Amsterdam it Ain’t!
So. Yesterday, Amsterdamize put up some charts about the Dutch population’s ways of getting around. Great stuff, showing how far people travel, and what mode of transport they use depending on journey length, and how far people cycle.
As an engineer, I like numbers, so I thought it would be fun to compare our part of the world with Amsterdam. A little digging on Gooooogle yielded two reports - one on commuting distances in Tyne & Wear - 2008, and another from 2001 showing the different transport modes’ distributions in the Tyne & Wear. Here’s the sort of thing presented in the 2008 report, and there were numbers to accompany this too:
While the 2001 report was slightly less user friendly:
I’ve mashed the two of these together, and converted some of the data from Amsterdamize, so that I can compare like-with-like(ish).
And in Tyneside, we don’t live that far from work as a rule:
This is kinda alarming, isn’t it? Although for all commuting journeys the proportion who drive is roughly the same, look at the difference in cycling. Moreover, for Amsterdam journeys of less than 10km, around half are by bike. That accounts for 95% of all bike commuting journeys, so they’re obviously not being dogmatic about their bikes - just practical. If your commute is more than 10km (six and a bit miles), maybe the car, train or bus does make more sense.
What this says to me is that in Tyne & Wear, we need to do more.
People say that the weather here isn’t conducive to cycling. Actually, it is - we’re in the rain shadow of the Pennines, and it’s no-where near as cold here as Amsterdam in the winter (they have a somewhat continental climate, so despite the more southerly latitude, winters can be colder for longer). People also say that Amsterdam has the advantage of being flat (interesting flat, not Noël Coward talking about Norfolk flat). But come on - once you get up from the riverside itself, most of Newcastle, and the towns along the Tyne are on a plateau that’s not far off pancake-level. Trust me - I grew up in North Kent, so I know about cycling up hills (not big, but eye-wateringly steep).
It’s no wonder that only 1% of people cycle to work here, compared with 39% in Amsterdam. Gateshead actually boasts of having “over 20km of cycle lanes” (compared with 927km of roads), while North Tyneside’s flagship Waggonways are lovely places to ride with the kids at the weekend, but frankly for most commuting journeys, just a road to no-where.
We need to focus on making taking the bike to work the default mode of transport for the 67% of us who live within 10km of work. To do that will need our local councils to start showing some leadership. They’ve looked at what people in the UK tend to use their bikes for (a grown-up’s toy for use in leisure time), and tended to create infrastructure that serves those needs. If they’re serious about reducing car use and their carbon footprints’, then it’s time they treated cycling as more than a weekend thing, annexed off to non-core parts of their budgets, and put firmly into their transport infrastructure strategies.