Winter Cycling Federation President Timo Perälä sums up the seventh annual Winter Cycling Congress held in Calgary on February 6-8, 2019.

Bring in the young ones and new priorities!

The seventh annual international Winter Cycling Congress was recently held in Calgary, accommodating about 300 participants from several different countries, even as far away as Russia, Finland and Sweden. Winter cycling congresses aim to share best practices and knowhow of year-round cycling in order to normalize winter cycling. Winter cycling for everyone, baby!

The Coolest People at the Winter Cycling Congress 2019
The coolest people on earth met in Calgary last week. (Photo by Pekka Tahkola)

Kids and Youth as the Main Theme

Each congress so far has had a distinguished theme repeatedly popping up in congress presentations, workshops and discussions. In Moscow last year, the young cycling advocates stole the show, so this year it was all about kids. Besides having many presentations and workshops about kids’ active transportation, the Calgary congress was also the first one to introduce special sessions targeted for the youth. And sessions they turned out to be! I personally have never witnessed such enthusiasm and joy and shared inspiration in any congress as during those youth sessions.

Winter Cycling Congress - Youth sessions ready to start
Youth sessions ready to start. (Photo by Timo Perälä)

I reckon from now on, youth sessions are here to stay in winter cycling congresses. Behold, what Joensuu, Finland has to offer, as the majority of the local kids either walk or bike to school year-round. Therefore, everyone should come to Joensuu next year to see for yourself what a truly active winter city looks like! In the opening ceremony, we got a glimpse of that as Winter Cycling Federation vice president Pekka Tahkola showed a video of an Oulu comprehensive school. Out of 1200 students, 1000 biked to school on a rather cold winter day of -17C. There’s a goal for all cities. Winter or not.

Metsokangas school, Oulu, Finland
80% of this school’s kids come by bike in -17C. Metsokangas school, Oulu, Finland.

Car Dominant Cities Just Gotta Go

Another important take away from the WCC2019 was that cities planned for cars are not good for anyone. Traffic planning priorities should and will eventually be turned upside down. Connecting neighborhoods and communities by reducing space for cars is not just good for other means of transportation, economy, health and environment, but also good for the car traffic itself. Inactivity, active transportation and effects of car-dominant societies were brought up this year a lot more than in previous Winter Cycling Congresses held in North America (Winnipeg 2014, Minneapolis 2016, Montreal 2017).

Ole Kassow and the Indoor Generation
We spend more than 90 % of our time indoors says Ole Kassow.

Plan Your Cities for the Most Vulnerable

As I heard in many discussions during the congress, we are getting closer to the important shift towards active-transportation-friendly communities. Politicians and decision-makers who are still hesitating to change perspective should go and ask the kids, elderly and disabled what kind of cities they want. Previous generations have created car-dependent, emotionally-cold and unhealthy cities. Like many of us are discovering, I also feel now is the time to start fixing our cities to enable healthier and more active communities, for the sake of our children. The sooner the decision-makers understand this, the better it is for the success and livability of the cities. Inactivity causes multidimensional problems on different areas of life. Inactivity causes physical and mental problems, stress, unhappiness, illnesses and premature deaths. Not even to mention getting behind in hockey. Active cities and countries will rule!

Finland winning U20 in Canada 2019
Finland winning U20 in Canada 2019 and becomes the most successful country in youth hockey during last 5 years.

“Winter cycling is like cycling with more clothes on.”

All in all, the Calgary organizing team together with a high number of enthusiast volunteers (some of them coming even from long distances), set up excellent Key Notes and speakers, which guaranteed a successful, insightful and well-organized congress. The new city library was a breathtaking setting for the whole event. Some mobile tours were cancelled due cold weather, which was a little bit funny since 99% of the congress delegates certainly bike time after time in even colder weather conditions. Like one of the youth session participants put it nicely: “winter cycling is like cycling, but with more clothes on.” Spot on.

Glenn Kubish experiencing Sisu
Pecha Kucha star Glenn Kubish getting “Sisu” (Finnish salted candy) treatment from Pekka Tahkola.

Thank you, City of Calgary and all participants for a great Winter Cycling Congress 2019. It is always a great pleasure to meet the coolest people on earth working with active transportation communities in their own winter cities. New ideas, lots of inspiration and a backpack full of energy was taken with me as I boarded the plane after a great post-conference week-end at the Rockies. Good times!

After-congress activities in Rockies. (Photo by Pekka Tahkola)

Take Your Leaders to Finland Next Year!

I hope to see you next year in Joensuu, Finland; a city with 75 000 inhabitants and a cycling modal share of 32 per cent. I challenge all the leaders and decision-makers from all winter cities to come see themselves how cycling can be mainstream in harsh winter condition. See it, experience it, talk about it and take the best bits back home with you.

Joensuu welcomes you to WCC2020.

Invest in Wellbeing, not Illbeing

Meanwhile, I urge all cities around the world to invest more and more on public and active transportation, since it is the core of livable cities and a step towards a brighter future of the whole globe. It is also money well spent. The change in traffic planning priorities need to realize in investments budgets. Cities spending billions in car traffic development are investing in illbeing of its citizens.

Calgary Highway
Calgary is investing 1.42 billion dollars building an inactivity booster ring road around the city.