For better cycling culture, pedal Amsterdam way  


Cycle tracks are being laid all across the length and breadth of Chandigarh. Passages in identifiable, trade mark red are being carved out at the crossings and roundabouts so that the cyclists get a thorough passage without mingling into major traffic. As I see brisk reconstruction activity on the roads to make the city bicycle friendly, I cannot help recalling my maiden visit to Amsterdam, the cycling capital of the world. The capital of Netherlands, dotted with cycle tracks, has the best cycling infrastructure in the world.

Though all kinds of vehicular traffic – heavy and light, trams, buses can be seen on the roads of Amsterdam but the most conspicuous are the droves of cyclists swarming the roads.  One cannot miss the sound of tingling bells and rattling of the cycles passing.

What an amazing cycling culture Amsterdam has! Men and women, young and old, even kids can be seen peddling on the roads.  Seeing people cycling is not an unusual sight for an Indian, rather very common in our country, but what is striking is the huge difference in perception. In India, a cycle is a poor man’s conveyance, anyone and everyone who can afford tries to upgrade to motorized personal vehicle, but there in Amsterdam people seem to  love cycling. Most Dutch children cycle to their school every day. As opposed to the conventional car-centric way of thinking about transportation elsewhere in the world, cycling is considered not just a viable, but perfectly normal, acceptable and also respectable mode of conveyance not only in Amsterdam but all over Netherlands.

As you step out of the Amsterdam‘s Grand Central, one of the most spectacular sights is a bike garage. They call it garage and not a cycle-stand, over the canal where, not hundreds but thousands of bikes are parked. In fact, a sea of cycles can be seen parked at any train station in all the Dutch cities. A bike chained to the poles is a common sight, yes, chained so that the bike is not stolen.

Normally you don’t see fancy, trendy bikes in Dutch cities as most people ride around on ordinary looking black bikes, many converted into utility cycles with baskets. But, in the country side, all kinds of amazing bikes with panniers and trailers for carrying items can be seen.

Here I can’t help recalling a sweet lingering memory that I carry from the countryside in Netherlands- a father and a mother riding their bicycles and the kids following them on their own bikes. With their hair flowing stylishly in the breeze, four of them looked absolutely stunning as they pedalled on their separate bikes against a picturesque landscape.

If we will ever be able to replicate the scene in our country, I can’t say but development of an excellent cycling infrastructure in Chandigarh definitely provides an opportunity to imbibe a healthy cycling culture. This requires a change in the mindset. The high-ups can set an example but it is important to inculcate love for cycling among students. What better way to promote cycling culture among children than to take them on cycling excursions. ‘No driving the bikes but riding the cycles,’ should be the dictum for the school children. Ban on underage driving should be strictly enforced and the parents of the defaulting children should be held responsible.

(Published   in Chandigarh Tribune on 21 Feb. 2019)

18 Replies to “For better cycling culture, pedal Amsterdam way  ”

  1. Let Chandigarh become a path maker for our country for making cycling part of our life. Cycling is not only eco-friendly but also good exercise especially for belly bulging people.

  2. Rama I totally agree that cycling excursions should be organised in schools and children should go to school by riding the cycles. My son used to peddle down St. John’s. School from Sector6. I always bthought it’s very essential part of growing up.
    I would suggest like Marathons are held in different cities every year on the parallel lines Cycling Excursions should be held. Why can’t we promote cycling whilst we promote Car Racing etc.
    Cycling should be promoted just on the lines of Yoga 🧘‍♀️ Everywhere & Anywhere .Villages , cities ,Metropolitan cities plus Schools , Colleges , Universities, workplaces etc.
    Rama you always come out with practical ideas 👍

    1. Wow ! What a great idea for promoting cycling culture, Mrs Chopra!

      Sharing my own experience,when Vipul , my elder son was studying in St. John’s o conveyance was not an issue because of the school bus but the problem arose when we went to DAV College for his plus two.Since he was underage to drive , we insisted that he pedal to the college but he was not happy with the arrangement. You know what he remarked,”Mom, for you it may be a matter of pride that your son cycles to the college but it is a matter of shame for me.” Peer pressure!

    1. That’s true! We are more health conscious now .
      The issue is we may exercise on a stationary cycle in a gym or ride a bicycle for fun for health benefits but using cycle as a mode of conveyance is entirely different .

  3. Rama you have rightly pointed out that the newly laid out cycle tracks in Chandigarh are waiting (eagerly) for more users. We still lack a healthy cycling culture and that cries out for a change of mind-set. Cyclists are still conspicuous by their absence as a contrast to Amsterdam where they are a spectacular sight. It is the swanky and the mid-segment cars
    as well as the motorcycls which dot the roads of Chandigarh. If only the city dwellers could say no to four wheelers and say yes to bicycles! Would not our city be then more beautiful and more eco-friendly !

    1. Praveen , you have penned it down so beautifully.The problem lies in he mindset- the status being judged by the mode of conveyance -the bigger the car, the higher the status.

  4. Beautifully written Ms. Kashyap. I always dreamt of a place where I could cycle freely. I am sure there are so many like me .
    chandigarh is indeed very progressive place.

    1. Navjot,cycling infrastructure is being developed in a big way in the city but you don’t see people cycling the way we saw in Netherlands. In India cycle continues to be a poor man’s conveyance .

      And truly speaking, I am least qualified to be a cycling ambassador as I am guilty of driving a car .

  5. Truly said Mamiji…. cycling is an essential part of growing up as well as a boost for a more healthy society. I remember my +1 & +2 when I used to pedal my way to the college which was almost at the other end of Bathinda from thermal colony. Never realised the importance of cycling back then and used to envy friends who drove scooties and what a day of pride it was when I started driving a kinetic Honda to college. Felt on the top of the world thinking as now I would be the centre of envy for some. All this sounds so ridiculous now but back then ( as kids) it was such a great desire of almost all of us. But now mindsets are changing and using a cycle as a conveyance is no longer a shame but gives a message of being health conscious and eco-friendly. Things would be better in Chandigarh coz it’s so much more planned and a rules compliant city but cycling in Delhi is still tough due to pollution and the unruly traffic.

    1. Wow Bhanu!As always a true , beautiful reflection of your thought process!
      Promoting cycling culture is not easy. It is a matter of mindset. We can not force people to use cycling as a mode of conveyance but school children can definitely be stopped from driving. The school Principals and the parents can play an important role in implementing ban on underage driving and encourage the cultuer of cycling among children

  6. Madam,I have never been to abroad but by being regular reader of your blogs I came to know about theirs society& culture,Your power of expression is marvellous.Happy to know that cycle tracks are made in chandigarh.In lucknow,tracks for bicyclists were made about one and a half decade ago on Lohia Path.Sadly,it is not much used here,My brother,a senior citizen,suffers from severe knee pain,On advise of doctor he cycles about 10km.daily in rural areas of Benaras-as apart of exercise.

  7. Rama a very sincere attempt to rekindle the spirit of cycling. But honestly whatever the media and the authorities say about inculcating the habit of cycling among the masses on our roads neither the cyclist nor the pedestrian can feel safe. Traffic rules are flouted openly and life remains cheap on the roads.I can on ly pray for your dream to come true some day.

    1. Yeah!A distant possibility.
      Flouting rules is a habit ingrained in us. It is quite common to see bikes being driven on the cycle tracks and cyclists plying on the main road.Also,I have seen drivers of two-wheelers using the cycle passage at the traffic signals and round-abouts to evade traffic lights.

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