Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

A Canadian in Amsterdam discovers the downside of a cyclist’s paradise

with 5 comments

Toronto Star

It is an old article (October 25 this year) that has been doing the rounds and found its way to my in box today. I was going to ignore it but then I decided that as the sun was out I would take my bike on some errands rather than use the car.

The contrast between Richmond and Amsterdam is what made me want to write this. If you cycle at all in Greater Vancouver you needn’t bother to read this. Nothing new here. And I somehow doubt that any drivers who need to will actually be bothered to.

There were lots of motorized vehicles in the city’s core, but there seemed to be many more cyclists, and they all looked confident sitting upright on their sturdy bicycles, the handlebars rounded toward their torsos, allowing them to keep their backs straight and heads high looking out over the rest of the traffic.

Here the cyclist is a lone warrior in a hostile environment. I live on Steveston Highway, which has no bicycle lanes – or indeed any other acknowledgment that there may be others who want to use the road. On the eastbound side of the road there are no sidewalks either. I have to put on a helmet, of course, and since my bike does not have a chain guard tuck my trousers into my socks. I have a special hi-vis cycling jacket too, and proper cycling gloves. My handlebars are straight, so the posture is – different.

To get across the road to go in the direction I want, I push the bike to the nearest traffic light and wait, and wait, for the pedestrian signal. Even so, turning traffic weaves around me. It does not wait for me to cross. Once on the bike I try to keep clear of the broken glass and uneven inspection covers that make the right side of the road an uncomfortable place to be. This obviously upsets everyone behind me, but I simply ignore them. There are two travel lanes for vehicles but at the middle of the morning quite sparse traffic. So they could get over, if they felt like it. They don’t. The posted speed is 50. Anyone who drives at or below this is exceptional.

I get to the shopping centre at Ironwood but stay in the vehicle circulation area. I do not think it is reasonable for cyclists to weave around pedestrians in such places. Car drivers seem perplexed by my presence, but I am not alone and there are lots of bike parking racks. Of course, I have to lock up my bike and take everything off it while I am in the shops.

On the way back, it is the same as before. To leave the parking lot and turn left back on to the Highway I simply claim my rightful pace in the turn lane – and go in front of the vehicles at the stop line to make my presence obvious. So I manage to get onto the highway home without dismounting and pushing.  Except there are road works. Only one lane open for a short stretch of road. Traffic lines up in the left lane, so I go through in the open right lane to the point of closure. Here I rejoin the traffic. Note that I have done nothing illegal. But the Dodge Ram van cannot stand the idea that a cyclist is now ahead of him, so he forces forward – knocking over pylons. The lane is narrow, the traffic is literally inching forward at walking pace – yet it is inconceivable to this driver that he should be behind a cyclist – for even a few metres and a minute or two at most. The flag lady simply looks in another direction, and pretends to be fascinated by the excavation she is guarding.  And of course at the next traffic light there is the same green van, who has arrived at the light perhaps 30 seconds before me, in triumph.

It is going to be a long time before drivers willingly give up any space to cyclists in Greater Vancouver. And until we start managing traffic as though we were trying to achieve people movement (not vehicle movement) this will continue.

“We are not blocking traffic, we ARE traffic.”

Written by Stephen Rees

November 4, 2008 at 2:57 pm

Posted in cycling

5 Responses

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  1. The worst the article mentions is that some cyclists yell and ring their bells at pedestrians and that some cyclists flout traffic laws. Hilarious!


    November 4, 2008 at 4:20 pm

  2. My goodness, what is the world coming to. Ringing bells at pedestrians? Shock horror.

    Maybe the correspondant prefers two ton vehicles to be whizzing about instead.

    I think this is part of a wider andi-cyclist propaganda campaign we’re seeing in a number of cities, where cyclists are presented as ‘dangerous’ or marginalised as odd, to avoid giving them the infrastructure they need.

    Andy in Germany

    November 5, 2008 at 1:31 am

  3. My recollection of Amsterdam is that everyone flouted the law, including not paying transit fares. It was only after two days did i realize that the transit wasn’t free. In the city, most people took the tram.

    Malcolm J.

    November 5, 2008 at 8:11 am

  4. My recollection of Amesterdam is quite different.

    I was on a crowded tram which wa about to leave a stop. As the doors began to close a gang of heavy set men in ordinary clothes boarded the tram and then put on armbands, indentifying them as ticket inspectors. They checked everybody. One passenger accompanied them off the tram at the next stop.

    On another occasion I was offered s “strippenkart” (multiride ticket) by an individual at a tram stop. Before I had a chance to negotiate a price (out of professional interest) all the people in line waiting for the tram berated both the illegal seller and the potential buyer for trying to defraud the system.

    Mind you this was in February 1984 and things might have changed a bit since.

    Stephen Rees

    November 5, 2008 at 9:51 am

  5. I think the quote:

    “They’re the kings of the road,” says Jan van Weesep, an urban geographer at the University of Utrecht. “It’s a mentality … you can do whatever you want. You have that feeling of freedom.”

    sums it up. It’s a power hierarchy. Here its cars > bikes > pedestrians. Take cars out of the equation, and its bikes > pedestrians.

    I think that a lot of that “king of the road” mentality is driven by impatience. Whether it is a car trying to make a turn ahead of the cyclist passing or a cyclist weaving around a line of car stopped in traffic or taking the sidewalk on a one-way street to avoid circling the block.

    Ron C.

    November 5, 2008 at 12:46 pm

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