To EuroBike and Back: a continental journey (part 1) Ijmuiden – Amsterdam – Utrecht

To EuroBike and Back: a continental journey (part 1) Ijmuiden – Amsterdam – Utrecht

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.

Arriving in Ijmuiden, the Netherlands. To EuroBike and Back: a continental journey (part 1)

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

Sent off down single track, thanks Komoot! To EuroBike and Back: a continental journeyThe home of Urban Arrow. To EuroBike and Back: a continental journey.

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.

Like cycling into an infinity tunnel. To EuroBike and Back: a continental journey.

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).

The new Nigtevecht bicycle bridge‘s sinuous curves. To EuroBike and Back: a continental journey

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.

An artwork called Skyscraper, a whale made of discared plastic leaping out of the Catharijnesingel

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.

The Stats (for Ijmuiden to Utrecht):

  • Distance travelled: 86.9 km
  • Time taken: 05hr 15mins
  • Average moving Speed: 16.6 km/h

More route info here:

Part two: Utrecht – Hoge Veluwe – Arnhem

How to undermine a Bill with loopholes

How to undermine a Bill with loopholes

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.

Call for a pavement parking ban in Scotland

Call for a pavement parking ban in Scotland

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.

Thanks,

Kim

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.

Kind regards,

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.

Kind regards

Kezia

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.

Best wishes,

Alison

And finally, the 1st bat of the year

And finally, the 1st bat of the year

This year spring has been a long time coming, but finally we have spotted the first bat of 2018!

It was probably Pipistrellus pipistrellus or Pipistrellus pygmaeus (based on previous identifications). It is way later than last year, which was on the 5th April, and other have been even earlier, 26th March 2012 and 30th March 2009.

It is great to have such opportunities to see wild life, such as bats, in the centre of a city which one of the reasons I do so enjoy living in Edinburgh.

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