Sports Backers Blog

Velo-City Global Cycling Summit Journal: The Final Days

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 Day 1-2 here, Day 3-5 here, and Day 6-7 here.

Day 8 & 9: Final days, final thoughts

After our big presentation, time seemed to fly by. The days were filled with conference sessions and the nights were filled with receptions, bike tours (including a 1,000+ person mass bike ride through the streets of Nijmegen), networking, and dinners with our foreign counterparts. The final highlight was a trip to Eindhoven, a city that had been bombed out during World War II and rebuilt in the decades after. While the cycling infrastructure is still coming back together, Eindhoven is home to two of the most internet-viewed pieces of cycling infrastructure in the world: the Hovenring and the Van Gogh Trail.

The Hovenring is an elevated bicycle roundabout over a major car highway in a suburban area. While its architecture and scope are impressive, many people don’t realize that it was built specifically to get bike traffic away from the highway – not solely to improve safety, but to increase car carrying capacity of the highway in order to accommodate a 6,000-unit subdivision. And though it looks like something we could never afford to build in the Richmond region, the entire project – including the elevated structure and the highway interchange construction – only cost 11 million Euros. That’s approximately the entire cost of the Potterfield Bridge. I couldn’t stop cycling around it, taking photos from different angles and shooting video (see below). The path was wider than was required – wide enough to accommodate four people on bikes side by side – because as the designer said, you only get to design the Hovenring once, and it has to be perfect.

After a fine dinner and some presentations about cycling in Eindhoven, we set off for the Van Gogh Trail, a cycle path that glows in the dark and was created in the likeness of Starry Night, one of Vincent Van Gogh’s most famous paintings. Van Gogh lived in Eindhoven for a time and the trail was built in honor of him and as a tourist attraction. Unfortunately, because it doesn’t get dark until after 11:00p.m. this time of year in the Netherlands, and because the last train to Nijmegen was at 11:30p.m., we had to view it in the last moments of daylight and did not get the full effect. But we got the idea.

Final thoughts: I am writing this on Sunday, June 18, a much-needed day of rest. The conference is over, the excursions have wrapped up, and most of the businesses in Nijmegen are closed. I found a great coffee shop overlooking the river to take a breath and reflect. Tomorrow we will get an early train to Amsterdam for one last afternoon of exploring before boarding a plane back to Richmond.

Everything here has been a matter of perspective, depending on where you live and what is normal to you. In the Netherlands, residents take their world-class cycling infrastructure for granted. They don’t understand why there would even be a global summit on such a topic. When asked how something like a wide protected bikeway through a downtown core or industrial center got built, many transportation planners here say something like, “Well, we just did it because we had to.” And nonprofit advocacy in the Netherlands is nearly non-existent. All of the advocacy is taken up by the public sector as part of building a project because, compared to what we experience in Richmond, building great cycling infrastructure is just not met with that much resistance. Sure, people still want to preserve their parking, travel lanes, and loading zones, but residents and businesses also know that the safety of human life is more important than spending a few extra minutes stuck in traffic or walking a little further to or from a parking spot.

But it wasn’t always like that. In the 1970s, after car culture had taken over the Netherlands, people started dying on the roads in staggering numbers. One year in Amsterdam, hundreds of people died in traffic-related crashes. Between 300 and 400 of those casualties in just one year were children. The mothers of Amsterdam started a full-fledged protest campaign called Stop de Kindermoord, translated in English as Stop the Child Murder. After that, things began to radically change, but it took over 40 years to get where they are now.

People are dying on the streets of Richmond today in traffic-related crashes, but not in numbers like Amsterdam in the 1970s. While we have less population to draw from, resulting in lower numbers of overall trips, I wonder how many more will have to die before we start putting efforts like Vision Zero into full effect in the Richmond region. Again, I suppose it’s a matter of perspective – one that our elected officials, transportation staff, and residents need to come to grips with. Like many cities, Richmond is unique in a variety of ways. But traffic-related deaths and serious injuries are not unique to us. So, can we learn from communities around the world that have experienced the worst of it before our situation becomes all that much harder to turn around? I think so, but we need to begin now.

Representing Richmond at Velo-City has been an honor. It has been the result of a lot of hard work by many people besides just Heather and me, and I think I speak for both of us when I say that we are grateful for the opportunity to present our collective efforts at the 2017 Global Cycling Summit. And of course, we are just getting started on our own journey as a cycling community.