Velo-City Global Cycling Summit Journal: Day 3-5
Max Hepp-Buchanan, Director of Bike Walk RVA for Sports Backers, is attending the annual Velo-City Global Cycling Summit, this year in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. While there, he is leading a session alongside Heather Barrar of Chesterfield County to bring a story of advocacy and community engagement in Chesterfield County to a global audience. He’ll be sharing his thoughts, photos, and videos during the 10-day trip. Check out the journal for Day 1 & 2 here.
Day 3-5: June 11-14, 2017
Day three brought an early morning as Heather and I set off for The Hague by train. We both signed up for one of Velo-City’s pre-conference excursions to look at bicycle infrastructure in other Dutch cities. The interesting thing about The Hague is that they are still building out their bicycling network and trying to catch up to cities like Amsterdam and Groningen. For the Netherlands, The Hague’s roughly25 percent of trips made by bicycle is relatively low, and the bike network is relatively young.
From the large, modern Central Station, Heather and I made our way to City Hall, the meeting location of our bike tour. The inside of City Hall was vast and white, with multiple levels that faced inward toward the open-air lobby area, flanked by walkways. I don’t really know how else to describe it, but the building belonged in a utopian science fiction movie.
Two nice ladies greeted us and introduced themselves as the bicycle planners for The Hague. I took special note that they were not young, they were not men, and they were not former competitive cyclists or anything like that. Practically, they believed in bicycling for transportation, and that, combined with their experience and education, was enough to transform a city over a couple of decades.
Below is one of our guides holding up a photo of what a particular site used to look like. Notice the white building in the photo from years ago still stands behind her. However, parking was moved underground and a water feature was installed to create a sense of place in a former parking lot.
The bike tour was a bit of the good, the bad, and the ugly. They have greatly improved the streets of The Hague, but have not solved all the problems. Some streets were lacking bike infrastructure and we had to compete for space with trams, other bike riders, cars, and pedestrians. Once, I came really close to getting a car door to the torso as we whipped through a door-zone bike lane. But overall, the city was connected and navigable by bike. The Hague is also on the beach! We had lunch at an outdoor beach café before pressing on and finishing the tour with ice cream at one the most famous cafés in the city.
After three straight days of traveling and taking in a lot of stimulation, I was beat. Due to a scheduling issue, Day four (Monday) turned out to be a free day, which I really needed. I woke early and went for a run, followed by my first solo bike ride through Nijmegen. I made a sped-up video of some of my ride so you can see what it’s like to approach the city and go from a cycle-highway into the car-free streets of the city center. Also, all of their public staircases have runnels, which are grooves that you put your bike wheels in and roll your bike up and down the steps.
The rest of the day was spent wandering the streets (and grabbing random snacks along the way), reading, and networking with fellow conference-goers I would encounter (we all have red bracelets that we can’t take off, making identification easy). I had dinner with five total strangers that night.
The Velo-City conference officially kicked off on Tuesday (Day Five) with a pretty elaborate opening ceremony for an urban planning conference. Imagine some combination of drill team, ballet, and BMX trick bike stunts while an orchestra played the song ‘Bicycle’ by Queen. Oh, and the King of the Netherlands officially opened the conference. Can you imagine our president attending a conference on biking in the United States? Let me tell you, it has yet to happen.
I have already attended some great sessions and have some new ideas, especially about how we maximize our neighborhood streets. But more interesting for this blog might be the 15-mile ride I took with 50 other people from Nigmegen to Arnhem for dinner. We were all on Dutch bikes and it was more of an 11 mile-an-hour rolling party than a ride. The entire journey was on a bicycle highway, so there was no need to pay attention to traffic. We were the traffic.
Night doesn’t come early in the Netherlands this time of year, but before I knew it, it was nearly 10:00pm and getting dark. We were having dinner in a field at an open-air museum. The whole thing resembled an elimination challenge from Top Chef. I managed to round up a decently sized group of people to head back to Nijmegen by bike. By the time we negotiated our way out of Arnhem and back on the bicycle highway, it was dark. Only a few of us had working lights (I did not). But all 15 miles of the trip was well lit by overhead lights in the shape of bicycle chain links and not once did I feel unsafe. It was late when we got home but everyone was proud and energized by our 30-mile round-trip Dutch intercity bike adventure.