Monday, June 2, 2014

Getting to know you, Adelaide ... and leaving inspired ♥

After my initial Velo-City Global Adelaide14 misgivings it didn't take long before I was drawn into Adelaide's magic ... and there's plenty of it!!!

Ok ... so the hotel view smacked of oil ...

... and the varying levels of committment you can make ...

... sometimes emcompassing whole roads passing through requiring traffic management

But look behind Big Oil and their cheerleaders, and you find a funky scene all over the city with plenty of good bars and cafes with plenty of good coffee, and food, and bubbly ...

And peep behind a bit further, and you find a strong bicycle counter-culture manned by committed cycling-advocates many of whom I'd already had the good fortune to come across via social media and blogs ... and now here I was in Adelaide finally getting to meet so many of them face to face.

And I loved how they totally matched their online personnas - honesty, intelligence and accuracy will do that!

So armed with coffee/drinks/food/buddies ... it was time to conference.

Full of the world's best urban planning and design minds, the Velo-City meeting was a great opportunity for world best practice to come to Australia and give us a few clues. It was also a great opportunity for the world best urban planning and design minds from overseas to see not only what 'Cycling-Australians' have to put up with but what the rare 'Visionary-Politician' has to put up with too.

With the Adelaide mainstream media and their subscribers bleating 'wolf wolf' across the airwaves last Wednesday after the Conference Brekkie Ride when delegates took to the streets on bicycles, many of the 500+ at Velo-City discovered a new-found respect for Lord Mayor Stephen Yarwood and his team after glimpsing the hostility and opposition.

Yes embarrassingly the Dutch and the Danes and the Taiwanese and the Japanese and the Nigerians and the Turkish et al got to experience what a bunch of cycling numpties we are.

But back to the lecture halls ... there were many wonderful presentations with plenty of rock star performers, and headlining the event was none other than Mikael Colville-Andersen of Copenhagen Cycle Chic and Copenhagenize fame, the sassy urban mobility consultant from Copenhagen.

Shouting 'WHAT THE FUCK' digitally from several enormous screens, Mikael mocked our self-congratulatory congratulations on current tiny baby steps of progress, and told it to us straight that we have the wrong people doing a lot of the cycling advocacy work on our behalf.

Yup too many 'avid cyclists doing the avid cyclist advocacy for cycling' - BAHAHAHAHAHA loved it!!! High five on that!!!!!

Jonathon Daly from Melbourne never disappoints, and his session looking at whether separation of bicycles and cars is the answer or cause of the difficult relationship between cyclists and other road users was fascinating.

Highlighting how important culture is to the entire bicycle equation, Jonathan entertained us all with a clip from YouTube showing us how the polite culture of Japan has easily accommodated citizens who choose to use bicycles:

Now if that bicycle bell experiment had been carried carried out in Australia that guy would have either been thumped or told to 'fuck off' - probably both - cultural norms definitely dictate bicycle paradigms.

How Australian governments persist in ignoring what Professor Chris Rissel from Sydney has to say leaves me mystified.

Where others tried to woo us in the Helmet Combined session with dogma and insisted that we acquiesce to helmet laws, Chris argued with facts and evidence. His message was starkly clear; bicycle helmet law and bicycle helmet promotion have been catastrophically bad for Australian public health and by just concentrating on mortality rates going down and nothing else, the data relied upon by governments was a misrepresentation of what actually happened.

No we cannot continue to operate in our sloppy business as usual cycling manner and yes we should revisit that gold standard set by the Cochrane Collaboration when you consider that it was the study authors themselves who reviewed their own work - bias - WTF.

We had Ethan Kent and his throwaway line which seemed so apt for Adelaide when he remarked:

"If parking's not a problem, you have a problem!" ...

And then from the 'crossroads of the world,' we had the privilege to listen to Janette Sadik-Khan, the woman behind one of the most exciting transport upheavals in the world to date. She kept us entranced with her tales of 'guerilla transport engineering' and how she determinedly ploughed ahead with plans for vibrancy and inclusivity in the public spaces of NYC.

Recognising early on that regular channels of change can take some time, and fired up with her mayor's view on meetings that 'in god we trust, everyone else bring data!', she capitalised on former Mayor Bloomberg's support and changed the use of public space in New York quickly so that everyone could see the results quickly - that she told us was the key ... 'change in streets in real time' ...

... sigh - how to do that here?

Engaging and funny, I loved her matter of fact approach that we're all living in 21st global cities and we're all competing to get the very best talent to come and move in so if we continue with  'Business-As-Usual' strategies and only focus on moving cars only, we're stuffed! (ahem Sydney, Adelaide?).

Sweetly she invited us all to head on over and check out NYC which could prove problematic for me given that I have a bicycle helmet criminal conviction and would be promptly uninvited at the border!

But my most favourite bits of Velo-City were the counter-conference ones ... for instance the wonderful helmet optional ride so brilliantly organised by the Melbourne-based Freestyle Cyclists.

Kathy Francis, Alan Todd and Nik Dow did an amazing job of liaising with police and politicians, and as a result we had the most lovely afternoon cycling along the river path to the beach.

Nik Dow (Freestyle Cyclists co-founder) ...

... and Alan Todd (Freestyle Cyclists co-founder) did an excellent job chatting to the media in their serene expert ways.

Somewhere between 50-60 riders accompanied by a police escort of around 10 officers from the Police Bicycle Brigade enjoyed the sheer joy of a lovely late Adelaide afternoon....

... and for once in an Australian city, we were allowed to make the helmet choice for ourselves!

Mikael of course was in demand, and continued to point out to the media the extent of Australian cycling backwardness (this time to Channel 9).

Then it was a quick trip to the train station (still with police escort), quick trip on train to Bowden (still with police escort), and then a quick cycle ride to the Adelaide Bike Kitchen minus police escort ...


... but OMG what a somewhere ... my valhalla!!!!

A complete bicycle nirvana ... a beautiful open space for bike fixing, getting together, pooling resources and skills, a space to remind yourself how lovely folk can be, and how we need to hurry up and hand over the reins to the young ones. Truly a space for everyone, for the community and if I lived in Adelaide I'd make this place a regular haunt.

We mingled/laughed/chatted/gathered for the counter-culture Velo For'um All, and the shed was packed with bike parts, aromatic food smells, happy people, sheet-covered hay bales (for instant auditorium) wine, speeches (hmmm had I ever considered 'stand-up' I was asked after mine - hadn't but am now!!!!) and all this was followed by yummy food more wine and fabulous live music

Such a great vibe and such a great team and I loved their mission to 'strive to remain open, adaptive and creative in our concerted response to undesirable aspects and trends in urban social and economic life.'

Just my sort of place!!!!

And then it was goodbyes all round, and back on my bike (no police escort) ...


... and in no time I was crossing the bridge and looking at Adelaide thinking about my amazing week!!!

* road-rage
* bicycle helmet crime booking
* media interviews
* counter culture ride & forum
* police escorts
* bicycle rockstars from Adelaide and afar

Ok so I didn't like Santos being a major sponsor and I refused to ride conference bikes with their logo, and I didn't like how 2 mini hot dogs were considered a $140 conference dinner, and neither did I like the road raging concrete-cowboy incident (but hey I've had egg sandwiches thrown at me by toffee-nosed Scone Cup punters so no Australian surprises there really) and I was baffled by media reaction to my comments that helmet law deterred women from cycling ... WTF (that's another post)

BUT my admiration for Stephen Yarwood knows no bounds.

When you see what he is up against it is incredible that he has achieved what he has, and undoubtedly having the Velo-City Global conference in Adelaide this week was an enlightened master-stroke.

The world came, the world saw, and whether the world conquered is another story, but our mainstream media grudgingly got involved, and in the process evolved from 'mouthpiece' for standard Australian motoring 'cranky-pants' to interested 'media partners' keen to discover what the global experts of best practice had to say.

Who could not be charmed by Mikael or intrigued by Janette?

Who could not be impressed by the Lord Mayor of a parking lot city?

And now back in New South Wales, I'm missing Adelaide and dreaming of Bike Kitchens ...

... I shall return

(a court case looms!!!!!! )


  1. thanks for sharing. bummed i couldn't go!

    1. Funtimes for sure - maybe next time for you, crank!!!!

  2. Sue, you continue to be an inspiration and example to all of us cyclists living in saner and more reasonable countries (France in my case). But be of good cheer, because I sense that you are getting somewhere with your campaigning even if it may not seem like it just yet. Looking at the European Cyclists' Federation report of the conference debate on cycle helmets, I got a strong impression which I've had from many other sources in recent months that the "Plastic Prophylactic" has been found out at at last for the vast fraud that it is: a pathetically feeble substitute for decent cycling infrastructure, and an imposition on cyclists by the motoring lobby to keep the cheeky freeloading sods in their place and - hopefully - reduce the numbers of them cluttering up the roads. In the UK at any rate the penny seems to have dropped at last that in any of the accidents most likely to happen to you, a cycle helmet is about as much use as a paper bag on your head, and that the aim of cycling safety should not be to try and make crashing safer, but prevent crashes from happening in the first place. There even seem to be official misgivings now in Australia about whether the helmets law was really such a good idea, given that it's reduced cycling by about a half while having no appreciable effect on cycling injuries - and made Australia an international laughing stock into the bargain: e.g. ill-natured suggestions that the kangaroo should be replaced as national emblem by a duckbill platypus wearing a cycle helmet and a hi-viz waistcoat.

    Anyway, persevere, because you seem to be making progress ( which the whole helmets business has made you thousands of friends worldwide).

    1. Thank you, anon, for your lovely words, and yes I do sense a change in the wind - 'our work here is almost done' - ha! ha! - fingers x'd ...

      ... and how brilliant was it that Dr Marsh came out with his pronouncement this week (or whenever) - hard to argue with a neuro-surgeon no matter how hard the ED doctors try!!!!!

  3. Well done! John Laws seems to have got a surprise. They made you a criminal though?? Holy hell, that's ridiculous.

    1. Hi tedsfiles! ... yes that was such a funny interview; there was quite a bit he said that I really had to get a grip on myself not to burst out laughing!!!!! - and yes I'm a bicycle helmet criminal - only in Australia hey!!!! Madness!!!

  4. Future generations may well come to view that helmet-free mass ride around Adelaide as the beginning of the end for the Australian cycle-helmet law, in that it undermined the whole contention of the helmet-compulsion fanatics worldwide: viz., that you can't cycle helmetless for more than fifty yards in a straight line except at grave risk of leaving your brains in the gutter. If they'd had any sense the police should have given the whole thing what might be called the Tiananmen treatment, with liberal use of water cannon, rubber bullets and lengthy jail terms for the survivors. All in all it was a bit like Saudi Arabia conceding women the right to drive a car for just one afternoon a year: they'd soon be asking, why not every afternoon of the year and mornings as well?

    Was this the Rosa Parks moment?

    1. Ha! Ha! Ha! John!! ... we're such a weird and complex country - but I really do think there's change afoot and it wouldn't surprise me if South Australia was the first to jump into the realms of normality!!!