Friday, July 13, 2007

Cycling in Europe 5 - Shared Space in Drachten


After the overnight in Sneek, a wet morning's cycling to the town of Drachten, comparable in size with Bishop Auckland, and with a Shared Space project on its inner ring road. Ten miles out from Drachten, the road - and cycle path - are closed for road works. What do we get instead? This specially constructed, temporary diversion for cyclists. This was in a small village, and it even had a nice lady at the end of it to stop traffic so that we could cross a busy road.

The Shared Space concept is one that is gaining increasing support across Europe. In Drachten, the project is based on the removal of traffic lights on the busy inner ring road, and their replacement with roundabouts, and junctions like the one in this video.



A bit like a zebra crossing for cyclists and pedestrians, but without the beacons! We used the crossings ourselves without a hitch, but what we noticed was that a routine was established by cyclists whereby they signalled their intention to cross with a wave of the appropriate arm, and local car drivers were waiting for the signal. In other words, local customs had developed to deal with uncertainty.

The one car that failed to stop was a Polish-registered vehicle. The cyclist in question, however, was alert to the possibility and probably stopped in time when he registered that the Polish driver was dreaming rather than looking. This, we conclude, is the hub of the problem. Like Poles, most British car drivers also currently dream in these situations, safe in the assumption that they have absolute right of way.

How can we change such behaviour to something more appropriate to urban driving? After so many years of motor dominance in our urban spaces, we are still trying to develop cycle routes in towns like Darlington on the assumption that the motorist should not be disturbed. Yet in contradiction, there is now said to be a hierarchy of traffic modes that puts the disabled, pedestrians and cyclists above motorists in terms of priority.

This theoretical commitment now needs practical application to tackle the major barrier to urban sustainable transport development - British car driver behaviour. Rather than run away from the issue, we badly need politicians, local and national, who will show leadership, and start the long haul towards more considerate - and aware - urban driving.

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