|Assen's cycle-racing circuit a few days|
ago. The winner of this race averaged
59 km/h for 3/4 of an hour. The
fastest cycling takes place on tracks
which are away from motor vehicles.
All types of cycle racing are extra-
ordinarily popular in the Netherlands,
hence even many smaller cities have
specially built cycling circuits on
which people ride extremely quickly.
In fact, bicycles are at their fastest on specially built segregated infrastructure and on closed roads. If you don't believe me, try following this link, and also this one.
|The no-cycling sign seems to wind up|
some people. However when there's a
better alternative by cycle it's not a
problem to leave this road to the cars.
The people who worry most about being banned also sometimes point at the Netherlands as being a place where cyclists have lost a right to ride on all roads. But how important is it to Dutch cyclists that they're not allowed to ride on every road ?
|If you don't like the sign banning bikes,|
then how do you feel about this sign ?
Both result in cycling without cars.
Actually, it turns out that this is not important at all. What matters in practice is that cyclists have a high density grid of high quality efficient routes to use to get to all possible locations. It's not very important at all that cyclists should go to the same places as cars can go to by following exactly the same routes. There's no reason to assume that the routes that cars are allowed to use are also the best routes for cyclists.
Unravelling of cycle routes from driving routes means that cyclists don't have to put up with infrastructure which is necessary for cars and the inconvenience of sharing roads with cars is removed. In the Netherlands cyclists often don't have to stop for traffic lights precisely because they're not riding with cars.
For example, in the city centre of Assen most streets are either not accessible by car, or have been made less useful by car than by bike. The result is very good conditions for cycling. Indeed, it's more efficient for cycling now than it used to be because getting rid of the cars meant that the many traffic lights which used to be present and which once delayed cyclists on city centre streets are no longer required.
Through the countryside, country roads have been made unusable or un-attractive to drivers and here too there are many cycle-paths which take more direct routes.
By making a distinction between cyclists and drivers, it's also possible for drivers to be built the sort of junctions that they need without cyclists needing to being aware of them at all.
|Motorway south of Assen. I've never|
even been tempted to cycle here. The
photo was taken from a bridge which is
only for bikes. Much more like it.
How effective is the law which requires cyclists not to use motorways ? I would say it's barely worth having that law at all. People are sufficiently unenthusiastic about cycling on motorways that it is extremely rare that anyone does so, and the law is only part of the reason why people don't do so. It is so rare that people actually do ride their bikes on motorways that those who do this often end up on television. I've never heard of anyone fighting for the "right to ride" on motorways.
|Distances here are often shorter by bike|
than by car. It's not often so in the UK.
|I still have the large collection of|
Ordnance Survey maps which I
built up of places where I rode as
a touring cyclist in the UK.
Detailed tour planning was
required to minimise use
of unpleasant roads.
|In the Netherlands I spend much less|
time planning and much more time
enjoying fantastic conditions for
cycling. Being banned from roads
is simply not an issue when
cycle-paths are like this.
However we have to recognise that even a short length of busy road may as well be a thousand miles so far as most people are concerned. Most people simply will not cycle in those conditions regardless of their right to do so.
No real reasons to complain
In the Netherlands I've never had a reason to ride on a road so unpleasant as those which I sometimes used quite frequently in the UK. Just as the UK provides an alternative to motorways for slower vehicles, the Netherlands provides cyclists with alternatives to unpleasant roads. These alternatives very often take shorter routes and quite often combine that with more pleasant scenery. They can even have a better surface than the road. It's not a hardship to use these routes at all, this just makes cycling more pleasant.
|Retirement in the Netherlands...|
While the cycle-paths are filled by commuters and children on Monday to Friday, Saturday is when you'll see any number of shoppers, Sunday mornings are when you'll see many racing cyclists and sunny Sunday afternoons are when the cycle-paths become especially filled by people of all ages just going out for a pleasant ride.
Touring is incredibly popular in the Netherlands. It's a mainstream activity here, not something for a small minority, because it's accessible to everyone. Whether you ride long or short distances, fast or slow, it's all possible.
Not perfect, but serious problems are rare
Of course the Netherlands is not perfect for cycling, but conditions on cycle-paths which really do not work for cyclists are rare. In seven years I've only found one place where the cycle-path was so seriously inadequate that I really wanted to ride on the road. You can see it in this video:
If all cycling infrastructure in the Netherlands was as poor as that shown in the video this would indeed be a problem for cyclists. However, actually what is shown here is a rare exception: a cycle-path which is not of high enough quality to support a high and growing cycling modal share. It should have been replaced by something which meets current standards many years ago. Note again that this is absolutely not the norm. It's just a short bad section in one town. The rest of the grid is better and that's why cycling works. Ordinarily, we don't even have to behave like this even if there are road works.
Note: Please don't make the mistake of assuming that the video above demonstrates the typical quality for cycle-paths in the Netherlands. The video above shows a cycle-path which is well below average quality. It is highlighted here in order to make the point that it is not good enough. Watch other videos which demonstrate normal quality paths on which it is possible to make very good progress by bike.
Should cyclists be banned from roads ?
Would I ban cyclists from riding on the roads ? Of course not. I wouldn't ask for this because there seems little point in asking for it. Nothing to gain. In places where there is no alternative route of sufficient quality and directness it would be a disaster to ban cycling on roads because that would make it impossible for the small number of people who cycle now to continue to do so. I would never support banning cyclists. It may seem surprising therefore that I chose to move to a country where cyclists actually are banned from a significant proportion of the road network. Read on:
|Fast Dutch cyclist choosing to ride on|
the cycle-path, though parallel with
a main road and a motorway
In the Netherlands, cycle-paths don't (usually) make people ride slowly. Even some very fast races occur on cycle-paths. When infrastructure is of this quality, a ban from riding on the road is academic. It makes no difference to anyone. In the Netherlands that is the point which has been reached very nearly almost everywhere.
One proper network for everyone
No-one designs different infrastructure for beginner drivers vs. experienced drivers because this would be ridiculous. It's just as ridiculous to design cycling infrastructure which is not good enough for all cyclists.
|An underpass near our old home in the|
UK. I saw school children crash into
barriers installed supposedly to prevent
"fast" cycling. This falls well short of
Dutch standards for underpasses.
Crashes and injuries are more likely for any cyclist wherever the infrastructure quality is lower than it should be. Wherever complaints are heard about "fast cyclists", it's usually an overly simplistic reaction to conditions which make cycling unsafe for everyone.
|Unaccompanied children and racing|
cyclists have the same needs.
Cycling infrastructure which isn't good enough for everyone isn't good enough for anyone.