Tuesday, June 26, 2012

E-Conversation with ECF's Julian Ferguson

So by now you know that there's something going on up in Vancouver and that involves lots and lots of bikey types.

The European Cyclist's Federation's Julian Ferguson was kind enough to take some time and answer some email questions I sent him. Below is the Q and A.

Q: The ECF took a bit of flak for the choice of Vancouver (mandatory helmet laws--not just for kids) and the connection to Lazer helmets (sponsorship). Can I ask you to restate the ECF policy on helmets and respond to the criticism that ECF somehow 'sold out' by connecting with Lazer at the conference?

A: Indeed, a few blogs have criticized the ECF over the sponsors of the conference. in actual fact, ECF doesn't have a say in the matter: that's entirely up to the organisers. (In the past, the event has even been sponsored by car companies.) There's no contractual restraints on who can and cannot sponsor a bicycle conference. Considering that the city currently has in place a mandatory helmet law, it's hardly surprising that helmets are offered to participants.
(Note: participants are by no means obliged to take a conference helmet. It's not mandatory, and taking a helmet is up to the individual.) Velo-City conference is indeed all about discussion and debate, so all parties are welcome to express their views. We've spoken to the Canadian media on several occasions about our opinion on helmets. (See for example this article: http://www.vancouversun.com/Vancouver+bike+sharing+program+take+helmet+laws/6821868/story.html . Our views are pretty clear on helmets: It's a matter of individual choice. (see ECF page: http://www.ecf.com/road-safety/helmets-and-reflective-vests/  )

Q: IS the helmet/no-helmet discussion a hot topic? Do you worry it distracts from many of the other discussions there? 

A: Helmets certainly are a hot topic at the moment. While the ECF IS firmly against mandatory helmet laws, there's no doubt that only a few inches of foam can create such a divisive and polarized emotive debate. While we believe that compulsory helmet laws are bad, it's important that bicycle advocates and politicians don't get distracted by the bigger picture, and make sure that they focus on equally important issues such as better infrastructure. Take intersections for example. In New York for example more than 80 % of all bicycle accidents occur at intersections. Start a debate on safer intersections and you're going to save many lives.

Q: What topic is generating the most buzz as you move into Tuesday?

A: Aside from the whole helmet debate, there's quite a bit of interest in Friday's talk about children. Already had a chat to a few academics about how to get more kids cycling. It's quite scary how in the English speaking world, children simply aren't cycling, or even exercising as much as they used to. While the Dutch see nearly half of all kids cycling, Canadians see only 2% and the United States only see %1 cycling.

There's also a few interesting presentations about cycling in extreme weather conditions. Take for example a presentation from Arizona about cycling in hot weather. There's an equally interesting buzz about bike sharing.

Q: Any clue as to how many attendees and how many countries represented? Any word on how many attendees travelled with their own bikes? 

A: Not sure how many registered participants as of yet but I've been told that there's over 40 nationalities attending. As for bringing their own bikes, our half of our staff brought their own bikes. For the rest of us, well, the conference is providing bixi bikes for everyone.

Q: Just how much lycra per capita  is on display? No, but seriously, the stereotype is that where one or more cyclists gather, lycra will be worn. Does the conference reinforce or shatter that stereotype? 

A: So far, haven't seen too much lycra. I've seen lots of suits and ties. For many people at the conference, cycling is all about transport, so you can really wear whatever you want. But cyclists are like any bunch of people: diverse. They come in all shapes and sizes, so there's no doubt we'll have upright duchies, fixie riders, and lycra-clad warriors. That's the joy of Velo-City. You can find just about any kind of cyclist possible.

Thanks for your time, Julian! You can follow Julian on his brand-spanking new Twitter account, @Julian_Ferguson .

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