Strange streets and rural ratruns in the Netherlands

On the path from Nijmegen to Eindhoven, following signs for an intermediate town, I stumbled upon the equivalent of a trunk road, the N324 Graafseweg on the edge of Wijchen, being dug up:

The cycle route here followed a series of short access streets parallel to the main road — non-through routes for motor vehicles but which are joined up with cycle tracks.

But at one point even the cycle route/access streets had been taken over by the construction crew, and bicycles were sent around a short and excellently signed diversion, along a suburban lane with cycle tracks:

And onto a little lane, Urnenveldweg I think it must have been, with no need for bicycle infrastructure, but with traffic calming — not very good traffic calming:

I imagine that this lane is normally little used. It runs parallel to the main road and doesn’t connect much other than the few properties here. So it’s interesting that the verges are so bare — what has killed the grassy edges? In addition to being the official bicycle diversion, quite a few motorists had discovered that it also makes a through route for cars, and they were determined to push their way through. Perhaps it was a self-selected sample of bad drivers — they were, after all, choosing to ignore their own diversions and instead ratrun down the country lanes. It was one of the few places in a 1,000km where being on a bicycle was anything less than completely comfortable and relaxed, and it destroyed the illusion that Dutch motorists are more considerate and better behaved than the British.

This is what they were doing with the main road:

According to a Google Translate of the council’s project page, they’ve reduced it from two lanes to a single lane in each direction, cut the speed limit to 50kmph, and put on a quieter surface — all measures to cut the noise pollution in this suburb. But the other thing they’ve done is built those walls: stone walls facing the main road, with gentle grassy banks facing the parallel bicycle/access streets and houses behind, another noise abatement feature. It’s a bit odd. I’m sure it’s preferable to having a 100kmph dual carriageway outside the front door, but it still looks like a funny sort of place to live.

On country lanes

This post is part of a series, starting at “So what would you do here?”, on making utility cycling attractive in rural Britain.

I was sent a CPRE book last week. It reminded me of these lines from Betjeman:

Let’s say goodbye to hedges
And roads with grassy edges
And winding country lanes;
Let all things travel faster
Where motor car is master
Till only Speed remains.

A common objection to dedicated cycling infrastructure is the size of the British road network. You can’t put cycling infrastructure on every road in the country, therefore you shouldn’t put it on any. I disagree, not just with the conclusion, but with the premise too. We can put cycling infrastructure on every road in the country. It just depends on the definition of “road”.

Country lanes like the one below, a narrow 4km long link between the north-south A357 and the east-west A30, are currently “roads” — used primarily to get motor vehicles from one place to another. How could you separate bicycles and motor vehicles here without demolishing buildings, cutting down hedges and paving over the countryside?

It starts as a little street squeezed between two old shops in a tiny town centre:

Continue reading “On country lanes”

“So what would you do here?”

Chris Beazer says:

I do a lot of cycling on B roads, C roads and unclassified roads because that is where the most enjoyable routes are. Will somebody explain how “cycling infrastructure” is going to make my riding safer (and I have been knocked off my bike several times when riding on the aforementioned roads which I think are as dangerous as roads in cities and towns) as I don’t seem to see designs which are applicable to other than cities and towns? My understanding is that the “cycling infrastructure’s” objective is to segregate motorised traffic from non-motorised traffic. I am interested to find out how this will be implemented across the many hundreds of thousands of miles of minor roads throughout the country.

A lot of blogs that look at cycling provision and policy have been focusing on cities — especially London — probably because most people in the UK live in towns and cities. It’s where there’s most to be gained. But there are people out in the country, where car dependency is an even bigger problem than in the cities. And the situation, the consequences of car dependency, and the solutions to it, are not the same in the country as in the city.

But once again, this is a problem that the Dutch have largely solved. They have people out in the country too, they get places by bicycle, and we could learn from that.

I’ve picked a typical British rural area, a place of scattered farms and villages with the occasional market town amongst them, in which to explore the sort of treatments that would allow people to comfortably cut car dependency. Rural Britain is not uniform — there are places with higher and lower population densities, steeper and flatter terrains, and all sorts of different needs — but most of the rural population lives in places not unlike this. I picked this example simply because I grew up under the blue pin, in a very small town called Stalbridge:

Stylised map of a few of the relevant features: Towns, villages, ‘A’ roads, ‘B’ roads, railways, county boundary.

The population of Stalbridge is about 3,000. It is very lucky to still has its own primary school, GP, and half a dozen independent shops, including a small supermarket, post office, and a bicycle shop. There is some light industry — we pack fudge and do things with wires — and a lot of agriculture. Centres of employment, culture, and retail in the region are Yeovil (18km), Dorchester (30km), Weymouth (40km), Poole/Bournemouth (40km), and Salisbury (40km).

High schools — particular targets for increasing cycling — are marked on the map by green pins. Most kids go to Sturminster, 6km south-east, on council-funded school buses. The nearest railway station is in a village, Templecombe, 5km north. There is one not very convenient bus, which goes to Sherborne and Yeovil. The A303 (10km), motorway in all but name, links to the rest of the road network

All of the towns lie on ‘A’ and/or ‘B’ roads, but some villages and many scattered dwellings are connected only by the extensive network of little old lanes, most of which are barely wide enough for vehicles to pass. To complicate issues, the Dorset/Somerset administrative county boundary (the faint line) cuts through several of the transport routes close to the town.

The area is set up for car dependency. The market towns in which one can find retail, services, employment and education, and the railway stations from which one can get to the major cities, are all within a very comfortable cycling distance, but cycling here, as in all of the UK, has been made difficult and frequently unpleasant, giving most people little alternative to the expense of running a car.

How would I go about fixing that? I’d change the main roads and I’d change the minor roads — but not the same way. I’d make it quick and easy to ride to ride to school and to work. I’d pave over some of the countryside — but with a significant net gain in unpaved tranquil rurality. It would cost a bit of money — but less than the cost of not doing it. Posts all this week.

Updated to add:

On rural main roads

On the village high street

On country lanes

Getting to school in the countryside