A failure of understanding

As odd as it may seem to British people, surveys of Dutch citizens that ask them why they choose to cycle for the trips they make very rarely find them mentioning ‘cycling infrastructure’ as a reason for doing so – be it in the form of protected cycleways, or filtered permeability that keeps levels of motor traffic low on streets that are shared.

Take, for instance, this 2006 Netherlands transport ministry survey which examined (amongst other things) the reasons people cycle instead of drive for short trips under 7.5km (about 4.5 miles). It found that the most common reasons for doing so were (in order of importance) –

  1. cycling is healthy
  2. cycling is pleasant
  3. cycling is good for the environment
  4. I can cycle through traffic quickly
  5. I can park my bike easily
  6. cycling is easier, I don’t have to look for somewhere to park the car
  7. cycling is cheap
  8. other people cycle
  9. habit
  10. I don’t own a car

[The full table is near the start of the document, but it is in Dutch].

All these reasons, but no mention, at all, of protected cycleways, or of infrastructure in general. Does this mean that cycling infrastructure isn’t a factor in whether or not Dutch people might choose to cycle?

It’s highly unlikely. The reason Dutch people don’t mention cycleways (or low traffic streets, or the other basic components of high-quality cycling infrastructure) when they come to describe why they choose to cycle is in reality because cycling infrastructure is almost entirely invisible to Dutch people. Not literally invisible, but so mundane and ordinary they don’t even notice it. It’s just a part of the street, like drains, or lampposts, or bus shelters.

Just a part of the street, invisible to Dutch people.

Just an ordinary, boring part of the street, invisible to Dutch people.

If that doesn’t sound convincing, imagine an equivalent survey that asked British people why they might walk instead of drive for trips of under a mile. I can think of several possible reasons that might be given –

  • ‘I enjoy being outside and breathing the air’
  • ‘I don’t have to worry about parking the car’
  • ‘I like the exercise’
  • ‘It’s nearly as quick as driving’
  • ‘I don’t own a car’
  • ‘I won’t be sitting in a queue’

And so on. (You might think of other reasons). But very few British people will say they walk instead of driving ‘because there are pavements’. It would just sound… weird, even nonsensical. Pavements are there – we take them for granted, because they are just a basic, ordinary, mundane component of British streets. If you walk to the shops, of course you are going to use a pavement, so why even mention that as a reason?

Of course, if pavements were taken away, and British people had to walk in streams of motor traffic, they would suddenly seem quite important. But we take them for granted, in precisely the same way that Dutch people take their cycleways for granted. That’s why Dutch people don’t mention cycling infrastructure when they are asked why they cycle, and why British people don’t mention ‘walking infrastructure’ when they are asked why they walk, even if that infrastructure is a fundamental component that explains why they are actually able to walk or cycle in the first place.

The CycleFisk blog explained this in a fairly similar way

Like cycle infrastructure, the presence of the Earth’s crust is pretty much ubiquitous in Amsterdam. Surprisingly, none of the survey respondents identified the presence of a crust above the Earth’s mantle as a factor when asked why they like cycling in Amsterdam. The logical inference is that the importance of the presence of the Earth’s crust to cyclists is overestimated.

Either that or, as a ubiquitous presence, the Earth’s crust is something which Amsterdam’s residents take for granted, and thus neglected to mention the Earth’s crust when asked why they like cycling in Amsterdam. A bit like the infrastructure really.

Nobody notices the earth’s crust when they’re travelling around, but (it’s safe to say) it is pretty important, in much the same way breathing oxygen is pretty important when it comes to staying alive, even if other more obvious things kill people.

Your average Dutch citizen really isn’t the best person to ask about the importance of cycling infrastructure, simply because they don’t appreciate it, for the reasons set out above. This isn’t meant as a criticism – it’s not a personal failing – simply an attempt to understand their point of view. I’ve spoken to Dutch people in Utrecht, and – as the conversation turned to why I was visiting (good cycling conditions) – their explanations for high cycling levels were completely different to mine, the kind of explanations we hear in Britain from the uninformed about why the Dutch cycle. ‘It’s flat’ (Dutch people will obviously appreciate flatness when they are cycling); ‘Our cities and towns are small, and close together’ (maybe so, but not of any great relevance); ‘it’s our culture’ (maybe, but let’s see how long that culture would last in British road conditions); and so on. Similar reasons British people might give to, say, a perplexed American from a town without any footways, who had never seen so many people walking before.

I’ve been reminded of this failure of understanding by a couple of recent articles about cycling in London, one late last year (by a Dutchman), and one this week (by a Dane). Both betray a certain blindness to the importance of cycling infrastructure in their own countries, in a very similar way. Take the first article, by Henk Bouwman, a director of the Academy of Urbanism.

… the strategy of going Dutch [in London] seems strongly focussed on creating a safe infrastructure by separating cyclists from cars through segregated cycle paths. However, what we have learned in the Netherlands is that safety is by and large a result of behaviour, not infrastructure. Dutch car drivers are also cyclists so they know how to anticipate a cyclist’s behaviour.

If cycling infrastructure is ubiquitous, mundane and ordinary to you, because you have grown up with it, and it has surrounded you your entire life, of course you are going to underestimate its importance, and even go so far as to say that nebulous ‘behaviour’ is even more important at keeping people safe. This kind of comment is simply boggling to someone who has experienced cycling in a variety of street contexts in both Britain and the Netherlands, and is seeing both with ‘British’ eyes. What keeps me safe when I am cycling in the Netherlands is not ‘behaviour’, but a thorough and systematic approach to design that minimises interactions between people driving and cycling, and ensures that where they do unavoidably have to occur there is clarity about who should be doing what and as little risk to either party as possible.

most importantly, work needs to be done to encourage a behavioural shift amongst cyclists themselves to become more aware of other people on and around the road. Speeding men in Lycra still represent the majority and encouraging them through the roll out of cycle super highways only exasperates the challenge to transform cycling from a sport to transport. This shift in behavioural attitudes is so important that we believe it should be funded on par with infrastructure. [my emphasis.]

If you have a certain innate blindness to the importance of cycling infrastructure, then when you arrive in a different city and you see people cycling about in a very different way to the people in your own city, then of course you are going to see that different behaviour not as response to a very different environment, but as some kind of personal choice on the part of people cycling, a decision to cycle in a certain way that can somehow be beaten out of them.

People 'speed in lycra' in this kind of environment because they have to.

People ‘speed in lycra’ in this kind of environment because they have to. Attempts to get people to cycle slower, or to abandon lycra, through simple encouragement will fail, and fail repeatedly, if people still have to negotiate roads like this.

Notice also in this passage that building cycling infrastructure on main roads is actually framed as a way of encouraging men in lycra – a diametrical inversion of what cycling infrastructure will achieve in reality, namely enabling everyone to cycle, in ordinary clothes, something that is already happening.

This inversion is again only explicable if the author fails to appreciate the fundamentally important role cycling infrastructure plays in allowing people to cycle, and to cycle in a manner they choose. A similar example is his suggestion (not in the article, but in a conference, reported via Twitter) that it is the absence of workplace showers in the Netherlands that keeps people cycling slowly. Again – this is a simple inversion of reality. Showers are (rarely) provided at workplaces in the Netherlands because they’re not needed, because people are already cycling more slowly thanks to cycling infrastructure. To argue it is the absence of the showers themselves that somehow compels people to cycle slowly is completely back to front. But this is what happens when you can’t see what is in front of your own eyes. If you can’t see cycling infrastructure, then people in Britain are obviously choosing to cycling fast, choosing to get sweaty and then take advantage of showers – building infrastructure will only encourage more of these choosing to cycle around fast in lycra, when we need to take those showers away and ask them to change their behaviour.

The second article – by Camilla Siggaard Andersen of Gehl architects – is eerily similar. Again, we see a suggestion that cycling infrastructure will reinforce the existing culture, fostering more lycra, and faster behaviour.

getting more Londoners on bikes is not simply a matter of safety, but of culture. What kind of culture is the Cycle Super Highways fostering – more or less lycra?

Why would anyone think creating safer, more attractive and more comfortable conditions to cycle in would lead to more lycra? Only if you have a selective blindness to the importance of infrastructure in enabling cycling – you will tend to believe that building it will only reinforce the existing types of cycling.

In Copenhagen, the cycling network is great. However, the actual efficiency of the network relies as much on behaviour as it does on the infrastructure itself

An almost exact parallel of the claim from Bouwman that ‘safety is by and large a result of behaviour, not infrastructure’. Both are looking at London, seeing a different ‘culture’ and ‘behaviour’, and failing to diagnose why that behaviour and culture is different.

We do have an awful lot to learn from the Netherlands and Denmark, but we should be wary of taking the opinions of people from these countries at face value, principally because the fundamental importance of cycling infrastructure will often tend to be underestimated or downplayed completely. Not wilfully; but because it is so ubiquitous and mundane in their own countries as to be invisible.


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40 Responses to A failure of understanding

  1. andreengels says:

    I think the prevalence of fast lycra-touting cyclists in a place like London, and slower cyclists in the Nehterlands, is more an issue of selection than adaptation. Those people exist in the Netherlands as well, they’re just a small minority. If cycling conditions improve in a Dutch direction, those MAMILs might change a little, not working as much sweat as they do now, but only a little – they would still cycle more distance than the average Dutchman at considerable higher speed in specialized clothing on expensive bicycles. But other people, using bicycles more out of convenience than as a way of life, would be added to the mix, so that from the dominant form of cyclist on the road they would become a small minority. I guess you could call it the lamarckian versus darwinist view – and I think both processes play a role, but the darwinist effect is much larger than the lamarckian one.

  2. Bilcii says:

    I’m Dutch and jou are absolutely right. We have a blind spot in this matter. Don’t listen to the Dutch!

    • Har Davids says:

      There’s no need to listen to the Dutch or Danes. Just see what they do and figure out what might work in different surroundings. The most important thing that’s needed is a general acceptance of cycling as a completely legitimate and socially acceptable way of going about. Time is wasted now with commissions and consultancies. During my last visit to London traffic seemed to be in grid-lock all the time, with hardly a bike in sight, even far away from the congestion zone.

  3. Matthew says:

    This seems to be, again, a problem of naming.

    Camilla Andersen wrote: “Instead, this strategy seems to say that if you are a super-fit, adrenaline-loving man you can use the Cycle Super Highways”

    You and I know better. But if you were new to the scheme, and perhaps also new to the UK, you could be forgiven for thinking that “Cycle Super Highways” were high-speed race tracks where lycra was the price of admission.

    “Cycle Super Highway” is an absolutely terrible name for a piece of safe, protected infrastructure intended to be used by people of all ages and all abilities. We’ve made it this far, though. Hopefully, in a month or so, numerous photographs of mass numbers of people riding in ordinary clothes will suffice to clear up the confusion.

  4. andreengels says:

    As for the survey: I would not call the lack of mention of infrastructue a case of ‘blindness’. What is actually going on, is that infrastructure is not itself the reason, but it does [i]provide[/i] the reasons. Because of infrastructure, It is because of inrastructure that cycling in the Netherlands is pleasant, stressless and fast, which [i]are[/i] reasons that people mention. Even more than providing the reasons people cycle, it [i]removes[/i] people’s reasons not to cycle.
    Yet another way to look at it, is to think of what the question was that people were actually answering. Nobody (at least not enough people to get in the top 10 answers) says they cycled because they had to be at their work, or do shopping, or visit relatives. Apparently the question they answered was not “why do you go on a cycling trip now”? Rather, they answered “Why do you cycle rather than take some other form of transportation,” and in most cases that ‘other form of transportation’ was considered to be the car. From that point of view too it is logical not to mention cycling infrastructure: The Netherlands has an excellent car infrastructure as well. Even the best cycling infrastructure will not [i]on itself[/i] be a reason for anyone to leave their car. That can only be done if there is some factor where the bicycle is actually better than the car – be it comfort, health, cost, environment or whatever. All infrastructure can do, and in the Netherlands it does do so with great success and in large numbers, don’t get me wrong, is to remove for those people who are still in the car a reason to [i]not[/i] switch to the bicycle even if there is another reason why they would like to do so.
    Of course I am exaggerating there. As written in the first paragraph, there are cases where infrastructure does actually provide the reasons to switch to cycle rather than just remove the reasons not to do so – It’s infrastructure that makes Dutch cycling so pleasant, it’s inrastructure that makes it faster and more omnipresent than public transport, and in some cases faster than the car. But as said, in those cases it’s the pleasance or the speed or the omnipresence that people will mention. I don’t think that makes them blind to the infrastructure behind it. It just means that reasons to do something are multi-facetted and multi-leveled, and a single answer never comes close to showing all nuances.

    • bikemapper says:

      I agree with your assessment, Andre.

      Back in 2005 (i.e. before the days of social media) a Radio 4 audience voted the bicycle the greatest invention of all time. From a shortlist of ten, it got 59% of the vote (i.e. more than the other nine combined). Clearly, then, the bicycle has all sorts of innate advantages compared to other forms of transport, particularly for journeys within the built-up area.

      Whatever is done for cycling, therefore, should be to the enhancement of these innate advantages. Thus, as the propensity to cycle (NPCT) report points out, “Direct routes for *all* cyclists are important.”

      In the UK, the bicycle has one major disadvantage; and most of our effort goes into removing this disadvantage, piecemeal. This approach is most unlikely to have the desired outcome. In the first instance, we should endeavour to build on the advantages of the bicycle.

      We need to put the basics in place first. The European Cyclists’ Federation regards the development of a comprehensive, city-wide cycling network as “a basic pre-condition of mass cycling” because, without it, all the advantages of the bicycle are much diminished.

      The academics behind the NPCT report warn that building small amounts of infrastructure in isolation “may have relatively little effect”, especially where the wider cycle network is poor and cycling levels are low. Any strategy for cycling which does not take account of this is likely to fail.

      The main reason for developing cycle paths physically separated from busy roads, the NPCT report says, is to “widen the demographic appeal of cycling.” However, in order for them to be effective, they must be “built in the right place and as part of a developing network”. What is meant by the term developing network? It means a network which is undergoing development, or which is evolving.

      • Mark Williams says:

        The UK already has a comprehensive—and developing—nationwide [state owned and subsidised] network of carriageways (and often footways) from which pedal cycles are not de jure banned. So do the home countries of most ECF members. Job done, then? Or perhaps there is some nuance to the ECF’s statement which you have not fully appreciated or appraised us of?

        You assert that `in the UK, the bicycle has one major disadvantage’, but leave us guessing as to what that might be or why. Given your fondness for evidence (and misusing words like `clearly’, `thus’ and `therefore’), perhaps you would like to take the opportunity to name it and prove that claim—especially when the rest of your somewhat opaque argument appears to be predicated on it?

        Likewise `we should endeavour to build on the advantages of the bicycle’. It would be fascinating to see your list of professed advantages and find out whether it corresponded with those of other commentators on this ‘blog or if whatever proposed action plan you might have could conceivably deliver anything worthwhile. I’m yet to be convinced that it’s even Andre’s assessment you are agreeing with in your reply…

        • livinginabox says:

          Mark Williams,
          The advantages of a bicycle – are many and well-known – for just some examples see the research into the benefits of active travel and much more. As for the disadvantages of a bicycle they are pretty obvious – to anyone who actually rides a bicycle on UK roads with drivers who are likely ~20% on the phone; a proportion unknown who are deluded into believing they pay road-tax which pays for the roads (neither are true) and are thereby subsidising cyclists (irony-fail) and believe they are entitled to drive dangerously close to cyclists at speed and to harangue and verbally harass cyclists; the approximately 3% who are unlicenced and or uninsured and unlikely to obey other driving rules and those who are drugged out of their tiny minds.

          • Mark Williams says:

            You are preaching to the converted here—but whether our lists correspond with those of Bikemapper or whether any of them support the case for an `alternative’ campaigning approach will only become clear once he has revealed precisely and fully what they are!

            For the avoidance of doubt; I’m not the one who is insinuating that lots of coloured lines on a map and the odd dab of paint on the carriageways (or often footways) a cycling network make—which is what I suspect the `basics in place first’ boils down to. Not even on day one of this alleged `evolution’. I do not believe in this because I have already seen it fail many times in the past. Nor am I the one who constantly snipes by proxy at anyone who has the temerity to disagree or selectively misrepresent what others say in defence of my position, whilst playing my own cards extremely close to my chest…

            p.s. According to Bikemapper, there is only one `major disadvantage’ to the bicycle (as opposed to cycling in the presence of motor vehicles, which is what your list seems to be about—and could easily be a lot longer). I would still like to know what that is from his perspective and why, so that we can all explore whether it is sensible to conflate the invention of the vehicle itself with highway design and make some progress on the `most of our effort’ part and the rest of the argument which depends on it.

            p.p.s. I agree with many of your other comments in this post. I, too, have an Omafiets (actually Opafiets) and live outside London—but ride it everywhere except `special’ roads or footways, for most journeys. A bicycle has been my primary mode of transport for enough decades to spot the pattern that motorists’ attitudes (and, indeed, the public mood generally) always becomes unpleasant like this when there is a national Tory government—but not enough decades to be sure that this isn’t just a co-incidence or whether it is causal. I find the `theory of BIG’ more helpful than getting stressed about going fast or limiting where I go—but it is just a coping mechanism and no way to grow cycling.

  5. Christine Jones (Carter) says:

    It’s like asking why do you drink water, it’s not because of the excellent plumbing.

    • Notak says:

      Of course not, it’s because of the bottles! 😉

      Having lived for a few years in a place with erratic water supply, I do thank plumbing and water treatments.

  6. livinginabox says:

    I have an Omafiets, it’s a lovely bicycle, but I haven’t ridden it for some time. Why don’t I ride it? Because I live in the UK, outside greater London, and while I choose as many quiet roads or traffic-free routes as I can, most of my journeys involve some inescapable road-use and I need to cycle as fast as I can to limit my exposure to mind-numbingly stupid or severely incompetent motorists. Inevitably, I am tail-gated by idiots who cannot read the road and Must Get In Front of every cyclist, even when there’s a clearly-visible traffic queue not-far ahead, or red traffic-lights, or traffic-island, or a compulsory stop, or the blind-summit of a hump-back bridge, where it’s variously dangerous to overtake, or I’m bound to catch-up and overtake them (if it’s safe). Last night I saw three motorists jump red lights, in one-case the lights had been red for at least a second, of course, I had stopped and he also overtook me to jump the light. I also spotted a driver who was most likely on the phone, although I can’t be absolutely certain. because of their inattentive driving.
    And like 80% of cyclists, I also drive.

  7. David says:

    This article is spot on. Just cycling on the nearly-completed Blackfriars bridge bike lane today made me realise how crucial dedicated infrastructure is. It immediately felt a lot safer and less stressful being separated from the roaring buses and manic motorcyclists.

    I think part of the perceived problem of inconsiderate cycling stems from forcing cyclists to fend for themselves on dangerous roads. Treat people considerately and they’ll behave considerately.

    • livinginabox says:

      I too find on-road cycling stressful, and on the occasions when I start to relax, that is often when something frightening happens. For instance, I fail to take primary past a traffic island, so Mr “I’m more important than cyclists,because I have a car and I’m in a hurry”, decides that there is just enough space for him (only inches to spare) to squeeze-past at 30+ mph, when I’m battling against a headwind and only achieving say 12 mph. And because of the wind-roar in my ears, I can’t hear him. Experiences like that can be very frightening. And it’s little-wonder that many people who have just bought or borrowed a bike and who decide to go for a ride, but aren’t road-hardened like me who has cycled on-roads for decades just give-up cycling, or more likely never even start. But even I have noticed that some drivers’ attitudes are increasingly aggressive and their behaviour is increasingly intimidatory and anger-fuelled. Of course, many drivers are OK, but it’s identifying the idiots, the phone-drivers, the incompetent and the psychopaths before they get too close.

      • andreengels says:

        Yes, coming from the Netherlands and cycling for the first time in a country without good cycling infrastructure (Czech Republic in my case), that’s the big difference I found too: Stressful versus relaxing riding. I did not have any scary or dangerous moment, but the constant alertness and stress (has that driver seen me? should I go primary, secondary or pavement now?) makes the experience much different from a Dutch cyclepath where one can allow one’s thoughts to roam, needing just a relatively small part of one’s attention to ensure a safe and eventless journey.

  8. Citizen Wolf says:

    This article so so right on many levels. I was lucky enough to live in the Netherlands (Utrecht) for a few years. Even before I moved to NL I was always what others might describe as a ‘cyclist’. I used to race road bikes, I went on cycling holidays, and I always tried to commute by bike wherever I lived. I was, you could safely say, always pro-bike.

    However……. my experience of living in the Netherlands changed my outlook on bikes and society completely. I used to always kinda think that I was somehow an odd-ball for trying to do everything by bike. I kinda agreed with everyone else when they argued with me that we couldn’t change our societies to cut down on car use, kids going to school, shopping etc etc etc. However, having experienced what a society can do, as they have done in the NL, has profoundly changed my outlook.

    My outlook now isn’t about bikes, it’s about society and the space we live in. The beauty of bikes is that they can provide us with that better, safer, freer society in a way that lie of cars just can never do.

    And how do the Dutch do this? How do they have kids out and about getting to school on their own? Why do you see so many older Dutch folk out and about in general than you see elsewhere? Why do there seem to be so many disabled Dutch people (there aren’t, they’re just outside more)? Well it’s just as you say in the article above; when I lived in NL I honestly didn’t notice the cycle infrastructure, because it was so well designed, so useful and so well-connected. It wasn’t until I left NL that I suddenly missed it. I now feel I live in the cycle-equivalent of a 3rd world country, because my freedom has been so drastically curtailed by the lack of cycle infrastructure and the overwhelming dominance of f**king cars.

    A massive thank you from me to the Dutch people for showing me how I’m not an odd-ball, and also curses to you for turning me into that loony that never shuts up about bikes and cars and society and livability, to anyone within earshot, lol.

    Also, in regards to the question of speed of cycling; I was also one of those who cycled everywhere as fast as humanely possible. Using Dutch cycle infrastructure changed that within me. Because I knew I could get wherever I wanted, in a safe and orderly manner, my cycling speed went right down. Also I regularly cycled with friends and colleagues, something I never did anywhere else, and you tend to cycle slower when doing it socially. I’m now of the view that lycra-clad cycling behavior is a response to the environment rather than an innate behavior of the cyclist. Create a safe normalised cycle environment and that sort of reactive survivalist behavior just isn’t needed.

    And also true about the showers.

    Great article.

    • andreengels says:

      I guess your last point proves me wrong on the ‘lamarckist/darwinian’ issue – it is adaptation more than selection, although of course still both effects apply.

      • Citizen Wolf says:

        No doubt there is selection at work in the areas with bad cycle infrastructure. But once you put in place good cycle infrastructure, those that survived in the bad environments don’t have to continue behaving as if their life literally depends on it.

  9. Notak says:

    Yes, it’s obvious really. I bet virtually no one in Britain or Holland would say they drove because there was a motorway. And no one in either country would say they cycled because of tarmac surfaces. It just is and is assumed.

  10. Jitensha Oni says:

    As a similar former expat in NL I completely agree with Citizen Wolf’s “when I lived in NL I honestly didn’t notice the cycle infrastructure” – I did notice the tram tracks however!

    Anyway, I’ve just received an enormous brow beating on Twitter from people who live in a low cycling country for daring to suggest that it’s not only about cycleways (the topic was a passing distance enshrined in law, which was pooh-poohed, that is until it became a part of legal cases, as with Martin Porter’s recent one, then it somehow became acceptable – go figure).

    While David Hembrow (quite rightly) says that we should only use the best the NL has to offer, it’s surely clear that that it isn’t necessary everywhere to get a high-cycling culture off the ground. And for me that’s what is about – getting it off the ground. Most places will not have the luxury of a congestion charge to do that. Today, I had more people of the female persuasion on omafiets-style bikes than MAMILS cycle past my front door on the unsegregated minor distributor road I live on. How do they fit into the “paradigm’? The evangelati always write as if no-one but MAMILS are cycling, and I think that is counterproductive.

    As usual UK discussion misses out being explicit about the Kindermoord aspect (and David Hembrow’s call for childhood freedom). We’re doing this so kids can make their transport choices independently and in complete safety. If that means universal shared use (as in Japan where I’ve holidayed), that’s fine by me. Whatever does the job. But to paraphrase Rachel Aldred you are restricted to the amount of segregation you can fit in (and I would add the amount of filtered permeability) – on some trips you are going to have to incorporate minor distributors in any scheme. And you have to have a coping strategy for that. At least until cycling utopia is close.

    In the aforementioned Twitter discussion only Paul Gannon had something sensible to say (IMO) – we need to focus on separate cycleways to prevent other interventions being used as a rod for our backs i.e. what more do you want after concession X? But really, from a largely surburban/rural cyclists perspective, putting all one’s eggs in one segregated basket does not seem to me completely rational or practical.

    • Mark Williams says:

      I wouldn’t describe them as any kind of `evangelati’, it’s usually those trying to foster division and engage in `othering’—they do the same with commuters vs. everyone else, too. A proprietary Californian micro-‘blogging web site is not the best forum for a rational discussion, IMO. It may come only as a tiny amount of comfort, but I do not neglect to explicitly stress the Kindermoord aspect. There is not much point—per se—to separation (physical protection from motoring violence) or unravelling if the network is not usable by and useful to a five year old.

      I have been much inspired by another of Paul Gannon’s comments, to the effect that too many UK cyclists have now seen NL for themselves to be fooled by the agenda promulgated by the Uncle Toms in ye-olde cycling(?) campaigns for much of the past century. That is a genie which cannot easily be put back into the bottle…

      p.s. I was outraged by your LCN10 `superhighway’ video, but wasn’t surprised at any of it. No doubt Leon Daniels will be along shortly, castigating you for riding `too fast’ on it… Presumably you rode the other way on the A10 & A1010 because it is so much less terrifying (or long, winding, discontinuous and obstructed by walkers)?

  11. You’re so spot on! I’m Dutch and my fellow countrymen (and women) drive me frothing nuts with their ‘fish who don’t notice water’ attitude, especially since, if you don’t treasure your assets, you will lose them.

    • Cerasifera says:

      I should thank you, because it was one of your comments on Free-Range Kids that lead me to David Hembrow’s blog – fast forward a couple years and here I am 🙂
      I too used to be oblivious to the infrastructure around me and it took reading A view from the cycle path for me to realize just why the streets and roads of Belgium and France, where I’d go on vacation (without bikes), felt so… foreign. Needless to say, I’ve learnt a LOT about my own country, about cycling in other countries, about infrastructure and cityplanning, et cetera.
      Now when I see a Dutch person claim infrastructure isn’t (the most) important, I cringe…

  12. Edward Williams says:

    I cycle everyday and I drive everyday. Cycling on the roads is terrifying and driving is not. As pointed out if there were no pavements we would be terrified to walk in traffic likewise cycling. We really do need segregated cycle lane to encourage people to cycle. Also I would insist that cyclists used them. As to see a cyclist on the road along side a cycle just annoys me so much. I would not allow my child to cycle on any road. I would prefer that they road on the pavement in the absence of cycle lanes, even the absurd token cycle lanes that are marked on our roads. Cycling in Holland is just great and wish we were as considerate. However you have to remember that Holland is nice and flat which is big factor. Also remember that there are other parts of the UK apart from London.

    • Mark Williams says:

      You can `prefer’ that as much as you like; but it will be a cold day in hell before I take to bumping up and down ~100mm upstands at a large proportion of property entrances and side roads, toddling along at walking pace, constantly having to dodge dozy walkers, lighting/ signage poles, etc. on UK footways which are generally inadequate for even walking very far on. Yes, we do need separated cycleways along busy or fast highways. If we had them everywhere necessary and they were genuinely adequate, you wouldn’t have to `insist’ on compulsion! An equally acceptable (possibly to me alone?) alternative would be to just freeze the existing motorway network—it is already as everywhere as it deserves to be and has proven to be reassuringly expensive in its adequacy—and then make it compulsory as well as mandatory.

      It sounds like you are forgetting yourself that there are parts of `Holland’ other than the city centres. There is a lot of cycling (and motoring) on artificial hills in NL, due to the extensive grade-separation of modes—and headwinds which more than make up for the sparsity of natural hills. The end result, as far as the terrain for cycling is concerned, is not hugely different to most of GB (Devon and Cornwall excepted). If this were such a `big factor’, you wouldn’t find so many Dutch cyclists all over the hillier parts of continental Europe on their holidays. Yet you do, e.g. often deliberately seeking out campsites built on exhausted quarries because of the terracing, etc.

  13. Worth noting that in the US there are many places that actually lack pavements. This has all sorts of repercussions, not least that walking in those areas is seen as weird and those that have to are victimised by the police, walking rates are very low etc etc etc, all the same effects that you get with cycling without decent infrastructure.

  14. Sykles says:

    I’m an overweight 50yr old woman. I wear lycra and ride as fast as 20yr old men because I have to. For all the reasons above.

  15. Charlie Lloyd says:

    You describe the Dutch as having a “failure of understanding” of their own environment. I would not be so presumptive. One of the strong lessons I learnt on LCC’s “Love London Go Dutch” study tour of the Netherlands was their holistic and essentially practical approach to transport planning. The Dutch don’t have cycling infrastructure – they have a street infrastructure designed to enable and facilitate cycling as well as other modes. This applies equally to the two-thirds of Dutch streets that lack separate cycle lanes as it does to the busier one-third of streets with (to our eyes) visible cycling infrastructure.

    At the Cycling Embassy of the Netherlands we were shown how they begin, quite literally, with a blank sheet of paper. The first step is to analyse the network needs of the various modes, pedestrians, people on bikes, in buses or trams, in cars and also the need for freight distribution. Next they would try to work out the nodes. How the junctions might be made safe for the less protected modes to cross with the more hazardous ones. Finally they would design the links and design in separate cycle space if it was necessary. It is this top down “network, node, link” process that provides a holistic infrastructure where the cycling elements are equally visible (or invisible) as any other element.

    The Embassy experts and the editors of the CROW manual all stress the importance of their mantra “mix where possible, separate where necessary”. The strong cultural difference between here and the Netherlands is that they lack the politically strong, vociferous, anti-cycling minority you wrote about in the previous post. For over 80 years the Dutch have used cycle training in schools as the tool to teach children about transport and as the pre-cursor to driver training. To most of them it would be inconceivable to design a street infrastructure that would not facilitate people on bikes.

  16. D. says:

    One of the minor elements of that survey – “Its easy to park my bike.” – I do wish British councils (and large stores as well, for that matter) would understand that plentiful Sheffield stands are as much a part of any cycling infrastructure that they wish to build as any blue paint or whatever…

  17. MJ Ray says:

    Yes! We have the start of a useful but incomplete and under maintained cycle track network, but it’s not mentioned as a major reason to cycle despite how busy it us. The main reasons given by King’s Lynn cyclists were convenience, health and being faster than alternatives. (source: KLATS1)

  18. t4mara says:

    Great post. I got hooked with their results and google trad, and about the infrastructure, they actually do mention it: 71% say it’s safe (Kan fiets veilig stallen)

    • t4mara says:

      it’s just indeed not easy to see because it’s in the lower part, as an argument not cited for all the trip motives (pick-up/delivery and grocery shopping don’t mention it)

    • andreengels says:

      The word ‘stallen’ here means ‘parking’, so they are not talking about traffic safety, but about parking their bicycles without it being stolen or vandalized

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