Last Friday I returned from the Cycling Embassy Study Tour to Assen and Groningen in the Netherlands, led by David Hembrow. I am quite deliberately leaving it a while before I even attempt to blog more thoroughly about it as I want to allow some time for it all to sink in. It really was a three-day assault on the senses that went way beyond looking at some Dutch cycling infrastructure. To say it left a profound mark would be bordering on reckless understatement. The amusing aspect was the sheer bewilderment from the Dutch themselves that anyone would want to take photos and examine something that is taken so utterly for granted – the freedom of all citizens to travel with subjective safety by bicycle, if they so choose, regardless of age, gender, colour, creed, status or even what type of cyclist you are for sporting pursuits (we were overtaken by many road cyclists with all sorts of colourful team kit on). To them the act of getting around by bicycle is quite boring and not really worthy of conversation at all – just as it should be.
Here is the video of their launch. I know it has featured on other blogs but it really does need repeating as it really is superb.
I shall be posting far more frequently as I catch up with everything else and try to put everything I’ve seen in a British context. This should be easier than you think (certainly easier than I once thought) and easier than some may have you believe.
Yes, crap fans, here is the next exciting installment of Crap Cycle Lane II where we take you from the Magic Roundabout down to the sea!
As a postscript to the roundabout, West Sussex County Council completely resurfaced it a couple of months ago. This beautiful new surface is coupled with the fact that they didn’t narrow the profile to accomodate a proper cycling facility with the potential for slowing traffic down. This means that at night you can hear the screeching tyres of ‘hot hatches’ speeding around what is a residential area with two schools and a clinic. For some reason, people accept this.
Anyway, let’s cycle to the sea British Infrastructure style! Firstly use the shared use facility and into what should be a nice residential road, pleasant for cycling.
Alas, I’ve found that ‘recommended cycle routes’ also tend to be ‘rat runs’ and so it goes with this fast straight piece of road, perfect for the motorist in a hurry. Just add parked cars and novice cyclists for a beautiful slalom!
I’m going to have to hurry things along as there’s a lot to get through (which I find a bit odd for a simple cycle ride to the sea). Having crossed a fast chicane and taken a quick detour through a housing estate you continue south down this road to another junction and on to a tunnel under the railway line
You can nearly smell the sea can’t you?!!
To pass under the railway you have to skirt a Trading Estate first. The occasional blue bicycle signs should take your mind off the massive trucks swinging in and out.
Don’t forget to dismount! Dismounting and walking are an essential part of cycling in the eyes of a Highways Engineer.
This is where it starts to get interesting. Once back on board your trusty steed you cross the road here and pick up the first cycling contraflow lane.
Over the busy road…
What’s this?! A new road layout for cyclists?! the sign of course is alerting motorists that this is the only place where they have to be aware of cyclists, despite there being a cycle contraflow lane along the road.
As you continue on to the sea (if by now you can remember what a ‘sea’ looks like) you will notice to your left a reasonably nice contraflow cycle lane….
Why they couldn’t realign the road so the layby was on the right with the contraflow on the left I’m not quite sure. It fizzles out at the end of this short residential street too. I think it’s to get cyclists somewhere near the hospital nearby. If someone opens their car door without looking you can take a more direct route.
At the end of the residential bit, I think cyclists heading south either have to pick up this 30mph dual carriageway or cross in front of any vehicles swinging in plus the cycle lane and on to the pavement to a pelican crossing on the right. The cycle route continues over the other side. How you get there is a little vague, but that would have involved thought from the engineers. Instead we have the same thought process that came up with a 30mph dual carriageway being a good idea for a town centre.
Above is a close up of where you would have to cross.
The picture above is looking North from whence we came. On the left is the shared use path from the pelican crossing. Please note that no space has been ceded by motorists, who still enjoy loads of space to speed into and out of town. In the Netherlands, they might have reduced the traffic flow to single carriageway, provided a decent, wide cycle path segregated from pedestrians, added planting and even additonal parking for residents. But this isn’t the Netherlands.
At the end of the cycle path you cross the roundabout entrance to pick up the road to the right and start the push (quite literally!) along the final furlong! Well, done for making it this far!!
The road you’ve just entered is 20mph and is two way past the car park entrance on the left up to the busy Royal Mail sorting offices on the right where a natty little cycle contraflow has been added! Let’s take a look!
Yes! The entrance at the other end has an entrance for cyclists only that cuts right across the entrance to the busy sorting office. Perfect for the novice cyclist looking to gain a bit of confidence.
All we have to do now is turn left out of this road (cyclists can’t turn right here anyway despite a Library and the Town Hall being nearby) and head to the sea!
All you have to do is cycle down this 20mph road (which is blatantly ignored by motorists), along the bus/cycle lane through the pedestrianised bit and you are finally at Worthing Pier!!
Then go home, pack your bags and head to Copenhagen, Amsterdam or Grongingen to find out how the Council should have done it.
Copenhagenize has written a blog post highlighting, or should I say sneering at, Vehicular Cyclists. For those not in the know, this is a style best illustrated [because I’m in the UK] by John Franklin in his book, Cyclecraft, whereby a bicycle holds a more prominent position in traffic to be seen – in effect to be treated as traffic. This instantly brings to mind every regular cyclist in Britain.
According to this thought provoking blog, Vehicular cyclists are ‘a small, yet vocal, group that is male-dominated, testosterone-driven and that lacks basic understanding of human nature. They expect that everyone should be just like them – classic sub-cultural point of view – and that everyone should embrace cycling in traffic and pretending they are cars. They are apparently uninterested in seeing grandmothers, mothers or fathers with children or anyone who doesn’t resemble then contributing to re-creating the foundations of liveable cities by re-establishing the bicycle as transport’. A little harsh I think and a massive disservice to all the men and women across the UK that campaign and fight for the rights of cyclists.
Because in the UK it is a fight. I believe that to be a cyclist in the UK you have to comprise:
One part Bloody Mindedness (for dealing with today’s road network, and in particular, its users) plus
Two parts Stoicism (for dealing with the options open to us which are often well meaning but nearly always badly designed) with
A smidgeon of Persecution Complex (for dealing with the constant feeling of being erased off a road network that cyclists and pedestrians have more right to).
The interesting point however is that he believes that vehicular cyclists are against cycling infrastructure of any kind. This is massively oversimplifying the issue and is wide of the mark for this simple reason; British Cycle Infrastructure is Utterly, Utterly, Utterly Diabolical. It is designed by people who don’t know anything about cycling but clearly know lots about squiggly lines and dismounting. People are already ripping into the new London Cycling Superhighways, but not because they don’t want the infrastructure. It’s because the designers honestly believed that painting the same crap blue would somehow change everything, whilst ignoring the issue of what actually makes a decent piece of cycling infrastructure work such as priority at junctions.
I would love to see Danish and Dutch style infrastructure here, I really would. I live by the sea and work by the sea with a 12 mile ride in between. I would have the golden opportunity to justify buying a Pashley Guv’nor to The Wife, I could throw my helmet into the sea whilst cackling like a maniac. Above all, I could really enjoy cycling again, as opposed to being part of the Rat Race. I know that Sustrans have created NCN2 between Brighton and Worthing which I could use but it’s nowhere near European standards.
The golden question is should we be really be campaigning for cycling facilities such as those best typified in Groningen as opposed to the constant struggle to maintain a presence on the roads? Should we be fighting for a European Directive on cycle facility design influenced by Denmark and the Netherlands? Should Cycle Campaigners be forging greater alliances with Masterplanners or pedestrian and wheelchair user groups along with movements such as Transition Towns to create more accessible and liveable towns and cities?
It can’t be any worse than the realm we find ourselves in where the car is king and the poor cycle paths are for the wretched serfs.