Sadly, our colleagues from Newcastle Cycling Campaign have had less luck. There, Nexus-run Tyne and Wear Metro use “health and safety” considerations to ban cyclists from bringing their bicycles on to their trains. Metro train drivers are known to call the police out to evict a cyclist from an otherwise empty carriage. Newcastle is currently going through the consultation stages of a cycling strategy for the city, as well as its Local Transport Plan 3. Neither mentions the metro bike ban. Newcastle Cycling Campaign have raised this strongly in their response to LTP3.
The All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group visited the Netherlands in April 2009 with officials from British cycling organisations. This excellent video by Newcastle-based Carlton Reid of QuickreleaseTV documents the group’s findings.
Carlton Reid will be a guest speaker of Darlington Cycling Campaign this coming autumn.
The top four stories on The Northern Echo website at the moment are all car-related and all negative:
* Four-car collision causes traffic disruption
* Sneezing man rescued from burning car
* Two seriously injured after tanker and cars collide
* 118mph Police driving instructor’s speed shame (also the front page story in today’s paper)
Thankfully no-one was killed in any of these incidents.
How come nobody remembers these stories when trying to decide how to get somewhere, yet they remember any story about trains being delayed?
Our last hours in the Netherlands included the remarkable Groningen railway station. Underneath a large, open forecourtthat is devoid of traffic, resides a massive bicycle parking area, with what seemed like tens of thousands of bikes parked up.
Groningen, with a population of 185,000 is about twice the size of Darlington, roughly as big as Sunderland. And this is the kind of picture that can be imagined if we had a cycling-friendly culture in the north east of England.
We put our bikes on the train in Groningen, and again space is tight. It’s the rush hour on a small local train to the border town of Nieuweschans. From here, it’s a short ride to the border, but remarkably the cycle route takes us into Germany without a hint of a border crossing. Only the change in road signs and bus stops give away the change of country – we actually crossed the border on a small path that runs alongside a single-track railway line.
Trains in Germany are quite different – an entire carriage at the rear of the train is given over to cyclists. The seats are lined up along the side walls, and can be up or down depending on the number of bikes.
In both cases, though, we need to pay for the bikes, (daily tickets cost 6 euros in the Netherlands, 4.50 in Germany) whatever the journey. So compared to the UK pluses and minuses – we don’t pay for bikes on trains in the UK, but there is little space, and we must book in advance. In the Netherlands there is still little space, though it is at least a walk on service. In Germany, taking the bike is a lot easier, though again requires payment.
So we arrive at our destination, Bremen. A few days to cycle around and gain some further impressions before the return home.
Within 300 metres of getting off the ferry in Ijmuiden, we are confronted with a magic roundabout. A cycle ring towards the outer rim gives cyclists priority over vehicle traffic joining and leaving the roundabout. We know this phenomenon from previous visits to Bremen, where we have filmed a roundabout that is designed for motorists to give way to cyclists on entering or leaving. (Have a look at the Things to Come video on our 2007 Cycling Symposium site for an idea of what this means).
This bikezone article gives an overview of the problems with British roundabouts from a cyclists’ point of view.
Accident rates at roundabouts are a concern in most industrialised countries. It just seems that some (including the UK) can’t imagine a solution that gives such priority to non-motorised traffic. Yet studies consistently suggest that driver awareness and attention is the key to reducing accidents. Even at these cycle ring roundabouts, cyclists are watching out for sleepy car drivers. A clear run through a roundabout for a car driver reduces their propensity to pay close attention to details like cyclists.
We team up with Martin (above), a cyclist from North Shields who is touring Holland for a couple of weeks. Martin has Dutch parents, but sounds Geordie through and through after being brought up on Tyneside. He struggles to enjoy cycling in North Shields, but loves it here in Holland. Martin’s choice of cycling on Tyneside is partly economic – he is not burdened by the spiralling costs of car ownership, and has adjusted his lifestyle accordingly.
Then we cross the nearby river on a ferry that separates cars from cyclists/pedestrians, the former paying for the crossing, the latter not. So pricing policy favours sustainable transport there.
When we come across this small railway station in Castricum, we realise the depth of cycling culture in this part of the world – hundreds of bikes used to commute to a station the size of Thornaby.
We say our goodbyes to Martin, who is heading up to the islands. A short train trip from Castricum to Anna Paulowna near the dyke to the north is perhaps less inspiring, and explains why most bikes are left behind. Whilst it is possible to walk on a train with your bike without pre-booking, it costs six euros for a bike “day ticket”, however short the journey. And there is little space to store bikes in the designated areas – maybe 2 or 3 bikes at a time in two or three spaces near doorways.
When we tell a passenger we are heading for Germany, they mention in passing how German trains are both better and cheaper. Judgement withheld until later.
After two days of rain, at last the sun comes out as we leave the train. Coupled with a decent breeze on our backs, the long ride to and over the dyke now becomes genuinely exhilarating. Tim decides to burst into song. The joys, the joys.