Velo-City conference draws hundreds of cycling experts to Vancouver

The four-day Velo-City international cycling planning conference kicked off at the Sheraton Wall Centre Tuesday, bringing together 850 participants from 40 countries on six continents.

Conference chair Paul Dragan said the annual event's diversity of cultures and experiences is its greatest asset.

"It's primarily a policy conference, so it's politicians, engineers, planners, urban consultants, architects and advocates," he explained.

"The benefit to Vancouver is two-fold. One is to show off what we've done so far, but probably secondary and more importantly, it's to get good ideas and learn from other people who have done better than we have."

Keynote speech and lecture topics ranged from increasing cycling safety and encouraging cycling culture to lessons learned from public bike shares around the world.

By mid-afternoon Dragan said the best idea he had heard so far was "Probably having the mayor of Changwon, South Korea insist that all his staff ride their bikes to work."

"It's a policy that encourages participation from the top down," he said, but admitted Mayor Gregor Robertson would have a tough time introducing such a policy in Vancouver.

"I think a gentle suggestion in Vancouver would probably work better than a mandate because our style of politics is different."

Manfred Neun, president of the European Cyclists' Federation, said Vancouver's goal of increasing cycling from five to seven per cent of all trips within five years pales in comparison to the targets being set by certain well-known European cycling cities.

"Copenhagen is now currently at 38 per cent cycling, and they have a target to improve this within the next five years to 50 per cent," he said, chuckling at Vancouver's five-year goal.

"That's really not enough, because you need the critical mass of cyclists to make cycling seen, to make cycling safer, and to bring all the participants in the cycling situation to adaptive behaviour."

Dragan also mentioned critical mass being the key to the possibility of Vancouver someday getting an exemption from B.C.'s helmet law. He said that issue, as well as separated versus painted bike lanes, will be the most contentious one over the course of the conference.

"What they found in countries where helmet use is not mandatory and cycle use is very, very high is that there's safety in numbers, meaning that when there are more people cycling there are less accidents, because the interaction between the automobile and cyclists is lessened," Dragan said. "So it actually gets safer the more people you have riding your bike."

The conference is not open to the public, but there will be a group bike parade leaving from the Sheraton Hotel at 6:30 p.m. Thursday that anyone can join.

Here's a roundup of some of the products on display at the Velo-City conference.

1. The Cyclehoop is a retrofit bicycle stand that can easily and cheaply be attached to parking meters, street signs, or other vertical street furniture.

It is used by more than 40 city councils in the U.K. and Europe and has won multiple awards, including best cycle facility at the 2011 the London Cycling Awards, and the New York Cityracks Design Competition.

Bonus feature: It comes in pretty colours!

2.  BikeLids provide outdoor bicycle storage and security in one. They're much like bike lockers, except lockers require constant management, which BikeLids don't, and they have a gap at the bottom so you can see who or what's inside. Each one holds one or two bikes. They are already used in several U.S. cities, such as L.A., Dallas, and Miami, and by corporations such as Disney.

3. French company Eco-Counter wants to encourage cycling by installing bike counters throughout cities. Its brand new Frequent Cycler Program envisions schools, workplaces and municipalities installing intelligent bike-counting posts that log cyclists' kilometers. Companies, schools and cities can then choose to implement reward programs as a way to boost cycling culture. A similar system will soon be launched in seven European countries.