I have recently completed one of the longest cycles I have ever managed over three days. I’m not expecting any prizes, but it did give me lots of points to reflect on and some lessons to bring home. Funnily enough, we were easily identified as tourists as we were the only ones wearing our cycling helmets.
The good news first – as billed, the Netherlands is flat (thankfully) and by and large cycling friendly. However, let me bust a few myths. Drivers in the Netherlands are not, I repeat not, cycling friendly. On the shared roads, drivers are just as entitled and aggressive as they are the world over. Drivers view cyclists as a nuisance and getting in the way of urgent business. For me, what really made a difference was the properly segregated cycle lanes for example kerbs and really clear cycle lanes that prevent drivers coming too close together, with cyclists having priority at traffic lights over cars. It is my view that nervous cyclists like me find a bit of paint on the roads rather difficult to believe in as you weave in between parked vehicles and drivers who cut you up.
I was a bit surprised to share quiet cycle paths with mopeds. Not all moped drivers stuck to the speed limit and when you have young families all on bikes, which was great to see, being buzzed by moped drivers somehow didn’t feel right. Since returning home I was interested to read a recent article about mopeds and the difficulties of shared routes.
Final message: there are lots of pedestrians who are super “relaxed” and step back onto cycle lanes for the perfect selfie. I was constantly amazed there weren’t more crashes as I wobbled around the pedestrians, dog walkers, mopeds, fellow cyclists and cars. My bell came in very useful. Then we stopped cycling and returned to sight seeing as a pedestrian and visit more cities, Then, I felt vulnerable as the cyclists take no prisoners. A plea: when cycling infrastructure is developed, also consider pedestrians.
From the viewpoint of an occasional cyclist, I thought cycling was a great way to see a country, follow the slower pace of life and take a sustainable approach to travel. What also interested me was the infrastructure that is needed when a country adopts bikes and lots of people opt to cycle as the way to travel – not just for occasional use. Naturally, I was aware that cycle paths need to be established and maintained. In addition every town, large and small has huge multi-storey bike parks- like a “parking garage”, and free at the point of use.
It was a pleasant and unusual way to travel, but change always bring is its own challenges and unintended consequences. As cities and towns in Scotland respond to the changing way many modes of transport are used and interconnected, this will bring it is own challenges.
For me personally it will be exciting to see how the UK responds to low emission zones and the climate crisis with regards to a cycling infrastructure. Since my return, I have enjoyed the recent car free days in Edinburgh and it will be fascinating to see how this experiment progresses and LGiU are keen to assist and share the learning.