This article was published in 2017, in Newsletter 131.
With the summer approaching have you planned your next holiday? Last spring I took the family camping in North Holland, the Netherlands. While it was fantastic to see the quality of urban Dutch cycle infrastructure first hand, I was already familiar with it from cycle campaigning. I was not so prepared for the quality of the rural and natural cycle routes.
Our campsite was within the Noordhollands Duinreservaat, a large nature reserve taking in beaches, sand dunes and woodland west of Alkmaar.
Main routes through the reserve were wide cycle paths. Chatting pairs of riders could easily pass one another. Built well enough to provide vehicle access for reserve staff, and a very small number of residents, they were otherwise entirely motor vehicle free. They were always of a good quality pothole-free surface.
The cycle paths were often in herringbone brick which, although providing a bumpy ride at high speed, weathered and blended well into the natural surroundings.
Natural materials were used for the cycle parking too. Wooden stands for the beach accesses felt very appropriate to the surroundings, though security may be a concern for some. The lack of motor-vehicle access perhaps reduces the risk of a ‘job-lot’ heist of bikes.
The cycle routes provided a main route into the natural areas for many visitors besides cyclists, with footpaths and sandy routes for horse riders frequently peeling off, and the cycleway itself excellent access for parents with pushchairs, wheelchair and mobility scooter users.
Frequent resting spots were available, always with a picnic bench, bin and stand for bikes. Great for family trips and well used by long distance cyclists – the North Sea Cycle Route uses these paths.
Routes outside the reserve through agricultural land were of similar quality. Farm accesses that would have been rutted muddy tracks in the UK had decent surfaces for riding.
Rural paths often connected villages more directly than is possible by motor-vehicle. These were clearly not just leisure routes, with lighting provided for night-time use by commuters.
Cycling is also provided for on main roads between towns. Riders were not expected to mix with heavy vehicles on the main carriageway, yet had the option of taking the same direct routes.
Navigation was easy using fietsroutenetwerken, a network of numbered nodes through the region, and part of a network across the whole of the Netherlands. Clear signposts direct you to your desired node, at which you can pick up on the route to the next node in your selected sequence, or browse the local map and information board. Though generally not direct, these are intentionally scenic routes for leisure riders: they were ideal for exploring and better than the equivalent in much of the UK.
Using a similar approach to improve rural cycling in the UK would be excellent for both increasing access to our countryside, but also proving utility connections between rural settlements. Thinking more locally I couldn’t help but see similarities to the fens in the polder landscape I was riding through. Cambridgeshire has a network of existing drove-ways and bridleways: improving a select few of these could provide excellent cycle connections for Cambridge’s necklace villages and rural communities further afield.