A Dutchman comes to London (and look at what he finds!)

Eminent video blogger, Mark Wagenbuur - aka Bicycle Dutch - came to London recently and spent some time observing our cyclists and the conditions they find themselves in.

It is always fascinating to have "fresh eyes" bringing an outside perspective to what we consider to be everyday conditions.  Mark turns his video camera on some of our roads - and the way in which we cycle upon them - in a way that had me wincing at times, and nodding my head in agreement at others.

As is the Dutch way, Mark has a very polite and considered way of commenting on what he finds. We blunter English, upon watching this video, could probably agree that there's plenty which is pretty crap about much of the roads and junctions featured.  The moment at 2 minutes 9 seconds with a bus particularly had me tensing up in terror, and you can hear Mark's Dutch friends exclaiming in horror, in the background.

At first, being somewhat proud of my home city and naturally defensive of criticism of outsiders I thought to myself "Oh! Mark has gone to all the wrong places in London!  If I could have taken him on a bicycle tour I could show him some amazing cycling corners and wonderful infrastructure in London.  He's just chosen to show us the wrong bits!"  But of course I'd be wrong.  There are no "wrong bits" in London, only what any outsider would find, and therein lies the rub.  It's no good just having good corners of London (welcome though they are) where cycling "works".  Most people who choose to ride a bike will do so without reading bike blogs, or looking at bike routes on campaign websites, or go on training and awareness and route finding courses.  Most people will just get on their bikes and go, and the streets outside need to be safe and inviting enough for them to consider doing so.  If they're not, then something needs to be done about it.

As our friend from across the North Sea has demonstrated, although recent announcements about cycle infrastructure are most welcome, there's a LOT of work to do!

If you're not familiar with Mark's other videos I strongly encourage you to take a video ride through the Netherlands over at BicycleDutch.  "How the Dutch got their cycle paths" is a particularly fascinating and inspiring film.  Enjoy!

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Lindsay & Jack said...

I was literally watching this video only this morning. Thanks for sharing it. I think Mark has a real talent for these videos and appreciate how much time he must put into them.

I just moved from Bristol to Amsterdam and have been blown away with the difference good infrastructure can make to not only the security of riders but to the amount.

After my last visit to London I was blown away by the sheer mass of obstacles facing cyclists, you really have to have guts of steel to ride there, as a cycling mum I could never attempt it. I know exactly what you are saying about the wrong vs. right bits and it ties into my own blog post this morning, that cycling is popular here because it is practical and convenient. Really that is THE answer, it has to be practical and convenient for everyone. I have no doubt we are heading that way, however slowly.

Cheers- Lindsay

Anonymous said...

Hi Mark,
Thanks for sharing my video with your readers!

I do know there are good bits in London. I did make a tour last year and I also read many blogs. This is just what I saw when I walked around in the dead centre of London as a tourist.

I can only look with my Dutch background, but I did not want to judge (even though I kind of do between the lines). I am really in no position to give advice and I do not want to be in the way of the hard work some of you – like you, yourself – are doing to get some changes. So I am glad that in the end the video didn’t offend you.

You picked up the tone of the remarks by my friends well. They have no special interest for cycling, so they looked even more objectively. And their horror is genuine. During that bus incident one of them literally says:
“Oh look, now he [the cyclist] even lets them [the two drivers] pass him.” (note the perspective: speaker doesn’t see the drivers force the cyclist to the side, by driving as if the elderly man on the bicycle isn’t even there) and then he exclaims: “Levensgevaarlijk!” literally “life-dangerous” but meaning “That man’s life is in danger!”. And I think it really was.

One question: that man in the end of the video. The one who poses for my camera thinking I want to take a picture, while I am already filming him. What is he? He seems “official”, in uniform of some kind. So I hope it wasn’t rude to tell him to ‘move on’!

ibikelondon said...

@Lindsay Keep up the fantastic work with your blog. It's funny, you are doing in the Netherlands exactly what Mark has been doing here in London; bringing an outsiders perspective to something that people consider to be ordinary, and in doing so showing it as extraordinary. Such an interesting process! I look forward to hearing more about your bicycle adventures in the Netherlands! (Greetings, also, from another ex-Bristolian!)

ibikelondon said...

@Mark There's that Dutch politeness again! You did not offend at all, nor did you undermine any efforts by campaigners here to make conditions safer for cyclists - you strengthened our position by allowing us to say "Yes! This is what we have been saying all along!"

It's a sad state of affairs indeed when "life-dangerous" is one of the strongest associations brought to cycling in London, but we cannot "spin" people's genuine perceptions. I would quite like to bring a whole entire bus load of your non-specialist Dutch cycling friends to ride around London with some campaigners and engineers here - their honest and unfiltered feedback would be a real eye opener!

Lastly, as to the man at the end of your movie, he is an ambulance paramedic and is indeed official, though I think he would have seen no offense in your remark. He is part of the London Ambulance Service, providing first aid across London, and is part of the "Cycle Rapid Response Unit". These (relatively new and still quite novel, hence his posing for a photograph!) bicycle ambulances are used to get first aid to incidents in the city because they can cut through traffic and congestion much more quickly than a traditional ambulance. This has been proven to be especially effective in cases such as heart attacks and strokes where immediate first aid within the first few minutes of an incident are critical. I cycle past their "bicycle ambulance station" on my way home every night and am always thankful that they are there.

Anonymous said...

Ah okay thanks we thought he looked like a medic but we weren't sure!
We have them too of course ;-)

Koen said...

I am certain the politeness is Mark's own merit. We Dutch are known to be quite rude as compared to Germans and certainly Britons!
But yes, that's what I like about Mark's blog, the way he tackles difficult subjects with gentleness.

ibikelondon said...

Any Dutchman who thinks that his fellow Nederlanders are impolite should come and ride the Central Line at 08.40am on a Monday (with luggage!) Trust me, the Dutch are polite!!! :)