Tuesday, 26 August 2008

But our streets are narrow...

I've had a few campaigners from the UK say to me that Britain's streets must be narrower than those in the Netherlands and that this is why there "isn't room" for better provision in the UK.

It's simply not true. The Netherlands has a history just as long as the UK's, and has roads in the centre which are just as old and just as narrow. A little while ago I wrote a review of a book about Assen showing how the city has changed over the years. The book, "Assen Verandert", includes photos showing streets that were clogged with motor vehicles in the 1960s and 70s, but which are now a pleasure to cycle in. The whole of the old centre has been transformed for the better in this way. You can get a glimpse of this by reading the review.

Of course, it's not only about older streets in city centres. Room is also found here alongside rural roads, and of course there is absolutely no excuse in new developments. So, why are new estates still dominated by cars in the UK while here we get first class cycling provision ?

The photo shows two of the Study Tour participants from May measuring the thickness of the (then) partially constructed surface of the new bike path on Groningerstraat. This road now has a 2.5 m wide unidirectional cycle path each side, widening in a few parts up to four metres (the older cycle path was a bit narrower).

The interesting thing about Groningerstraat is that when the width was measured, it turned out to be about the same width overall as Gilbert Road in Cambridge, a road I used to ride along regularly when I lived there. The two roads have many similarities: both have houses dating from before the Second World War, both have trees down either side, both have a secondary school and the traffic levels are similar. Another pair of photos to compare: Groningerstraat vs. Gilbert Road.

Groningerstraat is very much better for cycling along than Gilbert Road. Let's stop giving planners an excuse. There may not always be room for cars, but there is always room for bikes.

Update November 2009: I have made a video showing the entire length of this road and how well it works. Also I have found how much it cost to do this work. Probably less than you think. It's all at this blog post.
Dutch towns and villages also include many very narrow streets like this. In such cases,  motor traffic is diverted elsewhere


Adrian said...

That streets are narrow is only one part of the excuse - the other part is that the motorised users of the street form a political bloc too powerful to overcome in countries like Australia. They are not convinced by arguments that separated cycle paths will ease traffic for them. That argument may be true, but it is also useless.

The issue is political rather than technical.

David Hembrow said...

Adrian: Absolutely. However, we should never let people get away with claiming that the problem is technical.