Cycling… Why Holland does not have the answer for us.
There have been a lot of articles in the press and items on the news recently about the virtues of cycling. Every time anyone mentions cyclists cycling irresponsibly the news is greeted with a barrage of complaints and e-mails saying how it is a small minority that give the rest of cyclists a bad name. Well I am a pedestrian, I walk one mile to work and one mile home every working day. I am passed by the same twelve cyclists every day; nine of them pass me on the pavement and of the three that pass me on the road I have seen two of them run red lights and fail to stop at the pedestrian crossing. So eleven out of the twelve are prepared to break the law and cycle irresponsibly, this, by my maths does not constitute a minority I believe eleven out of twelve is ninety one and a half percent. That is definitely a majority. It is possible that the route I walk is particularly attractive to errant cyclists but I don’t think that is the case either. I think my experience is echoed by many pedestrians across the country.
When I first started walking to work I thought it would be really good; a change from driving, some fresh air and exercise. I would be wide awake by the time I arrived at work and I wouldn’t be paying for any petrol. The reality was much less inviting. I was clipped by the same cyclist three times in the first week as he zoomed along the pavement travelling faster than the cars on the road. When I took to carrying an umbrella as many pedestrians do, He stopped to accuse me of “walking dangerously” he explained how he could easily catch my umbrella through his wheel and would end up in the road under a lorry. When I pointed out that I was a pedestrian walking legally on the pavement whilst he was cycling illegally on it, he swore at me and cycled off at his usual speed. This seems to be the attitude of many of them. They expect you to know they are there when they can’t be heard and then to make way for them as thought it is their right of way. Pedestrians are an irritation that slows them down.
Cyclists are forever complaining there aren’t enough provisions for them but it is extremely rare to see cyclists using the cycle paths that are provided. I have passed cyclists whilst out driving that have been cycling on the road when there is a cycle path provided just the other side of the pavement. When I ask why they are not used they say there is always glass on them and they suffer more punctures by using them. This is usually followed by a comment about how we need to be more like Holland, “we could learn a lot from Holland about how cyclists should be treated” they say. Utter rubbish is my reaction. First of all Holland is flat; so flat that the Dutch mountain rescue are as under used as the Austrian coastal rescue and the heat exhaustion unit at the Reykjavik hospital. Britain is not flat. From the white cliffs of Dover to the highlands of Scotland, we have hills. The largest city in Holland, Amsterdam has a population of 1.5 million people, London has a population of 12 million people. In fact Britain has four cities, London, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool all with a population greater than Amsterdam. The consequence of this is that Holland has had a high level of cyclists from before the popularisation of the motor car, and cars have had to opperate alongside cyclists who have rufused to give up their cycles. Some of my colleagues who have visited Dutch factories describe how they have to make sure they leave in good time before the factories finish because of the tide of thousands of cyclists that flood the roads out of the industrial estates when the workers are going home. This never happens in Britain. In Britain with our wonderful hills the lower number of cyclists that we had were only too keen to give up their cycles in favour of a car as soon as the opportunity arose. This has resulted in a traffic system geared towards cars and not cycles. We can’t turn the clock back, and to change would not only cause a great deal of disruption but the end result would slow down the majority of road users i.e. cars. We could reduce the number of large lorries on the roads by improving the rail network and insisting that freight is carried on trains for the largest part of its route, but the truck drivers association complain that this would put their members out of work.
As a frequently harrassed pedestrian I think cyclists should put their own house in order before anyone makes any allowances for them. All cycles shoud be registered and have a numberplate similar to that on a car. Cyclists should have to undergo a course of training before they are allowed out on the road and they should have to have third party insurance to cover accidents they cause. They may be fit and healthy and cause no polution or congestion, but as far as I am concerned they are a long way from owning the moral high ground.