not yet cycle and likely will not ever unless our cities and countrysides invite them to….

Cycling will be a future maker, but the future will not be about bicycles.

It will be about fulfilled people, vibrant cities, and new faces…

Thanf you.

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About the author:

Philippe Crist - portraitPhilippe Crist is an economist and Administrator at the International Transport Forum (ITF) at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The ItF is an intergovernmental organization with 54 member countries which acts as a strategic think tank for transport policy and organizes an annual summit of ministers. He is responsible for coordinating several international research initiatives amongst ITF Members. Current projects focus on improving cycling safety, assessing GHG emission strategies in the transport sector, as well as investigating national transport asset and network management strategies. He serves on the advisory boards for several transport, climate change and urban policy research programmes. Philippe is an avid competitive cyclist and mushroom hunter. – See more at: He can be reached at

# # #

About the editor:

Eric Britton
13, rue Pasteur. Courbevoie 92400 France

Bio: Founding editor of World Streets (1988), Eric Britton is an American political scientist, teacher, occasional consultant, and sustainability activist who has observed, learned, taught and worked on missions and advisory assignments on all continents. In the autumn of 2019, he committed his remaining life work to the challenges of aggressively countering climate change and specifically greenhouse gas emissions emanating from the mobility sector. He is not worried about running out of work. Further background and updates: @ericbritton | | #fekbritton | | and | Contact: | +336 508 80787 (Also WhatApp) | Skype: newmobility.)

View complete profile


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About  the Three Princes of Serendip [i]

“In ancient times there existed in the country of Serendippo, in the Far East, a great and powerful king by the name of Giaffer. He had three sons who were very dear to him. And being a good father and very concerned about their education, he decided that he had to leave them endowed not only with great power, but also with all kinds of virtues of which princes are particularly in need.”

The father searches out the best possible tutors. “And to them he entrusted the training of his sons, with the understanding that the best they could do for him was to teach them in such a way that they could be immediately recognized as his very own.”

When the tutors are pleased with the excellent progress that the three princes make in the arts and sciences they report it to the king. He however still doubts their training and summoning each (of his sons) in turn, declares that he will retire to the contemplative life leaving them as king. Each politely declines, affirming the father’s superior wisdom and fitness to rule.

The king is pleased, but fearing that his sons’ education may have been too sheltered and privileged, feigns anger at them for refusing the throne and sends them away from the land.

The lost camel

No sooner do the three princes arrive abroad than they trace clues to identify precisely a camel they have never seen. They conclude that the camel is lame, blind in one eye, missing a tooth, carrying a pregnant woman, and bearing honey on one side and butter on the other. When they later encounter the merchant who has lost the camel, they report their observations to him. He accuses them of stealing the camel and takes them to the Emperor Beramo, where he demands punishment.

Beramo asks how they are able to give such an accurate description of the camel if they have never seen it. It is clear from the princes’ replies that they have used small clues to infer cleverly the nature of the camel.

Grass had been eaten from the side of the road where it was less green, so the princes had inferred that the camel was blind on the other side. Because there were lumps of chewed grass on the road the size of a camel’s tooth, they inferred they had fallen through the gap left by a missing tooth. The tracks showed the prints of only three feet, the fourth being dragged, indicating that the animal was lame. That butter was carried on one side of the camel and honey on the other was evident because ants had been attracted to melted butter on one side of the road and flies to spilled honey on the other.

As for the woman, one of the princes said: “I guessed that the camel must have carried a woman, because I had noticed that near the tracks where the animal had knelt down the imprint of a foot was visible. Because some urine was nearby, I wet my fingers and as a reaction to its odour I felt a sort of carnal concupiscence, which convinced me that the imprint was of a woman’s foot.”

“I guessed that the same woman must have been pregnant,” said another prince, “because I had noticed nearby handprints which were indicative that the woman, being pregnant, had helped herself up with her hands while urinating.”

At this moment a traveller enters the scene to say that he has just found a missing camel wandering in the desert. Beramo spares the lives of the Three Princes, lavishes rich rewards on them and appoints them to be his advisors.


[i] Taken as is and without editing or excuss from the very good treatment you will find in Wikipedia

3 thoughts on “From Nantes: Three Little Words to Shape the Future of Cycling

  1. Pingback: Cycling in Nantes and #VeloCity2015 Conference | Cycling in Christchurch

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