A week for ‘Walking and Cycling’

It has been an exciting week! From last Monday to Friday, I led the ‘Walking and Cycling’ module of the Urban Transport Weeks. Nine participants and two one-day visitors attended this intensive five-day course about facilitating walking and cycling.

Although especially cycling has achieved to become a mainstream topic in urban traffic planning and is being discussed frequently in the media, cycling infrastructure and policy often fall short of expectations. Many cities around the globe, and quite a few in Germany, aspire to the title ‘Cycling City’. Nevertheless, the dominance of individual motorised transport often seems insurmountable.

Walking and Cycling are still underrepresented in the curricula of higher education. The Urban Transport Weeks were not only supposed to add this highly needed expertise, but also to open up a social science perspective, focus on the political conflicts, the bureaucratic struggles, and also on the people who use bicycles. While good engineering is the basis of good infrastructure, current failures might be better explained by looking beyond the engineering challenge.

After a successful first round of the Urban Transport Weeks in March, two one-week modules ‘Urban Accessibility’ and ‘Walking and Cycling’ were repeated from the 14th to the 25th September. The Urban Transport Weeks were organised by the European Institute for Sustainable Transport in cooperation with the Hamburg University of Technology (TUHH) and the TUHH Startup Dock and were funded by the German Federal Environment Agency.

Over five days, internationally renowed experts came to Hamburg to share their thoughts with the participants and discuss strategies to increase walking and cycling. Over the course of the week as the knowledge of the participants grew, more and more critical questions were asked and inspiring discussions followed the talks of the experts.

On Wednesday, a cycle tour through the inner city on the Hamburg public bicycles allowed the participants to experience cycling in Hamburg. During the cycle tour, advantages and disadvantages of different infrastructure designs were pointed out and discussed with the participants. We also critically reflected on the distribution of public space and the prioritisation of transport modes. Additionally, the participants learnt about safe cycling strategies in urban traffic.

Urban Transport Weeks, Walking and Cycling, Excursion

Group photo during the cycle excursion
Hamburg, 23/09/2015
Photo courtesy of Maximilian Heinrich

In order to complete the ‘Walking and Cycling’ module, the participants were asked to develop a project to increase bicycle commuting in Hamburg as part of a ‘Campus Competition’. Four groups each with two participants took part in the competition. On the last day of the module, the participants presented their ideas to a jury. The projects were supposed to go beyond mere infrastructure solutions and build on the lessons from the week. All four ideas were creative and showed much potential. Congratulations to the winners, whose project reminded us all that besides quick and convenient and cheap and healthy, cycling can be a lot of fun!

I send a big ‘Thank You!’ to all the participants of the ‘Walking and Cycling’ week. It has been a real pleasure to work with you.

Change of Scene: Evaluating a bicycle project in South Africa

Last Friday, the 21st August, I attended the launch of the Ubuntu Bicycle Project at the Ubuntu Education Fund in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. A long time in the planning, this pilot project, funded by Volkswagen AG Group Works Council, provides mountain bicycles and cycle training to 15 school children from the local Zwide township. I attended for the European Institute for Sustainable Transport (EURIST) who had been asked to do a project evaluation.

Children receiving their cycling kits at the project launch

Children receiving their cycling kits
Port Elizabeth, 21/08/2015

Over six months, the young beneficiaries, all of whom are around 16 years of age, will spend three afternoons a week at the local cycling club, learning to ride and also practicing bicycle mechanics skills. The project will introduce the children, whose families are all affected by HIV/AIDS, to the cycling sport, and thereby aims to foster team spirit, self-confidence and determination and to improve the overall wellbeing of these children in their difficult circumstances.

Parents singing and dancing at the project launch

Enthusiastic atmosphere at the launch of the project
Port Elizabeth, 21/08/2015

An enthusiastic atmosphere accompanied the speeches of the project partners – the local Ubuntu Education Fund, terre des hommes Germany, EURIST, the Siyanqoba Cycling Club and the Bicycling Empowerment Network South Africa – and the mother of one of the beneficiaries at the celebration of the launch. Several songs were initiated spontaneously throughout the celebration, which ended with the handover of the cycling gear to each child. It was an incredible experience to see the enthusiasm with which this project was launched.

EURIST’s specific role will be the project evaluation. To that end, I spent four days before the launch, gathering baseline data, interviewing the children and their parents, visiting the township and the project sites, and meeting the project partners. A data collection strategy was put in place, including a comprehensive initial questionnaire. In February 2016 at the end of the six-month pilot phase, the impacts of the project will be assessed in terms of riding and bicycle mechanics skills, physical fitness, emotional wellbeing of the children and several soft skills. I am so excited to see the progress of this promising project, and I send my best wishes to Nozibele from the UBUNTU Education Fund who will lead the implementation of the project.