Post Velo-City 2017 Op-Ed: On the need to re-connect cycling discourses with its core values

 Esther Anaya-Boig,  Doctoral researcher at Imperial College London

I have just returned from the latest Velo-city Global Cycling Summit organized this year in Arnhem-Nijmegen, The Netherlands. The best part of the conference experience for me was that it gave me an opportunity to catch up with so many old friends and making new ones who share my deep interest in cycling as a mobility form and as a social act.

I appreciate the hard work and good intentions of the many many people who have contributed and made this event possible. However upon considerable reflection on what I saw and heard during the three days of the conference and associated events, I would now like to share some views and reactions, with all due respect of course.

For an introduction to the conference and the program to   –

During my three days in Nijmegen I have seen, listened and read a lot about business, high technology and growth.

I have been told that the bicycle has to be fast (e.g. cycle highways), reduce congestion, contribute to economic growth, raise the status of its users. Strangely though, it appeared that many anachronistic car-culture concepts were being applied airily to the bicycle.

Furthermore, the sheer benevolence of  the role and impact autonomous vehicles, smart cities, electric mobility, economic growth was taken for granted.

However I am afraid that the future scenarios envisaged solely and so uncritically with these concepts have nothing to do with Utopia, especially for specific (large) groups of people.

It has been frustrating and disappointing to be exposed to these uncritical discourses, now that we know so much more about the fundamental  flaws in our mobility systems and the history of car culture, its power abuse and consequences.

It is the responsibility of all of us who care not to ignore this. I think it is time well past to take a step back and re-connect cycling discourses with its core values.

How would these discourses change if we bore in mind the connection of the bicycle with well-being (from physical activity to mental health), nature and environment, social equity (gender, age, disabled people, lower income groups, migrants and refugees, all ethnicities and faith groups,…)?

What would happen to this discourse once we recognised that our dominant economic models simply do not fit in our finite, wounded earth?

What if we reconsidered the right to be slow, to give ourselves space and time to be aware of things happening, to allow us to connect with people and the environment? I believe these values should be the cornerstones of a conference like this, and should be ubiquitous and carefully respected in each of the presentations of the conference.

It would have been great to have more of these debates and others.  But apart from a few exceptional sessions, in this year’s Velo-City I painfully missed this year such thoughtful considerations of the subjects and disciplines that touch upon them: sociology, anthropology, behavioral psychology,  humanities and the arts .

I ask you this:

Is it possible to shift gears now and move toward a more critical, inclusive and affordable Velo-city? Or is it perhaps a matter of moving these deeper debates to other spaces?

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Selected comments to follow

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About the author

Esther Anaya-Boig specialised in cycling mobility since her final dissertation for Bachelor of Science in Environmental Sciences in 2004 (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, UAB). From there, she spent 10 years working in cycling advocacy groups and consultancies while adding graduate and postgraduate training in Cultural Studies and Mobility.  Since 2014, she is a doctoral researcher at Imperial College London in impact evaluation of cycling policies on cyclists’ behaviour.

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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.)

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