Misinterpreting Interpretations

No! No! No! Not ‘Go DITCH’…..

Now that the internet has uncovered the realities of cycling in Denmark and The Netherlands and people in Britain have started to discuss what it means to ‘Copenhagenize‘ and ‘Amsterdamize‘ and realised that the cycling infrastructure design and implementation in Britain lags a bit behind the Falkland Islands and London Cycling Campaign members voted to ‘Go Dutch‘ and Norman Baker MP stated that we could learn from our Dutch colleagues and handsome, gifted young men start a Cycling Embassy to eventually start lobbying and exchanging ideas with British, Dutch and Danish friends and more friends beyond, there now follows the desperate period where British people start to speak with sudden authority interpreting what it all actually means such as this latest offering from the Guardian Bike Blog.

To many, ‘Going Dutch’ means having segregation everywhere! There are many British people, who through no fault of their own, are not Dutch or are in any way conversant with the Dutch experience. Thus the very notion of segregation will instantly make people instantly think of their local high street, housing estate or country lane and try to mentally cram in a couple of with-flow cycle paths with separating kerbs. And then dismiss the idea as bunkum.

The fact is that ‘Going Dutch’ does mean having segregation everywhere! But there’s one fundamental caveat; The British assume segregation to mean ‘segregating cyclists from the road to ‘improve traffic flow for motorised traffic’ whereas the Dutch mean ‘segregate motorised vehicles from people to improve movement for everyone’.

Through the years, the British have created a lot of bypasses, relief roads, motorways, urban expressways and the like. The Dutch did the same but ensured that it became an utter pain in the buttocks to get across the town being bypassed in a car, in effect forcing motorised traffic to use the new infrastructure built. The British didn’t and are still paying the price with heavily congested town and city centres. In fact we keep using it as some perverse justification to build more bypasses, relief roads, motorways, urban expressways and the like. Here’s a clip from ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’ made in the very early 1980’s that captures it perfectly.

With traffic where it should be, it then becomes a lot easier to transform areas that were for people into areas for people,  giving planners a chance to make cycling and walking very direct, pleasant and safe options indeed. It also becomes less like political suicide to start suggesting things like ‘Strict Liability’, defined by Wikipedia like so,

‘”Strict liability”, supported in law in the Netherlands,[1] leads to [a] driver’s insurance being deemed to be responsible in a collision between a car and a cyclist. This makes car drivers very wary of bicycles.’

The fact is that no-one is saying that there should be segregated cycle paths everywhere, not even the Dutch or the Danes. It doesn’t help that cycle infrastructure in this country resembles something designed by someone who really, really, really hates cycling. But to dismiss them arbitrarily because of not understanding their true context in mainland Europe is a cheap shot. Even if they only create the ‘Placebo effect’ to which the Guardian Bike Blog post alludes, I’d prefer that to consistent fines from the EU for failing to meet air pollution targets, or more gastric band surgery or one of the worst road safety records for cyclists and pedestrians in Western Europe (as tragically demonstrated in this moving blog post from Embassy Press Officer, Mark Ames). Now that my Study Tour experience has really started to sink in (which the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain intends to make an annual event), I shall be revealing more over the next few weeks (and years) mainly through the Embassy website as well as addressing further how all this should be taken to a wider British audience that doesn’t know yet how much they love riding a bicycle like previous generations.

I leave you with this ditty I’ve quickly put together for the Cycling Embassy from footage taken by me on the Study Tour and then from my commute to work (Worthing to Brighton) on the Monday morning after returning home.

9 thoughts on “Misinterpreting Interpretations”

  1. Was the Cycling Embassy start just by “gifted young men”? I can think of a few people who might be peeved by that comment… 😉

    1. Oh, give me a break! I’m 39 years old in a couple of weeks time! I just wanted to savour that moment! OK then, ‘..and the Dame of Dumfries’! 🙂

  2. It seems to suggest that segregated cycle paths built without a foundation of a suitable transport hierarchy/culture is a bit like pissing into the wind. In New Zealand, cycle paths don’t get built and if they do they aren’t used (for a variety of familiar reasons). The real benefits of cycling for transport are not fully understood by public and pollies, yet.

  3. Thanks for all your inspirational thoughts and for your work in establishing the cycling embassy. I’m only an occassional cyclist in Brighton – put off by the general crapness of the Lewes Road cycle route. Searching the net for any group campaigining to make things better I stumbled across Bricycles and was just a bit disappointed – they don’t appear to have ‘seen the light’ on a number of issues and they’ve just produced these guidance notes along with other groups in Sussex available here – http://www.bricycles.org.uk/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=95&Itemid=76. Now I’m sure these guys are well intentioned but what they’re asking for is really nothing like what is needed. What can you or the Embassy do to help enlighten our local cycling groups?

  4. This seems to me to be a rare article that explains that, even in The Netherlands, it is not all about building segregated paths to get cycles out of the way of motor vehicles, but is rather about taking motor vehicles out of the urban landscape as much as possible to improve things for everyone, not just cyclists. That is good, but, unfortunately, like the overwhelming number of articles about the Dutch approach, it includes a video that shows exclusively segregated cycle paths alongside busy roads carrying motor traffic.
    Is it not possible to show a video that supports your message: “no-one is saying that there should be segregated cycle paths everywhere”?
    In fact, perhaps it would be better to stop using the term “segregation”, as that is widely understood here to mean precisely “segregated paths everywhere”, and for most people, “poorly designed segregated paths everywhere”, and will always be watered down further by our “designers” to mean white lines painted on roads.

    1. Thanks for the comment. Instead of adding an addendum with more pertinent video, I’ll write a new post that clarifies matters as you raise a couple of good points.

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