Editor’s Note: Fred Sztabinski is a Spacing contributor and former project coordinator of TCAT who recently relocated to Amsterdam, Netherlands. He will write occasional blog posts for Spacing comparing Toronto and European urban landscape issues.
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AMSTERDAM — Riding your bike around the streets of Toronto, who else do you see on their bikes? Other people like you? Probably.
While Toronto does have some bike lanes and a growing bicycling population (as witnessed last summer by overwhelmed bike shops), you don’t see as much variety in the cycling population compared to the city’s total population. In Amsterdam this isn’t the case at all. You see teenagers with their friends, older citizens picking up groceries, and people in slick business suits on their mobile phones pedaling away. And one of the most charming groups among those in the bike lane is parents with their kids.
Either enjoying the ride on their parent’s bike or following behind on their own bike, children are as much a part of urban bicycle commuting as anyone else. Contrast this with Toronto where you rarely see kids riding on a main street and parents who tow their children in bike trailers often receive disapproving looks or concerned stares from passersby. Granted, there are reasons for this. But don’t blame the weather. Note the bulky jackets and scarves in the above photo – temperatures are regularly dipping below zero in Amsterdam. Not as cold as Toronto – and minus the snow – but it doesn’t have to be warm and sunny for Amsterdammers to get on their bikes. It is true, though, that Toronto roads don’t feel nearly as safe as Dutch roads for cycling.
But there might be more to it. In many cities parents might feel comfortable cycling to work themselves, but may think the fact that they need to drop their kids off at school or daycare necessitates a car. The Dutch are doing a great job of showing us that doesn’t have to be the case. You can take your kids to school, go to work, run errands and do most anything else you would do in a car by bike – you just need the right bike. Three kids to chauffeur? No problem.
photo by Bala Nallama