sustainability transport

The bikes first roundabout makes its UK debut

This week I’m combining the transport innovation and building of the week features to write about this: the Fendon Road roundabout in Cambridge. It’s the first one in the country to use a Dutch design, introduced in the Netherlands from 2010, which puts active transport users first.

Drivers slow down and give way to pedestrians, then to cyclists and then to other cars, both on entering and exiting the roundabout. It’s best understood with an aerial shot, which also shows off the flow through those concentric circles of traffic.

Car drivers will no doubt want to complain that it’s overcomplicated, but they will have to get used to coming last in the sustainable transport list of priorities. Roundabouts like this are a proven model, and they wouldn’t work if they weren’t intuitive enough. To make it easier for drivers to take in the necessary information, speeds slow to 20mph on approach, and the lanes narrow to encourage slower speeds.

Cyclists will need less convincing. By channeling bikes out to the side and then onto their own outer lane, cyclists are separated from cars throughout. This dramatically reduces the chances of an accident.

It’s no great surprise that Cambridge has built the first of these, as it’s a city that is famous for its cycling culture. There will be more of them, and it’s good to see Britain drawing inspiration from the Netherlands. Cycling in Holland was deliberately promoted, and the infrastructure provided to support it. It wasn’t something that was somehow inherently there in the culture.

Britain can do the same, and deliberately build cycling into the transport network. It will be a long term project, but the government’s active transport initiatives that were launched over the summer explicitly invite local councils to learn from Holland, and offer financial support for a dozen pilot locations outside of London. Bike based transport, after all, is not just low carbon. It is healthier, quieter, and more democratic. We should have prioritises active transport a long time ago.

“A country can be classified as underequipped if it cannot outfit each citizen with a bicycle” wrote Ivan Illich in his treatise Energy and Equity “It is underequipped if it cannot provide good roads for the cycle… No technical, economic, or ecological reason exists why such backwardness should be tolerated anywhere in 1975.” How much less in 2020.

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