Thursday 10 February 2011

Bradford and Amsterdam at the start of the 20th century

A few days ago Judy showed me this film of Bradford at the start of the 20th century. Shortly afterwards, I saw the one below showing Amsterdam at a similar date.

I was struck by the similarity of the two films. In both cases, the roads have trams, horses pull carts, dogs run freely, and there are bicycles and pedestrians.

What neither film shows, compared with the present day, is motor cars. As a result, human beings are free to walk, talk and relax in the street.

Cities around the world looked similar for most of the 20th century. It is only later, particularly from the 1970s onwards, that the bicycle was once again prioritized in the Netherlands, and from then onwards the similarities have faded as development took a very different path.

A survey last year found Bradford to be the 'worst city in Britain for cycling'. However, on looking for information on Bradford I found an amazingly long list of websites about cycling in Bradford, with hard working people involved in campaigning, training, and quite a lot of sport cycling.

Unfortunately, the problem is the infrastructure. If Bradford still looked like Amsterdam it would have a higher cycling rate than it does. But sadly, while the Netherlands moved on in road design since the 1970s, the UK did not, and Bradford is quite typical. So far as we've been able to tell, this is what the street shown in the Bradford video above now looks like. This may well also be the route of the local bike bus:

View Larger Map

For real change to occur, Bradford, like all towns in the UK, needs to do what works.

Update 11 March David Domestique made a comment, which made me look at the website again, and that's where I saw this video of the bike bus in action:

It's a nice example of good people getting on with doing things in a positive manner. However, they still need government support if cycling is truly to grow.

This second video shows the conditions faced by cyclists who take part in the bike bus:

I'm not criticising the riders one bit. If I was there, I'd hope to find such agreeable people to ride with. But feeling a need to do so is one of the problems which the UK faces. Cycling is not nearly as subjectively safe as it needs to be for the masses to want to ride. There's a reason why rush hour looks somewhat different here.

The films come from BFIfilms and Mark Wagenbuur.


hercule said...

One thought that came to mind looking at the two films was the speed of transport - pedestrians, bikes, horses and carts, trams all moved at roughly the same speed. Not only does the great speed differential of motorised transport v. everything else makes the roads and streets more unpleasant places to be, they also make everything else feel that they have to go faster. Cyclists in the 1900s seemed to bowl along at a sedate pace; nowadays with cars zooming past at 30mph+, you feel that you've got to ride faster to be safe.

kfg said...

I particularly like this film of Barcelona in 1908:

Note, however, that the sedate pace of some is because they are aware of the camera and are moving at its pace to stay in the field of view.

This doesn't mean that the observation about pace isn't valid. Ivan Illich treats it at length in "Energy and Equity," where he argues that the critical rate is about 15 mph.

Unknown said...

You might want to rephrase your post the way I read it I thought you were implying that there were no cars in the Amsterdam film. I was therefore surprised to see so many. None-the-less they seemed to coexist quite well with all the other modes conforming themselves to their speed.

David Domestique said...

I ride with the Aire Valley Bike Bus, that you mention in the original article. You're right the old video of Bradford and your new google map are part of our cycling route.

It's not actually all that bad, with plenty of bus and bike lanes along it - and the stretch shown is one of the quieter parts of the route in the morning.

I'm trying to work out what your connection with Bradford is...but suffice to say, if you're ever over then come ride with us!

David Hembrow said...

Hi David.

I don't have any real connection with Bradford, apart from eating some excellent curries there. However, my wife grew up in and around Bradford, and it was her looking at old photos and videos of the place that resulted in finding the old video in the blog.

I very much like the positivity that you show, getting on with it in the face of adversity is one of the better British traits. However, it's unfortunate that cycling in Britain is still not being treated by the government as something which is deserving of mainstream support.

That a bike bus is necessary is itself a symptom of this. As a social construct it's excellent, but no-one should ever feel the need to have to make their own "safety in numbers" by riding together. That's precisely the sort of thing we've not seen at all since we emigrated, and that's why I've been blogging about the many differences between cycling here and in the UK.