SERIES: Emily and Tammy’s great commute - week two
By Emily Giles
The latest stories from Emily and Tammy's commute to work on their Brodie bikes lent to them by Bateman's Bicycle Company.
I received a couple of interesting responses and comments from my first blog post last week, the most notably being from some of my European friends. My favourite comment was absolutely dripping in sarcasm, and came from my Dutch friend Erwin, who lives in Hilversum (which is 25Km southeast of Amsterdam).
Erwin commented “You bike to work? Wow, you are so progressive!”
This remark got me thinking as to how absolutely ridiculous it must seem to a European like Erwin that someone riding a bike to work would think it noteworthy and write an entire blog series about it. In countries like the Netherlands, where 63% of Amsterdammers use their bikes on a daily basis, bike culture is part of the national culture and not part of the sub-culture like I feel it still is here in Canada (and Toronto specifically).
I lived in Europe for a short period of time while doing a master’s program, and I did a little bit of cycling while I was there. Reflecting on that time, I realize that I wasn’t as nervous biking in Europe as I am here in Canada, even in places like the UK where I biking on the opposite side of the street.
Last week was only week two of commuting to work for me, and I realized that I am still quite anxious overall about being on the roads. This, I think is something that lots of people feel as we are continuously dealing with infrastructure issues in this city and are always in need of more protected bike lanes.
I think the answer lies in the overall cultural attitude towards bikers. After seeing Erwin’s comment on my blog, I chatted with him about his experiences cycling in the Netherlands. I asked him if he always felt safe cycling in the streets in his hometown, and here was his answer:
“Yes, I feel more than just "fairly" safe, I feel completely safe and there are a couple of reasons for that. First of all ALL Dutch kids learn to ride a bike shortly after being able to walk so biking becomes a second nature to us Dutchies. That is also why you never see a Dutchie riding a bike with a helmet.”
“And because everybody in the Netherlands grows up riding a bike and usually continues to ride a bike next to other means of transportation we ALL know what it is like to be a cyclist and how cyclists behave and what to expect from them. That is also why in Amsterdam it is always the tourists who create the accidents. They do not have that sixth sense of how to behave on a bike and how others (scooters, motor bikes, cars) react to the cyclists.”
He sent this video to explain what it is like to be a cyclist in the Netherlands. It’s quite incredible to watch this, and to see how traffic all flows together well with so many bikers and pedestrians sharing common space.
As Erwin says “…cyclists in the Netherlands have a very organic way of flowing together with the rest of the traffic.”
It got me thinking: what do we need to do to shift our culture into being more accepting of the bike community? In the Netherlands the major shift came from a reaction to the rising death toll of kids getting hit on the roads (more than 400 children were killed in traffic accidents in 1971), coupled with fierce activism that made it the cycling capital of the world that it is today.
I hope that one day I can respond to Erwin’s comment on my first blog post and am able to defend Canada for truly being progressive when it comes to cycling in the city. I’d love to feel the way he feels about his country’s cycling culture:
“I never looked at our bike culture as being something special. But seeing it from the perspective of a foreigner it makes what we do in everyday life something really special and even makes me feel a little proud and thankful that I had the opportunity to grow up in and being a part of it every day.”
A similar Amsterdam cycling 'culture' is definitely attainable in a big city like Toronto as biking is one of the most efficient forms of transportation with the least impact on the environment.
Emily will continue to report on her commute here in Toronto next week.
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