Owen WilliamsMay 17
Three years ago when I moved to the Netherlands, I knew the cycling culture would be intense going in, but what I wasn’t prepared for is how it would redefine my view of cities, and how I interact with them.
Growing up in New Zealand, you learn pretty quickly that a car is the beginning and end of living there. Until recently, you could get a license at 15, and most of us did. If you don’t have your driver’s license, you’ll find yourself left out of events, asking your parents for rides, or navigating a near non-existent public transit infrastructure.
In 2017, my partner and I were in a car so few times that I can count it on two hands. Back home in New Zealand, we’d exceed that in just a matter of days — because it’s unavoidable. If you don’t have a driver’s license, you’ll simply have it much harder there, because it’s otherwise difficult to get around. I spent hundreds of dollars on gas every week.
Cars are a part of life for us in New Zealand; it’s difficult to avoid them if you don’t live downtown in a large city. If you’re popping to the store, it’s probably realistically 2–3 KM away, even if you’re in a reasonably sized city — so you drive. Popping to a friend’s house? Drive. Heading to the beach? Drive.
In the Netherlands, almost all of these end up being what you’d expect: cycling. I hadn’t really considered how car-focused New Zealand was until I went overseas; Europe’s densely packed cities are easily cycled, and choosing to use your two-wheeler will likely get you to your destination faster.
The moment I realized that we were so dependent on cars back home was when I tried to explain to a Dutch friend what we do with our cars all the time, and how easy it is to get a license compared with here. In New Zealand, teenagers hang out in their cars; I spent hours in my teenage years driving around with friends, listening to music and occasionally stopping to look at the view.
The inevitable next question: “What were you doing? Well, nothing… just driving. Such is a part of life growing up in a small town in New Zealand, and many of my friends echo the same experiences: their teenage years were spent driving around, hanging out, going nowhere in particular.
I miss the feeling of owning a car, and the magic of those aimless drives, but I never want to own one again. Every city in the world should be looking at why they’re filled with traffic, and asking themselves: could we make cycling work here too? What would it take?