We’re all familiar with those situations where cycling provision just gives up.
Places where the designer couldn’t be bothered; places where it was too expensive to do things properly; places where space was a bit tight; or a combination of the above.
But in all these cases, and in others like them, the difficulties are not insuperable. These awful outcomes are the result of political choices. For example, an insufficient allocation of funding means that cycle lanes painted on a road just give up at the places where physical changes to the road layout are necessary for continuity. Or the flow of motor traffic is prioritised over safe continuous provision for cycling.
I found an interesting counterpoint to these awful British examples in the town of Wageningen, in the Netherlands.
Churchwillweg is a distributor road, running north out of the town centre. What initially struck me about this street is just how narrow the carriageway is, for motor vehicles.
Closer to the centre of town, there is a difficulty – a building (oddly, quite a new building) juts out some distance, meaning that the available space between the buildings for footway, cycle track and road is lessened considerably.
In Britain, it’s most likely that whatever cycle provision there was here would just give up, but in Wageningen, the footway and cycle tracks continue at the same width, and it is the road that gets squeezed.
For about twenty metres, the road becomes single carriageway, meaning drivers have to negotiate with one another, while people cycling and walking pass by serenely.
Amazingly (to my British eyes) there aren’t any signs here at all, warning drivers that this is about to happen, or telling them who should give way to whom. The cycle track just juts out into the road, and drivers have to deal with it, as best they can.
I was fascinated by this design example, because it seems to encapsulate the Dutch approach. When things get difficult, or space gets tight, it is the cycling and walking infrastructure that is maintained, while space for driving is (momentarily) sacrificed.
In Britain the complete opposite is true. At difficult places, driving has continuity, and the cycle lanes are just painted between these pinch points, essentially reinforcing their uselessness, because they are not present at the places where they are most needed.
So it’s not really a question of whether space is available for cycling; it’s a question of priorities, and how that space gets allocated.