A freezing (-5°) Essen in the German Ruhr area has been the home of the third Cycle Highway Academy organized by the European CHIPS project.
After an inspiring visit to London’s Cycle Superhighways where the second Cycle Highway Academy explored different solutions for designing and building cycle highways in Europe, we took the third Cycle Highway Academy to home of the Radschnellweg 1 (RS1).
Radschnellweg Ruhr (cycle highway Ruhr) RS1 defines a track of some 100 kilometers. 1.65 million people live in its catchment area. The track runs from Duisburg via the city centre of Mülheim an der Ruhr, the citycentre and university quarter of Essen, along the southern border of Gelsenkirchen - with a feeder track to its city centre -, via the city centre of Bochum, the university quarter and Kreuzviertel of Dortmund, and via Unna, Kamen and Bergkamen to the city of Hamm.
Important parts of the track run through the central parts of the cities; more than 90 percent of it uses existing streets, paths and traffic lines like former railway tracks and canal bank paths.
In this third Cycle Highway Academy the CHIPS partners together with the Cycle Highway Academy participants (representing cycle highways as exotic as those in Moskou in Chile, together with those from Copenhagen, Germany, Flanders and the Netherlands) explored the topic of “selling” your Cycle Highway.
Michael Adler from communication agency Tipping Points, which is known for its communication on the RS1, kicked off the Academy with a presentation on the importance of communication when promoting your cycle highway. “You can not not communicate”, said Michael Adler, who presented the communication campaign which has been implemented for the RS1. He also demonstrated the importance of more sustainable and active cities for the future because “if you plan cities for people you can solve all problems”.
When you are trying to sell your cycle highway you also need good arguments to convince your decision makers to highlight the benefits of investing in cycle highways. Luc Int Panis from VITO (Flemish Institute for Technology and Innovation) demonstrated some of the tools which you can use to calculate the health and economic benefits of cycling measures. A study, carried out by VITO, demonstrated that the benefits of building cycle highways are worth at least double the costs.
But arguments without a convincing “sales pitch” will probably lead nowhere. Hence the interactive session prepared by Raboud University together with the European Cyclists’ Federation. In a fun role playing game based on the theory by Political Scientist Kingdon on Policy Windows 5 characters (an alderman, a local community representative, a cycling engineer, an environmental group and the local cyclists’ federation) had to come to an agreement where a new cycle highway should be built to connect Town A and Town B. The game was a lot of fun and at the same time participants learned about different strategies, such as advocacy or brokerage that can be used to solve the different dilemmas they were confronted with.
The next morning the focus was all on new technologies and innovation. Bert Celis, Flanders’ Bike Valley’ presented the CHIPS Products and Service Catalogue which is a platform for all kinds of products and services that can be supplied by business to enhance your cycle highway. Lisette Hoeke, from Dutch NHTV, gave us a guided tour in the exiting environment of the Virtual Reality Simulator, called Cyclespex, which has been developed in the framework of the CHIPS project and has won a European Innovation award in 2017. The idea is to use a controlled virtual environment to answer a variety of research questions on how to plan, design and build or evaluate cycle highways. But of course the Virtual Reality Simulator can also be used to increase the user engagement from a cycle highway by allowing (potential) users to discover the cycle highway environment in a virtual reality.
"Looking at the actual behaviour of cyclists will not only learn us more about their preferences it also enables us to make the switch to customer friendly cycle policy." (Joost de Kruif, co founder of Cyclespex)
One element which is core to the Cycle Highway Academy is the excursion along the local cycle highway, a part of the Radschnellweg 1 from Essen to Mulheim, and freezing temperatures below zero are of course no excuse. The Cycle Highway participants enjoyed a pleasantly sunny and pleasing bike ride along the infrastructure using an old railway line which was very wide and very comfortable.
We concluded this third Cycle Highway Academy on Selling with three behavioural change campaigns presented by Jolanda Smit from Ons Brabant Fietst!, Steven Fagard from the Province of Vlaams-Brabant and Koen Frederix from Mobiel21. Steven presented his campaign in which employers from chosen employees were given a free bicycle during a period of three weeks to “test” if they would like to shift from using their car so that they could cycle to work instead. After the campaign 37% said that they would start to cycle to work permanently after the trial period.
We leave Essen already excited about our next, fourth Cycle Highway Academy in Copenhagen that will take place on the 24th and 25th of May!