Last Monday I had a few hours to spare while in London. The perfect opportunity to go and see all the traffic situations I ‘knew’ from following the blogs about cycling in London. The Northern Line turned out to be perfect to get to many of these sites.
Starting at Oval I saw “Cycle Superhighway” number 7 on Clapham Road. Two stations to the North I visited the overwhelming Elephant and Castle gyratory. Again two stations to the North I exited at London Bridge and walked to Bank to see the Thames bridge and some of the huge streets there. I then went to Camden Town and walked through Royal College Street to see some ‘good’ cycle infrastructure as well. From Mornington Crescent I headed back South again and left the Northern line to visit the recently reconstructed traffic situation at Blackfriars Bridge. From there I went to the centre to see Oxford Circus and Oxford street. It was there that it started to rain. Then I had a look around the Vauxhall gyratory and from there I walked back to Oval. Finally I quickly visited Parliament square. Quite a tour and I filmed over an hour of material. Unfortunately I lost the first full SD card in the plane going back home. So all the raw footage up to Vauxhall was lost. I was not too happy about this of course! And though it was the first time this ever happened to me, it cannot be reversed.
But at least I got to see all those sites with my own eyes and most of the traffic situations were so alien to me that I have little trouble to remember exactly how everything is.
From the material I still had available on my second SD card I did manage to make a short video about what was most striking in London from a Dutch perspective.
It was really interesting to see cycling infrastructure where I’d least expected it and no infrastructure where in my opinion it was most needed. Something can also be said about the design of the infrastructure that was available. To a Dutch eye the tracks and lanes are narrow and it is hard to see where they actually are. Because there is not much difference from the footpath sometimes. There are also a lot of obstacles and the surface is not continuous and not smooth enough. The blue paint of Cycle Superhighway number 7 on Clapham Road is already fading away and the fact that buses use it and it is allowed to park on it at certain times is very hard to understand. I saw that the bicycle lanes and tracks are not continued on junctions; where you would need them most. The combined bus/cycle lanes were also strange to see from a Dutch perspective because in the Netherlands we try to keep vehicles with such a different speed and especially mass as far apart as possible. On the other hand there were separated cycle tracks on back streets with little motorised traffic driving at low speeds, something the Dutch would not consider building.
The second video looks at some of the same situations in London again and then combines them with very similar situations in Utrecht filmed two days later. Some people will say these two cities are incomparable. But I would like to focus on the many similarities. The traditional average sizes of buildings and therefore streets in the Netherlands and the UK are often remarkably similar. The sizes of motorised vehicles and indeed people and bicycles are of course also the same. That makes the widths of traffic lanes in those streets very similar and I therefore think you can compare the two very well.
I don’t think I am in the position to draw conclusions from this comparison. But to me one thing became very apparent again. The main real difference in (bicycle) infrastructure the Netherlands and the UK, neighbours separated only by the North Sea, lies in the way the limited space is allocated but not in the space available. It is all about choices that are made.