This article was published in 1998, in Newsletter 21.
About a year ago, a group of Cycling Campaign members spent a very enjoyable weekend in the Dutch city of Groningen, discovering what it was like to be a cyclist in the cycling capital of the Netherlands. That was so successful that we decided to organise another fact-finding weekend away this year, and so in October a group of Cycling Campaign members visited York, which claims to be ‘Britain’s best cycling city.’
York is superficially rather similar to Cambridge. Both are historic cities in flat regions of eastern England, and both are well known for having many cyclists. York is rather larger and more industrial than Cambridge – chocolate and trains being the principal industries. Cycle usage, though still high by national standards, is rather lower in York than in Cambridge: in recent years about 20% of commuting in York has been by bike – the equivalent figure for Cambridge is 25%.
Unfortunately we chose one of the wettest weekends of the year for our visit, and most cyclists in York were sheltering sensibly indoors. We were no exception, and spent most of the Saturday sitting in restaurants and tea shops talking to members of the York Cycle Campaign.
Cyclists can pass the red light here at Monk Bar in York. No little green bicycle traffic lights, just no stop line for the cycle lane.
Nevertheless we were able to gain a good idea of what conditions are like for cyclists in York. There’s a pedestrian area in the city centre, surrounded by narrow streets with lots of congested traffic. Some roads had cycle lanes and there were a number of signposted cycle routes, rather like we have in Cambridge. But we discovered a couple of significant differences.
One difference was that shared-use pavements are hardly ever used in York. As we all know, they are widespread in Cambridge. So cyclists in York rarely have to worry about the problems of mixing with pedestrians, or of crossing side roads, or of avoiding oncoming cyclists.
The other difference I noticed was the almost universal use of advanced stop lines at junctions in the central area. I also noticed that these always had red surfacing to make them obvious to drivers, as well as approach lanes to allow cyclists to get to the front of the traffic queue.
We do have advanced stop lines in Cambridge, and they are becoming increasingly common, but they are still the exception rather than the rule and where they are provided they too often have no red surfacing and no approach lane.
We even saw one junction where an advanced stop line had two approach lanes – one for straight-ahead traffic and one for right-turning traffic. We had previously thought that provision as good as this only existed in Holland.
On the second day of our visit we were blessed with sunshine and clear skies, and to celebrate this we went for a ride to Beningbrough Hall, a National Trust property about ten miles north of York, along part of the National Cycle Network’s route 65. The route follows the River Ouse, which was in flood at the time, and so part of the journey involved riding through a couple of feet of flood water (wiser members of the party took another route).
At Beningbrough Hall we were able to claim £1 off our entrance fee because we arrived by cycle.
On both days we were accompanied by Matthew Page of the York Cycle Campaign, who made us very welcome. A big thank you from all of us, Matthew. (I hope your shoes have dried out by now – mine have!)
So is York really entitled to style itself ‘Britain’s best cycling city?’ Perhaps. But I have no doubt that although Cambridge may not be the best cycling city in the country, sheer weight of numbers definitely makes it the cycling city of Britain.
The autumn fact-finding weekend has now established itself as a regular fixture on the Cycling Campaign calendar. Any suggestions for next year? Apparently Shanghai is nice in the autumn.