How far we have come, and how far we’ll go!
Forty-seven months ago (nearly four years ago!), thirteen cities and six technical partners set out on the cycling journey of a lifetime. Together, we had one goal in mind – to improve conditions for cycling as an everyday mode of transport.
When the Handshake project was born in September 2018, each of our cities already had a cycling concept, plan or strategy of some sort. The cities recognised though, that having a plan was simply not enough to overcome some of their persistent challenges to increasing the share of everyday cyclists.
For the most part, the key barriers to cycling success among Handshake cities have been either infrastructural or sociocultural. In Bordeaux and Dublin, a lack of connectivity between urban and extra-urban cycling routes, or a lack of dedicated space for cyclists, have long defined the cyclists’ experience. In Krakow and Turin, negative public perception of cycling has also proven detrimental to its broad success.
The ability to overcome such barriers requires not only funding, but also expertise and a willingness to commit to big goals, receive feedback and implement changes. The Handshake project has sought to provide cities with the latter pieces of the puzzle, and, for the most part, it has been enormously effective in doing so.
A defining feature of Handshake has been its Mentoring Programme, which pairs Future Cycling Capitals and Cycling Capitals together in a mentor-mentee relationship. The value of this pairing has been that it has provided a space for honest exchange and growth – something that our cities widely praised as being truly impactful in the shaping of their cycling policies and plans. Helsinki, which has been mentored by Copenhagen, explained that there is now a friendship between the cities that has proven to be an important factor when it comes to the exchange of knowledge. According to Helsinki Project Manager Sirje Lappalainen, “It is completely different to organise a webinar with a city you have no former connection with, rather than with one that has so many close colleagues.”
After four intensive years together, our mentors and mentees have become invested in the success of each other, as there is a collective agreement that cycling wins in one city are a win for everyone. Indeed, according to Fred Dotter from Mobiel 21, the technical partner responsible for developing and implementing the Mentorship Programme, “the people you want in your corner are the ones who celebrate your growth”.
An important point on the Handshake timeline has been, unsurprisingly, the COVID-19 pandemic. Handshake was never designed to be a project that could be implemented entirely virtually, since so much of the knowledge exchange expected to take place is something that is ignited by in-person visits, specifically the Immersive Study Tours and Immersive Symposia. Seeing and experiencing infrastructure, asking questions in person and simply building professional relationships were all hindered by the pandemic. Technical partner Velo Mondial recognised this loss early on, and was thus inspired to begin making a collection of videos taken from the handlebars of a bicycle. The 360 degree footage allowed the viewer to virtually experience life as a cyclist in the various Handshake cities – information that has proven to be valuable not only within the project, but also by other cities outside the project that are interested in exploring new cycling solutions.
In Bordeaux, the creation of shared bus-bicycle lanes has encouraged greater cycling links between the urban and extra-urban areas. These ‘boulevards’ have seen a 75% increase of cyclists since May 2021. Inspired by the focus on secure bicycle parking happening in other Handshake cities, Bordeaux has also implemented the Vélobox, which is intended for use in residential areas.
In Dublin, the development of two segregated cycling routes is currently underway, with the first phase already completed in 2020. Cyclist safety is regarded as being central focal point for mobility planners, with several busy junctions now equipped with sensors that detect cyclists, thereby allowing the traffic system to grant their priority.
In Amsterdam, mobility planners are working to facilitate a paradigmatic shift that will further improve the local cycling experience by transforming car-centric streets into those that prioritise pedestrians and cyclists. The creation of last year’s handbook on improving inner-city bicycle parking outlines Amsterdam’s commitment to resolving the ongoing challenge of a lack of bicycle parking.
In Krakow, cyclists are more visible (and vocal!) today than they were four years ago – particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic, during which time bicycles have become a trendy form of transportation. Perception of cyclist safety has also grown with the development of additional cycling lanes, which are also used in winter thanks a growth in year-round cyclists.
In Turin, cycling has moved out of the shadow of cars, with the development of many new cycling paths, a bicycle parking facility at the train station, bicycle counting sensors and some difficult conversations with stakeholders. Opposition remains strong, but Turin is now a safer and more appealing city to cycle in – and it has also committed to new projects that increase path connectivity.
In Helsinki, the cyclist experience has changed notably in just a few short years, most visibly with the implementation of separated, one-way cycling paths (instead of bidirectional ones). The Immersive events within Handshake have also sparked a major conversation among local politicians regarding increased prioritisation of and funding for cycling.
A famous poet once wrote*:
Today is your day.
You're off to Great Places!
You're off and away!
You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
It is unclear whether or not the notable Dr. Seuss was thinking of cycling when he wrote this poem, but it perfectly encapsulates the ending of the Handshake project. As with most endings, this one is bittersweet. An exciting and impactful project is drawing to a close, but a bright horizon lies ahead for our cities. They have shown commitment and grit when faced with their own local cycling challenges, as well as those brought on by COVID-19. They have also demonstrated sterling skills in cooperation and care – skills that will serve them well as they continue to support one another and other cities.
With the intention of gathering the expertise developed throughout Handshake, and making it widely available to those interested, Handshake is developing the International Cycling Community of Practise (ICCoP). This platform aspires to support cities in their pursuit of improving conditions for cycling by focusing on self-assessment, mentorship and knowledge-sharing. Monitor our website and channels for information on the ICCoP, as it develops.
As Handshake officially pedals off into the sunset, we are so delighted that a global community of cycling experts and enthusiasts have joined us on our journey. We hope to have inspired you and that together we can continue to create cities that are safe, welcoming places for everyday cycling.
* Seuss, Dr. Oh, the Places You'll Go! New York: Random House, 1990.
Image by: Andreas Schebesta