Friday, July 06, 2007

Cycling in Europe 2 - Joy in Central Holland

Within 300 metres of getting off the ferry in Ijmuiden, we are confronted with a magic roundabout. A cycle ring towards the outer rim gives cyclists priority over vehicle traffic joining and leaving the roundabout. We know this phenomenon from previous visits to Bremen, where we have filmed a roundabout that is designed for motorists to give way to cyclists on entering or leaving. (Have a look at the Things to Come video on our 2007 Cycling Symposium site for an idea of what this means).

This bikezone article gives an overview of the problems with British roundabouts from a cyclists' point of view.

Accident rates at roundabouts are a concern in most industrialised countries. It just seems that some (including the UK) can't imagine a solution that gives such priority to non-motorised traffic. Yet studies consistently suggest that driver awareness and attention is the key to reducing accidents. Even at these cycle ring roundabouts, cyclists are watching out for sleepy car drivers. A clear run through a roundabout for a car driver reduces their propensity to pay close attention to details like cyclists.



We team up with Martin (above), a cyclist from North Shields who is touring Holland for a couple of weeks. Martin has Dutch parents, but sounds Geordie through and through after being brought up on Tyneside. He struggles to enjoy cycling in North Shields, but loves it here in Holland. Martin's choice of cycling on Tyneside is partly economic - he is not burdened by the spiralling costs of car ownership, and has adjusted his lifestyle accordingly.

Then we cross the nearby river on a ferry that separates cars from cyclists/pedestrians, the former paying for the crossing, the latter not. So pricing policy favours sustainable transport there.



When we come across this small railway station in Castricum, we realise the depth of cycling culture in this part of the world - hundreds of bikes used to commute to a station the size of Thornaby.

We say our goodbyes to Martin, who is heading up to the islands. A short train trip from Castricum to Anna Paulowna near the dyke to the north is perhaps less inspiring, and explains why most bikes are left behind. Whilst it is possible to walk on a train with your bike without pre-booking, it costs six euros for a bike "day ticket", however short the journey. And there is little space to store bikes in the designated areas - maybe 2 or 3 bikes at a time in two or three spaces near doorways.

When we tell a passenger we are heading for Germany, they mention in passing how German trains are both better and cheaper. Judgement withheld until later.

After two days of rain, at last the sun comes out as we leave the train. Coupled with a decent breeze on our backs, the long ride to and over the dyke now becomes genuinely exhilarating. Tim decides to burst into song. The joys, the joys.

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