Dutch Lessons

No, not Dutch language lessons, just some insight into the proper way to bike and why Dutch mothers are so happy. Hint: Dutch women work less than any other in Europe. I’m holding out for some emancipation on this point!

If my readership permits me some offhand thoughts on cycling: the perspective of the Londoner is well supported by my Lyonese perspective. Just to mention a few:

  • No separate bike traffic lights (they’re just synchronous with the car lanes in the same direction). This means one must cross the intersection quickly to avoid being in the middle when the perpendicular lanes have green, because the light’s timings are set to that of cars.
  • Intersections as a rule don’t feature a separate modality at all. The surface area of the intersection is just an arena one can cross at the green light in whatever way one desires. My solution is to know the timings of the lights by heart, so that I can cross a few seconds before the light turns green, because this is the point the arena is most empty and thus safe.
  • Bike lanes are not grade separated from pedestrians (just painted on the sidewalk), leading pedestrians to not really know to stay out of the bike lane.
  • Even when there’s grade separation, pedestrians here don’t seem to care (about anything) and use it as a sidewalk anyway.
  • The other half of the lanes are painted onto roads, and cars here view these lanes as convenient short-term parking spaces or exit strips. I estimate that on average I have to move onto the road once per km. During heavy traffic, it turns basically into another car lane, and since cars don’t tend to leave some marginal space on either side, even bikes have to slow down or stop regularly, something I wouldn’t have considered possible. I think this lack of marginal space is a French thing, car lanes are in general very narrow.
  • Then, as the writer in the Guardian observes too, cars simply don’t watch out. Mirrors seem to be decoration; it is very unlikely that a car will see you if you’re not visible from their front window. This also means cutting off is so regular that I know blinkers (if used!) means I must slow down because they will drive into the bike bike lane, bike or not. A nice big scar proves I’m a veteran to such occurrences.
  • Other cyclists behave like morons, seemingly unbounded by their lane. Perhaps I am mistaken and not only are the intersections arenas, but any bit of asphalt qualifies. Cyclists generally seem to think so. I suppose this is the tragedy of the commons in action: everyone optimizes for themselves.
  • I usually take over any and all bicyclists, including the ones that have light bikes, sportswear and helmets. Even though most cyclists behave like they optimize for just themselves (which is, given the deplorable habits and skills of car drivers of course understandable), they’re not fast. Among colleagues I have established the mean speed here is in the 10-15km/h range, a far cry from the 20-25km/h I am used to.
  • Like the article mentions: limited infrastructure in some cities, certainly nothing between them. Also: asphalt conditions are generally not good in Lyon. Think patchwork, but not neatly rolled flat, certainly not
  • If one has the privilege to find a dedicated bike lane that is not used by pedestrians, it better not be freezing, raining or dirty, because asphalt is solid and smooth round these parts (no glorious ZOAB so very slippery) and certainly not cleaned by street sweepers in autumn (leaves), winter (snow) or after storms (crap).

Now, I am not saying I am dying to get back to the motherland (I would almost say the opposite), but it is very difficult to cope with non-Netherland on this particular issue. The road is just so much more uncomfortable here, and not for any good reason. Not only as a cyclist: driving is similarly many times more rage and fear inducing compared to what I am used too. Apparently Britain is similarly underdeveloped. Now, I do see the network of bike lanes is enlarged every year here in Lyon, and the city magazine usually mentions some new milestone or target on the topic of cycling. However, it is clear, non-Netherland has a long way to go. It is hard to imagine matters were similarly uncivilized in Netherland up to the sixties. Thanks hippies!

Also, do note how I have not neglected my commitment for the correct(tm) name of the country.