Myriam Amsterdam 2

I love using my bike as a mode of urban transportation.

So I was obviously thrilled to spend five months in Amsterdam, the world’s number one bike city — breezily coasting my way from point A to B, wind in my hair, legs going and heart rate flowing, blissfully taking in all that pretty pretty that makes up Amsterdam’s canal filled, cozy urban landscape.

Once the initial thrill of taking in all the  elements of an advanced bicycle-society subsided, I began to miss walking as a mode of transport. “Then you should have just walked places, instead of biking to them,” I hear you say, but it’s really not that simple. The bicycle has an allure, a magnetism that sucks you in, gets you hooked and makes sure that you need it. My life in Amsterdam was bike-based, and I understood how to engage with the city exclusively via this mode of transport. I could not fathom that something 10 minutes by bike could be a 30 minute walk, and never was able to plan for that.

Indeed, the bike’s force of attraction is so strong that it pulls you onto its saddle, and renders you a mindless pawn in the chaotic ballet that is bicycle traffic in Amsterdam. By this I mean biking everywhere always can put you into something of a mind zonk, comparable to the mindless automaton we inevitably become after too much highway driving.

Biking everywhere in Amsterdam, I began to miss that fine-grained understanding of a city you can only get by walking. I know Amsterdam as a series of blurs punctuated by more intimate knowledge of specific destinations, without any of that random familiarity acquired from a slow shuffle through a city.

And that’s why I’m happy, in a way, to be back in Toronto — a true walking city. With the dominance of automobile infrastructure, unreliable public transit, and a lack of amenities for bicycles, walking emerges as the most palatable alternative to the car. So I am back in Toronto, happily absorbing the city at a snail’s pace.

Of course, I would instantly trade it all for a Toronto with advanced bike infrastructure and a culture that supports it. This is not a criticism of Amsterdam’s bike infrastructure. Perhaps it’s a coming to terms with returning home to a city that offers almost nothing for commuter-cyclists — a positive outlook for this idealistic urban geographer.

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