Bikes not Cars Festival: In Crust We Trust
After deliberating about how best to kick start the blog, and after missing numerous suitable occasions, I decided to finally dive into the blogosphere with a report on the Bikes not Cars festival, held in Amsterdam July 3rd – 5th. What could be more appropriate? At least that’s what I thought. I was in for a surprise, a surprise that would, over the weekend, prove a very positive one.
It is clichéd to talk about how wonderful Amsterdam is for bikes, so I’ll refrain from going into details, but I was struck by the very positive atmosphere that seemed to permeate through the streets. With everybody out cycling, and fewer cars, there was much more opportunity for interaction, no doubt aided by the sunshine. I was in fact told by my host, in words to this effect, that perhaps I was interacting a bit too much, and really I should only use the bell as a cautionary device and that the standard bicycles in Amsterdam are best controlled with two hands. However, I figured that as a tourist I was exempt, and continued anyway.
My first taste of the Bikes not Cars festival was Saturday afternoon, when the participants met for the event’s Critical Mass. This is where the surprise happened, a few seconds after being handed a leaflet that began, “In case you get arrested”: it appeared that the participants of the festival were exclusively what my host termed “crust-punks”. I was possibly the only person not in black, tattooed and pierced, and I began to feel like an evil corporate consumer. In a city where the majority of people cycle daily I had expected much more diversity, but, I was wrong. An hour after the scheduled start the opening speaker again informed us what to do in the event of arrest – I now understood why – and then off we went.
I was to learn that the festival came out of Amsterdam’s punk, anarchist, squat scene and was a one-off – the anti-car theme had been considered one of importance, and Bikes not Cars was born. There was no regular Critical Mass in Amsterdam, much to my amazement, and no bicycle organisations that followed car-free/transport issues. The festival was organised by a group of people who otherwise had not been heavily involved with the car-free movement, yet saw it as important – car culture was still present in Amsterdam. This was reflected in the festival itself: there might not have been rigid organisation or clear goals (other than getting rid of cars) or alternatives offered, but at the core it was genuine.
And this became clear during the Critical Mass: it was chaotic, anarchic and at times downright dangerous. Cyclists blocked trams, buses, pedestrians, cycled on both sides of the road, and stopped dead in a huge junction. One cyclist attached a distress flare to his bike, lit it and cycled as fast as possible through the crowds of cyclists. It was totally insane, but everybody enjoyed it and as a general rule the public responded with positivity. And this theme would continue throughout the other events: the tall-bike jousting and the cargo-bike races amongst them. I began to reassess: we could’ve discussed the thought behind everything: the approach, the principles etc, but at the heart of it all was the fact that here were a bunch of good people, out on the streets protesting against cars, as grassroots as it gets. It might not have appeared the best way to go about it but the important thing was that they were doing something. And maybe it will sow the seeds for a regular Critical Mass in Amsterdam – there’s no shortage of bikes, and no shortage of active interested people. I took away from Amsterdam huge respect for the organisers and participants, and hope they continue.
Sunday I jumped back on the bus, for a mostly uneventful journey. After a small spot of traffic-signal related road-rage insanity, involving our bus, a quad-bike and a BMW – which ended with the quad-biker throwing a lit cigarette at the BMW – the bus finally pulled into Brussels-Nord. The driver matter-of-factly announced to the passengers “please hold on to your bags, because here they will steal them.” But, I was pondering the possibilities of further action in Amsterdam, and not so concerned about the poor image of Belgians amongst Dutch bus drivers. As the t-shirt I proudly wear today states: In crust we trust.