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How culture can drive change

This month, we are attending two prominent cycling events, Micromobility Europe and Eurobike, held in Amsterdam and Frankfurt respectively. As a team hailing from Australian and New Zealand cultures, where cycling is often seen as more of a leisure activity than an integral part of daily life, we were astounded by the sheer magnitude of the cycling culture in Amsterdam. Movies and pictures had failed to do it justice. It lead us to question, what was the drive behind the cycling culture that exists in Amsterdam today, was it the development of infrastructure that made cycling safer, or was it something else?

Surprisingly, in Amsterdam, the cycling culture predates the extensive cycling infrastructure that the city is now renowned for. The roots of cycling in Amsterdam run deep, forming an integral part of the city's identity for decades. Bicycles have been a popular mode of transportation since the early 20th century, well before the comprehensive infrastructure was established.

The city's compact layout, flat terrain, and historical preference for bicycles as a means of transportation all contributed to the organic growth of the cycling culture. As the number of cyclists increased, the demand for dedicated cycling infrastructure became more apparent. Over time, the city responded by developing an extensive network of cycling lanes, traffic signals, and parking facilities to better accommodate cyclists.

Coming from Australasian cultures, we were also amazed to discover that Amsterdam's strong cycling culture, high bicycle density, efficient stolen bike recovery system, and shorter trips with parking visibility have led to a phenomenon where people feel comfortable leaving their bicycles unlocked or secured with simple locks. In fact, some citizens even leave their bicycles unsecured overnight. Something that would be currently fraught with danger in most Australasian cities. Cycling in Amsterdam goes beyond mere transportation. It's a lifestyle, a sense of belonging, and a bond that brings the community together. From young kids to wise old souls, everyone pedals their way to work, school, and social gatherings. The cycling culture permeates every aspect of life, leading to a healthier lifestyle, reduced traffic congestion, and a greener environment. It's a true symbiotic relationship where infrastructure and culture nurture each other's growth.

It will be intriguing to observe whether the growth of infrastructure and the shift towards more bicycle-friendly cities, and re-designing city centres to be less car-centric, can replicate the cycling culture seen in Amsterdam. While Amsterdam's cycling culture may be truly unique, we may witness other cities fostering their own cycling identities as they prioritize infrastructure and embrace a more sustainable and active way of moving.

As cities worldwide aspire to cultivate their own cycling cultures, Amsterdam offers invaluable lessons on how infrastructure and culture can shape a sustainable and bike-friendly future.

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