Recently returned from England, I felt compelled to share my observations. The very current issue of sustainable transport links affects us all and there are different approaches in different countries.
Firstly, travelling from the aiport, it was immediately apparent how bad the roads are in England. They were in quite bad shape when I moved to Germany and have got worse in the last two years. This has a double negative consequence. Cyclists cannot/will not use the roads as the potholes and road edges collapsing into drain covers make it too dangerous. Secondly, due to these defects, drivers buy SUVs and more off-road type vehicles because lesser cars suffer catastrophic suspension damage on a regular basis. Local Authorities spend more on damage compensation and road repairs than they do on sustainable transport planning.
The lack of clean, fast and integrated public transport means that there are few alternatives to the vehicle and there are not enough bicycle superhighways between the larger conurbations, especially in the South East where traffic is at a standstill most of the time. Ironically, old branch rail lines between smaller towns which were axed in the 1960’s (like the West Berlin Tram network), have been repurposed as safe, flat cycleways, often in association with Sustrans to form part of the national cycle network.
These do provide a safer leisure experience for all and can be virtually empty on weekdays, however they can end suddenly where an old Victorian bridge or viaduct may have been which has been demolished, or more often, where new houses and roads have been built without incorporating the cycle path. Long ago in the heyday of rail travel in the UK, these branch lines served as a nationwide network of suburban links and cars were often only used for ‘outings’. This enabled locals to have the freedom of the roads on foot and on bike.
Cyclists and pedestrians living in Berlin can count themselves lucky. Yes, I understand the arguments about the unsafe lanes/junctions/attitudes of drivers, but until you have been forced into a gutter and blown a tyre or bent your rim out of shape, you should enjoy what you have in this non-crowded city. True, it is not as perfect as the Netherlands or Danmark but those countries do not have any car industry propping up their eceonomy, they have alternatives to cars and have a positive enough national mindset to move on.
One of the reasons I decided to move to Berlin was the great experience of cycling and walking I have had over the past 10 years coming here. It is one of the better capital cities for green space and its public transport system is good and cheap (and electric). Try getting on a dirty diesel train in England with a bicycle! And my one stop, 6 minute, 8km train journey from Harpenden to Luton airport cost €10! One way, no bicycle.