S4CNL: Ja Alsjeblieft Assen

So to lets start today with a stripy pole (I do like these – even the traffic light poles are stripy and I can’t think why as you’re hardly likely to miss them)…

…And a pretty bike.

One thing is clear from my brief visit to the Netherlands: car is still king. Bikes may be in a princely second place, but don’t be mistaken in thinking the Dutch have it mastered. 

There are plenty of cars around in Assen. I see several driveways with two cars parked in them. The main golf course appears to have been sponsored by Audi and Volvo. And the motorways and main highways are jammed with the things. 

Incidentally, Assen’s golf course hosts a lovely arboretum with a ‘fietspad’ (cycle path) down one side. And the clubhouse has a sign especially for cyclists inviting you to try their coffee and apple pie.

One big message from all this is that to ‘Go Dutch’ does not mean having to give up your car. More realistically it is about giving you the choice to use it or not – a message with more mainstream appeal than some of the campaigns I’ve been involved with. 

Of course the biggest joy of my three days tootling around on my Brompton is that I rarely need to interact with motorised traffic. Of course there are a few noisy ‘bromfiets’ the odd one of which passes far too close, far too fast. And then, obviously, there is the odd road to cross, usually achieved with grace and rarely with conflict. 

However, the drivers in the Netherlands have it easy. With no messy bikes in their way they can put their foot down and go as fast as they like – and some do, even on the 30kph (20mph) roads. Where I do have to share the road, it is often not pleasant (albeit no worse than the UK) with drivers in both directions passing too close and too fast. I like to think kindly that if I had children with me things would be different. On the other hand I think not. 

So there’s me thinking everyone in the Netherlands rides a bike, therefore they should all should know better. Then again, the behaviour of some cyclists around pedestrians both in Assen and in Bristol leaves something to be desired. So we’re back to the problem of behaviour and how as a society we deal with the anti-social element. 

On that note, and rather disappointingly for me, I see no cops on bikes. In fact no cops at all. There must be some crime in Assen because the map shows a police station. Oh well, lucky Assen. 

So, to finish off, some nice photos of a thatched cottage (I thought we Brits were the only ones to do this), a frog and a very special mushroom. 


Please do continue to leave your comments. These will be very useful in the months to come as we keep pushing for more Space for Cycling in Bristol. And may I again refer you to Assen-based David Hembrow’s superb Blog. Tot ziens. 

S4CNL: Busy, Busy

Cycling out to Groningen on the long-distance LF14 route I get to appreciate the cycle network numbering system used here. As well as numbered routes, the network is also made up of numbered points. You choose your route and follow the numbers – a little like doing a dot-to-dot puzzle.     
I wonder if we can do something like this in Bristol? We’ve already done the groundwork on devising a network so perhaps an experimental project across a small area could be put together by volunteers? 

This, to answer one of Mike Ginger’s questions, is about the only outward promotion of cycling I’ve seen in my short time here. That is, if you don’t count the racks of cycling books and maps in several languages found at the tourist information centres. And the infrastructure.  Surely it’s this that says to most people “oh, why not get on your bike and go for a ride today…”

First impressions of Groningen: busy, busy, busy. I think part of what makes Assen so pleasant to cycle around is that it’s a little quieter. 

So what difference does it make when when so many people are on bicycles? The beauty of Groningen is how they’ve managed to drastically reduce the volumes of motor traffic in the central area by preventing through-traffic. Generally you can access the centre by car if you need to, but you can’t pass through it.

So, we’re left with a lot of people on bicycles, a few on mopeds, a fair few on buses and the rest (the majority probably) on foot. Cycling around the place is fun. Just jump on your bike and go with the flow. 

However to me, walking with all these bikes around is not much different from negotiating car traffic, i.e. I’m left at the side of the road waiting rather a long time for a gap before I can cross. The big difference is the lack of noise and the good air quality. That has to count for something. Perhaps I need to learn to be a little bolder when crossing the road. After all, I’ve managed it in Rome!

Joking aside, the ‘might is right’ principle seems to apply to cyclists over pedestrians and that doesn’t seem right. Not if we are to convince people that a ‘cycling city’ is a good thing for everyone all of the time. 

The Dutch railways logo is almost as good as the British one

And finally to Groningen’s central railway station and its famous cycle parking facility for a million plus (or so it seems) bikes. Well certainly impressive. A great measure of success for the exponents integrated sustainable transport (like me). 

  However, I’m not sure they did a great thing architecturally. The guide book recommends a visit to the original nineteenth century booking hall. And a fine interior it has too – all mosaics, tiling and stained glass. 

  But step outside and you’re met with what resembles (and is used as) a skateboard park. Not exactly a setting fit for such an historic structure. Said skateboard park is actually the roof of the bike parking facility. So it’s very conveniently sited, very modern in appearance, but a bit of a mess in how it fits with its surroundings. 

S4CNL: Caring, but not sharing

A day of two halves. The morning spent wandering the bike lanes of Assen, the afternoon out in the countryside (I need to get some miles in). 

Let’s focus on the morning, after all Space for Cycling as far as Bristol is concerned is an urban thing. Having said that, the Dutch have made acres of space for cycling in the countryside – here on a scale unimaginable based on the efforts of Sustrans and their partners in the UK. 

Meanwhile back in town, I check out Assen’s notorious ‘shared space’ junction. 


Jozefkirk junction, Assen
This junction has attracted some criticism for not making things any better for vulnerable road users and that the ‘might is right’ principle means cars continue to reign supreme here. While I agree with this, in my brief observation the junction is not that bad for cycling, provided you follow the standard Dutch rules of the road. The problem comes when you try to cross the junction on foot. Heaven forbid if you happen to have mobility or sight issues. The knub of the problem here is there is too much motor traffic using the junction and the design therefore does not lend iteslf to sharing. 

Steven Webster asked on the BCyC Facebook page if I could look out for any older people cycling around. Well, bearing in mind today is a sunny, warm, work-a-day Tuesday, they are out in their swarms! I reckon people over sixty form about a third of the people I see out on their bikes. 

In fact I see quite a diverse mix of people cycling. All ages: school kids on their way home for lunch, parents (mainly mothers) carrying small children (I love those cargo bikes they use for this), the elderly doing their shopping or just enjoying a day out with friends, but not so many people of working age. I guess they’re stuck inside their place of employment earning some pennies to put towards their next carbon-fibre, folding, cargo carrying steed. (I fantisise of course). 

Back on topic: I’m interested to see a good diversity of ethnicity in terms of cycling. I’m not sure what the official ethnic make-up of Assen is, but I get the impression that being of non-Dutch heritage poses no barrier (cultural or relegious) to cycling. In fact I see one woman dressed in headscarf, jacket and long trousers (I assume she’s Muslim) effortlessly negotiate the Jozefkerk junction. 

Richard Hancock asked in the comments in this Blog about how the Dutch cope with the issue of anti-social cycling. Thing is, the Dutch are such a friendly lot I’m not sure if there is much of an issue (though I did read somewhere that there is increasing frustration amongst motorists of ill-behaviour from certain folk on bikes). The other thing is they all cycle so slowly! I feel like I’m the anti-social one bombing around town on my Brommie at a fullsome 9mph (15kph). So even the odd person on the pavement (can’t think why they bother, the roads are so safe) presents a negligible threat. 

In fact the most anti-social things around are the bromfiets (mopeds) and motorbikes which make a hell of a racket around the place. 

Apologies for the lack of photos today. I guess you’ll have to take my word for what I’ve been describing and perhaps you should come and see all this for yourself?

I’ll try harder on Thursday. That’s because tomorrow I’m off to Groningen (20 miles/30km to the north) – by bike of course. Hopefully with it being a busy, large, university city there is scope for great drama and conflict on the streets!

OK, just to make up for it, one more photo, taken at sunset. 

De Vaart, Assen’s main canal
 Correction 9 Jun: I got my miles & kilometres mixed up and stated the wrong distance to Gronngen. This is now corrected, albeit approximate. 

S4CNL: Arrival in Assen

So – what’s all the fuss about? David Hembrow, adopted son of the town, prolific blogger and Study Tour leader can’t get enough if the place it seems: http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/?m=1

Well for me first impressions are very good. I’m here with my Brompton and as I disembark the train a lady with a well loved green one steps off before me. They have Bromptons in Assen. Top points so far. And I’ve only been here two seconds. 

Then I’m straight out onto a lovely wide (if a little worn out) separated path, en-route to my B&B. Assen isn’t a very big place, as I discover when my faulty sense of scale when looking at the map means I overshoot my turnoff. No worry, I double back and make a left turn across the main road – instantly forgetting to look left first. Luckily the drivers in Assen must be used to infrastructure tourists from the UK and he simply stopped, waved me across, no fuss. (I’m not a fantastic judge of character, but even in “cycle-friendly” Bristol he looked the type that would have given me a hard Time for my infraction). 

One minute later I’m at my very friendly B&B and I’ve just negotiated my way past some kids playing in the street – one of whom calls out “Welkom” as they must be used to strangers turning up in their street. 


So I get to my room and all I can hear is the kids. They even permeate into the shower room. Bloody ki… Hang on a sec. This is a good thing. We don’t get much in the way of kids playing in my street, albeit relatively quiet. I’m just not used to it.