Reflections on an inspiring Immersive Study Tour in Amsterdam
Earlier this month, representatives from Handshake’s Italian Future Cycling Capitals, Rome and Turin, traveled north to Amsterdam for an Immersive Study Tour. This five-day event had an engaging agenda consisting of presentations, opportunities for exchange and – of course – plenty of cycling!
The Immersive Study Tour was organized by Raoul Teekamp and Ria Hilhorst from the City of Amsterdam, together with their team of colleagues. In this article, attendees Francesco Iacorossi from the City of Rome and Gloria Tarantino from the City of Turin look back on the whirlwind week and what it meant to them and their cities.
Gloria Tarantino (GT): The week in Amsterdam was beyond our expectations. We were curious to discover successful examples that we could replicate in Turin, particularly in regards to traffic congestion. The cycling tours got us thinking about possible tools and policies that we could bring home with us.
Francesco Iacorossi (FI): The development of this event was months in the making, with the goal of providing delegates with the best available tools to fully understand the project's goals. Expectations were indeed high, as we managed to bring the most influential political and technical figures in town when it comes to the mobility development of Rome - a unique achievement!
GT: We were so impressed by the silence in the streets and canals, where the only noise you can hear comes from the bike chains. Also, the high flow of bicycles, particularly cargo-bikes moving quite quickly, but safely, was quite inspiring. The connectivity of the cycling network is also quite something, as well as the ease of multimodality (public transport/train + bike). We were also struck by the lack of architectural barriers at road intersections, which undoubtedly makes an impact for those with limited mobility.
FI: I was particularly impressed to see the growth of awareness and changing mindset among the delegates after every session or cycle tour. Also, the participation of Giorgio Novello, the Italian Ambassador to the Netherlands, was memorable, who performed a brilliant and moving motivational speech.
GT: On our last day in Amsterdam it rained, which showed us how cycling mobility doesn't stop when hostile weather occurs. People continue cycling comfortably. One criticism might be the high speed of bicycles in the city centre, which probably cannot be considered safe enough for the elderly or children.
FI: I personally could not have asked for a better Immersive Study Tour in terms of organization. All delegates were given the best support to understand, elaborate and embody the day-by-day training activities. It is now up to them to keep the momentum going and honor their words. We’ll be watching from a distance!
GT: We are working to keep the energy from the Immersive Study Tour going, by nurturing this network of local authorities, journalists, hotel managers, technicians and more. We recognize that we’re all “on the same side”, and that we’ll achieve the same goals at different levels by meeting periodically and coordinating ongoing and future activities.
In Turin, we’ll be implementing some new trial cycling solutions in the coming months, in order to understand if it is a safe and widely advantageous option. Everyone agrees that "the path is already marked and there's no going back", but rather we must risk more with radical decisions that make a difference.
FI: In Rome, directly following the Immersive Study Tour, I was called to meet with the head of the Department of Mobility to discuss tactical urbanism activities to be implemented in the very near future. Only time will tell how things will progress.
It was so rewarding having representatives from Rome and Turin here with us in Amsterdam. I remember Eugenio Patanè, Assessore Councillor for Rome, standing in one of our squares, in the rain, with a big smile on his face, saying, “you really managed to take back space from the car”. And that was just day one!
My fellow Handshake colleague, Meredith Glaser, from the Urban Cycling Institute here in Amsterdam, led a memorable debrief with participants. It was so great seeing everyone working together and talking about the cycling-related challenges they face back home. They confidently expressed their doubts and concerns, and showed the energy and aspiration needed to bring ideas and lessons learned home with them.
One thing that particularly struck me was how they talked about the silence on the streets and the people smiling on their bikes. In the end, that’s what this is all about! You can give or attend all the webinars in the world, but to fully appreciate what life is like in a cycling capital you have to be immersed in it. Once you do that, there is no going back. Like they say in the Netherlands: you won’t ever forget how to cycle!
Image by: Raoul Teekamp