Monday 24 May 2010

Cambridge. A crash and the public response

It's become quite common for cyclists in the UK to video their cycling in order to catch evidence of motorists misdemeanors. This video from Cambridge shows how a cyclist is hit by a car while cycling, and the remarkably unsympathetic response of the average BBC Look East (local news TV programme in Cambridge) viewer...

I used to commute along roads very near here myself when I lived in Cambridge, and just like Paul in this video, I'd occasionally have more than a close call and actually be hit by a car.

The comparison with cycling in the Netherlands is remarkable. While I cycle much more now than I ever did in the UK, not once have I had the least bit of hassle here due to a driver.

While Britain continues to ignore the need for decent cycling infrastructure, the situation will remain the same. The cycling rate will continue to flatline and cyclists will continue to be treated as outlaws with no legitimate place either on the road or on the pavement.

Copying Dutch infrastructure which gives cyclists direct journeys in safety is the only way of turning this around. Real action is needed. Not yet more empty promises.

I know of many Dutch people who make cycling videos, but not one of them records their cycle rides to catch "evidence". Rather, Dutch cyclists' videos are made to record pleasant experiences of cycling.

Isn't it better that cycling should be something enjoyable and full of good memories ? Something not only for commuting adults but that you're also happy for your children to do ? Compare the problems faced by British children with the freedom experienced by Dutch children.

There's also a blog post showing what happens when a similar incident occurs in the Netherlands.

I came across the Cambridge video on the I Pay Road Tax blog, thanks to a tip from Biking Brits.


Pjotr320 said...

It does become more and more clear to me why you moved to the Netherlands. Not only for the infrastructure, but also the mentality. Britain has a long way to go...
Welcome cycling refugee :-(

Anonymous said...

I wonder why he didnt report it to the police? I suppose it is still illegal to drive into people on the road regardless of their actions.

Anonymous said...

Very true, cycling should be a happy and peaceful activity, and mostly is. You don't get to see and hear anything much (apparently including cyclists) from a car, even a silly money car like Mercedes sell. Those "call in now with your experience" type TV programs are generally watched by people with extremist views and the BBC etc can read these out without appearing to own those views. In the UK Vehicle Excise Duty has been aligned with pollution so electric cars and those that pump out 99g per km or less of CO2(which is still a lot) pay zero each year. Broadly speaking I reckon cycles are in that category.
Mark Garrett, Bristol UK

David Earl said...

Unfortunately saying it doesn't make it happen. Even when they try, and they have tried in Cambridge over the last year though you'd be forgiven for not noticing, there are problems to do with culture and law which make even the simplest things complicated.

Cambridge doesn't have the wide avenues and canal side embankments that so many Dutch cities have, nor the apartment style living in the town centres which means that residential car parking is less of a problem. Most of the wider roads in Cambridge have trees and grass verges and these are almost taken as read to be sacrosanct after earlier battles over bus lanes. If you only have 9m of tarmac, how can you divide it up to fit say 5m worth of cycle tracks/separation and 6m of two way traffic?

In nearly all the schemes proposed around Cambridge over the last year, trying to get even modest widths has meant land and land ownership has been a problem. Negotiating purchases with unwilling sellers takes huge amounts of officers time, and they fear the compulsory purchase process when a land-owner is in bullish mood.

Every scheme gets often-vociferous local opposition too. Gilbert Road residents are up in arms about the very modest proposals for cycle lanes there. It is unlikely to go ahead because councillors put parking outside houses ahead of cycling. In a society where 80% of people drive everywhere, ask whether they would like to lose their parking, you get outrage not sympathy. Even on street cycle parking is being met with opposition which the council is caving in to, even though sites they identified were those rare one which involved no loss of on street car parking spaces.

And, as you know, there is a sizeable minority of cyclists who oppose cycle infrastructure too.

So in a city with Dutch levels of cycling landowners are against it, residents are against it, there isn't the space, and even some cyclists are against it, is it any wonder that we make no progress. And to top that, there will now be no money to do anything at all for years to come because it's all been poured into rich bankers pockets.

Unknown said...

You could replace BBC for CBC here in Canada.
Comments are far too much alike.

For the past few months there have been plenty of news stories regarding cyclists (new bike lanes, cyclists getting killed etc) across Canada, and it doesn't take long for the negative comments to start up.

Although we do have more people opting to cycle, and even motorists accepting more bikes on the road, there is an equally growing anti-bike crowd out there.

In Canada at least, people pay property taxes which go to fund the roads that cyclists ride on. Most motorists believe it is them paying for gas and insurance.

Amsterdamize said...

"Cambridge doesn't have the wide avenues and canal side embankments that so many Dutch cities have, nor the apartment style living in the town centres which means that residential car parking is less of a problem."

Wide avenues? Please tell me where those are! :)
Residential parking is one of the major issues in NL, hence the high parking fees, restrictive policies and alternative solutions to regular parking bays.

David, when we discuss this sort of thing (including comparing UK/NL) we need to establish that our two countries have very similar densities, I dare to say urban NL is more dense. More importantly, choices in urban (traffic) planning to deal with this need to be macro, not micro. Every aspect of urban infrastructure is connected with the other, you can't just create pockets of solutions in one area without dealing with the other. Perhaps there's a more effective planning tradition in NL, but technically you can't say certain (quite straightforward) solutions are impossible to implement. We've seen over and over again that it's mainly about vision and political will.

Anonymous said...

Amterdamize - Good point about the width of avenues etc. That is nonsense. However, having lived in both the UK and the Netherlands, my honest view is that nothing is likely to happen at a macro level in the UK. Put simply the Brits (unfortunately) love ad hoc whilst the Dutch love planning. If Mondriaan had been British his paintings would have be much messier.......

Anonymous said...

While it doesn't alter your fundamental point, the BBC did put up a "retraction' later.

David Hembrow said...

Billy: So they have. The retraction can be seen here.

David: NL isn't particularly different from the UK. The population density is similar, the amount of space is similar. The difference is only in the expectations of the Dutch vs. the British. It's all made to work here.

You mention Gilbert Road in Cambridge. It's a very interesting case because it is incredibly similar in width to Groningerstraat in Assen. Not only does it have the same width, but also a very similar pattern of use - with a secondary school on the road and much cycle commuting as well. However, Groningerstraat looks like this and is much better for cyclists than Gilbert Road in Cambridge. So far as I am aware, the cycling campaign has never shown the people of Cambridge this Dutch example of what can be done in the same space, and has only proposed slightly wider on road cycle lanes than already exist.

The lack of money is also illusionary. Britain still has money for many things - road building amongst them. Not only is cycle provision cheaper to provide, but it is so much cheaper than the alternative to provide. What's more, it also pays back more than you spend. The Dutch sometimes refer to their cycling infrastructure as a fiscal measure as well as a public health and environmental measure.