Some reflections on VeloCity 2019

Dublin was a great place to be last week. Not only mild temperatures contributed to the attractiveness of Ireland’s capital, but also this year’s VeloCity internet conference. A varied program with lots of opportunities for networking brought together international cycling experts and enthusisasts from academia, industry, NGOs and the public sector. After sorting out my notes, pictures and experiences, I am trying to summarize and reflect this super packed cycling week.

The conference

Organized by the European Cycling Federation (ECF internet), the VeloCity conference series is the annual meeting point for the international cycling community. The mix of academic and practical contributions as well as the expo and a rich side program with workshops, excursions and social events make the VeloCity an event, which has to be highlighted in the conference calendar.
This year, VeloCity took place in Dublin for the second time after 2005. The Convention Centre Dublin at North Wall Quay hosted over 1,000 delegates from around the globe.

VeloCity 2019 was hosted in Convention Centre Dublin (Samuel Beckett bridge and River Liffey in the foreground). Foto: M. Loidl

Each day was framed by plenary sessions, which were dedicated to specific topics. Papers, projects and initiatives were presented and discussed in six parallel tracks between the plenaries. A poster exhibition, technical sessions and a large expo complemented the program.
In total, VeloCity 2019 offered 7 plenary and 78 parallel sessions. The selection of the plenary topics was excellent – relevant fields, from planning to technology, infrastructure, health and tourism were covered. The quality of the presentations in most sessions I attended was very high. However, it happened more than once that time for Q&A was lacking. I know the dilemma of including as much contributions as possible, giving speakers reasonable time and facilitating in-depth discussions. Besides session chairs with their eyes on the watch, I would regard slightly longer coffee breaks as most effective. Further limiting the length of presentations would end up in rather superficial talks.

VeloCity is a comparable expensive conference. In my opinion, the speaker fee is too high, given the fact that it is the speakers, who fill any conference with quality and life. Although it was a great opportunity for sharing and networking and an attractive package (impressive conference dinner in Guinness Storehouse, free bike rental etc.) was offered in Dublin, it (literally) cost me quite a lot to scrape together travel funds from my research projects.

Usually, the VeloCity conference goes overseas every second year. Since Mexico City withdraw its bid, the magnificent capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana is going to host next year’s conference. I’m looking forward very much to this!

Program highlights

The plenary sessions were very well curated: highly relevant topics were presented and discussed by inspiring speakers and panellists.

The very first plenary was probably the one with the largest impact, as it addressed the future of where the majority of people are living. In his keynote “The City of the Future” Philippe Christ internet, innovation adviser at ITF internet, deconstructed technology-driven scenarios of future cities (“Smart Cities”) and presented a perfectly balanced, human vision of how to shape cities. Philippe pointed to three aspects, which, in my opinion, should become cornerstones of any discussion on urban development:

  • Future visions
    Philippe referred to widely-used pictures of future cities, which are solely shaped by an efficiency and control paradigm (try your own Google image search internet). In contrast to this, he reminded the audience that in the past, cities have always benefited from creativity that emerged at the fringe of planned, formal spaces. Thus, the question is, if we would really want to go for sterile, manageable cities, or for cities that offer opportunities for unfolding the potential of all its citizens. The latter requires human interaction, unplanned activity, spontaneity, and unsupervised playing.
  • Future humans
    Although many proponents of smart city initiatives are not that much used to it, the question of what defines and characterizes humans is fundamental for any future development (also see Calzada & Cobo 2015 internet). According to Philippe Christ, humans are active, frictious, social, and free.
  • Future technology
    The following panel discussion often related to this part of Philippe’s keynote. Neither Philippe nor any of the panellists were radically against technology as such. However, they strongly argued for – how Klaus Bondam put it – a future that should be shaped by humans, not by technology. In the past 50 years, the car gained technological monopoly status, which became manifest in how cities are built and organized. The current smart city paradigm pushes the next monopoly technology in cities: code. Of course, the highly interconnected, automated city can be beneficial in several regards, but it also bears the potential to isolate and segregate individuals and communities respectively.

The only question that remained open after this powerful statement for a people-oriented future city was, “What if the auditorium was not full with cycling enthusiasts, but with representatives from car industry and the ITC sector?” I wish that such a message does not only reach the converted (such as VeloCity delegates), but also those who are influencing (political) decisions with their unreflected, narrow tech-optimism.

After the opening keynote, I attended a session on autonomous vehicles and cycling – a perfect follow-up. Ceri Woolsgrove internet of ECF claimed that autonomous vehicles will partly improve the situation for cyclists, as there won’t be any drunk driving, for example. However, industry is not ready to ensure full safety for cyclists yet and thus, it might take a while until AVs will be common on our cities’ roads. No wonder that Renault’s former CEO, Carlos Ghosn complained over cyclists. In a Forbes article by Carlton Reid internet, Ghosn is quoted as follows:

One of the biggest problems is people with bicycles. The car is confused by [cyclists] because from time-to-time they behave like pedestrians and from time-to-time they behave like cars.
Carlos Ghosn in Forbes internet

Ghosn might have liked John Parkin’s internet presentation on cycling-specific outcomes of the Venturer internet research project, where the interaction between AVs and other road users was investigated:

A session on cycling data, closely related to our current Bicycle Observatory internet project, took place on Tuesday afternoon. In the German MOVEBIS internet project, a vast amount of cycling trajectories are collected and further used for analysis purposes. Herbert Tiemens internet and Ilari Heiska gave an update of current features and applications of the ABM simulation environment Brutus internet. Finally, Michal Jakob of Cyclers internet, a young Czech company, addressed the challenge of using tracking data for estimating total amounts of cyclists.

André Muno (Climate Alliance), Ilari Heiska (City of Helsinki) & Herbert Tiemens (Province of Utrecht), Michal Jakob (Cyclers)

The second day of VeloCity started with a plenary on the importance of being happy and healthy. Three short keynote presentations covered a wide variety of topics. Orna Donoghue internet (Trinity College Dublin) presented outcomes of a huge, longitudinal study on ageing. The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA internet), with over 8,500 participants over the age of 50 years investigates several aspects of ageing, including mobility. Accessible facilities, adequate transport options and personal mobility are known to be key factors for happy and healthy ageing. Matthew Philpott internet introduced the idea of promoting healthy lifestyles in and around sport stadia. And finally, Lucy Saunders internet gave fascinating insights into the process of implementing the Healthy Streets internet concept in London.

Lucy Saunders chaired a subsequent session on health in mobility. Victor Macêdo internet, representative from the Brazilian city of Fortaleza, gave an impressive overview of activities to promote healthy, everyday mobility. Supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies internet and the World Health Organization, Fortaleza implemented a citywide bike sharing scheme and is building dedicated cycling infrastructure (from 68km in 2013 to currently 260km). With “Bicicletar Corporativo”, the city council promotes cycling among municipal employees. A law that allocates all money from parking management and 1% of digital platform revenues to promoting active mobility insures the sustainability of all these measures..

Victor Macêdo presenting recent cycling promotion measures in Fortaleza, Brasil.

I had the honour to present rationales and results of our GISMO internet project in this session. Currently, we have nine papers with all the detailed results of the clinical intervention study under review. Please check the project website for updates; we are going to link to the papers as soon as they are out. For now, I can refer to the slides of my presentation:

In the last session before the bike parade on Wednesday, the Austria Cycling Competence internet network celebrated its 5th anniversary with a special session. Selected members, presented recent projects or gave an overview of their portfolio. I took the chance to argue for a spatial perspective on cycling.

Click on the pictures to access my slides.

The plenary session on infrastructure was very important – not only with regard to Dublin’s non-existing cycling infrastructure. Burkhard Stork, chairman of the German cycling association ADFC internet, claimed that infrastructure is the backbone of any cycling infrastructure. It reminded me of a lecture I gave at the Technical University of Vienna in 2017 internet. Back then, I showed how important dedicated infrastructure is for cycling safety. Only a day later, I received an email from a professor who attended the lecture. He urged me to prove scientifically that cycling infrastructure would enhance cycling safety and claimed that vehicular cycling would be safer, cheaper and more efficient. With this story in my mind, I enjoyed Burkhard’s comments on John Forester’s internet idea of effective/vehicular cycling a lot. Forester’s idea of treating cyclists like any other traffic participants became popular for several decades, especially in North-America and the UK. However, as Burkhard pointed out, Forester developed his idea not based on evidence, but on his own preferences as race biker. It was Roger Geller of Portland, Oregon who questioned the vehicular cycling concept and wrote his ground-breaking article “Four Types of Cyclists”. This fine piece of work internet wasn’t scientific as well, but Geller made a claim that became fundamental for subsequent cycling policies and a starting point for lots of research in this field:

Riding a bicycle should not require bravery. Yet, all too often, that is the perception among cyclists and non-cyclists alike.
Roger Geller internet

A substantial amount of research that revolves around this statement has been done by one of the most profound cycling researchers, Jennifer Dill internet. She underlined Burkhard’s critique of vehicular cycling and his unequivocal call for adequate cycling infrastructure with several studies.

Jennifer Dill (Portland State University) provided loads of evidence for the effect of dedicated infrastructure.

The importance of cycling research is also emphasized by the ECF. The European Cycling Federation connects researchers who are working in the wide area of cycling mobility. Throughout the conference, special sessions of the Scientists for Cycling internet network were organized. One of these academic sessions was dedicated to measuring the impact of cycling.
Ray Pritchard internet of Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) shared outcomes of two observational studies in which the effect of newly built infrastructure was investigated. In order to properly assess the impact of such measures, it is necessary to differentiate between mode shift (infrastructure attracts new cyclists) and route shift (cyclists change their routes). Ray did this by using GPS trajectories and survey data. In both use cases, in Trondheim and Oslo respectively, route shifts became obvious, whereas no significant mode choice could be proven. The Oslo study was recently published in the Journal of Transport Geography internet.
Among other objectives, the research project Bicycle Observatory internet seeks to lay the foundations for assessing the impact of measures in various dimensions. Thus, my contribution to the session perfectly built on Ray’s presentation:

In France, Stéphanie Mangin internet is leading a project called observation du tourisme à vélo. The aim is to estimate the economic value that is created by cycling tourism. For this, Stéphanie and her team collect data from all permanent counting stations along national routes and combine these data with on-site survey data on average expenses and durations of stay. Monetizing the impact of cycling (tourism) builds a perfect evidence base for pushing public authorities to further build attractive, safe infrastructure.


Cycling parades are one of the major highlights of cycling conferences. Usually, this event is used to show delegates the host city and to raise awareness for cycling among citizens and politicians. For VeloCity 2019, the organizers chose a different strategy and guided us to St. Anne’s park outside the city. Probably, this was the best-protected (securities at every intersection and private driveway), but also shortest parade ever. The length of the parade might have something to do with infrastructure … The largest part of the parade led along the seafront to St. Anne’s park – one of the very view segregated cycle ways in Dublin. Honi soit qui mal y pense.

On Twitter, the parade was heavily discussed. Here are some examples:

Dublin and its difficult relation to cycling

Dublin is a beautiful city with a rich history and charming citizens. It has a lot to offer … but definitely not to cyclists. Although the Lord Mayor and all representatives, who appeared at the parade or gave an address at the conference, tried to give the impression of a cycling friendly city, it did not work out. Dublin is by no ways a cycling city! I captured this everyday street scene on my way to the conference:

During VeloCity, several articles on cycling were published on the newspaper. The Guardian was pretty clear with the headline Dublin disappoints internet and even the Irish Times titled We’ve lost our way with private cars internet. On stage, Klaus Bondam was the first who articulated what many experienced in the city:

As Klaus pronounced his critique in the very first plenary session, delegates had enough time to collect evidence for what he had said. These contributions were favourably received by local cycling activists and picked up by local newspapers. Mark Wagenbuur internet did a great job by collecting some bits and pieces – have a look at his blog post. In order to get an impression of what was going on, I curated some more or less randomly tweets (do not miss the discussions and read the whole threads!). Let’s start with some of my own:

… and some more

Okay, as it becomes clear, there is a lot to do in Dublin. At least, VeloCity might have increased the pressure on the City Council to really build and improve adequate infrastructure for cyclists. And of course, cycling in everyday clothes, without helmets and not necessarily on sport bikes must make it into the mainstream attitude towards cycling. Since the parade was a disappointment for many delegates, the local cycling advocacy, I BIKE DUBLIN internet, organized a critical mass from the Convention Centre to the conference dinner at Guinness Storehouse. I decided to walk and witnessed a very funny, but self-revealing situation:

Brief conclusion

The conference wasn’t cheap and Dublin is no cycling city, but VeloCity 2019 was definitely worth to attend. It was inspiring and fun. I learned a lot and was able to connect to others who are working on similar topics or who gave me valuable input for our further research. I enjoyed the diversity among the delegates – be it in terms of geography or domain background. The excitement for cycling turned out once again to be a very strong common denominator.

One comment

  1. Pingback: VeloCity 2019 in Dublin – Bicycle Observatory

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