So says a favourite canard of those who are opposed to reclaiming road space for dedicated bicycle infrastructure. Dutch cycling never declined in the face of the motor invasion, they say, because the cycle tracks were already in place. Therefore copying the Dutch at this late stage wouldn’t work in the UK.
In fact, the Dutch built some very British looking urban roads during the rise of the motor car:
Saturday, early afternoon, Spaarndamseweg, a main arterial road into Haarlem; two or three lanes of 50kmph (~30mph) traffic in each direction, big confusing junctions full of “stacking” and turning lanes that create merging chaos when the lights go green, and on-street bicycle lanes that are only slightly better than those we get in the UK. There are people cycling here, but relatively few considering that this is a main route in a city of cyclists on a sunny saturday. Most people are riding on nicer alternative routes, but these few decided that directness was more important.
It’s a very old road layout now. At some point in its more recent history a nasty junction has been patched, to add a bicycle bypass, a couple of hundred yards long, that allows users to avoid a set of traffic lights — busy junctions are the top priority for treatment because they are the most dangerous and intimidating places.
But it has now reached the top of the pile for a full rebuild, and of course, while the city still needs an arterial route for motor vehicle access, some space is being taken from the cars and given to proper attractive bicycle paths, wide smooth flat asphalt, well behind the kerbs and parked cars:
It took me 1,000 km of poking around to discover this one big road with such bad cycling provision, and soon the example will be gone. But 10 years ago I would have found several, and 30 years ago they would seem normal — books of Dutch photographs from the ’70s and ’80s are full of these British-style streets. It’s big and fast roads like these that cut people off, preventing journeys along or across them from being made by bicycle. It’s constant improvement to streets and to the network of cycle routes that keeps the Netherlands at the top of the league table — and it’s the constant deterioration of our own streets that is keeping us down.
I assume that all of the readers of this blog already subscribe to A view from the cycle path, which has stacks of information about the Dutch way of doing streets.