Separate to liberate

In four days in Utrecht last week, I took nearly 400 photographs of people cycling.

Normal mid-afternoon traffic.

Normal mid-afternoon traffic.

Part of this exuberance with a camera can be attributed to my innate geekiness about cycling, but mostly it stemmed from the sheer excitement I got from seeing a city functioning so beautifully, with calm streets that are safe and pleasant for walking and cycling, wherever you wish to go.

I gorged on cycling while I was there like a starving man at a banquet, sneaking out of the hotel at night for extra pedalling around, fully aware that the holiday wouldn’t last, and I would soon be back to being menaced and threatened – both intentionally and unintentionally – by drivers once I got back to Britain.

By complete contrast, in all but a handful of the hundreds of photographs I took, the people cycling in Utrecht were doing so free from interactions with motor traffic. No matter where they were – on main roads, on side streets, in residential areas, or out in the countryside, people were cycling in isolation from motor vehicles.

This separation takes different forms, but it is almost total (David Hembrow has written about how it works in Assen). Many of the streets in Utrecht’s city centre are either completely motor vehicle-free, or are designed in such a way that their use will only make sense for drivers making necessary access to properties.

A typical narrow city centre street, from which motor traffic is almost entirely eliminated

A typical city centre street, from which motor traffic is almost entirely eliminated

Young girls cycling into the city centre, after school - in complete safety

Young girls cycling into the city centre, after school – in complete safety

Grandad and grandson? A visual demonstration of 8 to 80 cycling

Grandad and grandson? A visual demonstration of 8 to 80 cycling

But this isn’t, of course, the only type of separation in Utrecht; there are the more familiar cycle tracks on main roads.

Teenagers on a cycle track

Teenagers on a cycle track

The removal of motor traffic from city centre and residential streets means that it is concentrated on distributor roads like this one. And while ‘concentrated’, in practice the amount of motor traffic using these streets is significantly lower than the equivalent British urban distributor road, largely because a considerable proportion of the journeys being made along them are being made by bicycle – as you can see.

While cutting out motor traffic from residential streets and centres in Britain – without any other measures – would, I think, probably result in increasing the amount of traffic on other roads, in the Netherlands there is a coherent over-arching strategy aimed at facilitating bicycle use. That means separating bicycle users from motor traffic, even on main roads that – by British standards – carry very little motor traffic at all.

Separation, despite low traffic volumes

Separation, despite low traffic volumes

These roads have low speed limits, and low traffic levels, which would lead many British cycle campaigners to argue that separation is not necessary alongside them. Cycling on the road here would be much more enjoyable than it would be on an equivalent urban street in Britain; the speed and volume of traffic is appreciably lower.

Low speed limit, low traffic levels. But separation is provided

Low speed limit, low traffic levels. But separation is provided

But the Dutch think differently. They care about the quality of the cycling experience; they will not place children in front of buses and lorries travelling at low speeds, and in low volumes, unless it is completely unavoidable. The purpose of these cycle tracks is, specifically, to insulate cycling from driving; to ensure that cycling from point A to point B is entirely safe and comfortable, for anyone.

Young girl on Biltstraat cycle track

Young girl on Biltstraat cycle track

This is where many British cycle campaigners get confused. They think that cycle tracks are a form of surrender of the road, when the truth is that they are a form of liberation. They make cycling better. The streets in question will often have all the conditions they typically demand – 30 km/h (18mph) speed limits, and low traffic levels – but cycle tracks are still provided, for the simple reason that they make cycling considerably more enjoyable and relaxing. The infamous Hierarchy of Provision makes no sense in this context.

The cycle tracks form part of a coherent strategy of modal separation, that makes journeys across a major city as stress-free as a ride along a quiet country lane. The quality of the cycling experience is not sacrificed to some nebulous higher goal of retaining the carriageway – ‘our carriageway’ – as a place where motorists should be deferential. Cycling is put first because of separation. To pretend otherwise is as absurd as arguing that removing pavements and making people walk in front of motor vehicles is a way of prioritising walking.

Only when you insulate cycling from driving will you see scenes like this

Only when you insulate cycling from driving will you see scenes like this

It is this ability to cycle anywhere you want to, without fear, and in total safety (both objective and subjective) that explains why people of all ages cycle in such huge numbers in Utrecht.

My partner has not cycled on any British roads – ever. The only time she has ridden a bicycle since she was a teenager was on our last visit to Utrecht. She won’t like me mentioning it, but she has, for the moment, some trouble steering around tight corners. And yet – once again – I felt completely happy taking her with me on a 15-mile ride, heading straight out from the city centre into the countryside, and back again. She was happy too, despite her lack of bike handling skills, because she never felt threatened, or unsafe. (In fact her most serious problem was in the city centre, where she had to steer around pedestrians and other people riding.) She can’t drive, so the sense of liberation she got from travelling such a distance independently was palpable.

Coming out of the city, the ring road was easily negotiated.

Underpass under a large roundabout intersection

Underpass under a large roundabout intersection

Most of the route we took from this point on was on this kind of cycle path – wide enough for side-by-side riding in each direction.

The cycle track ran alongside a bus-only corridor route. Note double bendy bus

The cycle track ran alongside a bus-only corridor route. Note double bendy bus

Outside of the city limits, most of our riding was on rural lanes. The separation of cycling from motor traffic applies here too, with most of the lanes we used limited to residents only.

The sign reads 'except residents'

The sign reads ‘except residents’

This transforms these routes into blissfully peaceful tracks, where you will essentially only encounter other people cycling – as well as the occasional driver accessing their house, or delivering to a property.

Teenage girls heading out of the city

Teenage girls heading out of the city

Over the course of our day out on the bike, we directly interacted with no more than ten motor vehicles – the scariest of which was a large tractor using one of these access roads to get to his fields. We also had a taxi driver who left me muttering ‘so much for strict liability’ as he came towards us at some speed, leaving only inches to spare, on the narrow lane below.

Beautiful lane, shame about the Dutch taxi drivers

Beautiful lane, shame about the Dutch taxi drivers

Oh, and this driver too, who, just like the tax driver, came past us like a bullet. Again, strict liability in action.

These incidents were really jarring, coming as they did out of the blue, during a day of almost complete freedom. Not only did they demonstrate to us that Dutch drivers really aren’t all that better behaved than their British counterparts (that could be the subject of another post), but they also showed how the quality of the Dutch cycling experience is built around separation from driving. In Britain these kinds of interactions would be much more frequent, given that cycling will almost always involve continuous exposure to drivers. Even with much higher driving standards, you will still encounter idiots, but in the Netherlands your chances of meeting them are considerably lower.

It took us about twenty minutes – at a relatively slow pedal – to get back into the city centre from the countryside, and it was easy to see why these paths are so popular. They form a crucial part of typical cycle journeys, that are fast, safe and direct – and, of course, free.

Dutch riders like to wheelsuck (they’re not stupid) and small, disparate groups would form and disperse as we pedalled along.

A small cycle track peloton

A small cycle track peloton

And back in the city centre, we returned to streets that, while in principle are ‘shared’ with motor vehicles, are almost entirely free of them in practice.

Children riding independently, in safety, right in the centre of the city

Children riding independently, in safety, right in the centre of the city

There was one jarring moment on our journey back into the city – a driver had parked on the pavement, partially blocking a cycle lane at the point where motor traffic is (very briefly) reintroduced into close physical proximity, to separate it out from the bus lanes on the left.

Hazardous - but typical in Britain

Hazardous – but typical in Britain

We had to abandon at this point, and walk for a little bit, because my partner did not have the confidence to negotiate this kind of situation. But this was – tellingly – as bad as it got during our entire trip.

There are, of course, bits of infrastructure in the city that are not quite up to scratch, but you can see that they are old, and it is surely only a matter of time before they are upgraded. It seemed to me that there is a huge amount of improvement work constantly being undertaken across the city; infrastructure is continuously being updated.

The street which we cycled on the last time we were here in 2011, where my partner felt most nervous, with only cycle lanes for protection, is now being rebuilt into a fietstraat.

Prins Hendriklaan, under construction

Prins Hendriklaan fietstraat, under construction

Old cycle tracks with paved surfaces are – of course – being replaced with improved surfacing, as junctions get rebuilt.

Upgrade work in progress

Upgrade work in progress – the paving slabs being removed and replaced with smooth tarmac

You can almost smell the fresh tarmac on many cycle tracks in the city centre. And to our amazement the rural road we used (that, for the purposes of driving, is limited to residents only) had been beautifully resurfaced since our last visit.

Brand new tarmac

Brand new tarmac

Even the temporary cycle infrastructure is of an extraordinary quality.

Temporary cycle track, put in place during construction work on new light rail system

Temporary cycle track, put in place during construction work on new light rail system

The overwhelming impression given by this continuous improvement, and more importantly by the whole way in which cycling is catered for, is that you are really and truly valued. Dutch towns and cities want you to cycle, and show you that they do through the effort they put in to making it a safe, convenient and enjoyable experience.

The way you can completely bypass large junctions and only realise afterwards what had been on your left.


The way you can cycle on the same road as triple section bendy buses, and not worry about them.


Even at bus stops. DSCN9833
And – perhaps most importantly – the way you can be careless (in the good sense of the word) on a bike, pretty much anywhere.



You can cycle like this – without a care – because you are insulated from danger, both objective and subjective, wherever you go. This is the liberation that comes from separation.

I should stress that these efforts are not strictly anti-motoring. If you want, you can still make journeys by car in the city of Utrecht, although your route (especially in and around the centre) may be much more circuitous than you might expect. The policy is more specifically about putting motoring in the correct context in urban areas; prioritised below walking, cycling and public transport. These have been made the obvious and attractive choices.

Outside of urban centres, where motor vehicle use is a more appropriate mode of transport – a way to travel between towns and cities – driving is less inhibited, but in urban areas, it is indirectly restricted by measures that ensure cycling remains safe and direct. Where cycling would be made subjectively or objectively dangerous, or inconvenient, it is motoring that gives way. And that’s not a problem at all if you make cycling the safe and easy option it should be.


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39 Responses to Separate to liberate

  1. I love Utrecht, I lived there for 10 years back in the 90’s and still go back regularly to see friends. It’s a bit like living in a place where generally things work relatively well, then I came back to Britain and keep finding situations where I’ve seen it done better over in NL and here little or no thought and little or no money has been used. Infrastructure here isn’t seemless or based on what works for people, more just for cars and you’ll find drivers aren’t particularly happy either.
    Last time I was over in August, it was to see about moving back to Utrecht. It struck me how quiet the streets are (there were people everywhere but all I could here was people chatting, coffee cups chinking and the odd sound system marking the arrival of the new students), how, when I did come across grumpy impatient people, they were generally also on a bike and no where near the same threat as the enormous Fermac lorries that pass by my house every day.
    On facebook my friends in Utrecht were moaning about the beginning of term and the mass of bikes going to school, crazy mums and dads with crazy kids hell bent on getting to school. Sounds like heaven compared to negotiating my school run where I’m up against mums in MPVs and Sainsburys lorries.
    The taxi drivers and couriers do suffer the same impatient antisocial tendencies as here but they are also universally terrified of loosing their livelihood so on the whole, unlike HGV drivers who have 40 tonnes plus and when they’ve killed you they are half a mile away before someone’s called an ambulance, taxi drivers and courier drivers behave like assholes but won’t actually do any damage, just get in your way/park in your way/speed where they can get away with it/irritate and take liberties. They need caution but not in the same way that a cement mixer does. And in Utrecht you don’t see cement mixers and 40 tonners!!!! they are nowhere to be seen!!! HGV’s can’t go near the place! partly because Utrecht wisely said the streets are too fragile and the bridges wont take it in the historic centre, partly because there are ring roads designed to take heavy goods vehicles where they want to go. It makes the place so much safer and quieter.
    I gorge on cycling when I go there too, not on a road bike but just getting around, there’s so much to see and do and you can do it by bike, the journey is fun as well as the destination.
    My heart belongs to Utrecht.

    • Tom says:

      Looks too good to be true. I love cycling in Holland precisely for the reasons you have described. I was planning to do a C2C in the UK next year but I think I’ll just splash and go back to Haarlem for a fix of cycling as it should be. It’s also refreshing to see a complete lack of lycra, says he who has a wardrobe full of the stuff, but it does illustrate the “everydayness” of riding a bike in Holland.

    • Gareth says:

      I grew up in the Netherlands just outside Utrecht in the 90s, before following my parents back to the UK and like yourself, my heart belongs there.
      I will however go back there one day in a year or 2, I don’t have a plan, and no idea what job I’ll do, but I’m much happier just being there.

  2. Jim Moore says:

    Great post. Excellent points about what urban planners should be trying to achieve. These planners should be insisting that transport engineers follow through on the vision and design, build and renovate the transport network accordingly so that we (in the Anglosphere in particular) no longer had to live in horrible places dominated by motor vehicle traffic.

  3. Jitensha Oni says:

    Totally with you on the infrastructure (drool), but I’m not sure about your position on(strict) liablity – it is not a traffic calming measure – it means the more vulnerable have better protection than the less vulnerable in civil law if there actually is damage or injury. If that helps safety, fine, but that’s not what it’s primarily there for. To put it bluntly: heaven forbid, but if you (or anyone) were hit by the car in the video, IMO a European liability process for redress would be fairer than the UK one. As such, and mainly as such, it is a useful thing for cycle campaigners to campaign for, in addition to all the infrastructural stuff. And, if it’s part of the successful European system, why leave it out?

    • Oh, I agree completely on strict liability. I am fully aware it is about redress, rather than aimed at improving driving standards, or traffic calming. And that we should have it!

      The problem is – and this is the point I was (slightly sarcastically) trying to make – many people in Britain think that strict liability is the magic bullet that will make drivers behave, and make cycling a pleasant experience. Even that it makes infrastructure redundant. For instance, a recent example –

      Best way of dealing with this? 20MPH zones, rigorously enforced – and the introduction of the presumption of liability… the real reason that cycling is so much nicer on the Continent.

  4. Matt says:

    Of course NL has the advantage of 40+ years of cycling being a primary element of transport provision. The UK is probably in year 1 but has the drawback that it has accommodated 40+ years of motor traffic growth.

    And why are those UK towns where cycling infrastructure was implemented on a larger scale so unsuccessful in getting people on their bikes? Look at Stevenage and Bracknell and Milton Keynes. Plenty of modal separation but very little cycling.


    • There’s not ‘plenty’ of modal separation in these towns. In fact in both Bracknell and Stevenage there are only the relics of stuff built decades ago along a mere handful of routes. Any journey, in Bracknell in particular, will inevitably involve cycling with intimidating motor traffic.

      And the type of modal separation on offer is poor, consisting only of vertical separation at junctions. To this day we still do not have a decent system of separating cyclists from motor traffic at the same level at major junctions and roundabouts, beyond creating shared use pavements and toucan crossings, which are desperately inconvenient. These towns bear no comparison, at all, with the Dutch experience.

      But I do agree with your comments about how far we are behind the Netherlands. We have a mountain to climb, principally because so few people cycle in Britain, and consequently it is going to be a particularly hard sell to create the kinds of inviting environments you see in places like Utrecht. Not many people can currently conceive of cycling being ‘for them’. But we have to try.

  5. Wonderful photos Mark! I also love Utrecht, and am making a return visit soon. What astonished me when I was there last was the massive programme – driven by private development – to remove the old motorway-style road in the centre of the city, to re-introduce the canal to the city, and to create more people-friendly space: not just for bikes but for everyone. David Hembrow and Marc at Bicycle Dutch have both written and filmed before about this constant system of refreshment taking place in the Netherlands before, but to see it taking place in real life is quite bewildering. When I was here two years ago in summer, I couldn’t believe that in the city centre the streets were packed, but echoed only with the noise of laughing voices and conversation. The audio quality of Dutch cities is really striking, and just another example of how the pro-bike agenda there has many more varied benefits than just keeping cyclists safe and comfortable.

    Oh, and Miffy lives in Utrecht. What’s not to like?!

  6. Fred says:

    Great post.

    I hope lots of people in the UK who currently don’t feel safe to cycle read this, it is the was cycling should be. It makes me want to emigrate.

  7. Chris Juden says:

    We tend to forget that there are two sides to the disentangling cycling from driving. In addition to lots of cyclepaths, Utrecht has lots of motorways. Pull it up on Google maps and it’s plain to see what makes it possible for the city to exclude everything except ‘for access’ motor vehicles from most of the built-up area: it’s the motorway/expressway box they have built around it. This makes it unnecessary for anyone to drive through Utrecht, even those who live inside the ring can easily drive out, around it, then in again – rather than across the centre – so there’s spare roadspace on all the old arterial roads for proper cycle paths – and to re-introduce the canal mentioned by markbikeslondon above.

    Now let’s look at a British city the same size as Utrecht, e.g. Coventry. Coventry doesn’t even have the problem of narrow medieval streets – the Luftwaffe sorted those! But before we get to work reducing the busy main roads of Coventry to only two lanes and building bikepaths in the space released, it’s worth thinking about how the bulk of traffic will instead get around that city. Coventry does NOT have a motorway ring around it. Like so many British cities it has an inner ring road instead, that draws traffic into the centre along the old arterial routes. Coventry does have a sort-of outer ring road, but it’s not motorway (apart from the passing M6) or even entirely new alignment dual carriageway (some sections are expanded old main roads, lined with premises to which people need access on foot and by bike) and it isn’t complete: there’s a yawning gap in the NW quadrant. And its far further out than Utrecht’s, which is actually a double box, that ensures nobody in Utrecht has to drive more than 3km on any other kind of road before reaching a motorway or expressway.

    Before (or at the same time as) Coventry can be made like Utrecht for cycling, it will have to be made like Utrecht for driving, and that means building at least one big new link road in the NW, in addition to ‘improving’ the A45/46 to virtual motorway standard.

    I’m not happy about that. I don’t want more of Britain concreted over. I’d much rather there was simply a lot less traffic, but I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon.

    When I compare and contrast the maps of cycle-friendly cities with those of UK, it is clear to see how the former all have ring roads three to five km out from the centre, built to motorway/expressway standard and entirely separate from underlying old roads. That’s where the bulk of their traffic has been banished to. I don’t know any British city that has such a facility, but Coventry comes close.

    • Why does it have to be ‘motorway standard’? Groningen has dual-carriageway ring road, not a motorway surrounding it. A curious point you are making here. Likewise there are plenty of large Dutch cities that are not completely encircled by motorways.

      But setting these factual accuracies aside, I’m not quite sure what you are driving at. We want British towns and cities that have considerably lower levels of motor traffic than they do currently. So what do you suggest, given that you seem to be stating quite clearly that the Dutch the approach of low levels of urban motor traffic is contingent upon close proximity motorway boxes around every city?

      Do you think we cannot remove motor traffic from our urban areas, and we just have to put up with it? The implication of your comment is that south London will never have low levels of motor traffic because it doesn’t have a motorway within 3km. Is that what you are saying?

      • Chris Juden says:

        I said motorway/expressway and I cannot find any Dutch cities that do not appear to be completely encircled, if not by motorways then at least by dual carriageways, like those encircling Gronigen, that do not connect directly with adjacent properties, which is what I mean by ‘motorway standard’ or ‘expressway’. And yes, these motorway/expressway rings are seldom further than 5km from the centre.

        What I am saying is that all the model cycle-friendly cities, that we would like to emulate, have lots of new roads as well as lots of cyclepaths. Although we eco/cyclo campaigners (including myself) like to say Britain has built lots of new roads, a rational analysis of the facts compels me to the conclusion that compared to our European neighbours, we actually haven’t built all that many. I certainly don’t want us to build any more, but recognise that this leaves cycling in a cleft stick.

        Indeed I do think that we cannot remove traffic from our urban areas without some other way to send it, that is less convenient but not excessively so, or else it’s a vote-loser. And I agree that most of London is unlikely to have low levels of motor traffic without one of the following:

        1: A network of new separate motor/expressways like that which criss-crosses the Ruhr, which is the only comparably large built-up area in Europe.

        2: Collapse of the UK economy. (I read that traffic is much reduced in Athens lately, whilst the number of bike shops has doubled!)

        3: A HUGE increase in the world price of oil, over a timescale too short to deploy alternative means of powering road vehicles.

        4: A miracle.

        If it’s any consolation I think 2, 3 and 4 are all more likely than 1. But without one of them I don’t see how you’ll persuade anyone with the power to do so, to reduce traffic capacity on presently congested roads. In that situation, traffic planners will be instructed to fit cycling in somehow, around the existing traffic. That is what results in the awful farcilities we see, except in a few lucky locations where there isn’t too much traffic already to reallocate a significant amount of roadspace.

    • Adam says:

      Coventry – an interesting example. They’ve recently remodelled Warwick Road as it passes the Bull Yard in the town centre. It was a perfect opportunity to put in place the kind of infrastructure shown above – but instead there is nothing at all there for cycling. Dual carriageway is gone, nice wide pavements, pretty landscaping, but no space for cycling at all.

      It’s the same story all over the city – cycle infrastructure is rare, and what little cycling infrastructure there is is such poor quality that it’s virtually useless. It’s sorely lacking the quality of the Utrecht examples above.

      Also, Coventry already has a fairly comprehensive surrounding road network. You mention the A45/A46 which forms a loop round the southern edge of the city, and the M6/M42/M40 also form a wider motorway system which means that passing motor traffic can bypass the city. There’s no need to expand these before putting in cycle facilities. Putting the facilities in now would make a huge difference, but even the easiest opportunities to do so (like the remodelling of Warwick Road) are not being taken.

      • Chris Juden says:

        I picked Coventry firstly because it has the same 1/3 million population as Utrecht, but secondly because it’s seems close to having enough alternative ways of sending traffic. Close but not close enough. Due to the lack of an Allesley-Exhall link, a lot of traffic originating and/or destined for many parts of Coventry still has to come through the middle, congesting roads where one would like to reduce capacity to put in bike lanes.

        I should say that I do not live in Coventry (except for 3 months in the 70s in a tower block on the edge of the deadly inner ring road!). So if there’s any plan to build such a link I do not even know of it. It just looks like any Dutch/German/Danish city would have a new road there. The M40 and M42 are too far away to play a role in diverting traffic that originates or is destined for some part of Coventry, out of other parts of Coventry.

        But because Coventry does come close, I would expect and am not surprised to hear that there are at least SOME old main roads that can be reduced in capacity. I’m sorry to hear that the city planners are missing even those opportunities. I guess that if Coventry has some spare road capacity, driving isn’t too difficult, so not many people are instead resorting to bikes.

        It occurs to me that if congestion is the main incentive to cycle: in the places with spare space to build bikepaths there will be little demand for them, and in the places with demand, there will be little space. We are clearly stuffed!

        • Adam says:

          Hi Chris. Thanks for the reply, but I’m not sure I follow what you’re trying to say. It still sounds like you’re suggesting that the problem towns like Coventry have is that they don’t have enough major roads to reduce the (motor) traffic, and that this is the reason why cycling levels are so low?

          So is the solution to…
          – Build more major roads? I don’t see any way this would lead to increased cycling levels. Cycling would still be an ordeal to the average person because of the hostility of the roads (even if they did have slightly fewer cars on them – although it’s arguable that that would be true if more roads were built).
          – Build cycle infrastructure like the Utrecht examples above? Make cycling a pleasant, safe and quick way to get around and there is no question that people would take it up. And the “not enough space” argument just doesn’t apply to the majority of main routes around Coventry, where there is plenty of space for good quality cycle tracks – if only people and organisations (like the CTC) were to start asking for them.

          In any case, the motorway network seems like a red herring to me. People don’t use motorways to get around their local area to go to the shops, schools, friends’ houses, etc. The reason people don’t cycle to these places (in Britain) is that it is such an ordeal to do so. Building major roads doesn’t address the underlying problem at all.

          (Just for background since you mentioned your own experience of Coventry – I lived there for 4 years in the 2000s and still visit every month or so, as I have family there.)

          • Gareth says:

            Chris does have a point sort of. Neglect in dedicated cycling infrastructure is mirrored by neglect of main roads too.

            That said I’m not averse to the idea of spending more money on improving grade separated roads for motorised traffic, the Netherlands is spending a lot of money widening many of its existing motorways (busiest motorways in NL are actually busier than in the UK), and replacing older cloverleaf motorway junctions with new layouts that can handle more traffic. There are even some seemingly crazy proposals in the works, such as moving part of the motorway that cuts through Amsterdam’s Zuidas business district underground to make the area more visually appealing, with costs cited in excess of a billion Euros for a stretch that is probably barely 2 Kms long. The budget for roads actually increased this year even as austerity is applied elsewhere.
            This is an overall cultural and political commitment to transport infrastructure in general that is lacking in the UK. Something that frankly depresses me everytime I hit a pothole in my car.

    • Hello

      I realise this is quite an old post now, but I wanted to add something.

      I understand what Chris Juden is saying. It is in some ways similar to the idea that our streets are not wide enough for cycle paths. The point being made here is not that the streets themselves are too narrow to accommodate cycle paths, but rather that the reductions in motor capacity necessary to have cycle paths and block off roads that should be access only mean that there is not enough space left for motor vehicles. There are not alternative routes suitable for large numbers of cars, onto which cars can be redirected.

      I’m not quite clear whether the argument is that the reductions in motor capacity necessary for a cycle-friendly city couldn’t be done (i.e. the result would be chaos), or that it is unlikely to be done (i.e. it is politically unappealing). To my mind there is a difference.

      We know that cycling is a much more space-efficient mode of transport than driving, and we also know that many of the cars being driven at any time are on short trips of an easily cycleable distance. Mark noted in a recent post that the cycle path on Embankment has increased the overall capacity of that road. If cycle infrastructure increases the capacity of a road, what are we worried about?

      I come from Edinburgh. Edinburgh is not a city with a large capacity for motor vehicles, I think. Apart from the bypass, the only dual carriageways are the A199 (effectively an extension of the bypass), and a short section of the A70. Nevertheless, in the late 1990s (I think) bus lanes were added on most of the main routes into the city centre. At peak times, apart from Queensferry Road and Telford Road, there are not many sections of road that have more than one lane in the same direction for cars. I would say that this was a significant reduction in space allocated to motor vehicles, in a city that didn’t have a big capacity to start with. So perhaps it is possible to rededicate space to cycle infrastructure, even when space is tight.

      If the issue is cars going through a town or city centre as part of a longer journey, and there is no suitable alternative route, then that is a different question. Perhaps we do need some new bypasses.

      I think there is also confusion of environmental issues and cycling issues. From an environmental point of view, I believe that current levels of driving are quite unsustainable, and need to be reduced. I am sure even the Netherlands is quite unsustainable in this regard. However, for cycling to be pleasant, driving doesn’t necessarily need to be reduced, it just needs to happen somewhere away from where people are cycling.

      • Bmblbzzz says:

        This is such an old post I would not have been aware it existed if I hadn’t seen the comment above in the recent comments box! So I haven’t read it, but the title is attention grabbing. “Separate to liberate”. The cultural and political associations of such a phrase are chilling. I realise it was written when Brexit was not even a word, but that’s the least, if most recent and perhaps therefore most common, of the deeply worrying associations thrown up by a slogan such as “Separate to liberate”.

        I’ll now read the blog post and see what it says and how, if at all, it addresses this.

        • Bmblbzzz says:

          It is alluded to but only in the context of “the right to use the highway” and a reference to “deferential motorists”(!) but there is nothing to address the disturbing cultural-social-political associations of the phrase.

          • michael says:

            What’s so disturbing about separatism, as a political tactic? It’s been embraced by various groups at various times, in the context of different struggles, and I don’t see it’s a clear-cut issue.

            Whether its feminism, racial politics, or the future of Scotland (in or out of the UK?), there has always been disagreement about separatism vs integrationism as a way forward. I don’t see you can just declare that one approach is inherently ‘disturbing’.

            It’s not about separatism in that sense in any case (because infrastructure is about separation of _modes_ not types of people – most people can travel by different modes!).

            But it seems as if that’s the connection you are making, and not only do I think that’s the wrong interpretation I also don’t really agree that separation even in _that_ other sense is necessarily always wrong either.

            • Bmblbzzz says:

              As I said, it’s the particular phrase “Separate to liberate” that I find disturbing. I was not talking about the content of what MT wrote (see my comment from yesterday, 20th October, 11:54am). The most obvious association the phrase made in me was, clearly, apartheid, with its doctrine of separate development supposedly to allow each “group” (what of those who don’t fall into one group?) to pursue their own fulfilment with minimal interaction for their own good, but there are many similar associations. The Re-Education zones of the Chinese Great Leap Forward come to mind (because I’ve just been reading about it). It does not associate for me with segregation of the US South, as that had (as far as I’m aware) no element of separate development. The choice of “liberate” over “set free” or similar also moves the phrase into the political, and even violent, sphere, such as liberation theology or the liberation of a country from occupation; it’s never “freedom theology” (theology might offer freedom in a different sense) or the freedom of a country. Once again, it is the phrase I was talking about (as I said in my original post) not the content.

              Though I could comment further on the content if you really want!

              • Bmblbzzz says:

                That^ needs clarification: it exaggerates the significance of the word “separate”, especially taken in conjunction with Michal’s post about separatism as a political tactic (which is of course a rather different topic). It’s the whole phrase that provokes this reaction in me and the word “liberate” is at least as important in that.

        • Bmblbzzz says:

          That said, the piece (and some of the comments) is fairly interesting and does illustrate the way in which “separation” gives “liberation”. But in fact I wonder if separation is really the right word for what we see in this blog? It seems to be a case of removing the “majority” ie the motor traffic, either by closing streets or by taking space from them, rather than separating the “minority”. So although the minority are technically constrained so are the majority. This seems to be a great contrast to the way cycle infrastructure is implemented in the UK or other countries in my experience (Germany, Poland, for instance).

  8. John says:

    Positive review through the eyes of a foreigner. Negatieve point is not mentioning mopeds on cyclelanes. Slow cyclists jam traffic. On seperate langs cyclist cycle the opposite direction. Very dangerous. One time a motorcar was mentioned as a danger. There are much more dangers in the jungle of Utrecht traffic.

  9. Chris says:

    But… But… But…

    this is absolute war on the motorist

    How has their economy survived?

    How do they do their shopping?

    How do their children get to school?

    How do their obese people get out beyond front door each morning ?

    Why haven’t the people risen up?

    Why has the UN allowed this flagrant disregard for the human rights of an oppressed minority of car drivers ?

    If you bought it – a truck br… rant rave… and so on ad infinitum.

    Back to Russ… er sorry Holland!

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  14. zaax says:

    esThey rebuild their cities after the war with cycle land we can’t as most of ours were’t

    • pm says:

      We rebuilt much of our cities after the war – unfortunately we did so very badly!

      We also continue to rebuild on an on-going basis but again, we tend to do it badly, with little provision for cyclists (see recent posts on this very site).

      I’m not convinced the Dutch cycling infrastructure owes much to post-war rebuilding – surely the time frames are wrong for that?

    • No, I’m sorry, that’s completely wrong. Only Rotterdam (and Nijmegen, accidentally bombed by the Americans) suffered major bomb damage during the Second World War. Places like Utrecht (featured here) and Amsterdam survived the war physically unscathed. British cities like Liverpool, Coventry, Birmingham Plymouth and of course London suffered considerable bomb damage.

      It’s worth noting that the Dutch rebuilt Rotterdam very much in the way the British rebuilt their cities after the war, with very little in the way of cycling provision. The city was rebuilt for motoring (see the picture, and detail, here). It was only substantially later, in the 1970s, that this began to be redressed, as pm says.

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  16. LisaEmms says:

    liberated from helmets too

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