#INTERNATIONAL MOTHER’S DAY
SPECIAL EDITION FEATURING A MOTHER WHO RIDES A CYCLE
Melissa Bruntlett is the Co-founder of Modacity – a marketing and communications consultancy firm focused on promoting healthier, happier, more inclusive forms of urban mobility. After selling their family car in 2010, Melissa, together with her husband Chris Bruntlett, have been advocating for multi-modal lifestyles and influencing people to rethink their transportation choices and shift to a more active and sustainable mobility – namely walking, cycling and public transportation.
Post visiting the Netherlands in 2016, the couple co-authored a book ‘Building The Cycling City – The Dutch Blue Print For Urban Vitality’ which launched in the summer of 2018; embarking on a multi-nation book tour that took them and their two children to Australia, New Zealand and across North America. Through continuous writing, photography, films and social media in her role with Modacity, Melissa has made a huge impact in the cycling world and redefined the way ‘Cycling’ and ‘Cycling infrastructure’ is marketed across the globe.
In February 2019, Melissa and her family made a dramatic move by permanently relocating from Vancouver, Canada to Delft, the Netherlands; to further pursue her passions and build upon the work of Modacity to inspire ‘Livable Cities’, as well as help international firm, Mobycon, sell dutch-inspired design to the world. Melissa’s work continues to emphasize the importance of innovative street designs, safety for children, limiting car use and reinforcing the transportation hierarchy in order to inspire cities that work for everyone.
How are you finding your new city – Delft and its Culture?
I am really loving life here in Delft and the Netherlands as a whole. It’s been surprisingly easy to settle into a routine, find our favourite places and get to know more about our new home. The culture is very much centred around the weekly gatherings like the Thursday and Saturday market, and it’s easy to feel like I’m a part of this new city, even with the language barrier as I am still in the early stages of learning Dutch. And having relatively easy access to so many Dutch cities and towns by train and bike means that we get to explore outside of Delft whenever we want. It’s like the whole country is at our fingertips, which has been new and exciting.
What makes cycling in Delft so different?
Delft, like most Dutch cities, has been designed in a way that makes riding a bike often the easiest and most efficient way to travel through the city. Despite having a population of just 100,000 people, every street is bicycle-friendly, and those that are a little more active with car traffic have separated cycle tracks that make riding a bike so stress-free. At no point since moving here have I worried about a route being too dangerous to travel, whether on my own or with my kids. But I think what’s most distinguishing about cycling here compared to Vancouver is that riding a bike here is so normal. It’s not something I really have to think about like I did before, and I don’t feel like I’m about to do something different or unique that is making a statement – I’m just making an every day trips in a way that makes the most sense. And for my children, it has meant a newfound freedom. We no longer feel we have to accompany them to school, their friends’ houses, etc. The city has been designed to make sure they’re safe to ride wherever they need to get to and at the same time restricting the potential for conflict with people in cars. It’s been a very freeing experience.
Which all bikes have you tried so far and which ones did you like the most?
Throughout my lifetime, I’ve ridden everything from a banana-seated child’s bike, to a road bike, a mountain bike and several types of cargo bike, but by far an away, my favourite bike to ride is an every day Oma-fiets, or city bike. For me, cycling is about transport, not sport, and city bikes make riding a bike comfortable and easy. I am upright, there is little to no strain on any of my joints, and I can see everything happening around me without having to crane my neck. Add a front basket or saddle-bags to it, and suddenly I’m able to run all my errands without having to be loaded down by a backpack. I rode a beautiful Papillionaire Sommer in Vancouver for almost 5 years and loved riding along the water and to the beach, carrying everything I need in comfort and style. We had to leave my bike there when we moved, but I was happy to pass it on to a friend who will now enjoy the same experiences on two wheels with her family.
The bicycle parking facility at Delft central station created in 2015 is one of the biggest, can you share your experience?
There’s something pretty spectacular about coming to a train station and having a safe place to store your bike right within the train station. I can literally ride from my front door to the turnstiles, dock my bike in one of the parking spaces, and hop on a train knowing my bike will be where I left it when I return – although when it’s one of thousands of other bikes, it’s always a good idea to note your stall number! What particularly amazing, though, is the number of people who use it every day. It’s not uncommon to arrive at the station and find many of the rows are full, which just reinforces the amazing potential of combining bikes and public transportation.
How do the Dutch cyclist’s manage to maintain ‘Safety’ and ‘Trust’ during rush hours when ridership peaks?
Riding a bike at any time in the Netherlands is about eye contact, which is incredibly important during peak times. When I leave the office at the end of the day, I join hundreds of other people on bikes heading to the train station or home for the day. Being aware of my fellow cyclists, watching for their actions and making eye contact with them at intersections lets me know if they’re turning, stopping and if I have time to pass. It’s almost like a choreographed dance, the way people weave around each other, but it only works because the spaces have been designed to reduce stress and facilitate that communication.
While cycling in the city versus the countryside, any specific observations you made?
To be honest, aside from there being less people, houses, bikes and cars, cycling in the countryside is not that different from riding in the cities in the Netherlands. For the most part, the entire country is connected by cycling routes, both on and off-road, that makes it pretty seamless to get around. In that respect, it’s pretty remarkable, having come from a place where that was less common, and the routes that did exist, I would not have felt safe traveling with my children.
Most toddlers who can’t cycle get ferried by their Mom’s, how easy and special it is?
I had witnessed the growth of the cargo bike culture in Vancouver, and I firmly believe that cargo bikes hold incredible potential for allowing families to live car-lite, especially with more and more electric cargo bikes. Many of my fellow parents made riding with their children a part of their daily trips, which was always so special to see. Here in the Netherlands, it’s not just cargo bikes, but also child seats and back rack cushions, with young children being ferried to day care, school – pretty much everywhere. For me, though, riding with kids is not so much about the easy of transporting them, but more about the social aspect. Parents can more easily talk with their children, soothe them when they’re sad, or even sing to them when on a bike, and it’s such a beautiful thing to witness on a daily basis. I remember the same experiences with my own children when they were younger, and it reinforces that connection that carries on when those children start riding their own bicycles next to their parents.
Use of helmets still remains a debate around the world while the Dutch have mastered the art of not using it, your views?
I wouldn’t say the Dutch have mastered the art of not using helmets. I would say it’s more about taking the potential for conflict largely out of the equation. By building safe facilities on which to ride a bike, and calming streets so cars traveling next to bike have to behave accordingly, cycling has been made safe and easy, not requiring any other special safety equipment. So often the helmet debate is boiled down to personal responsibility for your own safety, but being safe to travel on streets is a societal responsibility, and cities should be designing streets that are safe and comfortable, making the need to equip in safety gear unnecessary. I have come from a place in Canada where helmet use is mandatory, a law brought in without very much research or evidence in the 1990’s, that, when it came into effect, caused a dramatic reduction in cycling numbers. When cycling is made to appear so dangerous that it needs special safety equipment, people stop doing it. I will always say that if someone wants to wear a helmet, then that is their personal choice, but it should never be mandated by law. You can have mandatory helmet laws, or you can have a safe, comfortable, prolific cycling culture – you can’t have both.
Cycling double is a common scenario, is it a practical approach to save cost or more to do with joy and togetherness?
Ah, yes! The act of double someone on your bike! It is incredibly common here, but I don’t think it has anything to do with cost savings. More often than not, I think it’s more about giving someone a lift, just as you would in a car, but on the most common mode of travel here. Not to say that it isn’t fun to hop on the back of Chris’ bike now and again and get a break from riding myself. It’s a romantic gesture, in my mind, between couples, and nice way to be a good friend otherwise. Who wouldn’t love that?
You and Chris will be working in the sequel of a cycling documentary ‘Why We Cycle’, can you elaborate about your roles?
I can’t say much except that we’re excited to be involved in the project and share a bit of our story. We watched the first film at Velo-City 2017 in Nijmegen and were pleased to be able to bring it to Canada and screen it in Vancouver, Victoria and Kelowna in 2018. To now be a part of the sequel is pretty special and we look forward to seeing how it all comes together!
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Author: Vijay Malhotra, Mumbai