So there it is, cycling in the Netherlands and Germany can be just as variable in quality as in any other country - although the standards by which quality gets judged tend to be much higher than those in the UK.
What really puzzles me is this. Is traffic engineering in the 21st century really a science, or is it just a political football? I ask this honestly of the traffic enginners of Darlington, and of the politicians who rule them.
This trip clearly demonstrated that, when planning for cycling (as, we are told, Darlington, Cycling Demonstration Town, is doing) a raft of traffic measures is at the disposal of traffic engineers to consider, whenever a new scheme is developed. These include - all of which have been clearly illustrated on this blog:
*priority to cyclists at crossings with side roads *cycle rings around roundabouts *scrapping of centre lines on narrow roads to enable cycle paths to be created *20mph zones *shared space projects *cycle paths that use both road space and pavement space at different times, depending on space availability *making car driving in urban areas more difficult, to get people out of their cars *cycle streets *one way streets for motor vehicles that are two-way for cyclists
I genuinely ask - do these traffic engineering tools ever get considered in a town like Darlington, or are we victims of car-induced brain death in this department? Would it not be useful to at least have a traffic planning process that required engineers and politicians to explain why they have rejected such solutions, rather than never even having to consider them?
What this variation in cycling provision also suggests is that a grading of cycling provision - independent of country - is both appropriate and possible. The cyclist priority roundabout in Ijmuiden would get 5 stars, the cycle paths on country roads in Friesland only 2 or 3.
Similarly, our (current) right to cycle through Darlington's town centre feels something like a 4 star hotel, with no dangerous vehicles, plenty of space, and only the sudden changes in direction, and ongoing obliviousness, of pedestrians to consider. The ring road, on the other hand, could be classified as the equivalent of a whorehouse, with cyclists the unpaid prostitutes.
Just as houses are now subject to an eco-grading when they are sold (well, at least 4-bedroom houses at the mo), maybe we should introduce the same scheme for roads.