A lot has been written and said about London’s Cycling Super Highways. Various sections are still lethal to use, but there is gradually more good cycle path design appearing in Britain's capital city, thanks to relentless efforts by the people of the London Cycling Campaign. The Thames Embankment section opened in 2015 and shows how it should be done (see picture). The “good stuff” is still very localised though, especially if you take the whole country into account.
In many other places in Britain, a person on a bicycle remains a pariah of society. You don’t have to go far on a London Cycling Super Highway to experience that (see picture). Just the name Cycling Super Highway keeps making me laugh. Even at its very best, we are just talking “cycle paths”. The Dutch never call their cycle paths “super highways”. The Dutch routes are still by far superior though and truly deserve this name!
There are many worthy “cycling super highways” to cycle in and out of Amsterdam. In this article I focus on just one of these; the East Corridor. It is just a name I have given myself, as all Dutch “cycling super highways” are doing their excellent jobs anonymously. When still working for Dutch television, I cycled this route regularly from home to the TV-studios at Artis Zoo. Let’s get on that bike together and appreciate its quality and continuity...
0.0 km: Our journey starts on the N236 national road in Driemond village. The eye catches immediately the excellent information signs. You could literally just go anywhere on your bike from here and it would just be as smooth and comfortable as the route we are going to experience now.
3.7 km: The cycle path next to the N236 national road keeps us away from the fast moving traffic on the main carriageway for its full length, on smooth tarmac and with plenty of riverside park views, on the edge of the vast Amsterdam South East “Bijlmermeer” development. Motorised traffic on the N236 is light these days, as motorways A1 and A9 carry most of today’s traffic, but I can recall the days when this road was hammered with heavy traffic, easy to avoid by the off-road path.
4.9 km: The continuous cycle path has now taken us into Diemen industrial estate. When I used to make my commutes here, the cycle path was still paved (as the side walk still is). The new tarmac of the cycle path shows the continued commitment to cycling by Amsterdam City Council. There is more to it than just a new surface. Although priority over turning traffic in and out of driveways has been established in The Netherlands for many years, the new design makes it impossible for drivers to turn on high speed across the cycle path. Drivers have to move up a dropped kerb now, rather than being able to make the turn on street-level.
5.8 km: Amsterdam has over 1500 canal bridges and this is just one of them. With the bridge being up we even get a better view of the typical Dutch main road lay-out with its separated traffic flows. In the foreground on the cycle path, you can just notice how I am bound to turn with my Bike City rental bike onto the bridge. The typical Dutch shark teeth in the path surface show how we have to give way here to users on the other cycle path before turning right.
6.3 km: The cycle path takes us under exit 13 of the Amsterdam orbital motorway. One press on the button at the lights ensures that people on bicycles never get dangerously close to that HGV turning onto the motorway. This infrastructure is so safe to use that even “gray oldies” don’t even think twice about going into town by bike. They do it without thinking. On lucky days, they don’t even have to stop at these lights, as the green light for cyclists appears every couple of minutes anyhow, without having to press that button.
7.1 km: We are now on the Middenweg Road in the Watergraafsmeer district, heading towards Amsterdam’s city centre. The scene is becoming more urban, with drivers, cyclists and pedestrians all doing their thing in their own comfort. Note this cycle path is a one-way. For travel in the opposite direction, you would use identical facilities on the other side of the main carriageway. Naturally, pedestrians can enjoy their own wide pavements on both sides of the road, regardless the direction they want to walk!
8.6 km: We have arrived at a typical Dutch urban intersection. Until well in the 1980s, this particular junction had a dual carriageway arriving here, with three lanes for cars queuing for the lights. This is a location where the Dutch cycling revolution of the 1970s truly shows its legacy. Thirty years ago, this particular junction had a layout similar as many junctions in the UK still have today. By giving priority to cycling, walking and public transport, these modes of transport have become much more appealing then driving. You won’t drive into Amsterdam by car today, unless you really have to!
9.8 km: See them all go! The leading man in this group of cyclists may be suspicious about a ferocious cycling campaigner taking a picture from the road-side, but he is simply not aware of the unique infrastructure arrangements of his country. Young and old, see them all paddle away, healthy, safely and in full comfort. No lycra, no high-vis, no helmets; just cycling to work or school. If the same people in this picture had travelled by car, at least five more cars would have been clogging the roads, polluting the air and filling lots of public space with their metal boxes on wheels…
10.5 km: We are approaching our destination now. This is Plantage Middellaan Road, next to Artis Zoo. What I like about this picture is how the available public space is utilised to the max. Walking, cycling, bike parking, car parking, driving, public transport; it all fits in that space together and they even didn’t need to get rid of the old line of trees to make it happen. Many roads in the UK have similar space available, but it keeps being dominated by motorised traffic. If “wasted space” was utilised with vision and dedication, the provision of real transport choice would be in reach for many people in Britain too.
10.7 km: Arrived. Mulling over “the good old days” when I was a youngster, working at the TV Studio next to Artis Zoo. When I worked here and made this seven-mile commute two days a week, I didn't think much of it. I never went by car. I went by train and tram, or by train and by foot, or cycled. Of all available choices, I found the bike the most convenient way, an enjoyable half an hour of fresh air. Even back in the 1990s, away from the obvious, but safe crossings at junctions, this cycle route was 100% off-road. In other countries, they may call it a Cycling Super Highway!
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