Monday, 11 January 2016

Cycling between cities in the Netherlands - Part One: Hook of Holland to Rotterdam

If you've ever been on a cycling trip to the Netherlands then chances are that you'll have passed through The Hook of Holland, or Hoek Van Holland to give it its Dutch name. You don't even need to leave the port itself before you access a traffic free cycle route; just cross straight over the railway track and onto a cycle track alongside the ferry port. However, just like the previous two occasions I've alighted from the ferry here on my bike I opted against spending a fortune on breakfast on board and instead grabbed some food from the main street in the town. The last time I cycled along the short road from the port to the town centre I had to share it with motor traffic until a short, and poor quality, tiled cycle track allowed me to bypass the junction. I was delighted to see that this road had since been upgraded with new cycle tracks on both sides of it. Once I was back in the UK I checked google earth to see that the entire road had actually been rebuilt a little to the west of the old one.

This rebuilding of the road doesn't just improve conditions for people cycling but with continuous pavements installed across the side road junction and tiled roads replacing plain tarmac roads has made it safer to cross the junction on foot, along with slower motor traffic speeds.

It would be hard to see an upgrade of this kind happening in a similar town in the UK, certainly the most we could hope for would be the type of improvements that are currently being built along CS1 in Hackney, such as raised tables at the junction and speed cushions but almost certainly no actual provision for people cycling, with people expected to just cycle directly in front of lorries also coming off the ferry. As I would see again and again on this trip this was just one of many examples of how the Dutch continually improve their road network to make them safer and more pleasant for people walking and cycling, rather than concentrating so much on motor traffic speed and capacity.

There were also some roadworks taking place on one of the streets by the main square in the town centre where the worn out tiled road surface was being removed and replaced by a smooth new tiled surface with the pavements also being repaved. I hadn't noticed this before but I realised the main road through the town is one way for cars, despite being wide enough for two way traffic. Bicycles are exempt from this of course and can use the road in both directions. This combination of one way motor traffic flow to reduce the amount of through traffic and subtle traffic calming measures is one of the reasons so many choose to cycle here; it's not just about protected cycle tracks on the main roads. I sat here for just a couple of minutes eating my croissant and drinking my coffee but saw a man cycling with his young child alongside and a man riding a cargo bike whilst walking his dog, both down the main street of the town. This port town is a little more than a hundred miles away from the British port town of Harwich I'd sailed from but it seemed like half the world away, not a close neighbour. Once out of the town the tiled road gave way to tarmac and so did my time of sharing with motor traffic as a two way segregated cycle track appeared alongside the road (with pleasant hedges separating me from the noise of the traffic). This continued until I was once again south of the railway tracks and alongside the sea on a road with fairly narrow painted cycle lanes, although the road lead to a dead end so is clearly not used by through traffic and therefore I did not encounter any motor vehicles whilst I was cycling along it. It then continued for around the next four miles as a bicycle and pedestrian only road alongside the railway line, a very pleasant stress free journey, with just the odd roadie overtaking me and me overtaking the odd person jogging or walking their dog.

Not a bad way to spend a Monday morning, certainly better than dodging the lorries and cement mixers on Hackney Road, as I would a week later
I passed through the town of Maassluis, although kept to the bicycle road for most of my journey through it and so did not interact with many inhabitants or their motor vehicles. I did cycle over some nice cycle infrastructure that would go on to feature in the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain's good cycling facility of the week just a couple of days after I passed over it. I then came to the end of this path and onto the main road in the town, which of course had it's own cycle infra alongside. I briefly stopped at the train station to admire the cycle parking before continuing my journey along the main road leading out from the railway station towards the A20 motorway. The cycle track and pavement looked so smooth and new that I was pretty sure it must have only recently been upgraded, a quick look at street view on google maps confirmed this but I was pretty surprised at just how much change to the road layout had taken place here.

See this location on google street view
The previous layout, with its old tiled cycle tracks, looks quite safe for cycling and certainly much better than anything in the UK however the signaled crossroads here had been completely ripped out and replaced with a roundabout with no traffic signals, with three lanes of motor traffic on approach reduced to just one lane. I can imagine that had you cycled along here on the old layout there could have been a lengthy delay waiting for a green light, especially if you were turning left and would have had to wait twice to do so. This is now a junction where cars always give way to both bicycles and people crossing the road on foot no matter which direction they are travelling, meaning no need to waste energy stopping and then starting cycling again through this junction, with benefits for pedestrians as well. 

Many cycle campaigners often campaign for roundabouts to be replaced with crossroads, due to the risk of collisions between motor traffic and bicycles but as can be seen here this is not a clear cut solution and sometimes replacing crossroads with roundabouts can lead to safer and more pleasant places if they are designed as well as this one has been.

The road continued onto the A20 motorway intersection but the cycle track drifted off to the right to avoid the intersection altogether and take a much quieter route under the A20 instead. I then cycled along a very pleasant road alongside the motorway which had a tiled road down the middle of the carriageway to slow cars down but anyone cycling cycling had smooth asphalt cycle tracks in both directions.

I also only saw one car using it, presumably as most traffic opted to use the fast motorway alongside instead. This then became a normal quiet country road passing the other side of a motorway service station, then a painted cycle lane on the road (and my first chance to use a cycling bin) followed by a no cycling sign; I was initially puzzled about where to go from here until I could see that a two way cycle track continued on the opposite side of the road. This track was good enough to be used by horses and was also an impressive distance from the road alongside at points. I then crossed back under the A20 to again be south of the motorway and then alongside a dual carriageway road, burgemeester Heusdenslaan in the city of Vlaardingen. This cycle track seemed to switch between smooth tarmac and not-so-smooth tiles. A couple of days later Mark Wagenbuur would tell me that any cycle track with tiles would probably have been constructed pre-1990 so hopefully this will be upgraded at some point to a lovely smooth red cycle track. Although the tiled cycle track was perfectly fine to use, certainly better than having to share with the lorries on the dual carriageway as I would have had to do back home, which just seemed ludicrous now, even though I had only been in the country for a couple of hours. I then once again passed north of the A20 and back to some nice smooth cycle tracks between Prinses Beatrixpark and the motorway. I then passed through a crap, car dominated industrial area but was of course accomodated on cycle tracks, which although not that remarkable, I stopped to take a picture and post my first tweet from the country
As I had only had a croissant to eat so far and I had cycled a fair distance I was suddenly struck by severe hungriness and had foolishly not packed any food. Although I normally avoid Mcdonalds and their awful food the one thing I could not avoid seeing was their huge sign high in the air trying to lure drivers in from the motorway and ring road alongside. Concluding that I was unlikely to find any other food outlets in the immediate area I made a quick detour to grab some breakfast. The food wasn't great and the coffee was terrible but it solved my hunger issues and gave me a quick caffeine fix. The most remarkable thing about this Mcdonalds was that despite it being mid-morning on a Monday and located in an industrial area directly next to a motorway and the ring road it had plenty of bike parking and it was all being used, with many people coming and going by both car and bike. Crossing south of the motorway I crossed over several slip roads where I encountered my first bit of Dutch road rage as two drivers aggressively tried to access the same motorway slip road at high speed, beeping their horns at each other. I gradually climbed up a hill on a cycle track to cross over the ring road, a cycle track which would again go on to feature on the cycle embassy of Great Britain's website just a few weeks later. I was then on a two way track and used a floating bus stop that had a number 38 bus stopped in it, which briefly made me think of Hackney. I was then into the suburbs of Rotterdam and used several one way cycle tracks which all looked pretty similar and, where space allowed, bent away from the carriageway at side roads, something CS2 could learn from. These tracks took me right into the centre of Rotterdam and a lovely recently reconstructed area outside of the main train station with wide cycle tracks in the centre and a fun route under the station. After meeting Paul James for coffee I made the most of my first day and spent almost six hours slowly cycling and exploring many parts of the city.

Distance: Approx 31km / 19 miles
Time: Approx three hours
Photos taken: 224
Map of the route
Gallery: 27 photos here

Next Post: Cycling from Rotterdam to Gouda via Delft

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