10 thoughts on “Country lane, Utrecht, evening”

  1. Having cycled a bit in NL, I think the Dutch do have one advantage over the Uk in making there country lanes into cycling routes in that most of NL is flat.

    My experience of English country lanes is that they tend to cut across hilly terrain while A roads and B roads tend to follow an easier path. Perhaps this is because many A and B roads were “roads” in the days when horses were in use and perhaps horses have the same attitude to hills as cyclists.

    We should still work on improving these lanes for non-motorised traffic, however, the point about segregation is that the best routes for cycling are the same as the best routes for motorised traffic in most instances. So they would complement, but not replace separation on main roads.

  2. I think Taliesin is right. This is an important difference with the NL. The hilliness of much of the UK does not make mass cycling impossible (as we used to have it) but it does make the route choices more restricted, both in rural and urban areas. It pushes the optimum policy for the UK more in the direction of providing cycle paths alongside main roads rather than routing cyclists to “quiet places”. Unfortunately this is the reverse of what what the tendency has been, e.g. with Sustrans defining lots of hilly country lanes as NCN routes, and London councils defining lots of hilly backstreets as LCN, where flatter routes exist on parallel main roads. This just spreads the dislike amongst many UK cyclists of “cycle routes”.

    On the other hand, there are wide areas of the UK that are rather flat, where Dutch policies haven’t been followed either.

    Vole o’Speed

  3. The big problem with a flat country, as the Dutch will no doubt tell you, is that it can be VERY windy. Personally as a cyclist I prefer hills to headwinds. I cycle on the south coast, and have had many times where the wind has forced me to grid away in bottom gear, just like a steep hill would. While we always compare hills, we rarely compare wind speeds between countries. Perhaps UK cyclists don’t see wind as a problem?

    But in any case, hills are nothing compared to extremely scary and life-threatening motor vehicles, passing with minimal space and sometimes deliberately closely. Even though our country lanes do probably have more hills that Dutch ones, that doesn’t mean they couldn’t be made any AWFUL lot safer and pleasant for cycling, just by forcing motor traffic to take the major roads instead of using lanes as rat runs.

  4. David’s point is quite well illustrated, I believe, by Sustrans’ proposed London-Portsmouth route, NCN22. I understand that Sustrans wanted this route, on its sector between Guildford and Petersfield, broadly alongside the A3 trunk road. This can’t really be described as ‘flat’, but for the most part the gradients are more gentle than passing through the lanes and villages either side.

    I assume that the plans for the HIndhead Tunnel, the lack of continuous parallel cycle provision on the A3 dual carriageway (there is some, but it has a habit of vanishing without warning) and the scary nature of the nearby A roads which link towns like Godalming and Haslemere, must have turned Sustrans away from this. Instead, the route diverts west out of Guildford towards Farnham, on country lanes but starting with one of the steepest climbs in the area and one which I would say can only be managed on a MTB by someone who has some training in how to use it. (Front wheel unsticking from the surface comes to mind).

    Anthony’s observations about wind remind me of Dutch colleagues of mine who used to say, only partly in jest, that the flatness is made up for by the wind, and that you can guarantee that the headwind you faced on the way to work will have done a 180 so that you still have a headwind on the way home.

  5. +1 on the Sustrans route – we’ve got a national route here that uses the old Military Road which seems to have been constructed by the Grand Old Duke of York, as it insists on going to the top of every hill and then down the other side before climbing the next – and into the teeth of the prevailing wind in at least one direction to boot. Most of the local cyclists I know ignore it, preferring either the A75 (for the serious hardcore cyclists, not me) or the other back roads which follow river valleys. One exception to the rule that cyclists prefer direct routes is that a lot of us will go a fair bit out of our way to avoid a nasty hill, although of course my nasty hill might well be someone else’s nice pipe-opener. Ideally, we’d have both nice wide tracks alongside the A75, and well signposted, slightly less direct routes away from all but local traffic.

  6. Talesin- that doesn’t excuse the poor infrastructure in Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Lincolnshire etc where the terrain is rather similar to the Netherlands.

  7. Lanes or main road: it can be an interesting choice.

    My wife and I commute to the same town, about 10 miles away. I prefer the lanes, because they are quieter – if not exactly quiet – and more scenic. She prefers the main road because it is easier. She says that the hills on “my” lanes costs her a lot of effort and at least ten minutes, and besides: the bit of traffic you do meet on the lanes is going faster.

    Trouble is, they’ve “built” (i.e. painted and signed) a cyclepath on the narrow, bumpy and interrupted by side-roads footway beside some parts of “her” main road. So now she gets abuse from some of the drivers if she doesn’t use the sidepath, and her journey takes longer if she does. Meanwhile the lanes are becoming more of a rat-run.

    There seems no prospect of the cyclepath being built to a standard where you can maintain even a modest 12mph, because the council can easily find some timid cyclists who will be grateful to have their existing use of the pavement legitimised, and it seems that Sustrans will give their seal of approval to anything “traffic free”.

    I don’t see any prospect of better cyclepaths. Not as long as traffic is allowed to bully cyclists into abject gratitude for any means of escape, however inconvenient. And I don’t expect many rat-runs to be closed so long as such decisions are made by the rats.

    Must cycling get even worse in this country before it can get better?

    1. Chris, very depressing to hear such a pessimistic view from someone in your position with CTC. My commute has a similarish option of an off road pavement path alongside the A1058, the main difference being that due to motorway style sliproads the main carriageway is completely unrideable. I’ve been trying to come up with a long term campaign strategy to get it improved, would be interested to hear if this is something the CTC should or could be helping with and why you are not doing the same where you live.

      1/ Draw up a scheme showing what we would like the route to look like in 10 years time, i.e. best practice design, aspirational, assuming money is there one day.

      2/ Long term we look to try and have this scheme adopted in some form by the Local Transport Plan, even if its just seen as something for very far in the future. There is a scheme in the LTP called A1058 Upgrade which concerns increasing motor traffic capacity , it may be that we try to have a coast road cycle path upgrade tied into this scheme.

      3/ Lobbying the Highway Agency. At some point over the next 4 years the Highways Agency will find the money from somewhere to drop the A19 down into a culvert under the A1058. Start making the case now that every time the traffic volume at this junction is increased then crossing the slip roads gets more dangerous for bicycles. Local MPs are lobbying for the A19 work, so we need to get them to understand that they need to ensure that they don’t at the same time reduce the attractiveness of the cycle route.

      4/ Newcastle Strategic Cycle Routes. The east section of the A1058 is in Newcastle, and is marked as being a strategic route in Newcastle’s new cycling strategy. Its likely it will be pretty far down the list of routes to be worked on, but they will get there eventually. I’d like to see this mean real improvements to the route along the lines of our long term vision in point (1). Ideally we do the design and consult them rather than the other way around :-)

      5/ Short term. North Tyneside Council have cut their cycling budget to zero this year. We are annoying them quite a lot right now so this may change next financial year but probably not. The one option open to us is to get sections of the coast road path scheduled for resurfacing, which is a decision which is taken by the area forums in North Tyneside. Construct a well argued case for each section, with photos showing wheel swallowing paving stones, very poor rutted surface, contrasting with the billiard table smooth surface on the main carriageway of the A1058. Once we have our case documented (jointly with Living Streets) we can get letters of support from businesses, colleges, schools etc near the route. We will then pack the area forum meetings out with cyclists next year to vote ourselves the money (that’s the plan anyway).

      Only if we start adopting the same sort of long term approach taken by those who promote car centric road schemes are we going to get the problem solved one day.

  8. I get the impression that the tide is turning in our favour, but that may be because I read a lot of bike blogs.
    I am in the fortunate position of having a commute on quiet lanes with great views, but am very conscious of the need for better provision elsewhere.
    Please look at my blog ‘A Bikeride a Day’ and add it to your list.

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