Tuesday 23 November 2010

Cycle routes in the Netherlands

David Hembrow's blog, a view from the cyclepath, shows how cycling infrastructure could and should be implemented to generate the cycling modal share enjoyed in the Netherlands.

In his post on the directness of cycle routes, he links to a video showing how roads have been designed in the Netherlands to provide direct routes for cyclists, how cycling is prioritised over car use, and how this helps cycling become a convenient and safe way to travel.

The most telling part of the video was at around 1:30, where old pictures of a main road in Utrecht were shown against what this street is like now. 20 years ago the road was a 4 lane major thoroughfare for traffic, and then it was altered to only allow bicycles and public transport to travel on it. Thus providing wide pavements for pedestrians, superb cycle paths for cyclists, and a direct route for buses which are all separated in a logical way.

This shows the utter fallacy of the excuse trotted out that London's roads are too narrow to accommodate cycle infrastructure, whereas the Dutch had the luxury of space. They didn't. They made a conscious decision to completely alter their towns and cities to prioritise cycling, walking and public transport over cars. They didn't achieve all of this by just trying to fit it around the existing structure which grew up to cater for private vehicles, they fundamentally changed the nature of the roads themselves.

The Dutch didn't get modal share because they have some fundamental cultural affinity for cycling, cycling rates were dropping as fast in Holland as anywhere else until cycling infrastructure was put in. They didn't get the modal share because of the flatness of the landscape - Newham is flat as well, but has 0% modal share. They didn't get it because they only invested in pretty posters and nice videos and strategy documents. They got it because they invested in infrastructure to support the bicycle.

Can you imagine if the car infrastructure had been approached in the same way in the 20th Century as cycling infrastructure is approached now? Instead of countless billions of pounds spent re-modelling our cities to accommodate the car, spent on bypasses and flyovers and motorways, spent on car-parks and road-signs and tarmac, the town planners and governments had decided they couldn't possibly do all of this so we would have to settle for some posters and a couple of short films? I doubt car usage would have got out of single digit modal share without all this enormous investment and vast restructuring. So why on earth do transport advisers and government departments think that a cycling revolution can take place with absolutely nothing other than platitudes?

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