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.


Here’s another bascule bridge undergoing a transformation, Hogesluisbrug, one of many crossing the canals of central Amsterdam. The city is currently rebuilding it, with modern foundations and electric lifting mechanism but with the original exterior design and decorations.

In the meantime, they’ve put a temporary bridge alongside the old one. A temporary lifting bridge. A temporary lifting tramway bridge:

A temporary lifting tramway bridge that gives priority to cyclists:

When the space gets narrow, no “cyclists dismount” signs here: the trams and vans must take turns on the remaining available space.

I didn’t go looking for this bridge, I had no idea these works were going on — it’s just the sort of thing you stumble upon when vaguely and unhurriedly navigating by instinct through a Dutch city…

Get a car, idiots

I take everything back.  I was wrong.  I realise now that in a place like Stamford Street, Southwark, the car offers outstanding convenience and time savings that will make my life better.

Now I just need to know whether to buy the Renault, which promises to save me “secs” (a reference, I understand, to the roof, which retracts in just nine of them):

Or the Mercedes, which I think is promising to save me from slow and difficult walks around town, judging by their use of the pedestrian crossing imagery:

Both look such very very attractive options, it’s impossible to choose.  Whichever I get, I just can’t wait to try it out.  Ah, the freedom…

Followup: pimp my ride

Before the last random meandering tour of the hills and mountain ranges of England and Scotland (idea for a book: find the least flat end-to-end route) I briefly mentioned the latest accessories with which I had pimped my ride.  A few people asked questions about both the handlebar smartphone mount and the solar phone charger.

The Herbert Richter HTC Hero mount was pretty good.  The reviews worried me because somebody said that it had failed on the very first ride and their phone had been destroyed.  My experience was far better: I must have done at least 1,000km, in all kinds of conditions and speeds, before the cradle was knocked loose when I hit shoddy roadworks while descending the hill into Melrose in the Borders at 35kmph:

The trench across the road was one of a series.  A developer has very recently put up a little cul-de-sac called Scottsdale and has dug up the road at intervals to lay the power for each streetlight.  It appears they couldn’t be bothered to compact the backfill properly before smearing a bit of tarmac on the top.  The road is already sinking as the backfill settles, and the tarmac job is already crumbling off.  Presumably Borders Council will be left with the bill when it (and the rest of the development) fully falls apart — which it probably already has by time of writing.

I wonder if prospective buyers notice this shoddy shortcut when they visit?  I wonder how confident they feel about the quality of the construction at Scottsdale after this, their first impression of the developer’s work?

(Unfortunately I can’t find the name of the developer because if you attempt to Google for new housing you get about 1.75 million hits from SEO drivel — a hundred thousand pointless property search engines, all duplicating the same non-content but promising to help you find new homes and new houses and new properties ready to buy and rent, for sale and to let, in Scottsdale, off the B6059 Dingleton Road, TD6 9HR, Melrose, near Jedborough, Tweedbank and Galashiels, in the Scottish Borders, Scotland, United Kingdom.  None of them actually tell you anything about the properties listed, but they’re very keen to tell you they have properties in Scottsdale, TD6, Melrose…)

Anyway, everything’s fine because the excellent thing about the Herbert Richter HTC Hero handlebar mount is that it is designed for the HTC Hero, and the HTC Hero is apparently indestructible.  It has scrapes gouged out of it, and there’s barely a straight line or flat surface left on it, but it still does everything it’s supposed to do.

It would probably be even more complete if I hadn’t simply put it back on the mount.  It fell off again a few days later, on the crumbling roads of Arran, and the cradle no longer clips onto the mount.  It merely slides.

The mount cost £17, and I think it probably lasted about 17 days.  It was convenient being able to put the phone on the handlebars for navigation, but I’m not sure it was £1-a-day convenient.

And somebody asked me about the FreeLoader solar phone charger.  It’s worthless.


Boris Johnson recently addressed People’s Question Time at Battersea Arts Centre, by talking of his delightful cycle, carried on a river of blue from City Hall to Battersea Arts Centre on the CS7. As a local resident who cycles regularly down that route, I thought I’d share a snapshot of the glorious journey myself and Boris are accustomed to. This section of the CS7 is split level and comes with a fetching red fence.

What a smooth surface. Sublime.

The CS7 can also
be used to park any signs you may have.

traffic flow. By letting cars park on it.

This is the ghost of the CS7. not even one year old. Joking aside, the CS7
shows several faults in Boris’s transport “legacy”. What was trumpeted as a transport revolution was clearly a very expensive PR stunt, now that they can’t be bothered with the upkeep. Yet again, Boris uses the fact that he cycles to detract from the fact that he
can’t provide for cyclists. Within two days of the CS7 being laid it was being dug up by a water company. If the CS7’s dilapidated now (and these photos are taken over a quarter mile distance) what will it look like in May 2012, election time?

Roadwork charging

The Evening Standard this week declared that the Mayor and the Prime-minister are exactly equally powerful in London. And yet it appears that Boris feels that he is being ignored by the PM, and even thinks that Dave is more likely to listen to we peasants than to his old Bullingdon chum:

@MayorOfLondon Boris Johnson
Had enough of utility companies digging up our roads & causing traffic mayhem?! Help me do something about it:

21 hours ago via web

The mayor’s campaign is for road charging — but don’t panic, this is not another war on the poor motorist!  The mayor recognises that London’s streets are not gridlocked because there are too many cars on them, but because there are too many people digging them up.  So this is a “lane rental” scheme for utilities companies, encouraging them to make quick, dangerous and botched jobs on their road works by charging them by the hour for closing lanes on busy roads.  This will have the beneficial effect of smoothing the traffic flow.  But the scheme can’t go ahead until central government say it’s OK, and central government seem to think that they have more important things to be doing.

So Boris Johnson realises that if central government won’t listen to him, it will certainly listen to the 200 people who participate in his online poll and share his page on Friendface.

I voted “no” in the mayor’s poll.  Not because I think I’m sufficiently informed to comment on the desirability of an initiative that is likely to have complex and not entirely predictable effects, but simply because online polls are absurd.  Mainly, though, I wouldn’t be able to make my mind up until I know the Mayor’s proposals for how much the utilities companies will be fined per “cyclists dismount” sign, and the hourly rate for blocking the pavement.

Or is the mayor’s proposal precisely to incentivise a shift in utilities works out of the very important carriageway and into the unimportant bike lanes and footpaths?

Part Two: Test-driving the Cycle Hire Scheme

First things first: I’m cynical as all hell, and I have an unbridled antipathy towards Boris Johnson. In spite of this, I adore the London Cycle Hire scheme. After outlining my previous impressions of and concerns surrounding the scheme, I cycled along to the Southbank with my artfully unbranded key.

The fruits of two minutes and a spot of nail varnish.

The docks in Waterloo were all full, whereas many I passed in the City were 75% empty. In a touristy area prior to casual use, this wasn’t a surprise. Removing the bike from its dock was straightforward, with instructions clearly printed on the dock. Handy tip for easy removal: lift the back of the bike, then pull. We had some issues when attempting to replace the bike in the dock: the dock wouldn’t recognise the bike, despite being used correctly. There’s a button to report a broken bike on the dock, but not a button to report the dock. A passerby on a bike told us he was having a similar problem and had tried a number of docks. It sounds as though TfL recognised this, and as a result all journeys were retrospectively made free on the launch day.


The bike was heavy. I knew this from research and nosing around docks prior to the launch, but its still a shock when you handle one for the first time. The wheels are fat, and that combined with the weight made the bike stable: a factor that will hopefully increase safety by minimising the wobbling of new or unsteady cyclists. I struggled a little to work out how to use the bell and gears. The gears are integrated into the handlebar, though it’s not immediately obvious. A three speed is all you really need in Central London, and it prevents people racing them.

Having experienced dynamo lights before, I was wary on hearing TfL had decided to install them on the bikes. Dynamo lights are notoriously unreliable, often cause drag on tyres and are prone to ceasing to work without the cyclist noticing. My university days were marked by regular swearwords and dynamo fiddling on the delightful streets of Coventry at 2am. Luckily, the dynamo mechanisms used on the bikes are top of the range, fully incorporated into the wheels with minimal drag, and staying bright rather than flashing with each pedal as standard dynamos do. They’ve sensibly added a picture between the handlebars, warning of the dangers of cycling on the left hand side of Heavy Goods Vehicles.

There’s both a chainguard and skirtguard, to prevent skirt-caught-in-the-wheel-whilst-its-pouring-with-rain-and-you’re-swearing-like-a-trouper moments, and a half-basket with a bungee attached to secure your belongings. But not your friends: 10kg maximum weight, a sticker chides. The seat post is a masterstroke: a small lever releases the seat to be adjusted, then locks it, with a rim preventing it being stolen. It’s a great design, and I’d love to see it on more bikes. At least 11 people took the bikes on Critical Mass. I spoke to two of them, who remarked that though the bikes were heavy, they were easy to manouevre, and the weight didn’t affect speed. I was chided for using the term “Borisbike” by a male cyclist who was worried the scheme would work well, and we’d have to give him credit for pulling it off. Snagging another bike on Grays Inn Road, we gave it another test drive at the pub. Friends of all heights gave it a go, with Lizzie at 5″2′ having no problem, even with the seat not at its lowest. The boys predictably attempted to do wheelies (it’s possible, but not really worth the effort). A couple were entranced when I docked it, and I let a woman ride it briefly before returning it. It turned out she’d never ridden before, but after a few screams and some premature braking she was steady and enjoying herself.

Here’s the crux: whenever people chimed “London’s no Paris though, it won’t work” I dismissed them with a flippancy and gauche that only comes with being young, immature, a bit thick, and having lived here for just shy of five months. London’s great! It’ll be a cycling city to rival Copenhagen in a decade. You wait. I bundled into Euston close to midnight after a day out, noting the slew of drunks weaving into the Underground. Aware that the Northern Line was closed south of Kennington I knew I’d have to change at Stockwell and get a bus regardless. Why not take a bike to Kennington, and catch the N155 from there? A couple spotted me grabbing a bike and quizzed me about it, enthused and intrigued. After a brief chat, they thanked me for answering questions and left planning to register themselves. I set off, buoyed by their enthusiasm. Then I met with the maddening chaos of Oxford Street, littered with roadworks and one way systems. The only signs I encountered bore A-road codes, which meant nothing to someone whose mental map of London is constructed entirely of Tube stations and gig venues. Frustrated by my inability to escape a quarter mile radius of W1, cycling in ever-decreasing loops and resenting the helpful jeers I’ve come to expect from taxi drivers, I tried to spot a docking station. This took a further ten minutes. I abandoned my bike in a dock next to Broadcasting House and headed towards the Tube.

Overall, I love them. I have no issues with the bikes, and I find it fantastic how Londoners feel completely comfortable asking you about them, and feel a sense of ownership over the scheme. I’m not sure I’ll renew my 7 day access however. Until the shambles that is the London road system is rectified, road safety and cycling will still struggle to reach the level instigated by Paris’s Velib. Little has been done to prepare the roads for  a sudden, large increase in casual cycling. Simple things, like more signposting of areas, rather than just roads, and contraflow cycle lanes would make cycling simpler, more accessible and benefit London cycling far more than a few gallons of blue paint.