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Two different experiences: Brasilia x Rotterdam

Updated: Jun 1, 2022

Hello, My name is Carla Costa and I am an architect and urban planner. It is important to start describing the context of my cycling experience. I was born in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, founded in 1960 and nowadays is home to approximately 3 million people. It bears the weight of being a capital city designed from scratch and built up from nothing. Lucio Costa’s winning project for the new capital was based on the recommendations from the modernist movement that included the importance of zoning the fundamental urban functions: live, work, leisure, and circulation. The dynamics of the city rely heavily on the network that connects those functions where cars are, still, the major player. This characteristic is unique when one starts comparing it to other cities. It was designed for cars, from day 1. The logical daily displacement prioritizes cars over any other mode of transportation.

Brasilia view from TV Tower. Photo by Joana Franca

After one year living in the Netherlands, I realize all the obstacles the residents in Brasilia have to face to decide to use the bike as their main choice of commuting. The privilege of living in the Netherlands is as simple as that: you don’t have to think about cycling. You just pick your bike, unlock it and go. You don’t have to think too much about your route, because you know that wherever you go, there are going to have cycle-lanes or cycle paths, and they are going to be safe.


Back in Brasilia, if I ever think about getting my bike to go somewhere, I have to think about so many things beforehand, that chances are higher for you to give up ongoing. Not only would I have to think about the route itself: should I take the zigzag cycle-lane? Or go along with the cars? Or with the buses? Sometimes even the cycle-paths are not safe, I came across high speeding motorbikes and even cars (!!!) using the cycle-paths. How would I cross the city center, the main bottleneck? But also: where would I park my bike safely?

Risking along with cars/discontinuity in Brasilia. Source: Uira Lourenco/Mobilize

Will I be able to change my clothes? This last one can make a difference. Different from the Netherlands, Brasilia can get hot, and you would want to change your sweaty clothes before going to work, and most workplaces don't have a change room with showers for the employees.

So, yes, I am making the most of my time in the Netherlands. I do all my errands on foot or by bike. I enjoy very much showing Rotterdam around when I get visitors from Brazil. They are often amazed by how easy it feels to ride anywhere and also by the infrastructure: bike parking, bridges, intersections, street signage. For me, the ultimate biking experience here is to be able to bike safely during the night. The day I went to meet friends at a bar wearing heels (under the rain!) was the greatest feeling of freedom I had.

Biking around with Brazilian friends

But don't get me wrong, I really like riding a bike in Brasilia, but here in the Netherlands, you can feel that this is part of the daily lives of residents, something that you don't put much effort into. It is not a choice, it is a lifestyle.


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