Winter Cycling Congress Affirms Bicycling Is More than Riding a Bike

By Pamela Moore, Program Director

Bike-parking-at-Winter-Cycling-Congress-2016-MinneapolisIn the midst of a serious snowstorm, the 2016 Winter Cycling Congress was held in the Twin Cities the first week of February. I was happy to participate. This was the fourth year of the event and the first time ever hosted in the United States. With the themes Build It, Maintain It, and Bike It, the Winter Cycling Federation’s three-day conference brought together local and international stakeholders with a shared interest in increasing winter bicycling among all people of all ages and abilities. The Congress offered participants a little bit of everything, including interactive workshops, lectures, daily plenaries, mobile tours, and social gatherings designed to show off the Twin Cities. Throughout, participants engaged in meaningful exchanges about year-round bicycling, including the real and perceived barriers that too often prevent people from experiencing benefits from building wealth to positive health and wellness outcomes.

Hilary Reeves and I represented Transit for Livable Communities as panelists during the Congress. In the session “Measuring Winter Cycling Traffic: Implications for Policy and Management,” Hilary shared the results from monthly counts that Bike Walk Twin Cities conducted between 2009 and 2014. This session was designed to draw attention to available data and the different ways of measuring year-round cycling. In a session titled “People Like Me,” I shared the winter biking stories of Transportation Options program participants and my experience participating in the Major Taylor Bicycling Club of Minnesota and co-founding Black Girls Do Bike: Minneapolis. Our session was designed to highlight the breadth of cycling cultures in the Twin Cities, including recreational riders, commuters, racers, messengers, and touring cyclists. All of these bicycle users possess unique characteristics, including race, gender and sexual identities, and economic and class backgrounds, which may contradict mainstream images and preconceived cultural notions about who rides a bike and why.

As the week progressed a common theme surfaced for me throughout the Congress: Bicycling is more than riding a bike. It is:

• A tool for social change. Jason Hall from Slow Roll Detroit turned the basic concept of friends riding their bikes together into a movement transforming Detroit’s urban core. The model of Slow Roll has grown in the last few years from a couple of US cities to an international phenomenon, including an official 2016 launch in the Twin Cities.

• Redefining who rides and why—by celebrating gender or culturally specific events and clubs, adult “learn to ride” classes, recreational riders, commuters, advocates, racers, and others just biking to get around throughout the year. This theme really stood out for me in relation to a pre-conference workshop where Angela van der Kloof, Winter Cycling Federation board member, led a step-by-step course on teaching adults how to ride a bike.

• Embedded in changing our streets—through placemaking events, advocacy, planning, and policies. During the Congress, Mike Lydon from Street Plans Collaborative shared inspiring examples of tactical urbanism and the impact on streets. Minneapolis’s Mayor Betsy Hodges shared that adding funding for snow removal was a part of the city’s protected bike lanes plan.

• Contributing to the overall health and wellness of bicycle users around the world.

As I continue to explore the notion of bicycling as more than riding a bike, I can’t help but to wonder how bicycling can be used to address disparities. Equity was a hot topic throughout the Congress and several presenters shared strategies for diversifying cycling. This leaves me to ask, when do we move away from developing more strategies to taking action?

As I ponder that question, you should consider the 2017 Winter Cycling Congress in Montreal. Get your bike and passport ready for the opportunity to explore another winter-bike-friendly city!

 For more highlights from the 2016 Congress, check out this tweet roundup.

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