As you may be aware from my article on cycle infrastructure in Utrecht, the Netherlands, I have lived in the Netherlands in the past.
While I lived there, it was easy for me to take for granted the ease of cycling to and from university lectures, friends’ places, the railway station, etc., thanks to comprehensive infrastructure and transport policy which favours cycling, walking and public transport.
This ease, together with the broad range of people of different ages, socio-economic and cultural backgrounds who use their bicycles daily to get about, are things that are hard for people who have not lived in or visited the Netherlands for an extended period to grasp.
That riding a bike is so accepted as mundane and everyday is also hard to convey by the very people who take it for granted. Enter the film ‘Why We Cycle’, directed by Arne Gielen and Gertjan Hulster, released in 2017.
This one hour film sets out to explain how and why “cycling is as normal as breathing” to the Dutch. To get to the bottom of this, the filmmakers interviewed psychologists, economists, architects and other academics and professionals from Dutch universities and cycle organisations.
These people gave the technical and academic take on why Dutch people ride bikes to the extent that they do, including a national sense of equality and egalitarianism (the Dutch Royal Family and Prime Minister are frequently shown cycling in the media (for genuine transport rather than publicity reasons)).
They also outlined the financial benefits of widespread cycling to the economy, public health and happiness (Dutch children are among the happiest in the world).
In addition to the academic and professional take, the filmmakers interviewed everyday Dutch people from a variety of backgrounds. It is these sections of the film that give the everyday perspectives of cycling in the Netherlands that will hopefully be more immediately relatable to audiences.
From the senior citizen who uses her e-bike to help her get about with a little assistance, to the children and young people for whom cycling gives them freedom from dependence on their parents (cited as a reason why Dutch children are so happy), to the Muslim mother of two for whom cycling enables her to meet and talk to people she would not otherwise in her daily life.
The account manager for a marketing firm who defies the expectations of his clients when he arrives for meetings by bike rather than by car. Riding a bike is truly shown to transgress age, socio-economic class and cultural background.
Outsider non-Dutch perspectives are given by two women, one who moved to the Netherlands to study and the other to work, who marvel at the cycle culture they now participate in and how Dutch people take it for granted.
All these interviews are interspersed with well-shot footage of interviewees and others riding bikes through Dutch cities, towns and countryside, on high quality infrastructure which is demonstrated to be suitable for children and young people to ride on unsupervised, a long way from what is available in most other locations.
Interpretative narration is provided by Chris Boardman, Commissioner for Walking and Cycling in Greater Manchester. All in all, in my view ‘Why We Cycle’ provides a very good window into the everyday mundanity of riding a bike in the Netherlands.
It hopefully makes the Dutch understanding of cycling more tangible for those who have not lived there or those who have not visited, and provides inspiration for what could be achieved elsewhere. For more information, and to see where future screenings will be taking place, please see the film’s website http://whywecycle.eu/.
My thanks also to Sustrans London for organising the screening which I attended.