DARLINGTON GOES DUTCH
Name two cities at opposite ends of the “cyclisation” scale – to use Dutch terminology. One is Groningen in Holland, the other is Darlington in England, taking part in National Bike Week (June 17-25).
Groningen, as readers of the Independent were reminded last week, is the most cycling friendly city in Holland, where 60 per cent travel by bike.
Day Five of the Independent’s series on cycling focused on Holland, with a report entitled: “It pays to go Dutch”.
This examined how cycling became a way of life for the Dutch, and asks, can it happen in Britain?
US cycling magazine Bicycle named Groningen “No 1 Bicycling City” of the world.
The creation of this cyclists’ paradise has taken 25 years, beginning when the planning authorities faced with transport gridlock, ripped out the cross town motorways, banned cars from whole sections of the city centre, and began constructing over 200 kilometres of bike routes.
It was not without a fight, the retail sector feared loss of trade, and were pleasantly surprised that the reverse happened, as far more people came to shop because of the improved environment.
Today, Groningen is the model cycling city others would love to emulate.
Which brings us to Darlington, which is about as unfriendly a cycling town you will find, with a ring road system across which cyclists fear to pedal, which severs routes into the town. In Darlington, one per cent of journeys are by bike in a population of 90,000.
Could Darlington be Britain’s Groningen? The city hopes to demonstrate the same political will as the Dutch, with a long-term commitment to cycling. When Cycling England, the government-funded body, sought six towns to become models of cycling excellence, Darlington was included for its brave vision.
The other five towns are Aylesbury, Brighton, Derby, Exeter and Lancaster. Already, Darlington is seeing improvements.
Caroline Moses of Karol Marketing Group, promoting Darlington’s cycling project,
told Cycling Weekly that cycling to schools has increased 120 per cent. Cycle routes are planned, cycle loan and training schemes, too, she said.
During Bike Week, Darlington is running evening cycle rides for women only and families, plus the annual Bikeathon from South Park this coming Sunday (June 25).
Owen Wilson, of the Local Motion Campaign, is running the Darlington project.
He told the Independent that the big problem in people’s perception that cycling is dangerous.
Wilson’s team will be out knocking on doors of 40,000 residents and visiting schools in the town centre, to provide information and resources to encourage people to overcome their fears, to discover that the more cyclists there are the safer it becomes.
Darlington aims to triple cycling journeys by 2010 and has set its sights on increasing cycling use to 10 per cent of journeys.