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Old 04-13-11, 04:29 PM   #1
work4bike
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What's the real deal in bike-friendly Europe?

Every so often I see an article like this one http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-13040607 (not just the U.K., but also other European countries) and then I remember all the stories I've heard of how bicycle-friendly Europe is, but they seem to have issues. What's the deal?

In case you don't feel like opening the link: (However, I did not cut & paste tables with quick facts/statistics and, of course, not the comments section, which is kind of interesting, looks just like the comments section of any paper here in the U.S.).

Is dangerous cycling a problem?

MPs could introduce a new offence of causing death by dangerous cycling. But how much of a danger do these two-wheeled travellers really pose?

There is little that divides UK public opinion more sharply than cyclists.

To their supporters, Britain's bike-riders are clean, green, commuters-with-a-conscience, who relieve congestion on the nation's roads while keeping themselves fit.

But to certain newspapers, and indeed plenty of motorists, they are "lycra louts", jumping red lights, hurtling past pedestrians on pavements and denying the Highway Code applies to them.

Now this debate - regularly articulated, with the aid of Anglo-Saxon dialect, during rush-hour traffic - has found a forum in the House of Commons, where MP Andrea Leadsom has introduced a private members' bill to create new crimes of causing death or serious injury through dangerous or reckless cycling.

She cites the case of Rhiannon Bennett, who was 17 when she was killed by a speeding cyclist in 2007. The cyclist - who, the court heard, had shouted at Rhiannon to "move because I'm not stopping" - was fined 2,200 and avoided jail.

The MP, herself a keen cyclist, insists she does not want to penalise Britons from getting on their bikes. Her intention is to ensure all road users take "equal responsibility" for their actions, as drivers are already subject to analogous legislation. The government has said it will consider supporting the bill.

But the discussion raises the question of how much of a danger bicycles actually pose on the nation's roads.

Cycling campaigners insist the popular perceptions of rampaging cyclists are not supported by statistical evidence. According to the Department for Transport (DfT), in 2009, the most recent year for which figures are available, no pedestrians were killed in Great Britain by cyclists, but 426 died in collisions with motor vehicles out of a total of 2,222 road fatalities.

Indeed, bike riders insist it is they who are vulnerable. Of the 13,272 collisions between cycles and cars in 2008, 52 cyclists died but no drivers were killed.

Alex Bailey of the Cyclists Touring Club (CTC), which lobbies on behalf of bike users, says valuable parliamentary time could and should be used more effectively to improve road safety. He says there is no need to change the law as twice in the past decade an 1861 act has been used to jail cyclists who killed pedestrians while riding on the pavement.

The notion of the marauding, aggressive cyclist causing rampage on the road, he insists, has little grounding in fact.

"It has a lot of currency in the media," he says. "But it's emotionally based, not rationally based. The problem is not about cyclists at all."

Certainly, few would argue that the boom in cycling has led to a transformation in the activity's public image.

Once it might have conjured up images like that of George Orwell's old maids "biking to Holy Communion through the mists of the autumn mornings".

Now, at least in built-up areas, one stereotype, rightly or wrongly, is of well-paid men in expensive leisuirewear with a sense of entitlement and a refusal to conform to the same rules as everyone else.

Tony Armstrong, chief executive of Living Streets, which represents pedestrians, says that while most cyclists behave safely, it should not be ignored that "a significant minority cause concern and fear among pedestrians by their reckless and irresponsible behaviour".

He acknowledges deaths and serious injuries caused by cyclists are relatively rare, but adds that the impact of more mundane anti-social behaviour is more difficult to quantify.

"Although fatalities are recorded, there is no way of measuring how many people have been intimidated or left feeling vulnerable by irresponsible cycling," he says. "We know from our supporters that this is a major concern."

Indeed, Professor Stephen Glaister, director of motorists' advocacy group the RAC Foundation, suggests much of the hostility on the roads stems from a lack of understanding and suggests levelling out the legislation would reassure drivers that the rules were being applied fairly.

"In some ways, road users are tribal in their nature; loyal to their fellow drivers or cyclists, and dismissive of - or antagonistic towards - those who choose to travel by another method," he says.

"Subjecting everyone who uses the public highway to the same laws might actually forge better relationships between us all and erode the idea held by many that those who travel by an alternative mode routinely make up rules of the road to suit themselves."

But some bike-users reject the idea that anecdote and mutual suspicion should drive policy.

In particular, Guardian columnist and cycling advocate Zoe Williams says she is exasperated by the references to red light-jumping whenever bikes are discussed.

She insists the practice largely stems from fear, not arrogance, due to the high number of cyclists killed each year by heavy goods vehicles turning left at junctions, and says ministers should concentrate on tackling such deaths if they really want to make the roads safer.

She adds: "Can you imagine if every time we talked about cars people complained about drivers doing 80mph on the motorway?

"Most cyclists are actually pretty timid. You're constantly living on your wits because you're vulnerable. Instead of drawing up laws like this we should be encouraging cycling and making it easier."

The discussion will continue at Westminster. But legislating away the antipathy between cyclists and drivers will surely be a momentous challenge for MPs.
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Old 04-13-11, 04:48 PM   #2
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UK != Europe
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Old 04-13-11, 05:18 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by john gault View Post
Every so often I see an article like this one http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-13040607 (not just the U.K., but also other European countries) and then I remember all the stories I've heard of how bicycle-friendly Europe is, but they seem to have issues. What's the deal?
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UK != Europe
Just for you
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Old 04-14-11, 02:31 PM   #4
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In comparison to mainland Europe, I don't consider the UK to be particularly bike friendly
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Old 04-14-11, 07:06 PM   #5
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In Denmark and Holland -- the first countries that come to mind when you're talking bike friendly -- the cyclists aren't really aggressive, but they can be "aggressively blissful". What I mean is that because the law is so much in their favor, they will do what I consider pretty dangerous things that (almost) always work out.

On the other hand, in response to a Danish woman who was killed by a truck cresting a hill in dark, rainy weather, the overwhelming majority (if not all) of commentors wondered why the truck driver wasn't paying attention -- no one (as far as I read) wondered what the cyclist was doing riding in the rain and dark.
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Old 04-15-11, 05:37 PM   #6
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Everything is relative. Some european countries are more cycle friendly than others.

Germany better than Italy. France: Considerate drivers and good secondary roads. Netherlands is a world leader in urban cycling. Ireland: lots of quiet country roads but cycling in Dublin is challenging.

The only way to really find out is to come and see for yourself.
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Old 04-28-11, 07:40 AM   #7
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You are opening a load of boxes with this question
1) Continental Europe is very bike friendly with well designed bike paths and quiet country roads together with a pro-bike mentality make it a joy to ride
2) UK has some organisation like Sustrans which tries to set up similar but generally cars and planners are anti-bike. For many years Bike riders were seen as mad but slowly it is changing. Unfortunately this change has required riders to become a bit pushy to get space, mainly in cities.
3) Since there is little extra space in cities and bicycle training was removed from school training years ago some-people (!) think its ok to ride on the pavement.
4) Other people are aware that riding bikes on the pavement is illegal
5) In the UK people are generally passive aggresive, "you know the rules so how dare you break them" but we don't speak out loud about it. If you want to test this try pushing into a line in the UK.
6) Hence we need another law (well we don't but it fills a load of space for journos while Libya burns and Portugal sinks below the waves)
7) You might have thought Europe would have resolved this as they gave money to countries to make bike lanes a few years back. All over Europe towns put in great routes accept the Brits who took the money and painted silly lines on the road. Basically useless and dangerous.

Hope this all makes sense

Last edited by bilboburgler; 04-28-11 at 07:42 AM. Reason: spell check
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Old 05-05-11, 04:20 AM   #8
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UK != Europe
Should be more like..
. UK ?= Europe..?, !.
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Old 05-05-11, 04:36 AM   #9
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In the UK we see quite a few breeds of cyclists (to avoid semantic nitpicking, I'm using the term "cyclist" to refer to "anyone who rides a human-powered two-wheeled vehicle")

In fairness I think it's safe to say the majority are at least mostly law-abiding, at least as much so as motorists. OK, cyclists rarely break speed limits for obvious reasons but the majority seem to stop at red lights, yield when they should yield, and so on. Where drivers might occasionally break a speed limit, so a cyclist might occasionally use the pavement or go the wrong way down a one-way street when it's visible safe.

There are always a few who routinely ignore zebra crossings and red lights, regarding their own momentum as being of primary importance no matter who or what else is in the way.

The worst offenders IMO, and thankfully they seem to be the usual case of a small subset within a small subset, are the ones who cycle fast on pavements and expect everyone else to get out of their way. They are the ones who don't care what they have to do as long as it doesn't involve slowing down or giving way to anyone or anything else. They might weave across the pavement and the road, giving little if any warning of when they might change direction or what they might do next. Generally they are teenagers on BMX-style bikes a few sizes too small and have no regard for anyone except themselves.

I suspect the UK is much like the rest of the world in that regard.
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Old 06-05-11, 12:09 PM   #10
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I think largely the problem is city based in UK, particularly London.

Though I live in Scotland I work some part of each week in London so commute by bike when there. There are a lot of red light jumping cyclists and, unfortunately it is a very visible activity. Cyclists are therefore an easy target for the media.

The UK is not particularly cycle friendly, motorists are generally ok but there is not the same sort of cycling culture as there is in mainland Europe and less awareness by drivers.

I've never had an issue coverng thousands of miles in France, Holland, Belgium or germany, but most weeks get cut up or put in danger by motorists in the UK.

Just to put in context, I've been a bike nut since 12 y.o, I used to cycle 6000 miles ayear, mostly commuting into Edinburgh, now commute in London, cycle when home in Scotland and also in France. So I have a bit of experience
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Old 07-05-11, 08:03 AM   #11
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Ireland: lots of quiet country roads
Other than the odd unexpected lunatic doing 85 down them.
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Old 07-05-11, 12:38 PM   #12
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I think largely the problem is city based in UK, particularly London.

Though I live in Scotland I work some part of each week in London so commute by bike when there. There are a lot of red light jumping cyclists and, unfortunately it is a very visible activity. Cyclists are therefore an easy target for the media.

The UK is not particularly cycle friendly, motorists are generally ok but there is not the same sort of cycling culture as there is in mainland Europe and less awareness by drivers.

I've never had an issue coverng thousands of miles in France, Holland, Belgium or germany, but most weeks get cut up or put in danger by motorists in the UK.

Just to put in context, I've been a bike nut since 12 y.o, I used to cycle 6000 miles ayear, mostly commuting into Edinburgh, now commute in London, cycle when home in Scotland and also in France. So I have a bit of experience
I think the bike culture in London is increasingly rapidly, at least judging by the number of cyclists I see on the roads. I've found that as my average speed has improved I get more respect from motorists, to the point that these days I never have any problem merging into traffic if someone is parked across the bike lane, changing lanes etc. If I weave through stationary traffic that's stopped at a red light to get to the front but then also stop at the red light I can sometimes see the shift in body-language as motorists realise I want to get past them but I'm not going to jump the red light, and shift from assuming I'm just another a-hole to seeing I want the advantage of two wheels but still respect the law.

We do have a network of national cycle routes although there's a lot more provision that could be made alongside arterial routes. I've seen a "cyclepath" along parts of the A3 that's barely two feet wide with signs to show it's a shared footpath/cyclepath. Quite what you're supposed to do if you come across anyone going the other way remains unclear.
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Old 07-06-11, 09:47 AM   #13
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Just back from riding in Zeeland (Netherland), the bike paths there take precedence over car roads. The bike paths (often two lane with a white line down the middle) have their own traffic lights, roundabouts and road signs and everyone (even the Queen) rides except the disabled who get to take their wheel chairs on the bike paths. Bikes are allowed to ride the wrong way up one way streets and when a car and a bike hit the law assumes it was the car drivers fault.

Now that is what I call bike culture.
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Old 07-25-11, 10:50 AM   #14
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Just back from riding in Zeeland (Netherland), the bike paths there take precedence over car roads....
That's usually true but not always. Sometimes your two-way bike sidepath crosses the road and you have to yield to automobile traffic before crossing. As the road is usually a busy one it can take some time to cross. I ran into this situation maybe 3 times in a recent 7-day tour of the Netherlands.

(Oh, and for any Yanks who stumble across this thread: in the UK "pavement" means "sidewalk.")
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Old 08-03-11, 12:32 PM   #15
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The Netherlands is like cycling heaven for me,
just be careful with the tram/train tracks running
parallel with the street

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Old 08-03-11, 01:23 PM   #16
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Drivers here are pretty good around cyclists.
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Old 07-24-12, 01:37 PM   #17
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Ive ridden in the Netherland, absolutely great, and England with the uxbridge loiterer bicycle club which was great as well. The experience in England was helped by the clubs local knowledge. If I were to have explored the area on my own, the result may have been different.
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Old 07-30-12, 08:47 AM   #18
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I'm an ex-pat American currently living in Denmark (+5 years). Before that I lived in Germany (2000-2007). I tour yearly by recumbent trike or velomobile across Denmark, Germany, Netherlands, and bits of Belgium and France. Last year I rode from Denmark to Cornwall, UK (but only got as far as Hastings before I had to take the train the rest of the way because the endless hills killed my knees).

My experience showed me that the UK still suffers from a poor (and sometimes missing altogether) cycling infrastructure, compared to the other countries I've toured in. Mainland Europe is, in general, leaps and bounds above the rest of the world in terms of cycling infrastructure, but that is slowly changing.

Regarding the posted article, I think that if we (cyclists, or HPV pilots/riders) are going to share the road with motor vehicles, we should adhere to the same rules and consequences - tailored appropriately where needed.
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