Ed and I have just come back from a conference and exhibition in Amsterdam, ‘Fully Charged Live 2022’. This had everything from electric cars to electric cargo bikes that became a boats and also a caravanette. We tried pedal assist bikes, GoCycle, and Ed test drove the electric equivalent of a motorbike. They had iconic electric conversions and even motor homes. All in all it was an education in what you can do using pure electric power. The potential of adding a little pedal assist on some vehicles made simple journeys and even local deliveries perfectly possible. I was blown away. We came back buzzing and full of ideas.
The event was held in Amsterdam that I had only ever driven around on my way to somewhere else. Ed had been there for a stag do years earlier so for both of us this was the first time that we had actually really been and and looked at the city.
It had a profound effect on us both.
A city is a dense collection or people living and working together, yet all cities feel very different. Many cities are busy and often frantic places. People are trying to get where they need to be and as quickly as possible and other people just get in the way. This can lead to short tempers and aggressive behaviours and even violence. The intolerance of other people and other road users intensifies at different times of the day, the rush hours, and tensions mount. We were both struck by how easily, calmly and peacefully the city of Amsterdam went about it’s business. People had time for each other, showed a respect and awareness of others that was quite profound.
You will doubtless have heard about the many bicycles that fill the streets of Amsterdam, it is true. To my psychologist observer eye the bicycles changed the way people interacted. To have many more bikes than cars meant that the cars had to give way for the bikes. This was a change for me as in the UK the bike is often seen as a hindrance to the progress of the car. In Amsterdam this went one stage further as the bikes gave way to the pedestrians. No form of transport is dominant. Cars, bikes and people flow together the achieve the needs of the day.
This sense of cooperation and attention created a sense of calm across the city that is a rare experience. Within that calm is a sense of safety. It feels like people are looking out for each other and there is very little I, me, my and ‘pay me attention and get out of my way I am coming through’.
Getting the Eurostar back to London we stepped out at St Pancreas onto the Euston Road and both felt the uptight aggression that we know as city life which is so completely unlike Amsterdam.
I came away from the experience feeling that the big difference between the atmosphere of Amsterdam and London was the bike. The bikes slowed and calmed the streets and initiated the flow with both pedestrians and car drivers. This spreads into the everyday interactions between people in general communication. There is a sign suggesting that the car is really a guest invited into the pedestrian space. In a system where the car driver is seen as top of the pile and that the bike riders and pedestrians need to work around them it is impossible to get the balance of equality between different members of society.
From now on I shall use my bike more and try to understand how my local community can better flow together in greater social harmony.
Take care and enjoy your flow