February 13, 2017

Winter Cycling Congress Recap

What is the first thing that comes to mind regarding winter cycling? Some believe nobody bikes in winter, yet year-round cycling has become so popular it has its own conference! Over 400 people attended the 5th Winter Cycling Congress from February 8 to 10 in Montréal; home of smoked meat, BIXI, and the Canadiens. Darnel Harris and I attended on behalf of Cycle Toronto’s Advocacy Committee.

The congress’ program featured dozens of speakers in English and French – translators were available – from maintenance to fatbikes to community engagement. A dozen exhibitors displayed their products and services, while socials were held on Wednesday and Thursday nights to present artwork and stories.


Timo Perala of Winter Cycling Federation (WCF), Suzanne Lareau of Vélo Québec, and Montréal Mayor Denis Coderre gave opening remarks. Lareau’s Québec welcome was a comment about the weather being +3’C one day and -18’C the next, while Coderre touted BIXI’s popularity and needing to focus on culture.
Pekka Tahkola of Winter Cycling Federation
Dominique Paquin of Ouranos presented climate models, whose findings of warming temperatures and reduced snowfalls were echoed by other presenters. Per Pekka Tahkola of WCF, such changes led to new maintenance challenges from freeze-melt cycles in Oulu (Finland), the world’s winter cycling capital which first focused on cycling in the late 1960’s. Most bike paths were shared with pedestrians and maintained by packing a thin layer of snow using teethed plows with “super class routes” being maintained 24/7. No wonder why 42% of residents occasionally bike in winter; most without studded tires. The “A Matter of Data” breakout session featured analysis from Alaska, Montréal, and Ottawa.
Healthy lifestyle ambassador Sylvie Bernier and Morten Kabell from Copenhagen presented during lunch. Bernier mentioned the 5300 km Route Verte network was threatened by government cuts, but reinstated thanks to a Vélo Québec campaign. Kabell argued for changing the conversation from asking how can cities afford cycling infrastructure to how they cannot afford to, given Copenhagen’s $225 million investment in cycling is about half the cost of a three-kilometre overpass; something relevant to Toronto.

For the “Maintenance and Policies” afternoon session, Hans Moor of Ottawa’s Citizens for Safe Cycling focused on the Dutch integration of bikes and rail. Timo Perala explained the Finnish maintenance tendering process, while Montréal borough councillor Marianne Giguère and François Gosselin of McGill University highlighted Montréal’s policies and winter bike lane closures, which will change next year.
Montréal's winter bike lane closures will soon be a thing of the past
Participants closed Day 1 with either a speed dating session or a Canada Bikes town hall with Judi Varga Toth and Anders Swanson. That town hall saw representation across Canada and discussed federal initiatives like the National Cycling Strategy, including a Swedish perspective from Lars Stromgren.


February 9 started with an announcement of #WCC17 being the most popular hashtag in Canada. Maxime Houde presented his report on La Presse’s reporting of winter cycling, which revealed a limited but positive perception since 1988. He then took part in a panel moderated by Marco Fortier of Devoir with Nellie Brière, Forent Daudens of Le Devoir, and Gino Desrosiers of SAAQ. The panel noted the concentration of winter cycling in Montréal and how saying crash not accident is more neutral.
Not the right message to encourage winter cycling (SOURCE: Toronto Star)
For the “Strategies and Reflections” session, Anders Swanson asked how one can make winter cycling as Canadian as hockey and used contrasting images of reflective clothing (see above) and a female cyclist with normal winter gear. Mobycon’s Angela van der Kloof discussed her experiences training women and immigrants to bike, while Laurent Deslauriers and Laurent Levesque emphasized the need to reach beyond established networks. Rebecca Gleason of Montana State University started the “Winter Cycling in Different Contexts” session explaining the Small Town and Rural Design Guide. Jean-François Veilleux of ENvironnement JEUnesse told an inspiring story of a youth group who biked 185 kilometres from Saguenay to Québec City. Darnel Harris – whose cargo bike pilot project idea can be voted at Ontario Budget Talks – discussed suburban resident engagement at Toronto’s Jane and Finch.
Frostbike author Tom Babin
MP Gord Johns built on yesterday’s National Cycling Strategy discussion during lunch. He discussed Hélène Laverdière’s safe rail crossing bill, Bike the Riding day on April 22, and criticized the lack of federal support for the conference. Frostbike author Tom Babin provided three Prairie winter cycling anecdotes, including one person’s fatbike trip from Saskatoon to Tutoyatuk and Calgary’s downtown cycle track network.
BIXI is normally shut down during the winter months
For the afternoon, participants could opt for mobile (with BIXI bikes) or participatory workshops via a pre-Congress survey. I did the mobile workshop about Montréal’s four season bike network hosted by Bartek Komorowski of Vélo Québec. The Pecha Kucha event afterwards could have been better co-ordinated. Espace Fontaine wasn’t practical to walk and Google Maps provided the wrong transit directions; leading to a taxi ride. At the minimum, the organizers could have provided the correct Métro stop.


Before leaving on Friday, February 10, I watched presentations from Tony Desnick of Alta Planning and Mikael Colville-Andersen of Copenhagenize. Desnick unveiled the 4th Annual Winter Cycling Survey results, which 1222 people participated. Almost half of respondents were from the United States, one quarter were over 50 years old, and two thirds were male. The most popular reason for biking in winter was to keep riding (11%) followed by exercise (9%). Calgary was tops for winter maintenance satisfaction.
One of Alta Planning's Winter Cycling Survey findings
Colville-Anderson discussed the recent transformation of Almetyevsk (Russia). Mayor Ayrat Khayrullin hired Copenhagenize to host a master class and introduce 200 kilometres of cycling infrastructure, including 50 kilometres which launched in May 2016 and locally designed bicycle traffic signals. Khayrullin refused to compromise safety by telling a planner “your job is not what, but how”; prompting Colville-Andersen to joke “dictators are awesome” to some laughter. Pekka Tahkola provided winter cycling advice, including purchasing four snow removal machines and hosting events like a Santa Claus Ride. Coincidentally, Moscow will host next year’s Congress.
With Mikael Colville-Anderson at the Winter Cycling Congress
Colville-Anderson will be in Toronto on Monday, February 27 (7:00 PM) at Fairmont Royal York, with tickets going for $35.


Overall, the Congress was an unforgettable experience with lots of new connections made. Thanks to Vélo Québec for organizing the event and stay tuned for additional posts on cycling in Montréal, the proposed National Cycling Strategy, and data collection.

UPDATE (2017/02/14) - This has been reposted to Dandyhorse.

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