For some time now I have been reading various articles and books eulogising about the wonderful cycling in Holland. I had been to Amsterdam once and cycled around the city and so did know cycling life in Holland was very different from the UK. So in preparation for an event we are planning in September this year, my wife and I took off with our bikes and panniers to explore Holland and its bike paths.
The only conclusion you can come to is that yes, the cycling infrastructure they have created is amazing. Not only have they got dedicated cycling paths that cover basically the whole country but they have ferries designed for cyclists and even tunnels under the estuaries specifically for cycling.
It took a lot of demonstrations and fighting by the Dutch people to get where they are today but the key was they had the political and public will to integrate cycling into their transportation policies. They now have a viable alternative to the car and is used by people going shopping, commuting into work, kids going to school and of course simple day rides. What a great legacy to hand down to future generations.
Of course the theme of all writing on this subject is why don’t we do the same thing here in the UK.
Unfortunately during the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s the UK swung to being a car dominated society. It seems now that not only does every household own a car but every household has 2 or 3 cars. When it comes to a choice between a nice warm car or cycling in wind and rain in busy traffic it is an easy decision.
It was fascinating to cycle through some of the suburbs and smaller towns in Holland. Because the bike is used extensively as a normal means of transport, there is no need for a second car. The result is that the streets aren’t a car parking lot, making for a much more pleasant living environment.
So what would be the practicalities involved with creating a “Dutch” cycling model here in the UK. Most times transportation initiatives are tested in London with mixed results. There has been a quantum change for cycling in London but it will always be a battle with cars, trucks and buses.
So how about looking at my home town of Winchester. To create a sustainable cycling environment a dedicated system of bike paths could be built connecting all the outlying towns and villages into Winchester. Dramatic changes would have to be made to the Winchester road system so that cyclists could cycle in and out of the town centre in safety, (something you can’t do right now). This would mean creating dedicated cycling lanes on existing roads which of course would impact severely the car and truck movements.
My rough approximation is that to build an effective cycle way would require about 50 miles of construction. If we assume a cost of £1.5mm per mile that is a cost of about £75mm. That is not even the cost of a Paul Pogba for Manchester United, but it is far more than most local councils or even governments, I am sure would be willing to spend.
To build dedicated cycle paths would require acquiring land on the side of roads or even farm land.
Aside from obtaining the necessary funds dedicated political and public support would be required. Also more critically a complete change in UK transportation culture would be required away from the car. Putting pen to paper makes the venture seemingly impossible, however, if all obstacles could be overcome then as has been demonstrated in Holland, if you build it, they will come.