When you follow my blog and Twitter stream and saw my recent posts, you could get the impression that we have much snow in the Netherlands and that we constantly have busy rush hours. That is of course not the case, but we humans tend to focus on the unusual and I am no exception. That means it may be time to focus on the ordinary, the mundane again.
Some time ago I was at a meeting in the CROW office in Utrecht. CROW is the organisation that issued the manual for cycling infrastructure in the Netherlands (including the previous versions). The meeting included lunch and from the lunch room on the third floor there is an interesting view on an intersection of cycleways. Coincidentally I had already filmed that intersection some years ago from the ground and in rush hour. It became one of my videos that makes cycling look very intimidating. Now I had the chance to set that straight. From a high view-point and on a Friday around noon you can see that cycling here is not intimidating at all for most of the time. There was a downside to my position. I needed to film through the windows and that means I didn’t capture the street sounds but the sounds of people having lunch with a discussion about the meeting right behind me. That means I had to use background music. I know that is not something everybody likes, but there was no other option in this case.
Even though it was not the morning rush hour, it is a bit busier during lunch too, with people going to get a sandwich or just changing location. Around noon you can also already see the first school children cycling home when they end school early. But while it can be busy for a few seconds, moments later the intersection can be completely empty again. People walking and cycling arrive in pelotons due to the nearby traffic lights, which – in turn – are only there to regulate the interactions with drivers of motor traffic. This intersection, where only people on foot and on bicycles meet, doesn’t need traffic signals. People who can look each other in the eye can negotiate who goes first without many rules.
Officially there are priority regulations at this intersection. One of the paths has priority over the other, as indicated by the sharks’ teeth. Pedestrians have to wait for a gap in the cycle traffic, unless the cyclists turn in their path going straight-on. Especially that last rule is not really observed. In-stead, pedestrians cross when they can and they even do that diagonally. People cycling just weave around them. The unwritten rule – you don’t force someone on a bike to stop – is observed by almost everyone. The Dutch are almost all cycling every now and then and they know what amount of energy is lost when you come to a full standstill with your bicycle and how much extra energy you need to get the momentum of riding again. Forcing people to use that extra energy is avoided at all cost. Even if that means you can’t take your priority as a pedestrian. I believe this behaviour of the Dutch is the cause for many misunderstandings with visitors to the Netherlands. Yet, all we seek in this country is harmony! A constant weaving around each other on bicycles and on foot. Observing that desire for harmony from above looks beautiful, I think.
My video for this week:
People on a cycle intersection on Jaarbeursplein in Utrecht from above.