Tuesday 17 March 2009

On bogeys, gaps, juu-juu and being told to f-off...

Other bloggers have yet again been writing about drivers and how they behave towards cyclists.

I recognise all these problems from when I lived and cycled in the UK. What's more, the friend with whom I rode from Land's End to John o'Groats reminded me this morning of a shop in Cornwall in the UK at which we bought refreshments. As we were loading them onto our bikes outside, the owner came to the door to tell us to "fuck off" because we were cyclists. Most people we met on that ride were reasonable human beings, but he wasn't the only unpleasant one. I've known pubs in the UK to shut their doors when cyclists arrive. They'd rather not have our money, rather than let in what they think are outlaw cyclists. It's really very sad, and of course makes no sense at all.

Anyway, the thing is... none of this happens over here. Not at all, ever. Cycling here is always a pleasure.

Take my commute today. A 63 km round trip, which as always was completely uneventful so far as drivers were concerned. As is normal, they gave way to me at the side road junctions where the law says they should. They also gave way to me at most junctions where they have priority over the cycle path and the law says they don't need to. White van man who this morning had pulled a bit too far out of a side road in order to join the road parallel with my bike path pulled back to let me past, and did so early enough that I didn't have to slow down.

Everyone smiled. No-one shouted. Lots and lots of people cycled.

Another normal day in the Netherlands.

In related news, a recent survey reveals that three quarters of Dutch cyclists sometimes sing as they ride along.


Anonymous said...

What doesn't help is some cyclists not bothering to thank motorists if they make an effort to slow down. I try to do that where possible, and I do get some good response from some motorists when I do. In fact it makes a big difference to my cycle rides when I get some good behaviour from them too.

I find it annoying here when there are no cycle racks round family pubs but then it is car supremascist round and I am sick of the bias in this country and the Government support it by backing the car industry.

spiderleggreen said...

Wow, that's crazy. I assume you didn't show up in your lycra space alien outfit. Not that it should matter. Don't you know that they are king of the road?

David Hembrow said...

Velochick: I'm in two minds about this thanking business. There's nothing wrong with being polite, of course, and I try to indicate my pleasure when someone gives way who needn't do so. It still amazes me every single time. However, there is no need to thank someone for simply doing as the law requires them to do.

It still amazes me every single time that someone gives way to me. Such a different experience to cycling in the UK.

There's plenty of cycle parking by pubs here. And by everything else. They need it or they'd have no customers.

Spiderleggreen: No, no "space alien" stuff. As for being "king of the road"... In this country that's us. A few years ago the Fietsersbond produced a compilation CD of cycling music, and the only English language track on it was this.

anna said...

Well, I have some unpleasant memories too. But also nice ones. I just tend to smile if I look into someones face, and most people smile back. Sometimes it's hard so, if people shout and honk at you, but I still try to. Works much better than shouting back :-).

David: "However, there is no need to thank someone for simply doing as the law requires them to do." I completely agree. I never understand pedestrians that thank car drivers for stopping at a crosswalk. If I respect the traffic law I should also be able to expect that from others. If somebody thanks me for no reason I just assume that they are not familiar with the traffic regulations.

David Hembrow said...

Anna: The number of unpleasant memories you have varies an awful lot with where you cycle. Cycling is extraordinarily pleasant in this country compared to the UK because of the complete lack of unpleasantness, either through bad design of infrastructure or bad behaviour. For me, this is truly remarkable.

I think the reason why pedestrians in some places thank drivers for obeying the law is simply that they are so used to them not obeying the law. That's the case in much of the world.

Anonymous said...

I think there is more to it than this. As you know, Cambridge has levels of cycling comparable even to some Dutch cities, yet we still get abuse and threatening behaviour here, and not just from people out of town. I've had someone who pulled up outside their house threaten to kill me, and taxi drivers parked across cycle facilities swear at me.

I think a lot of British people are just plain rude and intolerant, and not just of minorities (though that brings out the worst in Daily Mail readers). I got a bag caught on the corner of the door leading into the station last week, and the person behind me was unbelievably rude because he was delayed for all of 5 seconds at most.

Also, I suspect there is a stornger dividing line between those who cycle in Cambridge and those in Assen. In Assen, I suspect (what do you think?) that even most of those driving cars probably cycle on other occasions, whereas though that's true to some extent in Cambridge, I think a lot of drivers here *never* cycle (or use the bus, or the train or walk).

David Hembrow said...

Good to hear from you Dave. The cycling rate in Cambridge is only actually comparable with the very lowest rates in Dutch cities. Rotterdam, for instance, has a rate which isn't so far removed from Cambridge.

However, you are certainly right about the way that everyone here cycles, while people in the UK typically either are "cyclists" or they are not. When I lived in Cambridge many of our neighbours never cycled. Here in Assen I've seen every single one of our neighbours cycle, even though a few of them don't do so very often.

However, I think that what makes cycling possible is the big difference in the way that society works. People are nice here. They smile. They are happy. There is very little conflict, no noticeable problem with yobbish teenagers, everywhere is neat and tidy, it's always safe for anyone to walk or cycle anywhere at any time and there is a staggeringly low crime rate by British standards.

Comparing newspapers is interesting. It's a "slow news day" every day in Assen. Our local paper rarely has anything dramatic to report. We get headlines about how species of birds have returned after the winter, how schools are putting on events. On the other hand, any time that I look at the Cambridge Evening News there is always bad news. I just looked and saw this story about people going so far as to write hate mail to the council because they are considering improving conditions for travellers at their extremely unpleasantly located site in Cambridge. This seems a step beyond normal even for the UK. What sort of person writes abusive letters to try to make someone else's life worse ? It's really not the sort of thing you could imagine here.

The traveller site in Assen is quite nice. It's in a spot next to a park, near a school and by a lot of trees. It's neat and tidy and people who live there appear not to be particularly stressed. They keep themselves largely to themselves and get on with their lives. I've not heard or read a bad word said about them by anyone.

There is a really huge difference in societal attitudes, even without mentioning cycling at all. I've referred to cyclists as pit canaries before, because in society as on the roads, they can be seen to have a similar function.

Kevin Love said...

About thanking motorists:

The government recently changed the law to require motorists to yield right of way to busses pulling out of bus stops.

So the signs on the back of the bus changed from "please yield" to "Yield."

When it is custom, you get thanked. When enough rude people don't follow the custom so it has to be the law, you don't get thanked.

David said...

I often sing while I cycle. I recommend it highly.

Anonymous said...

That's about the same here: When you're cycling it'S very rare to be carved up or snarled at, even though we use the roads a lot.
I do thank people though, especially truckers who stop at crossings. I figure they can do with a smile, and tomorrow it may make them more likely to slow down for another cyclist/pedestrian.

Anonymous said...

'However, I think that what makes cycling possible is the big difference in the way that society works. People are nice here. They smile. They are happy. ...'

Perhaps the causality runs in the other direction? Maybe society works better because things like cycling have been made possible? (by hundred of small policy choices).

I'm half-joking - but in the service of pointing out that explanations of culture are complicated and uncertain.

David Hembrow said...

Martin: I absolutely agree. It's impossible really to point and say that a particular aspect of what goes on here causes another aspect. They are all interdependent.

Exercise certainly makes people happier, and being outside and meeting people instead of inside a car behind a window is surely a good way of improving the relationship people have with strangers on the street.

And yes, it is the result of "hundred of small policy choices", as well as a few large ones.