This week has been the most depressing week ever for me as a cyclist on the UK’s roads. The weird thing is that not much has changed around here. I’m still cycling on the same bike, along the same route. The traffic levels are the same, and I’ve not had any particularly eventful episodes on my bike.
The thing that has changed is me.
I was lucky enough to spend a week in The Netherlands with Chris and the boys over Easter. We rented bikes in Amsterdam and Groningen (including kids bikes, a tandem and a cargo bike).
So the difference is that I now know what it feels like to be able to cycle, with my kids, anywhere we want – safely and quickly. I know what it feels like to ride alongside hundreds of other cyclists, protected from the traffic, in a society where cyclists are given equal consideration in the transportation system as all other modes of transport.
I now know what it feels like to cycle with my boys, aged 9 and 7, through two different Dutch cities at rush hour – yes rush hour! Even better – we did not have to meticulously plan the route we were taking – we just rode!!
I’ve seen thousands and thousands of people of all ages cycling. I’ve seen young babies being carried in cargo bikes and toddlers riding in front and rear bike seats. I’ve seen retired people (both men and women) using bikes as their everyday mode of transport. And as we were in Holland in early April, I’ve seen them all cycling during bad weather, as well as on sunny days.
It has therefore been such a shock to return to the UK, and go back to my regular commute. I’ve gone from a cycling utopia (well almost – there are still challenges to cycling in Holland which I’ll explore in a later post), back to a society where it’s a postcode lottery as to whether you can cycle safely on a daily basis.
This has lead me to realise that when the government calls for more people to cycle, as it has done recently, it’s so difficult for most of us to imagine what this could look like. We all look out of our car windows, and say, quite rightly “I’m not letting my child cycle in that traffic”, or “I’d never feel safe cycling on that main road to work”. Because, without changes to the infrastructure to enable people of all ages and abilities to cycle safely, wherever they want to go, most of us will never be able to let our kids out on their bikes.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be blogging about some of the amazing things we saw whilst we were cycling as a family in Holland. I hope that this will help to provide more information about what is possible, and how we could, here in the UK, have safe routes for our kids to ride on if the political will to invest was there.