Boston in Lincolnshire is a small town with a population of 35000. That's just over half the population of Assen where we live. While Assen was originally a monastery in 1258, Boston claims to date back to a monastery as long ago as AD 654. Both places certainly share a long history, and many changes over the years. Both are now regional centres to which people travel from out of town in order to shop, to study or to work. For many centuries, Boston had significant trade with continental Europe and the town was influenced by European ideas. Boston has a particularly fine windmill sited next to a canal (the Maud Foster Drain).
Boston is so similar to a Dutch town that Wikipedia notes that it "was used by film makers during the Second World War to represent the Netherlands when the real thing was not available for filming."
There are a few pedestrianized streets in the centre of Boston which look like this:
|"Pedestrianization" in Boston.|
|"Pedestrianization" in Assen (see before and after photos).|
|In Boston, bicycles are banned|
|In Assen there are many bikes and|
cycling is encouraged.
Of course, any place which bans motor vehicles has the potential to be a quieter place for people to enjoy. But Boston actually runs scheduled bus services through the "pedestrianized" area every few minutes, and when they come through they generate a remarkably irritating warning sound which you can hear from the video:
Note that this video has explanatory captions which do not appear on a mobile device. You must watch on a computer to understand the video. Afterwards, watch another video which shows how the similar looking streets in Assen work very differently in practice.
This "pedestrian" zone seems somewhat a misunderstanding of what a pedestrian zone is. It also is somewhat a missed opportunity to make cycling more attractive.
Of course, the centre isn't the only difference these days between Assen and Boston. Boston still looks in other ways like a typical British town with, despite its small population, quite remarkable amounts of motor traffic using roads which are surprisingly large, surprisingly busy, and which direct this traffic right through the centre of the town.
Cycling to the centre of Boston requires using the same roads. Pedestrians walk behind barriers and have to cross those roads using multi-stage crossings with huge delays.
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I've cycled along this road (I sometimes cycled to my in-laws from Cambridge when we lived there), and I can tell you that it's no more pleasant than it looks. While people who live in the suburbs of Assen cycle with very small children on their own bikes to the centre of the city, that's not what people do in Boston. People who cycle in Boston do so despite the conditions, not because of them. In Boston, like other British towns, cycling resembles an extreme sport. Roads like this, without any cycling facilities, do not encourage mass cycling. It's not the same as cycling to the centre of a Dutch town like Assen.
Overwhelmingly, what Bostonians do to get about is to drive their cars. It's an easy choice to make. People may get stuck in traffic jams, which can be a problem even in small towns like Boston, they may have to pay to park (which is about as expensive as in Assen) as well as for petrol and the upkeep of their cars, and they may well complain about these costs. However, when the infrastructure looks as it does in towns like Boston, and good alternatives are not provided, then people will carry on driving anyway almost regardless of the cost as this is still seen as the least bad option.
The huge amount of car parking provided even very close to the start of the "pedestrian" zone also means that anyone who tries to cycle here will have to take on a large number of motor vehicles as they do so:
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To me, this is an interesting contrast. Boston used to be part of Holland in Lincolnshire. I wrote before about how similar this area is to the Netherlands. None of the usual excuses about hills and other nonsense apply at all. The people are the same, the landscape is the same, their transport habits were once the same. The only real difference now between a British town like Boston and a Dutch town like Assen is the infrastructure. That is what explains the very different patterns of transport seen now between what were once very similar towns. Forty years ago, Assen and other Dutch towns looked a lot like Boston.
Boston encourages driving, as well as some public transport usage. The town makes walking and cycling relatively unpleasant. The result is that people overwhelmingly drive. On the other hand, Assen encourages cycling, due to offering direct and pleasant routes for cycling. The result is that people cycle for 40% of their journeys.
For Boston to reduce its car dependency and be more welcoming to cyclists requires the same kind of transformation to be made as was made in the Netherlands. It is time that British streets started to look like modern Dutch streets. Boston people could cycle just as Dutch people can. In fact, archive footage shows that before the roads across the whole country were dominated by cars, when people cycled more than they drove all across Britain, Boston's population cycled in huge numbers.
See also pedestrianization in the centre of Hoogeveen, another town of a similar size to Boston, and how pedestrianization is handled in a suburb of Assen. It's of interest that the idea of running buses through the pedestrian zone was pushed through by the council in Boston even though it unpopular with many of the people. I think sometimes the public transport companies in Britain have far too much influence. I'm reminded of a council meeting which I was part of in Cambridge a few years ago at which a councillor stood up and talked about how "cyclists undermine the bus service" and that this was a reason not to provide good cycle access to a proposed Park and Ride site.