Britain catapulted the world from the mass-production of handmade wooden objects to the mass-production of machine-made steel. Britain’s crowning achievement? The bicycle.
But when the British whole-heartedly adopted the motor-vehicle they seemed to forget about the bike. Unlike the Europeans.
The Dutch model
I’ve just come back to London from visiting Amsterdam and the main difference is that there seems to be less traffic in Amsterdam – it’s certainly quieter. As a tourist ambling around the streets of The ‘Dam, I couldn’t help but notice what appeared to be a startling lack of cars – but looks can be deceiving.
Astonishing results from Walthamstow MiniHolland: 10,000 fewer cars a day, traffic down 56% in village, no collisions pic.twitter.com/OoQ2Fr8kWq
— Ross Lydall (@RossLydall) November 4, 2016
I left London at an ungodly hour of the morning, primarily to avoid traffic. Got the Eurostar to France, turned left, drove through Belgium, and arrived in Amsterdam expecting traffic. There was none. I liked this and, when I saw the thousands of bicycles, drew the conclusion that London could do with less cars.
This could work
I took a couple of taxis in urban Amsterdam and while the car journeys seemed to deviate from the crow’s flight path, they arrived far quicker than a similar ride in London. There is less car traffic in Amsterdam, primarily because the Dutch prioritise bicycles for short journeys.
The glorious result is clear roads for motorists. In Amsterdam, I was never stuck behind traffic. Rush hour was gone in minutes rather than hours. And yet, car travel was readily available. Perhaps this is why the bike-heaven that is The ‘Dam has a higher rate of car ownership than the UK.
Bring The ‘Dam to London
Everyone likes driving – no one likes being stuck in traffic. Everyone likes cycling, but no one likes unnecessary risk in badly planned motor-lanes. So, three London boroughs persuaded the London Mayor’s office to invest £30m in an Amsterdam-style cycle network.
Since 2014, the boroughs of Enfield, Kingston-upon-Thames, and Waltham Forest have transformed the way citizens use the roads. Some streets have been closed to motor-traffic, and some streets have become shared spaces, where cycle-routes are demarcated from car traffic.
Support for the scheme was started under the Conservative mayor, Boris Johnson – but its success has guaranteed its continuation under Labour’s mayor, Sadiq Khan. Although controversial, cross-party support is a testament to the fact that the “Mini-Hollands” have succeeded in its aims.
A study by Dr Rachel Aldred from the University of Westminster has demonstrated that people from these boroughs are leading healthier lives by taking more journeys by bicycle. Even more encouraging was Dr Aldred’s conclusion that there was “no evidence that time spent in cars was increasing” or that pedestrian journeys were becoming less attractive.
This experiment shows that, far from abandoning cars or pedestrian journeys, the local population adapted to use the method of transport most suitable for the length of the journey. Build the right infrastructure and the population will choose the right mode of transport – be it bike, car or foot.