Together We Cycle is a documentary film written and directed by Gertjan Hulster and produced under his banner Nieuw & Verbeterd production based in Harleem, Netherlands.

The film Together We Cycle examines the critical events in the history of Dutch Society and puts the spotlight on citizen activism that ensured cycling remains a way of life.

Netherlands is a global benchmark when cycling is discussed. But how they reached to this point is a complex reasoning of diverse factors.

“When I grew-up I still remember bicycles were really not supposed to be on the streets. There were cars everywhere. And it could have almost gone another way. The tipping point was there. So, why did the Netherlands really preserve this cycling culture?” – Ruth Oldenziel, Author of Cycling Cities.

The car culture and traffic scenario in the Netherlands was prevalent in the 60’s and thus the government focused on expanding road space to accommodate and facilitate car movement.

This growing car-centric trend led to an unsafe environment for cyclists with rise in fatalities being reported – including amongst children.

Local residents objected to modal-conflicts induced due to planning policies and highway culture. Politicians faced criticism for ignoring citizen safety triggering mass protests and rallies.

‘Stop de Kindermoord’ (‘Stop the child murder! Or we will get killed) campaign started by Maartje van Putten became a national voice.

With the growing economy, traffic in the 70’s was swelling and so were the accidents. A journalist who lost his daughter investigated the number of child deaths on their way to school. His news story ‘Stop de Kindermood’ became the front page headline.

Like-minded people joined hands and collaborated on many fronts including a minister who lost his child in an accident. The protest grew in The Hague, in Rotterdam, in Amsterdam etc. and cooperation was seen from people in media, politicians, activists and citizens who wanted to preserve the heritage of the city.

“Cities are not for cars, they are for people” – Jane Jacobs, Urban Planner.

During the oil crises in the 1970’s the national government imposed several car-free Sundays. People once again experienced the quiet, safety and cleanliness of cities without the ongoing traffic.

Widespread anger set the tone for an urban renewal program giving priority for safer streets with cars as guest and pedestrians and cyclists as chief guest.

The Result – city/town planners successfully experimented and achieved a vast bicycle network. Smart thinking with design intervention has made it difficult for the drivers to reach from point A to B. Thus, cycling instinctively takes precedence. It is a faster and convenient choice.

Today, cycling is a social practice in the Netherlands with years of resilience behind it. Cycling and public transit has taken center stage and considered preferred modes of transport.

The film depicts ‘good sense ruled in the nick of time urging citizens to shift their foot from the gas pedal onto the bicycle pedal. The humble bicycle managed to propel the nation to a more sustainable, healthier, safer and cleaner society’.

“The Dutch mentality is that you should dress for the destination, not the journey.” – Erin Riediger

‘Cycling’ therefore is an undisputed ceremonial act for a Dutch citizen. They do not wear special clothing or equipment; but simply sit in an upright position and communicate clearly. The Dutch bicycle is the most user-friendly design and also one of the reasons for a nearly equal female to male cycling ratio.

If I could pick few points from the movie that makes a cycle-friendly city those would be –

  • Ridership – the rich and the educated ride bicycles
  • Street Designs
  • Connected cycle network
  • Integration with Mass Transportation
  • Safety policies favoring cyclists and pedestrians
  • Right of way
  • Material Innovation and use of technology
  • Cycle training in schools and universities
  • Cycle hire schemes
  • Incentives for cycling
  • Inclusive approach
  • Cycling and pedestrian friendly streets compliment local businesses

The film Together We Cycle projects classic black and white stock footage’s from the archives, with a birds-eye-view on the developments of the Dutch cycling history combined with the recent trends narrated by expert speakers. The film is recommended for one and all.

To know why the Netherlands is called as the ‘Cycling Paradise’, watch the film Together We Cycle on vimeo with English Subtitles.

Cover image credit: Gertjan Hulster

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Author: Vijay Malhotra, Mumbai


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