Cities for All

We recently reported on Medellín’s startling reinvention – through both its ongoing transformation into a city focused around people, and the growth of its cycling infrastructure. The chance to showcase its award winning urban initiatives were further highlighted when the Colombian city was chosen as the fourth location for the World Bike Forum, held on February 25th this year.

Now in its fourth year, the World Bike Forum has become an inspiring and influential think tank for both global and grassroots urban cycling advocacy in Latin America and the world.

Now in its fourth year, the World Bike Forum has become an inspiring and influential think tank for both global and grassroots urban cycling advocacy in Latin America and the world.

The Foro Mondial de la Bicicleta began life in 2012 in Porto Alegre, Brazil, the date a poignant reminder of an intentional motorized collision with cyclists during a Critical Mass, held in the capital the previous year. The program aimed to stimulate the discussion of new ways to provide more structure for cyclists, and more traffic safety for the general population. By its third year, it was the largest event focused on cyclemobility and cycleactivism in Brazil, and a year later, it’s the largest of its kind in the world.

Female activists, planners and researchers played an important role in the Forum. (image copyright Florian Lorenz, sustainablecollectives.com)

Female activists, planners and researchers played an important role in the Forum. (Image copyright Florian Lorenz, sustainablecollectives.com)

For 2014, the Forum travelled outside of the country for the first time, calling upon academics, artists, leaders and scholars to share their thoughts and ideas, in an event that was geared not just for cyclists, but everyone living within an urban landscape. Its theme – Ciudades para Todos (Cities for All) – focused on ideas related to humans and living spaces, and how “cities can be organized to the benefit of all its citizens.” In doing so, the Forum aimed to celebrate and further the work of individuals, groups, NGOs, businesses and government agencies that bring positive change on all levels, from local to global.

“Collectively, we will discuss, think and plan solutions so that bicycles, pedestrians and motorists can coexist in harmony. And the more thinking heads, the better – and merrier!”

Says Florian Lorenz, program coordinator: “The bicycle is a social equalizer for the entire world. Cycling is empowering people to access jobs, friends, health and more without having to allocate much money for being mobile.”

Medellín has expanded its Ciclovías – held each Sunday morning – to include twice weekly evening rides too. (image copyright Cass Gilbert)

Medellín has expanded its Ciclovías – held each Sunday morning – to include twice weekly evening rides too. (Image copyright Cass Gilbert)

Part of the Forum's events included nightly rides around the city. (image Ricardo Zapata/WBF4)

Part of the Forum’s events included nightly rides around the city. (Image Ricardo Zapata/WBF4)

In keeping with his ethos, entry to the 5 day event is free – this access includes workshops, talks and nightly group rides, given by 150 speakers, artists and activists with a range of backgrounds, from grassroots groups to NGOs to government organizations. This broad range has helped diversify the audience that are attracted to the Forum, expanding its appeal beyond those with only a specialist interest in cycling mobility.

“The forum is open and free of charge not because the topic of urban cycling is cheap. But rather because it is vital and critical to the success of our efforts that we work together across social strata, scales and disciplines,” says Lorenz.

In 2015, there were 6495 participants from 37 countries, attended by 22,000 visitors over the course of the event. Building on this success, the Forum will move in 2016 to Santiago, Chile, to help spread its word further around Latin America and beyond.

Ultimately, the World Bike Forum’s message is a timely one, reflecting the universal challenges faced around the world:

“While societies in the entire world are urbanizing they face environmental as well as social challenges. At the same time the bicycle is gaining momentum as a serious transportation option and catalyst for creating better living spaces for all humans. In this process, cycling advocacy and citizen engagement play a crucial role in employing the bicycle as a vehicle for social change and urban equity. It is time for the bicycle to take a leading role in shaping an equitable and sustainable city for all!”

For 2015, the World Bike Forum was held in Colombia, a country famous for its progressive cycling infrastructure. (image copyright Cass Gilbert).

For 2015, the World Bike Forum was held in Colombia, a country famous for its progressive cycling infrastructure. (Image copyright Cass Gilbert).

Next year, it will be held in Santiago, Chile's capital. Locations including Moscow, Buenas Aires,  Mexico City and Quito were also considered.

Next year, it will be held in Santiago, Chile’s capital. Locations including Moscow, Buenas Aires, Mexico City and Quito were also considered.