Sunday, 1 December 2013

A Dutch School Run

Join me at Primary School The New World (De Nieuwe Wereld) in Purmerend in The Netherlands for an inside observation of a Dutch school run. It is five minutes before the school is finishing, so there is a fair number of parents gathering on the school’s central square. What immediately catches the eye is the large numbers of parked bikes. In the bike racks inside the school grounds we see the children’s bikes and outside the school grounds we see the bikes of the parents who just arrived. 

We also observe how there is no car parking space on the school grounds, not even for staff. Those who wish to drive to the school, even for work, have to park their car in parking bays on a residential road nearby. Two wide walk ways provide access to the school grounds and that is it. The design of the school grounds has a strong visual message; walkers and cyclists welcome!

Compare this to your average school in the United Kingdom, where private driveways shout out in capital letters to staff and parents to travel by car. My parked bicycle on the driveway in this picture looks clearly out of place. Large parts of UK school grounds are often taken up by (chaotic) parking, making it truly unwelcoming to arrive by foot or bicycle. 

Often, large numbers of walking people have to squeeze themselves through narrow gates, while those arriving in a metal box on wheels have free range. The design of this type of school grounds only communicates one strong visual message; come by car! So called “school travel plans”, although well intended, are often a farce.   

Back now to “The New World” school in The Netherlands, where children start coming out of the school building.We notice there is a great many of older youngsters leaving the school grounds on their bikes independentlyThese kids shrug the school’s day off their shoulders with a physically and mentally healthy bike ride and do that twice per day, five days a week. Most of these rides will only be 10-15 minutes max, but they are an important factor to keep the obesity figures of The Netherlands to the lowest of Europe and figures of mental happiness to one of the highest in the world!    
    
What we are interested in now is what happens outside the school gates. Are the roads next to the Dutch school suddenly filling up with cars, such as in this typical picture of the UK on the right? Do we hear engine noises and slamming car doors taking over? Do we see parents parking illegally on yellow lines, making erratic moves with their cars? Do we see a crossing patrol person plastered in high-visibility yellow turning up trying to keep order in this car mayhem?

Eh, no, nothing of the sort. At "The New World” school in The Netherlands, the scene stay remarkably quiet, as you can see in the picture on the left. You can argue that some children leave the school grounds and join the road on their bikes in an erratic way, but their moves are no safety hazards in the same way as similar moves of people in cars; a metal box on four wheels can kill easily, a bicycle going 10 mph max never will!  

We move our attention to the through-road next to the Dutch school. We spotted perhaps two cars per minute passing ten minutes ago; well this number remains exactly the same during the “school rush”. The only thing what increases is the number of cyclists on the through road. They make their journeys here via on-road cycle lanes which are so wide, that it even fits a mum and a daughter cycling two abreast, allowing them to chat happily about their day whilst cycling. Even the white van overtaking in this picture on the right doesn’t bother them, as the permanent speed limit on this road section is limited to 30 km/h (20 mph).

Mum and daughter might turn right in a minute, where a wide cycle path with separate space for walking and cycling will take them closer to home in great comfort and ease. This all shows why Dutch people make so many practical journeys by bike; it is often easier, faster and more comfortable than travelling by car. A gradual change of road and public space design since the 1970s has created this pleasant environment. For any country, it is never too late to start this gradual change too!

For example, on cycle paths in the UK, the removal of hazardous barriers and better maintenance of existing paths really don’t pull public budgets; it is just a matter of priority


When building new paths, there is often space to make paths with separate areas for cycling and walking, so just do that and also stop erecting barriers which make it virtually impossible to actually cycle. A cycle path where you have to cycle walking speed because of pedestrians is not a cycle path. Such routes are not easy, fast or comfortable, so hardly anyone uses them, simple.

Another cheap start to make many UK-roads more cycling friendly is the introduction of 20 mph zones, especially around schools and regardless the so called “importance” of the road in question. The nationwide Twenty is plenty campaign is gathering speed with more and more areas being converted at a very low cost; as a matter of fact, just a couple of signs!
More than half of road deaths and serious injuries occur on roads with 30 mph limits, with Britain having the highest percentage of pedestrian road fatalities and one of the lowest levels of children walking or cycling to school in Europe. 

British parents consistently cite traffic speed as the main reason why their children are not allowed to cycle or walk to school. Lowering urban and residential speed limits to 20 mph has reduced casualties in Portsmouth’s 20 zones by 22%! The Dutch have realised all this a long time ago. Their latest invention in their 30 km/h (20 mph) campaign is the so called fietsstraat (cycling street), where the car is guest (see picture for road sign), rather than the other way around.

The next step for the UK would be the redesign of its roads over a longer period of time, simply when the road is due to be resurfaced. Local authorities should just stop painting those centre road lines on local roads, as these just encourage speeding and confirm the driver’s comfort that the road is built for just them, while it wasn’t. Painting no lines on local roads even saves money on paint! In the long run, there may even be budget for speed bumps in front of schools and the design of more welcoming school grounds. A quick gain would be the provision of covered bike stands at schools. Twelve parked bicycles easily fit on one car parking’s space; let's make a statement!

It is all no rocket science. Governing bodies all over the UK should start acting, rather than just talking about cycling. Health issues associated with obesity cost the UK already £ 5 billion per year. The provision of good cycle routes, providing parents, children and school staff with a choice in transport, is really much cheaper! I leave you with one more picture of the "school run" at “The New World” in The Netherlands. We need this type of world and school run to survive as healthy species; simple!

What about getting on your bicycle yourself with one of my "Cycling Dutchman" guidebooks?


Cycling in  Amsterdam and The Netherlands - The very best routes in the cyclist's paradise makes you travel beyond Dutch cliches like clogs, windmills and the Amsterdam red light district, allowing you to truly explore the lowlands. The book features 1064 kms of routes and has special chapters explaining the unique Dutch cycling-minded traffic rules and its cycle route signage systems; 164 pages, colour, wiro bound, fits in standard handlebar bag.

Buy it now and also receive GPS-tracks of all routes!

The London - Land's End Cycle Route Book is designed for those who LOVE cycling, but don't like traffic. The book takes you onto the most beautiful cycle routes of southern England, including the Camel Trail, Devon Coast to Coast Route, Bristol and Bath Railway path, Thames Valley route and many more! What makes the book unique is that the route is completely continuous, including detailed directions and local knowledge all the way. Get inspired; choose your favourite route sections or go for a full summer holiday adventure; 164 pages, colour, wiro bound, fits in standard handlebar bag.

Buy it now and also receive GPS-tracks of all routes!

The Devon Coast to Coast is southern England's best developed cycle route. Traffic-free paths on former railway lines, such as the Tarka TrailGranite WayDrake's Trail and Plym Valley Way, allow you to explore Devon's stunning countryside at an easy pace. Whether you are young or old, fast or slow, the limited mileage and stunning countryside makes the Devon Coast to Coast an adventure suitable for all! If you love sightseeing from your bike, you can't go wrong with my latest guidebook; 40 pages, colour, wiro bound, fits in standard handlebar bag.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

London by bike in three days: The East-West Cycle Route

To experience the London cycling revolution, there is nothing better than taking the British Capital by bike yourself. If you do so by cycling from east to west, using our London-Land’s End Cycle Route Book, you are up for a very special cycling adventure. This article shows you how you can cycle across London in three days the Dutch way, without having to fear for serious motorised traffic!

London Bridge station is a natural start- and end-point for this journey, as On Your Bike (next to the station) provides the only high-quality bike rental in the city, with a good stock of hybrid bikes, suitable for multiple day-touring. Also, if you decide to bring your own bike by train, London Bridge is the ultimate hub, as it is London’s only large terminal which allows you to bring your bike by train from all directions.

We start our journey just after lunch time, a good moment of the day to board a train with bikes to nearby Woolwich Arsenal station. Making our way from this station to Woolwich’s riverside, we can immediately see how much London has changed the last decade. Dual carriageways with manic traffic used to rule the Woolwich station area totally, but the new “shared space” piazza allows us to cycle happily among skaters, pedestrians, street parlours and many other cyclists, without the continuous noise of motorised traffic. It is a good example of how the “Go Dutch” Campaign starts to spread in the British capital and we hope to see more of this in the years to come!

From Woolwich, we cycle on the splendid Thames Cycle Route. London’s famous river is tidal here, meaning we can smell the silt of the sea and can catch a refreshing breeze, despite being surrounded by the extensive urban wilderness. We look out over the Thames Barrier before we sit down at the Anchor and Hope, one of the few pubs on this route with outdoor-seating next to the river. Looking eastbound to the City, we can see a dramatic skyline, with high clouds gathering over the O2 Arena (Millenium Dome) and the Canary Wharf business area.

We make our way to Greenwich. The viewpoint in Greenwich Park next to the Observatory is located exactly on the famous NIL meridian and provides spectacular views down to the river with the National Maritime Museum and the high buildings of Canary Wharf on either side of the river. Heading down back into the valley we also take in the views over the famous ship Cutty Sark before we make our way further west.


Rotherhithe has many converted warehouses and its modern YHA is directly on our route, making a perfect budget overnight stay for cyclists. Just next-door, a large pub has good riverside outdoor-seating, allowing us to dine whilst watching the sunset over the city, not to mention its amazing lights once darkness has kicked in.

Our second day takes us within ten minutes of cycling under the Tower Bridge and of course we stop to take some pictures of this famous London landmark. We now join the Southbank cycle route. If you wanted to visit all its attractions, you could easily spend a day here. We are on a bike ride though, so we just enjoy the sightseeing from two wheels; we cycle by Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre and Tate Modern


Then, it suddenly hits us, as a revelation! London Eye is not just what is seems, it is in fact the largest bike wheel in the world! We admire its shape; how the spokes make their way from the rim of the wheel inside to the axle. It is indeed the perfect copy of a bicycle wheel. Might it have been the London Eye that really started London’s rediscovery of the bicycle?

We are still overwhelmed by this thought when we run into a group of Dutch cyclists on Westminster Bridge using the Dutch version of our traffic-calmed guide book. After admiring the Big Ben, the book suggests to walk around Parliament Square, but taking in the scene, observing how many local cyclists dare to mix with cars, buses and taxis these days, we decide this must not be hard to do. Indeed by “taking the lane” and just being part of the slow moving flow, we find it is not too bad to cycle on one of London’s busiest squares, so long we keep watching everyone's movements around us.

We rush to Buckingham Palace from where we resume our “easy pedalling” mode. The adrenalin has worn off, so we fully enjoy a great traffic-free cycle path which takes us under Wellington Arch into Hyde ParkJust as many other cyclists on their Santander Bikes we enjoy the easy pace of cycling in Central London’s biggest park. As it is about lunch time now, a picnic in the park is the obvious thing to do!

After lunch, we head into the quiet backstreets of expensive South Kensington. On our bicycles, we just feel as luxurious as the many expensive cars parked on the road sides here. We make our way to Putney Bridge from where we cross the River Thames back to its southern bank. Suddenly, the city seems to end and we find ourselves on green alleys, surrounded by sports fields and parks. Here and there, we cycle on another quiet residential back street with big villas, making our way to Richmond Park.






Richmond Park is amazing. Because of its sheer size, it hardly feels like a park. We feel like cycling in a National Park, especially when we have to wait for a herd of deer crossing our leafy lane. Cyclists from both directions patiently wait for the herd to cross and there is no car in sight. The horizon consists of moors and forests. How is it possible we are still surrounded by the houses of Greater London? If we didn’t know better, we would never believe it!

It is by 5 pm when we reach Kingston upon Thames, a town with a clearly independent feel, despite its Greater London location. We check in at a local B&B and dine at one of the many riverside restaurants. The end of a perfect urban cycling day!


The last day of our three-day cross-London cycling adventure takes us on the River Thames towpath. London’s famous river has truly transformed since we started our adventure in Woolwich. It is just a pleasant stream now, popular with boaters, anglers, walkers and cyclists. The pace of life is slow, relaxed, like the swans hanging out on the water. Because of the many trees on both sides of the river, it is hard to notice the surrounding London suburbs at all. The only proof of the fact we are still in a major city, are the regularly overflying planes heading in and out of Heathrow Airport. Slowly, we make our way past small towns on the riverbank, first Hampton with its grandeur Hampton Court Castle, followed by Walton, Chertsey and Staines.

The Runnymede locks mark the end of our journey alongside the river. We climb the ridge out of the Thames Valley, a long steep climb which makes some of us walk and others feel like they are climbing a Tour de France mountain. It takes us into an entire different world; the large sway of woodlands of Windsor Park. The guidebook route takes us to a splendid viewpoint at a statue of Queen Elizabeth II, overlooking the Long Walk, a long grass promenade with Windsor Castle on the horizon. Lunch time is slightly overdue, but this majestic picnic site made it worth to wait!

After lunch, we had into scenic Windsor Town and cycle the river bridge to Eton, with its great views up towards Windsor Castle. Over the bridge, we are once more exposed to the idyllic Thames river scene, but the end of our three-day ride is looming. We cycle next to the 2012 Olympics rowing lake and then head for Bray, a picturesque village on the outskirts of Maidenhead, our final destination. Once we arrive at its station on the main line between London and Bristol by 4pm, we truly feel like we have conquered Britain’s capital. We head back to our homes, treasuring great memories of a great cycling adventure!

Itinerary:
Day 1: Woolwich Arsenal Station - Rotherhithe: 17 km (10.5 miles; half day at easy sight-seeing pace)
Day 2: Rotherhithe - Kingston upon Thames: 33 km (20.5 miles; full day at easy sight-seeing pace)
Day 3: Kingston upon Thames - Maidenhead Station: 52 km (32 miles; full day at easy sight-seeing pace)

Also watch our London Cycling clip on YouTube!

Sections of the route as described above are signposted through Sustran’s National Cycle Network, but it is only the London-Land’s End Cycle Route Book which connects it all together to one enjoyable continuous traffic-calmed route, allowing you to take in all the famous landmarks. The book features full route directions, maps, cyclists-focused visitor information and listings of conveniently located accommodations, (bike) shops and pubs. Additional traffic-calmed cycle routes allow you to bring rented bikes back from London Paddington Station to the London Bridge bike rental. These connecting routes link all major London railway stations!

This guidebook is not just about London; the book of 164 pages in convenient handlebars-pocket size provides the same level of local knowledge for another 880 miles of cycle routes in southern England, allowing you to cycle Dutch-style from either Dover or Harwich all the way to either Land’s End or Plymouth! If you order your copy via the designated website you also receive GPS-tracks of all routes, which you can upload to your Outdoors App or navigation device.

Further note by the author: This blog article doesn't want to suggest in any way that it is now easy to cycle London "The Dutch way". The research for the route as described above has taken years. As you'll discover for yourself, the route is only manageable by taking many non-obvious turns and following quirky passages to stay away from main traffic corridors, not to mention dodgy path surface on some short stretches. London has a long way to go before it can indeed present itself to the world as a cycling-friendly city Dutch or Danish style! Please pledge your support to organisations as the London Cycling Campaign, the Times Cities Fit for Cycling campaign and the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain to force politicians and highway authorities to change their ways and make it happen! 

Fancying a truly Dutch ride? What about my guidebook Cycling in  Amsterdam and The Netherlands - The very best routes in the cyclist's paradise. It makes you travel beyond Dutch cliches like clogs, windmills and the Amsterdam red light district, allowing you to truly explore the lowlands. The book features 1064 kms of routes and has special chapters explaining the unique Dutch cycling-minded traffic rules and its cycle route signage systems; 164 pages, colour, wiro bound, fits in standard handlebar bag.

Buy it now and also receive GPS-tracks of all routes!

The Devon Coast to Coast is southern England's best developed cycle route. Traffic-free paths on former railway lines, such as the Tarka TrailGranite WayDrake's Trail and Plym Valley Way, allow you to explore Devon's stunning countryside at an easy pace. Whether you are young or old, fast or slow, the limited mileage and stunning countryside makes the Devon Coast to Coast an adventure suitable for all! If you love sightseeing from your bike, you can't go wrong with my latest guidebook; 40 pages, colour, wiro bound, fits in standard handlebar bag.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Amsterdam: "In The City of Bikes"


2002Pete Jordan from San Francisco travels to Amsterdam to study its cycling culture. His aim is to return to the USA to make America’s cities more bicycle-friendly, but Pete falls in love with The City of Bikes and convinces his bride to live together in Amsterdam. Pete Jordan spontaneously starts to study the history of cycling in Amsterdam. His study has now resulted in a fantastic book which we review here today. Jordan's book is naturally named In the City of Bikes.

In the first place, In the City of Bikes (also available in Dutch as De Fietsrepubliek) is Pete’s personal story, hilariously describing the culture shock he experiences after his arrival in The Netherlands. The book naturally starts on how Pete on his first day in Amsterdam immediately gets shouted at by an attractive looking girl on a bike. He is walking on a cycle path, as many international visitors to Amsterdam do. It doesn’t stop there. Pete gives a full inside to everything what is happening to him; he writes about the theft of the bike he buys for his wife (and his attempts to buy it back on the black market), the unique experience of cycling in a cycling traffic jam after a night out in the pub and how he gets into an argument with the police whilst he is convinced he has priority (finally finding out he has been misinterpreting Dutch traffic rules for years).

These personal stories make the book an entertaining read, but it is Pete Jordan’s study into the history of cycling in Amsterdam which makes this book truly special. It is the first full study on this topic ever published and features some amazing facts, all based on historic accounts from newspapers, council documents and personal stories from many people, even including Anne Frank (yes, she wrote about cycling in her famous diary!). Finally, we are able to picture the full history of cycling in Amsterdam, thanks to Pete Jordan’s ground-breaking research.

The study takes the reader on a journey in time, starting in the 1890s when bicycles where a novice, only affordable for the wealthy. There is the compelling story of how the Dutch heir to the throne Wilhelmina was forbidden to learn how to ride a bike by the government, as cycling was regarded to be dangerous (putting the continuity of the Dutch Royal family at stake!). She nevertheless taught herself once she became Queen at the age of 18 and was regularly sighted happily cycling in the streets of The Hague, up to old age (see picture).

Jordan also finds how it was actually WWI (in which The Netherlands managed to stay neutral) which brought cycling to the masses. From 1918, the Dutch could cheaply import bikes from broke neighbour Germany, causing the transformation of Amsterdam into the City of Bikes as we still know it today. Jordan then shows an interesting parallel between The Netherlands and the USA in the 1920s. 

Whilst in The Netherlands the bicycle finally became cheaply available for the masses, the same happened with cars in America. By the time the cycling era in The Netherlands had truly started, it already had come to an end in the USA.  The historic personal accounts of nationals from both countries (whilst visiting each other’s countries) are a joy to read and provide a great inside into how people saw things in the 1920s and 1930s.


Probably because of the large numbers of people cycling, Amsterdam's City Council was by no means cycle-friendly in the 1920s. The Mayor even decided to ban cycling in one of its shopping streets, while drivers were allowed to keep driving through this narrow "Leidse Straat" (see picture). 

What about this "letter to the editor", reflecting on this issue, in the Telegraaf daily of 13 November 1927:

"Despite all our democratic airs, a delusion is now developing in the heads of our authorities and ourselves; the idea that ten cyclists are less important than a single motorist. Therefore, cyclists of Amsterdam, unite. If we don't, soon - as pariahs of the roadway - we'll simply be consigned to the streets that are lifeless and poorly-paved."


Sadly, the writer of this letter couldn't imagine how accurate this look into the future would be. 85 years on, in many countries cyclists indeed feel as the pariahs of the road. He/she would be proud though to learn that his/her words are not forgotten and, thanks to Pete Jordan's research, can inspire cycling campaigners today

From the 1920s and 1930s, Jordan’s historic account continues into WWII and shows how the Nazi regime (beyond many other things) also brutally affected the Amsterdam cycling way of life. Jordan found that of the four million bicycles in The Netherlands before the start of WWII about two million bicycles were either confiscated by the Germans or "ridden to death” by the Dutch themselves. Especially the Hunger Winter (1944-1945) was the end to many Dutch bicycles. Hungry city folks were forced to head for the countryside in search for food, cycling incredible distances in harsh conditions. 

As supplies of rubber had run out for years, many tyres and inner tubes were worn out, making many Dutch people ride their bikes on the bare wheel rims, gradually decaying their bikes forever.  As Jordan writes, it took years before the number of bikes in The Netherlands was back on the levels of from before WWII, with most bicycles this time being home-manufactured. Iconic Dutch brands as Gazelle and Batavus still exist today.

With all its economic wealth, the 1950s and 1960s than finally brought the take over by motorised traffic, just as happened in England around that time. Roads were built with only motorised traffic in mind and cyclists and pedestrians were pushed into the margins. The Netherlands counted 3300 road deaths in 1971, with over 400 of these deaths among children under the age of 14. As also shown in the video How the Dutch got their cyclepaths, the “child murder” finally sparked the Dutch “modern day” Cycling Revolution of the 1970s.

Pete Jordan’s book tells the tale on how, helped by the climate created by the Flower Power and Hippie movements, a handful of passionate campaigners managed to organise various large cycling demonstrations in Amsterdam

Various public declarations by campaigning groups are quoted in the book, like this very first one, dating from 27 July 1965:

“Amsterdammers! The asphalt terror of the motorised bourgeoisie has lasted long enough. Every day, human sacrifice is made to the Auto-Authority. The smothering carbon monoxide is their incense; their likeness poisons the streets. Provo's White Bicycles Plan presents liberation from the car monster. The White Bicycle symbolises simplicity and cleanliness in contrast to the gaudiness and filthiness of the authoritarian automobile ”. 

The legacy of the Amsterdam 1960s and 1970s cycling campaigns still echoes in mission statements of organisations like the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain and the Times Cities Fit for Cycling Campaign today.

The oil crisis of the 1970s caused the need for the famous Dutch car-free Sundays (see picture) and was another push  to change road layouts in favour of cycling for good, as it reminded many people how pleasant cities were before the take-over by motorised transport. In the 1980s, Amsterdam City Council and many other Dutch authorities gradually reviewed their transport policies in favour of sustainable traffic, including some revolutionary concepts as the famous Dutch roundabouts.  

Pete Jordan makes this unique tale a fascinating read, especially as there are so many parallels with present-day campaigns for proper cycling infrastructure in other countries. In summary, In the City of Bikes is a fantastic read, rich in detailed facts, personal stories and entertaining all the way through.

Pete Jordan’s ground-breaking book has something to offer for everyone who loves cycling, even if it was only for that one simple message: “Wherever you are in the world on your bike, please know you are not alone. There may well be a cycling traffic jam in the middle of the night in Amsterdam right now.” Just that feels good, doesn't it?
Copyright notice: many historic pictures illustrating this article are sourced on the internet and seem to be copyright-free. If this is not the case and you have the rights to a picture, please contact us and we’ll remove the picture from the website. 


What about getting on your bicycle yourself with one of my "Cycling Dutchman" guidebooks?

Cycling in  Amsterdam and The Netherlands - The very best routes in the cyclist's paradise makes you travel beyond Dutch cliches like clogs, windmills and the Amsterdam red light district, allowing you to truly explore the lowlands. The book features 1064 kms of routes and has special chapters explaining the unique Dutch cycling-minded traffic rules and its cycle route signage systems; 164 pages, colour, wiro bound, fits in standard handlebar bag.

Buy it now and also receive GPS-tracks of all routes!

The London - Land's End Cycle Route Book is designed for those who LOVE cycling, but don't like traffic. The book takes you onto the most beautiful cycle routes of southern England, including the Camel Trail, Devon Coast to Coast Route, Bristol and Bath Railway path, Thames Valley route and many more! What makes the book unique is that the route is completely continuous, including detailed directions and local knowledge all the way. Get inspired; choose your favourite route sections or go for a full summer holiday adventure; 164 pages, colour, wiro bound, fits in standard handlebar bag.


Buy it now and also receive GPS-tracks of all routes!

The Devon Coast to Coast is southern England's best developed cycle route. Traffic-free paths on former railway lines, such as the Tarka TrailGranite WayDrake's Trail and Plym Valley Way, allow you to explore Devon's stunning countryside at an easy pace. Whether you are young or old, fast or slow, the limited mileage and stunning countryside makes the Devon Coast to Coast an adventure suitable for all! If you love sightseeing from your bike, you can't go wrong with my latest guidebook; 40 pages, colour, wiro bound, fits in standard handlebar bag.