The photograph below is one of a number I took on my last visit to the city of Utrecht. It’s a fairly ordinary Dutch scene – just some everyday cycling in an urban area. But in the foreground we can see quite a telling detail – two children, cycling side by side, chatting to one another. They look utterly relaxed; not worried about anything, talking without a care in the world, despite cycling on one of the busiest streets in Utrecht city centre. They don’t have to worry about motor traffic here; the only concern, really, is allowing other people to pass them, which is easy on a cycleway of this width.
Side-by-side cycling is, of course, a completely normal activity across the Netherlands.
It happens everywhere – not just on cycleways and cyclepaths, but also on roads.
Every time I have cycled with someone else in the Netherlands, I have been able to spend the entirety of the journey beside them, talking to them.
Side-by-side cycling isn’t a specifically Dutch trait – it’s a natural human instinct to want to be beside someone, looking at them, rather than stuck behind or in front of them, only able to talk by yelling, craning your head around. We don’t walk along, line astern – we walk side-by-side, and of course cycling should be no different. We want to be sociable, and to engage with the people we are travelling with.
The reason side-by-side cycling is so common in the Netherlands, therefore, isn’t the people. It’s that the environment allows it. Either cycleways that are separated from motor traffic, and that allow other people cycling to pass easily, or genuinely low motor traffic streets that are shared, but easily allow drivers to pass people cycling side-by-side, without inconvenience. It’s not hard to understand why people will cycle socially on a street here –
… But not on these streets.
Of course, on genuinely quiet streets, British people will cycle side by side, and we will also start to see side-by-side cycling on busy roads where good quality cycling infrastructure has been built. All the examples below are on the new Superhighways in London – CS6, CS3, and CS5.
Again, all these people just look relaxed, and happy. The environment allows this kind of cycling.
So perhaps the most important thing about side-by-side cycling, from a campaigning perspective, is that it is a good indicator of a quality cycling environment, be it a cycleway, or a street. If it isn’t happening, on either a main road, or on an allegedly ‘quiet’ street, then there’s almost certainly something wrong with the cycling environment.