Try this awareness test….
You sometimes forget when visiting a country like the Netherlands that it is made up of towns, cities, regions, each with their own unique identities. Crossing the 30 kilometre dyke on the Ijsselmeer reminded us of this fact.
South of the dyke is Holland proper, not to be confused with the rest of the Netherlands (cf with use of “England” for “Great Britain”). North of the dyke is Friesland, a largely rural area famous for its cows.
What immediately struck us as cyclists was the change in traffic treatment. Where previously we were given clear priority of crossing motor traffic – at side turnings, for example – in Friesland the approach is more tentative.
Crossings like the one in the picture ask cyclists to give way to car traffic – and car drivers take the hint by driving faster, and with less awareness of what is going on around them in much the same way as Brits.
The first major town we passed through after the dyke, Bolsward, proved to be typical of the region. Here, the town centre has a 30kph (20mph) speed limit, and little or no separate cycle paths. With cycling as popular here as in the rest of the Netherlands, the streets are loaded with brave cyclists and rather aggressive motorists – though thankfully far fewer than in Darlo.
The layout of Friesland roads became apparent as we continued on to Sneek. Small country roads typically have no central line, but instead are narrowed either side with non-mandatory cycle paths, to both warn motorists that cyclists may be round the next corner, and to give them less of a feeling of the open road. Here is one example.
Is this a chicken and egg problem? Does good behaviour follow clear traffic measures that give cyclists priority, or are such measures not possible where motorists are typically possessive about their road space? Perhaps the clue lies in the politics of the different regions, though little can be gleaned from the electoral arithmetic of the 2006 Dutch general election.
But it does make sense, that if strong political leadership is forthcoming, anti-social driving behaviour can be challenged. And what is clear from this experience is that national patterns of behaviour can and do vary. Darlington pundits take note – stop hiding behind the “we are British, we can’t do it” excuse for inaction.
You get your first bike at the age of three. You learn to cycle on Xmas Day with your parents in tow. You cycle to school (illegally) on the pavement.
By 2007 you are at secondary school and some smart powers-that-be have built you a fantastic covered bike shed, so you can still cycle to school (illegally) using the pavements and muddy tracks.
Cycling is such a joy at this age. On Sundays you take your bike out to the nearest park and play cycle jumps all afternoon.
But don’t think too far ahead. One day, if these powers-that-be have their way, they will chase you off the pavement and on to their deadly roads. Cycling in this world is all about defence, helmets and reflective clothing. But it doesn’t HAVE to be that way. There are some cyclists out there who want to carry on with the joy well into their old age. “I hope some day you’ll join us” (JL).
The Northern Echo website carries a story about car drivers parking on and blocking pavements, and the danger this causes, Saving 50p could cost someone’s life.
This, and cars going through amber lights, is one of my current pet hates. We’re back to pushing a single pushchair, but when we had a double buggy our way was frequently blocked by cars with two wheels on the path. I see it as one more example of drivers putting cars before people.
As a bit of an experiment, I used the advised route down Pendleton road this morning, rather than heading straight down North Road. It was quite nice to not be dodging cars, especially now that I’m on a different bike with much wider handlebars.
It did, however, remind me of one of the problems with these routes off the main transport corridor; at some point you have to rejoin the main road. This is my main problem with using back streets and off-road cycle tracks; it’s usually impossible to complete an entire journey on them, so they don’t really encourage people who dislike riding on the main road to start riding their bike and leave their car at home.
Other problems I have with these routes include:
* On my way home, it will be dark. I’d rather be on the well-lit, well-used main road, than in back streets or riding down by the river or on the Black Path.
* Less drivers will see me, which means they will think less about bikes. More bikes on the roads being seen by drivers makes the roads safer for cyclists. If cyclists are tucked away in little hidden sidestreets, back alleys and off-road tracks, they’re not being seen riding their bikes.
* It reinforces the opinion of drivers that bikes shouldn’t be on the road.
Going home, I’ll be back on North Road, I think.