Last Friday, a few dozen people cycled along in a “social cycling tour” organised by the city of ʼs-Hertogenbosch. They visited a number of places, organisations and initiatives that help people to connect and interact socially with each other. The ʼs-Hertogenbosch executive council member for sustainable mobility is convinced that improving cycling also means improving social emancipation. What was this tour all about?
The Dutch National Cycling Congress 2020 would have taken place in ʼs-Hertogenbosch. In 2019, the city asked me to make a video that was shown at the end of the congress in that year. This video was meant to entice delegates to visit ʼs-Hertogenbosch the following year. The invitation was done by the executive council member for sustainable mobility Mr Ufuk Kâhya. Unfortunately, and as we all know, 2020 was the year most events were cancelled due to COVID19. The National Cycling Congress was later held as an on-line event, but that meant that none of the conference side-events could take place. Many people regretted that, not least Mr Kâhya, who still holds that same position in the council today.
The conference side-events were slightly altered to become public in the “Week of the bicycle”. That event could take place in the second week of October 2021, since most COVID restrictions have been lifted in the Netherlands. The “Week of the bicycle” came with events such as a bike fest for the entire family and bike pit stops at several locations in the municipality, where people could have a free bicycle safety check. At other locations the elderly could learn how they could keep on cycling safely, also at a later age. Part of that event was installing free bicycle rear view mirrors.
The event this blog post focusses on, was the “Social Cycling Tour”. As executive council member and deputy mayor Mr Kâhya, for the political party Groenlinks [Green Left] has several portfolios, not only “sustainable mobility”, but also “youth and education” and “talent employment and well-being”. Mr Kâhya wanted to underline that these portfolios have much more overlap than people would think at first. That is why he initiated this cycling tour.
That children benefit from being able to cycle safely to school and their sports clubs is becoming better known. That Dutch children are so happy is in part attributed to the independence they enjoy thanks to cycling. But that cycling can also emancipate adults is perhaps lesser known. Mr Kâhya, who -as his name reveals- is himself from a Turkish background, knows this from experience. During the tour he told the audience that his own mother learned how to ride a bicycle in a similar project as the one the tour was visiting, about 25 years ago. It helped open up her world. During the coffee and tea break he told me in addition about a project in Rotterdam. When some people had trouble finding a job, job interview trainings did not help much. When the cause of the problem was investigated it turned out that the job interview itself was not the problem, but getting to the workplace was. When you cannot pay for public transport and you don’t have a bicycle, it is hard to get or hold a job. But, even giving these people bicycles was only helping temporarily. With the first flat tires and other maintenance issues they would abandon their bicycles again. That is why one of the visited organisations in the social cycling tour was a “bicycle work shop”. Here, people are taught how to maintain their own bicycles. Mostly people of a background in which cycling is less ordinary than for most of the Dutch. The volunteer of this project said: “We don’t only give people a fish [the bicycle], but also the rod [learning to maintain it] to keep on fishing.”
Another project that the tour visited was “Cycling Buddies” [Fietsmaatjes]. This is an organisation that connects people who can no longer cycle by themselves, to people who would like to cycle with them on a side-by-side bicycle. The foundation has 10 such expensive bicycles, funded by the municipality of ʼs-Hertogenbosch. The buddies get the key to the place where the bicycles are parked. At a time that is most convenient for both, they can then go cycling together.
Other projects had less obviously to do with cycling, but everything with connecting people and social emancipation. Several street art locations, a hang-out for political events, a community centre, a charity/thrift shop run by an 89-year-old (who proudly explained that he has been a volunteer for 52 years), an outdoor community centre and an organisation to help people who are faced with cancer in their lives.
I made a video of this really enjoyable tour that brought me to quite a few places I did not know before, even though I have been living in ʼs-Hertogenbosch for over 26 years.
- Week of the bicycle
- Boschveld Werkt Fietswerkplaats [Boschveld works Bicycle work shop] and women’s cycling lessons
- Fietsmaatjes Den Bosch [Cycling buddies ’s-Hertogenbosch]
- Bike Pit Stop (free bicycle safety check)
- Kings of Colors (street art)
- Wijkwerkplaats Oost [Community work centre East]
- Graafse Akker [the farm field of the Graafse neighbourhood], the open air community centre)
- Stichting Ontspoord [The Derailed foundation] and Knoflook [Garlick], the political meetings hang-out of ‘s-Hertogenbosch.
- Vicki Brownhuis [Vicki Brown house] meeting place for people who have to deal with cancer in their lives.