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Who Doesn’t Ride, in the Netherlands?

I had a few more thoughts that I wanted to share from my trip to the Netherlands.

Two days before the end of our trip, I fell a bit into the doldrums. Yes, the Netherlands had a car culture, in the 50s and 60s, just like the US. But even then, there were still a lot of people on bicycles. I came here looking forward to riding on the cycling infrastructure. And I found it even better than I imagined. But what lessons can we glean from a place where **everyone** learns to ride at 3 years old?

Thank goodness for our visit to South Amsterdam, a neighborhood with a large immigrant community. Turkish people have been in the Netherlands for a few generations. And, the Dutch had some pretty far-flung colonies. Many of these people find their way to the Netherlands, and bicycling is about as normal for them as the average American. Luckily for us and our visit, the woman who decided to teach other women to ride bicycles is from Ghana, so she spoke English.


Some of my questions were about barriers to women riding. Is riding a bicycle a symbol of poverty, in their home country? Are they from cultures that say girls shouldn’t ride? You won’t be surprised that the answer to both of these was yes. But, Mama Agatha has broken through these cultural norms with over 700 women. (You can see a trailer for the documentary made about this kind and determined woman, here). The bicycle, in the US, was a liberation machine for our women. And it is that in the Netherlands, too, for immigrant women. They use it to go to the store, or to get out to the park with friends, and to participate more fully in their new country.

And here, I think, we can learn a lot. We too have communities that view riding a bicycle as an indicator that you are not rich enough to own a car. And we too have girls and women who stopped riding early, or maybe never even learned. But in a town as compact as Memphis, a bicycle can provide a way to more easily get to the grocery store. It is a valid transportation option, even without the amazing bus and train system that we saw in the Netherlands. And women can learn to ride, with a bit of support from other women.

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