Winter Cycling Congress Report

By Julia Schroeder (She/Her) Board Member and Outreach/Education Committee Chair.

I feel so fortunate to have attended the 2024 Winter Cycling Congress in Edmonton this year. I came back to Winnipeg brimming with inspiration, new ideas, and most of all, having met some of the most amazing people. When Patty (our amazing board member, communications genius, and one of our newsletter coordinators) asked which session was my favourite, I honestly didn’t have an answer – I got so many valuable lessons from each one I attended. Instead of giving you one session, I’m going to give you my top 5 quotes or takeaways, plus one bonus.

I’ll start by recognizing the Land and Peoples I visited. Edmonton, or Amiskwacîwâskahikan, is part of Treaty 6 Territory and the Métis Nation of Alberta (Region 4). This land has long been inhabited by First Nations including Nêhiyaw, Denesuliné, Anishinaabe, Nakota Isga, and Niitsitapi Peoples. Amiskwacîwâskahikan is also home to one of the largest Inuit communities south of the 60th parallel.

Amiskwacîwâskahikan (Edmonton) is doing some excellent language reclamation work, and in December 2020 renamed all their municipal wards with Indigenous Ward Names. They are also currently in the process of renaming one of their communities to Wîhkwêntôwin (circle of friends in Nêhiyawêwin).

Now, you might wonder why I’m beginning a blurb on a Winter Cycling Congress with a Land Acknowledgment. Two reasons. First, that’s what we do at Bike Winnipeg (I helped with the wording of our current Land Acknowledgment, and yes, I take constructive criticism if I’ve missed something). Second, one of the first sessions I’d like to celebrate was Zoogipon (It is snowing): Speech Trails and the Anishinaabemowin World of Bikes and Winter. Hosted by Winnipeg’s very own Winnipeg Trails, Mackenzie Anderson-Sasnella and Anders Swanson gave an inspiring presentation on the SpeechTrails program and the importance of language revitalization. Amiskwacîwâskahikan (Edmonton) has the second-largest urban Indigenous population of any Canadian city after Winnipeg and is doing some amazing work on reconciliation and language revitalization. We’d do well to look to them for inspiration in our journey of renaming and reconciliation.

I’ll begin my favourite quotes with one from Karly Coleman, a cycle commuter who works at the University of Alberta. Karly called out what many members of our community may recognize – “the minute you become a utilitarian cyclist, you become an advocate”. That transition from recreational cyclist enjoying public paths and quiet residential riding to intentionally choosing to move your body by bike, trike, or other cycle allows you to see the good, the bad, and the ugly of a city’s bike network.

My next quote comes from Mobycon staff Stephen Kurz and Narayan Donaldson. Their workshop focused on place-based design, but the words that stood out to me were: “If you need a sign, you’ve probably failed at the engineering of the street”. I think we can all think of places in our city where signs attempt to rectify poor street design. Now that utilitarian cycling has moved us to advocacy, let’s push our city politicians, planners, and engineers to rebuild better, safer streets – ones that don’t need signage to tell us how to interact with each other respectfully.

This next quote comes from the team at 8 80 Cities. Jayne Armstrong and Shannon Lawrence told us that community-building work requires “grit… goodwill… [and] hard work”. They reminded us that we need to show up where people are and engage them, rather than asking our communities to come to us. Not everyone can attend city engagement events during the workday. I was inspired by the ways they walked into communities, setting up consultations before, during, and after pop-up projects – including inside local shops, on the street, and in public spaces.

Now, you might be thinking “Wait, wasn’t this a winter cycling conference?” And yes, you’d be right! Some of my favourite winter-specific quotes came from Timo Perälä, who not only cofounded the Winter Cycling Federation, is the CEO of his consulting company Navico Ltd., presented on behalf of the Network of Finnish Cycling Municipalities, but was introduced, I kid you not, as “a Finnish urban wellbeing engineer a.k.a. “kick ass” engineer”. Coming from Oulu, Finland, Timo’s presentations were inspirational and entertaining in equal measure (at one point he repeatedly shouted “Show me the money!” complete with a Jerry Maguire graphic. Yes, we had a good time in Edmonton. Yes, you should come next time.). But the biggest thing Timo said that stuck with me was that so often cities “remove winter culture”. We leave it for maintenance departments to deal with. We ask them to take winter away. Yet winterproof design and winter maintenance are healthcare. Accessible active transportation gets people outside and moving their bodies (Timo’s partner in bike-related nonsense Pekka Tahkola told me that the fact that winter cyclists in so-called Canada must be determined makes him sad. Cycling should be easy, fast, and comfortable. He also repeatedly told the conference that Finns are lazy – they cycle because it’s more convenient, not because they’re tougher than us. Having ridden for 5 hours with Pekka on Saturday, I’m not sure that’s accurate). Winter infrastructure draws tourists and brings folks seeking positive active lifestyles to call a city home. It reduces traffic injuries and deaths and costs less money overall. By putting the “winter glasses on” we create a positive city for ourselves, our neighbours, and for our city’s children and grandchildren.

I want to finish with a quote from our very own Patty Wiens at her panel presentation Winter Cycling Stories:[when you start cycling] “Your world gets smaller, but your community gets bigger”. I’m so grateful to have had the chance to expand my cycling community this year at the 2024 Winter Cycling Congress, and I’m grateful for all of you who are part of it already here at home.