Cycling brings freedom, impromptu conversations, happier teens, Dutch film shows -

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Cycling brings freedom, impromptu conversations, happier teens, Dutch film shows Dutch documentary Why We Cycle highlights the social connections and benefits that cycling brings.

KITCHENER — As they moved a number of times over the past few years, Maureen Ellis and her husband Gary Young discovered each new city from street level, cycling its streets on their bikes.

They soon found that exploring each place by bicycle helped them uncover its intimate spaces in a way they would never have been able to do by car.

Friends who had lived in a city for years were regularly amazed how well Ellis and Young would get to know their new home.

Getting around by bicycle "made each city that we lived in so much more unique," said Ellis, one of about 125 people who came out Tuesday evening to a film screening and discussion on the impacts of cycling.

"We commented that if we'd had a car, it would have been the same experience in every city — drive to the mall, drive to work, drive home," she said.

Their sense that riding their bikes gave them an entirely different way to experience their city was a key theme of "Why We Cycle," the Dutch documentary film shown at the gathering. The screening and discussion were organized by Brian Doucet, a University of Waterloo planning professor who studies change in cities and who spent several years in the Netherlands. In the film, scientists and ordinary cyclists talk about the impact of cycling on residents, society and cities.

The movie looks beyond the obvious benefits of cycling — health and environmental, for example — to examine some of the intangible advantages.

"I love this film because it talks about the value of the experience of cycling for children," said Phil Martin, founder of Cycling Into the Future, a local program that teaches cycling skills to kids in Grade 5.

Kids realize very quickly that cycling represents a special kind of freedom, that allows them to see the world or visit their friends without having to rely on their parents for a lift, Martin said.

Dutch adolescents consistently rank as very happy, and scientists say it could be because they have an unusual amount of freedom, cycling the country's network of safe, connected bike lanes at a very early age to meet friends, go to school and explore their hometowns.

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