So far this week there have been three serious crashes in Edinburgh (and it is only Friday) which is not good news. Then on seeing a tweet this morning my heart sank further. The tweet spoke of influencing “culture change and mutual understanding on our shared road network”. For many who have been campaigning for years to make the roads safer for people to cycle, walk or wheel, this feels like Ground Hog Day. Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against the person who wrote it. It is someone I know and respect. It is the comment that “We have to work together to influence culture change and mutual understanding on our shared road network” that makes me feel depressed.
We have been here before. This is nothing new, every time there is a spike in road deaths we hear the same mutual respect concept rolled out. As Albert Einstein is supposed to have said (and probably didn’t), “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result“. We know there is a fatal flaw in the “mutual respect” approach to road safety. It assumes that all road users are equally capable of harming each other and therefore equally culpable when/if things go wrong. This is simply not true. Until we ditch this flawed concept, we will be unable to move on, stuck in an insane loop, a deathly Ground Hog Day.
The question now is: how do we break out of this cycle of insanity? The answer is simple, we look for evidence of what works, and learn from that. But before we go further, it is worth just looking to see where the mutual respect/share the road concept came from. It has its origins in 1930’s America where it was invented by the Shell oil company and adopted wholesale by the motor industry. It is still promoted by the Ford Motor Company as a way of getting non-motorised road users off the roads to make way for cars and also to transfer blame to the victims when things go wrong. Therefore, is it any wonder that it has failed? OK, so what else is out there?
Back at the start of the Millennium when all was hope and optimism, the concept of Vision Zero became popular across the world. The idea of Vision Zero started in Sweden and was approved by their parliament in October 1997. The aim was to use road engineering to reduce the number of people killed and seriously injured (KSI) to Zero by 2020. Are they there yet? No, the rate of KSIs in Sweden stopped declining in 2013, and the target date moved to 2030.
The UK has talked about developing a Vision Zero strategy but has never actually implemented anything across the country. This is partly as transport is a devolved issue, and indeed Scotland did have a Vision Zero policy, too, but this was quietly dropped some years ago and has disappeared from sight. The main reason the UK does not have a fully developed Vision Zero strategy is because the government claims to have a low rate of KSI per 100k people. However, this is deeply disingenuous, as the UK also has very low levels of walking and cycling (along with the highest obesity rates in Europe). When the KSI rate per distance walked or cycled is examined, it turns out the UK’s rates of KSIs are among the highest in Europe.
Given that there is a desire to increase rates of active travel, where should we look for an example of how to get it right? The country which has probably been most successful at this is the Netherlands, with their strategy of Sustainable Safety (or “Duurzaam veilig” if you want it in Dutch). Where Duurzaam veilig differs from Vision Zero is that it recognises that in the majority of collision humans are to blame and that roads should be designed to be “self-explaining”, thus reducing the likelihood of crashes in the first place. Sustainable Safety also acknowledges that collisions will happen and therefore, when the inevitable does occur, it should be survivable. This approach has been shown to work, the Netherlands are probably the safest place in the world to walk or cycle. There is no point in trying to reinvent the wheel when it already exists. The intelligent approach is to learn from the concept and adapt it to your needs. Got rough roads to travel over? Add a more cushioning tyre, but don’t be tempted to make the wheel square.
Therefore, I suggest, if we wish to escape the deathly Ground Hog Day described above, now is the time to abandon the “mutual respect” concept and embrace Sustainable Safety. Can it be done? Well maybe if someone with a background in psychology, a persuasive nature and access to people at the highest level, were to get the Scottish Government to change its approach. Then we could have a chance to break out of this cycle of insanity.
On our third day of cycling across the Netherlands, we started the day riding downhill from the outskirts of Arnhem to the centre. A descent of all of 70m, but hey, this was in the Netherlands.
Arnhem is best known for the John Frost Bridge (John Frostbrug in Dutch) across the Rhine, and the battle fought over the bridge during the second world war. As a consequence of this battle, there is little of interest in the town centre as most of it was flattened during the fight. The bridge was rebuilt after the war and renamed after Major-General John Dutton Frost, who commanded the British forces during the battle. It is now a tourist attraction, as well as a transport route.
However, it is no longer the only bridge over the Lower Rhine. There are now two others, the Nelson Mandela Bridge (about 900 m downstream) and the Andrei Sakharov Bridge (about 3 km upstream). I know this because a young guy, who looked like a student, came up and started to tell me about them as I was trying to take a photograph. He also told me that this wasn’t the bridge shown in the film “A Bridge Too Far”, as there were too many new buildings in the background. So, for the film, a similar-looking bridge over the IJssel at Deventer was used instead. When I asked about how we could get the bikes up onto the bridge, he pointed to steps leading up to the deck of the bridge (this was also the route which Komoot was suggesting) and said that there was a channel to guide the wheels of the bikes up. The deck of the bridge was some 10 m above the viewpoint by the river where I had stopped to (try) take photos. This wasn’t an appealing prospect with loaded touring bikes, so Ulli and I decided to look for an alternative route.
We were sure that there had to be a cycle path parallel to the road on the bridge, it was just a question of finding a way onto it. Looking at the map on my phone, we could see that there was a roundabout a few hundred metres back from the river, which could give access to the bridge. As with all Dutch roundabouts, there was a separate but parallel cycle route. In this case, rather than crossing the roads entering the roundabout with priority for the cycles, the cycleways passed underneath the roads and had their own entirely separate roundabout. So easy to use and with no stress at all, why can’t we have this sort of thing?
Finally, we were up and over the bridge John Frost Bridge and heading upstream towards the Andrei Sakharov bridge. Without giving a thought to disarmament, peace or human rights we headed on upstream, following the cycle path. Maybe we should have stopped and given thought to the man the bridge was named after, but it was a dull concrete thing and not at all inspiring, besides we were more interested in riding atop of the winter dykes.
Having dropped down from the giddy height of 123m above sea level at the start of the day, we were now at only 50m above sea level (and that was on top of the winter dyke). Before the building of the dykes, the rivers of the Rhine delta would have braided their way through swamp, meadow and alder carr. Although the earliest earthworks used to divert river flow in the Netherlands date to around 12 BC, the serious business of controlling floodwaters from the river didn’t start in earnest until the 11th Century AD. After which things got really messy, with flood protection in one area exacerbating flooding in another. This, in turn, led to a system of summer and winter dykes, the summer dykes lower and the land behind them is allowed to flood in winter, whereas the winter dykes are higher and intended to prevent flooding of the land behind them year-round. Hope that is clear.
Anyway, being up on top of a winter dyke gives you a commanding view of the landscape around you, and puts you in the unusual position of being able to look down on the roofs of two-storey houses built on the land protected from flooding. It also means that you are fully exposed to the wind, fortunately, this wasn’t a particularly windy day. Or at least so I thought so. When Ulli decided to stop to take a photo of a thatched farmhouse or a stork or something, I thought I would just slowly glide to a halt and wait for her to finish. But that wasn’t what happened, instead, I found myself drifting along at about 10 Km/h with no sign of stopping and I was almost a kilometre along the road before Ulli caught me up.
We diverted down off the dyke to take a look at Castle Doornenburg, one of the biggest and most well-preserved castles in the Netherlands, not that we got much beyond the entrance gate. It was originally a fortified manor built in the 9th century, then expanded to a full-blown castle around the 13th century. By the 15th century it contained sleeping quarters, a chapel and a farm, and was occupied for a further 400 years before falling into a state of disrepair. In the 20th century, it was restored between 1937 and 1941, only to be reduced to a pile of smoking rubble by a British bombardment in March 1945. Following the war, the castle was completely rebuilt between 1947 and 1968.
Then it was back up to the dyke for a while, but we couldn’t stay up there, at some stage we would need to cross the water again. To cross by bridge would mean a long detour via Nijmegen, so instead, we first took a ferry across the Pannerden Canal and then later a second ferry across the Waal/Rhine/Bijlands Canal. The river has a bit of an identity crisis at this point in its journey from the Alps to the sea. The first ferry was notable as it is a reaction ferry, that is a ferry that uses the reaction of the current of a river against a fixed tether to propel the vessel across the water. The second was a pedestrian and bicycle-only ferry, crossing a much busier waterway.
Following this second Rhine crossing of the day, we were soon back atop a dyke wall again, with open farmland to one side and a wooded nature reserve on the other. Being so high up, we could also see the weather coming towards us with towering clouds building up and the threat of rain later. Just past the village of Leuth the road we were on joined a busier one and cycles are directed down off the top dyke on to a path below it, so that we no longer had sight of the looming clouds for a time.
The next waypoint on Ulli’s list was a windmill, which was now on the far side of the dyke, which required us to continue until we found a minor road crossing the main road (on the dyke) and then turned back a short way on the far side. Now, windmills aren’t my thing, when you’ve seen one there ain’t that much new with the next. So I was pleased to find that this one had a cafe attached and so insisted on stopping for cake, as all good touring cyclists should. It was sunny and all the tables in the sunshine were taken, but we were happy to sit in the shade of a large awning. No sooner had our apple cake arrived, when a sudden shower hit. we had seen it hanging off the clouds looming earlier. And all the smug people who had been sitting in the sun were now rushing for cover, giving us a delightful sense of schadenfreude.
Cake eaten and rain finished, it was back on the road again, this time on the south side of the dyke. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, Komoot (the phone app I was using for navigation) announced hat the name of the road we were on had changed, notably from Dutch to German, yet there was no sign to say that we had just crossed the border. Looking at the map now, I am at a loss to understand why the border runs where it does. But the main thing for us was the roads were quiet and the cycling easy. We didn’t meet any of the natives, so we didn’t find out if they were friendly to touring cyclists or not.
Riding through Kleve gave us our first taste of urban cycling infrastructure in North Rhine-Westphalia. Every German state is different, and this was sub-Dutch but better than British (not difficult). Exiting the town we found that there was a fully separated cycleway alongside the main road to the Emmerich Rhine Bridge (German: ‘Rheinbrücke Emmerich’), our final crossing of the Rhine for the day. The Emmerich Bridge is the longest suspension bridge in Germany and fancies itself as looking like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, which it doesn’t.
Safely across the Rhine once more, we wound our way through Emmerich to the quirky B&B we had booked for the night. There were only two other guests that night, a German couple who were e-bike trekking. At breakfast, they proudly told us that, with their e-bikes, they could go 100Km a day. They were a bit surprised when we told them that we could cover 120Km a day on our ordinary bikes.
Breakfast over, we set off for the station. As I said back in part one, Ulli felt that it would take too long to cycle across Germany, but by train, we could make it to the Austrian border in about 10 hours. The idea was to use a one-day train pass (Quer-durchs-Land-Ticket) which gives unlimited travel on regional express trains and we could take the bikes, all for €63. This way would also allow us time in Austria visiting Ulli’s family, before going on to the EuroBike Show. Arriving at the station we picked up the tickets at the ticket office, which was very straight forward and then though just a case of wait for the train and get the bikes on.
It turned out not to be quite as simple as this, the reputation of German railways might be one of great efficiency but not on this day. As we had planned a route using the regional express trains rather than the more expensive (but more direct) national express trains (ICE), this involved several changes along the way. Every train we travelled on that day had a problem, mostly just delays but in one case the service was cancelled partway through the journey and we had to re-route.
So maybe we should have paid the extra and taken an ICE train? Well no, on the first train we met a Dutch couple who were using the regional express to get to Cologne where they were going get the ICE to Munich, except they missed their connection as the first train was delayed, and we saw them several times later in the day as they tried to find other connections.
Fortunately, we had decided in advance that the 10-hour crossing of Germany was probably a bit ambitious and just in case anything should go wrong (which it duly did) we should stop for the night in Ulm. This was fortunate as we arrived over four hours later than planned. The following day we caught a train to Munich, which was late, but fortunately, we didn’t miss the connection to Rosenheim.
Once over the border into Austria, it was just a case of buying another ticket for an ÖBB regional train, sitting back and watching the view of the mountains of Tirol glide past. We did talk about getting off a few stops early, but in the end stayed on the train until the nearest station to our destination. The ride from the station was a mere 3 Km, with 250 m of ascent at an average gradient of 8%, something that riding across the Netherlands hadn’t quite prepared us for.
Some years ago, in the interests of openness and democracy, I compiled a list of all the City of Edinburgh Councillors with a Twitter account, as that one was some what out of date, I have now gotten around to up dating it (and further corrections on 1st July 2020). Hope you find this useful.
Just seen the first bat of 2020, probably a Pipistrellus pipistrellus or a Pipistrellus pygmaeus (based on previous identifications).
I take the bat sighting as a sign of the coming summer. This year is later than most of the years I have recorded when the first bat has been sighted at the end of March. The next thing to look out for is the first swifts returning to nest in Edinburgh.
As we are all locked down (more or less) by this global Covid-19 pandemic, maybe we should look to find ways of using the time.
In 1665, Cambridge University closed because of the Bubonic plague. Isaac Newton quarantined himself at his childhood home. It was the most productive time of his life. He discovered the calculus and laws of motion. But even Newton got bored and took to computing pi to as many digits as he could.
We were in Utrecht on the day that the world’s biggest multi-storey bike park was opened. Not that we saw it, we left the city three hours before it was officially opened to the public. We only found out about it from a tweet Ulli saw at breakfast, by which time it was too late to change our plans, such is the nature of travel sometimes.
If I might digress for just a moment to describe the thing we did not see, Utrecht’s new cycle parking facility. The bike park is underneath the railway station, with 12,500 bike parking spaces covering 17,000m², including 480 spaces for larger or oddly shaped cycles like cargo bikes and tandems. To put that in context, Apple HQ, which opened in 2017, has 11,000 car parking spaces covering 325,000m². This shows just how space-efficient the bicycle can be as a means of transport. Oh, and the previous record for a cycle parking facility was in Tokyo with 9,400 parking spaces. It should be noted that Utrecht is promoting cycling as part of a “healthy urban living” policy. The concept of “healthy urban living” is something we can only dream of in Scotland, a country with one of the worst health records in Europe, and yet so much potential.
Leaving Utrecht was as easy as entering had been the day before; at one point, we went through an underpass. However, it is only now looking at the satellite view on Google maps that I realise the size of the roundabout we were passing under; indeed the most memorable thing about the underpass was the tiles on the walls.
Beyond Utrecht, we skirted north of Zeist following the N237, the Dutch equivalent of an A road in the UK, on a fully separated cycleway. Then turning south to follow the N224, but just following along the main roads would be rather dull, so we turned off to follow a fietspad through the woods. The woods in question turned out to be in the district of Austerlitz.
Now Austerlitz is one of those names which I felt vaguely aware of, something to do with a battle in the Napoleonic Wars, but this heavily wooded area seemed an unlikely place for such a significant battle? It turned out that things were stranger than that. The actual Battle of Austerlitz (also known as Battle of the Three Emperors) was fought in what is now the Czech Republic and resulted in the Tyrol being ceded to Bavaria. However, the burgers of Tyrol rebelled against this, and an irregular army led by the innkeeper Andreas Hofer waged a mainly guerrilla war against Napoleon’s armies. The rebellion ultimately failed; however, after the fall of Napoleon the Tyrol was returned to Austria.
But I digress, this Austerlitz was home to a French army camp in early 1800’s and was given its name by King Louis Napoleon of Holland in honour of the victory of his brother, Emperor Napoleon at the battle mentioned above. The notable feature of this area is the Pyramid of Austerlitz. It was the brainchild of a French General, Auguste de Marmont, who needed a way to stop his soldiers from getting bored. So he came up with the idea of building a turf pyramid, based on the Great Pyramid of Giza (which Marmont had visited when he was a part of Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign), and topping it off with a wooden obelisk, as you do. This earthwork, completed in 1804 was initially known as “Mont Marmont” or “Marmontberg”. However, in the summer of 1805, Marmont and his soldiers marched off to southern Germany where they took part in the Battle of the Three Emperors. In 1806, Louis Bonaparte, the new king of Holland, renamed the hill the Pyramid of Austerlitz, despite objections from General Marmont who prefered it being called by its former name. Later the wooden obelisk was demolished and replaced by the stone obelisk which is there today. Over time much of the monument began to collapse, and the whole thing was restored between 2001 and 2004, to mark its 200th anniversary in 2004. For the princely sum of €3 each, you can climb the pyramid and obelisk to see just how flat the Netherlands actually are. However, as it was starting to rain, we decided to cycle on to find somewhere to buy lunch.
We headed into the nearby town of Woudenberg in the hope of finding a cafe. However, it would appear the Netherlands close on Mondays, and the only place we could find that was open was an Albert Heijn supermarket. We bought the makings of a small picnic and set off again to look for somewhere to eat it, in between the rain showers. Riding through the Dutch countryside, we were surprised at the relative lack of benches, to the point where we were beginning to eye up bus shelters. Finally, we found a suitable bench, which was just as well I was getting rather hangry. I should know by now that little and often is a good idea, and that having snacks within easy reach makes for better riding.
Once again we were finding that people living on narrow country roads all seem to have very large four-wheel drives, why? These were not working vehicles; they were far too shiny for that, just vanity.
At the village of Otterlo, we finally found an open cafe and stopped for food, 55Km from breakfast. Along the way, Komoot had sent us off on some weird diversions; it would send you a kilometre or so up a road, then tell you to turn around and go back. But now it pulled a new trick by stopping altogether, and wouldn’t resume. I had to reinstall the app and download the route again.
The next section of our tour was to take in the Hoge Veluwe National Park. On arriving at the entrance to the Park, we discovered that a large fence surrounds it, and you also have to pay to enter. All of this was a bit of a shock, but then we didn’t know the history of the Park. It was initially a private estate with animals brought in for hunting, and a large hunting lodge at the centre. When the family that owned it ran into financial difficulties in the 1930s the lodge (and its art collection) were gifted to the Dutch Government and the Park was handed over to a foundation, which received a loan from the State. The Park is one of only two private-owned national parks in the Netherlands. It is also the only one that asks an entrance fee — as an aside, coming from Scotland; it also gives an indication of what could happen with some of the “rewilding” projects proposed by wealthy landowners in the Highlands. It is not a prospect that I would welcome.
We reviewed our options after coming across this unpleasant surprise, either we paid to enter, or we took a long diversion to go around the Park and miss out on the chance to see the landscapes within. Therefore we reluctantly paid €9.95 each to get in. Once through the gate, the first thing we came across was a bike park full of white bikes. Driving is discouraged inwith the National Park; there is a charge of €7.05 to take a car or motorbike into the Park (or €3.55 to park outside), and motor vehicles are only allowed to use a few roads (taking the direct routes to the visitor centre from the three entrances). To compensate for this, there are 1,800 White Bikes available to people, to use for free in the Park. Apparently, at peak times they run out of white bikes, and people have to hire Blue Bikes. The Blue Bike rentals also offer a wide range of special bikes and trikes.
Inside the Park, which forms one of the largest continuous nature reserves in the Netherlands, the landscape is one of alternating areas of sand dunes, heath, grassland and woods. Navigation through the Park was somewhat hampered by Komoot which insisted on routing us off the hardtop and down rough tracks for no apparent reason. I started to get the feeling that the base mapping underlying Komoot is not very good as it seems unable to distinguish between surfaced roads and land rover tracks.
After leaving the Park, we headed south towards Arnhem, where we encountered a landscape feature that had been rare on the ride so far. A hill! The road climbed nearly 40 metres over two km in a straight line, with woods to the left and posh houses to the right. And, as I write this piece I find, the Mountainbike Museumo, not that we could have gone in as it is only open Friday to Sunday. Just round the corner, we reached our final destination, Restaurant/Hotel Trix, which was a lovely place to stay the night.
The plan was simple, get on a bike, ride to EuroBike see the show, and then ride back. That was my plan. When I told Ulli, her initial reaction was “it’s too far, it would take too long.” Well, the direct route from the ferry terminal at Ijmuiden to Friedrichshafen is about 780 Km, which could be ridden in eight days, or ten allowing for sightseeing. Each-way. So maybe she had a point. I parked the idea.
One evening about a month later Ulli commented “do you know that there are one day train passes in Germany (Quer-durchs-Land-Ticket), unlimited travel on regional express trains and you can take bikes? We could cross Germany from the Dutch border to the Austrian border in about 10 hours.” For €44, and you can take up to four additional people for €8 each, so for the two of us, it would cost €52 to take us all the way across Germany (+€5.50 per bike)! This was a game-changer for Ulli. Instead of just going to EuroBike and then coming back again, we could have an interesting few days cycle touring, catch a train to get across a large part of Germany and have time to go see her family in Austria. The trip was on.
So it was that we found ourselves on a train to Newcastle on a bright sunny day in mid-August. My plan had always been to take the train to Newcastle, having ridden NCN1 in the past, I was in no hurry to repeat the exercise this time around. Getting the bike into the hanging cubby hole was a bit of a faff and made me wonder what we might come across in Germany.
Having arrived at Newcastle Station, the first challenge was to find a way to get to the Ferry terminal at North Shields. The obvious route was to follow the river Tyne downstream. The first attempt to find a way to get to the river ended at the top of a flight of steps, but undeterred, we finally found a way. Once at the riverside, wayfinding was much more comfortable, and we picked up signs for the Hadrian’s Cycleway, as used by the habebat vehentem phalanx of the II Adiutrix. On the way, we passed the air control tower of the Segedunum Roman Fort as used by the aerium Cohort of the XIV Gemini.
On arrival at the Port of Tyne International Passenger Terminal, cyclists are directed to line up in the car lane to check in, which looks more like a motorway toll booth. Having arrived at check-in, passports are needed to go any further. I knew I had my passport with me as I could remember that I had packed it in a safe place. The problem was it was such a safe place I couldn’t remember where it was. Cue five minutes of frantically searching panniers and rucksack, much to the amusement of the large group of cyclists behind us. Passport found, checked in, and meals paid for (it is one third cheaper if you do it at check-in), we then had to line up with the motorbikes for boarding.
Boarding a large RoRo ferry with a bicycle is an odd experience. It is clear that the vehicle decks are not places for people, they are all about large machines. That said, the crew are welcoming and helpful, showing us the correct place to stow the bike and how to get to the upper decks. The ferry crossing was uneventful, the North Sea was like a millpond, so it was a restful cruise.
The following morning, after a good breakfast, we arrived in a dull and overcast Holland, the port of Ijmuiden looking grim. Even so, we were looking forward to the adventure ahead, crossing the fabled cycle-friendly Netherlands. Off the ferry and through immigration, we looked around for signs and cycle infrastructure to take us towards Amsterdam. There was none. Fortunately, we had pre-programmed a route into Komoot using Komoot’s auto-routing. This is where the problems really started.
This was the first time we had used Komoot for routing and weren’t prepared for some of its idiosyncrasies. As it was raining, I had my phone in the pocket of my jacket rather than mounted on the bars of my bike. Therefore, I was reliant on the voice directions, which sometimes make little sense. Such as being told to turn where there was no apparent turn or telling me to go straight ahead at a T junction. Despite this, we managed to find our way off the main road (which leads to a motorway) and onto quiet side streets, so far no dedicated cycle infrastructure or even signage.
After some time going around the houses, we came onto a larger road with separated cycle lanes on either side. This leads up a slight rise to a bridge over the main road coming out of the port and our first roundabout. Now ordinarily a roundabout is nothing to get excited about, indeed in the UK, it is something which many cyclists would prefer to avoid. But this was a Dutch roundabout which has an outer cycle lane which motor vehicles are required to give way to when entering and exiting the roundabout. This means that accessing the roundabout by bicycle is easy and stress-free. To test this out, I decided to go all the way around. As a result, I became disoriented and couldn’t remember which exit to leave by.
Having worked out how to exit the roundabout, it was time to head for Amsterdam. We thought we had chosen a route which would take in as much green space as possible (and a short detour planned detour into the Zuid-Kennemerland National Park). It was a pleasant enough route passing through forgettable villages and polders. Ulli took to stork spotting. Also finding out that mobile phone cameras don’t have the sort of long lens needed to photograph a stork halfway across a field (not that that stopped her trying).
At some point on the outskirts of Amsterdam Komoot decided to randomly direct us off a perfectly functional cycle path on to a section of singletrack. Why this was, I don’t understand. However, this seems to be a bit of a habit with the Komoot algorithm, and one that we would come up against a number of times during our trip. But there was one unexpected detour which wasn’t Komoot’s fault. While playing around with the potential routing before we left home, I had looked to see where the Urban Arrow factory was. I had found that it was only a few hundred meters to the north of our intended route. Knowing that we were going to be there on a Sunday, and the factory closed, I thought I had removed this, but Komoot had other ideas. So it was that we found our selves outside the home of one of the largest cargo bike manufactures in Europe. On a Sunday, when they were closed and no chance of taking a look around. Durr
Next up was the old town of Amsterdam, with its quaint canals and massed road works, which made navigation rather more complicated. Fortunately, Amsterdamers are a friendly bunch and welcome the lost cycle tourer with cheerful greetings of Godverdomme and Laat ze opzoute!
It also gave us an opportunity to have lunch and pick up some bakery items for later.
As we left Amsterdam, we encountered the Amsterdam-Rijnkanaal (or Rhine canal) for the first time. This canal runs for 72Km from the Port of Amsterdam to the Waal River (a distributary branch of the river Rhine) near Tiel. At 100m wide and 5.5m deep it is an impressive feat of engineering. As are some of the cycle bridges crossing it, but it wasn’t all big engineering. There were tree-lined sections where it feels like you are cycling into an infinity tunnel.
At Nigtevecht, we turned away from the Rhine Canal to follow the river Vecht, mainly because Ulli wanted to see some windmills. It was a narrow rural road with little traffic, which was just as well because what traffic there was, was mostly large SUVs. The drivers of these vehicles struggled to pass a bicycle with panniers as the road was so narrow, what do they do when they meet another large SUV coming in the other direction?
Only a kilometre or so out of Nigtevecht, we saw a bridge over the Rhine Canal which begged us to divert and have a closer look. The new Nigtevecht bicycle bridge‘s sinuous curves were calling us to ride the double hairpin ramp. It was great fun and made me wish that I had a drone to film it with (and this wasn’t to be the last time on this trip I wished I had a drone).
Not long after this, we had another Komoot moment. This time we were following the road around the outside of the village of Vreeland when Komoot decided to divert us into the village among the houses and then out again. There was nothing to be gained from this, it was longer, no point of interest, not even a shop. There was no apparent reason why the routing software was sending us that way. Such is the way of Komoot.
Further up the Vecht, riding alongside the river, we could see most of the houses on the other side of the river, each with their own private mooring. And one development of executive flats even had its own little harbour. There were also examples of Buitenplaats which were once the summer residences of wealthy townspeople, back in the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century when the Netherlands had a mighty Empire and a navy which defeated the British. This is a side of the Netherlands that you don’t see on the tourist websites and one of the joys of travelling by bicycle is the opportunity it affords you to come across these things.
We left the river to make our way to the centre of Utrecht, this being the Netherlands it was incredibly simple. Just follow the main road directly into the centre of the city. None of the convoluted routes sending you down “quiet ways” round the back of the houses, stuff get in the UK. From the outskirts to the city centre was a dead straight route of about 7Km on a dedicated cycle path with priority crossing minor roads and separated traffic lights at major junctions. t couldn’t be more natural to cycle into town. The only downside was having to share the path with bromfiets (mopeds) or stinkfiets as I took to calling them, which plague the otherwise wonderful Dutch cycle infrastructure. If you are wondering why stinkfiets, the older ones (and there are lots of them) use two-stroke engines which really do stink.
Utrecht itself is the fourth-largest city in the Netherlands and home to the biggest university in the country. It is a city with a cool urban vibe and bikes are everywhere. Cycle model share (the percentage of all journeys inwith the city) is 33%, making the bicycle the most popular way to get around the place. However, it is not the most cycle-friendly town in the Netherlands, that is Houten, a satellite town a few kilometres to the south-east.
One of the more striking sights in central Utrecht is an artwork called Skyscraper, it is a whale made out of five tons of plastic salvaged from the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans which appears to be leaping out of the Catharijnesingel. It is intended as a statement about the massive amount of plastic waste that pollutes rivers, seas and oceans around the world. Although as I write, it may no longer be there. It was originally created for the Triennial Bruges art and architecture festival, and was only a summer visitor in Utrecht.
The thing that will still be in Utrecht, but which we didn’t get to see is the world’s largest cycle parking facility. The reason we didn’t get to see it was because it was first opened to the public about four hours after we have left the city on the next stage of our journey. And that is a story for another post, watch this space.
Following on from my last blog post, I decided to take a look at the “Pavement Parking Standard Response” from the Tory MSPs and this is what I found. It is clear example of Orwellian double speak, their proposed amendments are not intended to “to strengthen the Bill” but rather to introduce loopholes to undermine the clauses on pavement parking.
Thank you for your email,
The Transport Bill offers a chance to examine and possibly change legislation surrounding pavement parking, as well as low emission zones and bus franchising to name some of the other issues it may address.
The Scottish Conservatives welcome the Transport Bill in principle but we will likely aim to lodge amendments to strengthen the Bill at Stages Two and Three to ensure it is a robust and sound piece of law.
Frequent parking on footways can cause damage that eventually manifests as uneven pavements. Such damage can represent a real danger to pedestrians, especially vulnerable ones, with local authorities having to foot the bill for repairs.
We can all agree that inconsiderate parking must be tackled and I am pleased that there are plans to look at it. A blanket ban on pavements must be properly researched and proportionate. Inconsiderate parking should not be tolerated, but there are many instances when parking partly on a pavement is the only available option and can be done without obstructing pedestrians’ access.
As you will be aware there may be instances in which parking with two wheels on a pavement has left sufficient room for pedestrians to pass while allowing traffic to flow freely on the road. That is a key point because it would obviously be counterproductive to impose a ban only for it to result in constant road blockages. As long as such parking can be done in a way that allows more than enough room for all pedestrians to pass freely, it is not always necessary to impose a blanket ban. I am not convinced that a blanket ban with no room for exemptions by local authorities in places might be too much of a catch all approach, I know of many areas where pavement parking is the only option to allow free passage of vehicles, including emergency vehicles, through narrow streets – in those examples perhaps local authorities may need to approach this pragmatically. Blanket centralisation of such individual circumstances in my view has historically caused unintended consequences.
The compromise that we would like to emerge would be to find a balance between protecting vulnerable pedestrians and allowing harmless pavement parking to continue. I suspect our amendments will be of this ilk.
I can understand the temptation to push through a blanket ban because it is right to say that we should not tolerate forcing vulnerable pedestrians to move around parked cars on pavements or dropped footways. However, we would not be serving the public if we simply imposed a blanket ban and left motorists, as well as law enforcement officers, to clear up the mess.
I hope you find the above position helpful and I thank you for contacting me regarding this important subject.
They start by acknowledging that “Frequent parking on footways can cause damage that eventually manifests as uneven pavements. Such damage can represent a real danger to pedestrians, especially vulnerable ones, with local authorities having to foot the bill for repairs”. Yes, that is why the Bill proposes to completely ban parking on the footway. However, they suggest that “parking partly on a pavement is the only available option”, not true, there is always the option to park considerately elsewhere and walk to your final destination, that is what footways are there for. We all have the right to walk, but there is no “right” to drive, this is a privileged form of mobility undertaken under licence.
Then we get on to the suggestion that “parking with two wheels on a pavement” should be acceptable, this directly contradicts acknowledgement that parking on the pavement is damaging for a wide range of reasons. The frequency of this parking behaviour is a red herring, they already suggest pavement parking is harmful and then proceed to contradict themselves. The next red herring is “pavement parking is the only option to allow free passage of vehicles”- if the road is too narrow to allow parking on the roadway, then yes, it is indeed too narrow for parking – so why should motorists expect to be allowed to encroach into areas specifically set aside for pedestrians? It is neither fair nor reasonable. Just remember that we all have the right to walk but there is no right to drive. By saying that pavement parking should be permitted, this is saying the motorist should in all cases have priority over pedestrians. This is in no way about “compromise” or “balance”, it is about prioritising motorists over “vulnerable pedestrians” who are currently forced “to move around motor vehicles parked on pavements or dropped footways” by inconsiderate and selfish parking.
Finally we are told that a blanket ban will leave “motorists, as well as law enforcement officers, to clear up the mess”, how so? If there is a blanket ban on pavement parking the law, is then clear and unambiguous, there should be no mess to clear up. By introducing exemptions for so called “harmless pavement parking” it deliberately introduces ambiguity, which then creates a mess for enforcement officers to clear up, along with time-wasting court action while loophole lawyers argue over the level of harm caused.
For the good of all, these loopholes must be blocked before the Bill is passed. Only by having a blanket on all pavement parking will the law be clear and unambiguous.
The Transport (Scotland) Bill is currently making it way through the Scottish Parliament, among its provisions are clauses which aim to ban pavement parking in Scotland, which is long overdue. However, there are a few loopholes which need closing. Therefore as a responsible citizen, I decided to write to my MSP’s asking the consider helping to close these loopholes as the Bill makes it way through Holyrood. Here is the letter which I sent to my elected representatives:
I am writing to you in the hope that you will act to close the loopholes regarding pavement parking in the current Transport (Scotland) Bill. Without closing these loopholes the legislation will fail to provide the full benefit to all of the people living in Scotland.
There are currently exceptions for all “delivery vehicles”, allowing vans and lorries to park on pavements for “up to 20 minutes”. This is a total nonsense, there is no need for delivery vehicles to park on footways or cycleways. Rather, there is a need to rethink how last mile deliveries are carried out and to seek smarter, more sustainable solutions. The current practice of allowing vehicles to park on the pavement not only causes great inconvenience to pedestrians, it also places a cost burden hard-pressed local authorities who have to pay for the damage caused by pavement parking.
The bill also needs to more clearly define what a pavement obstruction is so that enforcement is straightforward and easy for local authorities. A clear definition will also make it easier for drivers to know what they are expected to comply with. There should be no ambiguity on what constitutes obstruction such as the time limit nonsense referred to above.
The other thing that is lacking from the bill is the banning of parking which obstructs dropped kerbs, this omission needs to be corrected. Not only are dropped kerbs important to wheelchair users, people with mobility scooters and parents with pushchairs, they are important for those carrying deliveries too. Here again, there needs to be a clear definition of what constitutes obstruction dropped kerbs so that everyone knows what is expected of them.
The Transport (Scotland) Bill has the potential to improve safety on our roads and the quality of life for all, if these loopholes are closed. Please don’t miss the opportunity to improve this Bill.
Mr Kim Harding, BSc, MPhil
I will add in replies as I get them.
The first three replies I received where automated responses, one was an “out of office” message saying that the MSP was on holiday and would get back to me on his return. The other two came from Miles Briggs (Conservative) and Jeremy Balfour (Conservative), both replies were almost identical which suggest that this is a standard party approach to dealing with any correspondence from constituents.
Thank you for contacting me.
Priority is given to helping constituents with individual concerns or problems.
If your email relates to a nationally organised campaign on a current political issue where you have been asked to “Write to your MSP” you are likely to find a response on my website at: [MSP’s website]
While I always welcome personal comments from constituents I am afraid that I have reached the conclusion that it is no longer possible for my staff to process individually the many thousands of identical or computer-generated `round-robins` I receive every month. If you live in Lothian you may wish to come along to one of my regular advice `surgeries` when I will be pleased to discuss your own concerns with you in person. These are advertised in the local media and on my website.
With these automated replies, these MSPs are effectively holding up two fingers to their constituents and show their contempt for those they are elected to represent. To be clear these auto-replies are not to an automated campaign, they are to all email correspondence sent MSPs representing the Conservative party. We live in a “representative democracy” when a person takes the time to write a personal message to their elected representative, it is the responsibility of the elected person to read and respond to the message, otherwise what is the point of electing these people. The fact that the issue which I am raising is a matter of concern to a number of other people, who have also made the effort to contact their elected representative, is totally irrelevant.
Having received the automated replies Tories, I checked out their standard reply on the Pavement Parking clauses in the Transport (Scotland) Bill, only to find that they are deliberately trying to insert the loopholes into the Bill.
The first genuine reply can from Kezia Dugdale (Labour), on behalf of a college who was on holiday, saying that their party position was to fully support the Bill:
Thank you for your email regarding the parking provisions within the Transport (Scotland) Bill.
Scottish Labour very much supports a ban on pavement parking. As your email highlights, pavement parking can cause serious problems for those with mobility issues, as well as those with prams, and we should take action to prevent it as far as possible.
The Transport Bill as it is drafted does provide a number of specific exemptions and gives local authorities the ability to exempt certain roads from a ban. These exemptions provide an element of flexibility and will help to protect against potential problems such as unnecessarily restricting access on certain roads for emergency vehicles. There are also specific exemptions built into the bill for certain vehicles, for example an ambulance attending an emergency. However, as your email notes, there is a risk that exemptions may create loopholes and undermine the effectiveness of the ban, so it is important that they are kept to a minimum.
In the coming months the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity (REC) Committee will be scrutinising the Transport Bill. This is an opportunity to look closely at potential problems and loopholes, such as the ones outlined in your email. In the REC Committee Scottish Labour’s Transport Spokesperson Colin Smyth will be working to strengthen the Bill and address concerns about its effectiveness.
The REC Committee are currently collecting evidence on this Bill. If you wish to submit your views, information on how to do so is available here. [No information provided]
In the meantime, thank you again for your email, and please don’t hesitate to get back in touch if I can be of any assistance to you in the future.
I can understand the point of exempting emergency vehicles attending an emergency call, but where is the point exempt whole roads from a ban? If the road is too narrow to permit parking on the roadway, it is too narrow to permit parking other than in a emergency situation. Providing any other form of exemption will only lead to abuse.
Update 12th Sept 2018
This is Alison Johnstone (Green) reply:
Many thanks for writing to me about the Transport Bill, and efforts to restrict pavement parking. I am responding also on behalf of my Green MSP colleague, Andy Wightman.
I agree that parking on pavements should be an enforceable offence. Even partially parking vehicles on the pavement can reduce the amount of space that is available for people to pass by and can completely obstruct the footway. No one should be forced onto the road, especially our most vulnerable street users, including older people, children, parents with buggies, wheelchair users and those with reduced mobility.
I understand concerns that the current exemption for delivery vehicles in the draft Bill could undermine efforts to deliver accessible streets for all. Scottish Green Transport spokesperson John Finnie MSP is seeking more information about these exemptions and how we can legislate to best deliver safe pavements for the most vulnerable in our society.
As a member of the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee, John will vigorously test the Scottish Government’s proposals when they are discussed at Committee in the coming weeks.