On a recent bicycle journey across The Netherlands I was able to compare the cycling experience in Peterborough to that in Holland, writes Barry Warne, Peterborough Green Party.
Travelling from The Hook of Holland to the German border, and passing through Rotterdam I hardly encountered a road at all other than to cross them. The country is criss-crossed by immaculately maintained and well-lit bicycle roads which are often more direct than motorised traffic routes and make cycling a safe and pleasant option.
The cycle roads feature their own junctions with ample signposts. When a bike road meets a car road there are dedicated bike crossing points with traffic lights. At many of these junctions motor vehicles give way to bikes.
Approximately 27% of all Dutch journeys are made by bicycle, and its considerably higher in the big cities. Its no wonder when people are able to get around in relative safety.
For the Dutch, there are few obstacles to deter cyclists, and their planners would no doubt be aghast at some of our own routes such as Oundle Road where narrow, faintly-marked cycle lanes hug the kerb with parked cars often blocking the progress of riders.
Another important factor contributing towards the safety enjoyed by Dutch cyclists is the country’s liability laws. If a motor vehicle is in collision with a bicycle the vehicle driver is found liable by default unless he can prove otherwise. By the same token, a cyclist will be liable in the event of an accident with a pedestrian. Pedestrians are protected from cyclists and both are protected from motor vehicles.
The needs of cyclists are taken into account in all stages of urban planning. Urban areas are frequently organised as ‘living streets’ in which cyclists and pedestrians have priority over motorised traffic. Roads are cleverly designed to minimise conflict between different modes of transport. Towns are deliberately designed with limited access for cars and limited parking. The resulting congestion makes car use an unattractive proposition in towns.
The Dutch mainly choose to ride roadster bicycles of a sit-up-and-beg design. These bicycles are practical, low-maintenance and suited to load carrying. They are often used for the journey to and from work and suits are more likely to be seen than lycra.
The rider sits in an up-right position, making for a comfortable, leisurely ride.
In The Netherlands, children learn to ride a bike safely from a young age, and the majority of secondary school children will travel to school and back on their bikes taking a final test at around 12 years of age to prove their competence.
Modern Peterborough was designed with cycling in mind, but sadly much of the cyclepath network has suffered from a lack of maintenance, and many of the cycle lanes on roads are considered by local cyclists to be plain dangerous.
Perhaps Peterborough could learn from the positive and encouraging attitude to cyclists in The Netherlands. It could be a highly effective to the health of our people and the health of our environment.