To whom it may concern,
I felt compelled to write to your organisation after spending several days cycling from Dover to the East Midlands, having just arrived from continental Europe. My intention was to make this journey as enjoyable and safe as possible, rather than to cover the distance in the minimum possible amount of time. Naturally therefore I looked to the National Cycle Network, in search of off-road and quiet routes through the country.
May I, then, congratulate you on having constructed one of the most comprehensive cycling infrastructures that I have come across during my bicycle travels in 34 countries.
The UK’s cycling provisions stand out for many reasons. The first and most obvious is that they exist. From a global perspective, this immediately puts the UK far ahead of the game. Given everything I’ve seen here, from long-distance routes spanning Britain in her entirety, to urban awareness schemes in almost every significant settlement, to safe cycle-paths between particular amenities and points of interest, it’s difficult to understand why the system is on the receiving end of such constant criticism in the media. I guess people don’t realise how lucky they are!
Secondly, the infrastructure not only exists, but it works, and generally it works very well. From Dover I quickly found myself headed for Canterbury on tiny country roads through beautiful rural Kent. I had no need of a map as your signage was so comprehensive and the route so well-thought out. Leaving Canterbury on the traffic-free Crab and Winkle Way north to Whitstable, I was truly flabbergasted to be in a country which was so forward thinking as to invest time and money in dedicated off-road cycle routes such the one on which I was riding. Roads built specifically for bicycles – imagine that!
Not quite so pretty but a dream for covering distance quickly and safely was the bicycle road parallel to the A2 towards London – only in the cycling haven of the Netherlands have I seen such things before. Having spent an uncomfortable amount of time sharing roads into major cities in other parts of the world with gigantic trucks, top-heavy buses and outrageously heavy traffic – the drivers of which clearly had little or no idea of general road safety, let alone a cyclist’s needs – I was overjoyed to find such a thing. Thank you.
In London itself I immediately noticed the overpowering presence of bicycle-related road markings and signs. While there didn’t appear to be much in the way of traffic-free routes in Greater London, it was noticeable how many more cyclists there were on the streets than just a few years ago when I last cycled in the British capital. It seems to be a wise move to hammer into motorists’ heads at every opportunity the fact that cyclists do in fact have the right to use the road and will exercise that right, and that in slow-moving urban traffic, co-existence is possible and practical – there is only occasionally a substantial need for dedicated bicycle lanes.
This awareness certainly appeared to be reflected in the style of driving I encountered, almost all of which was patient and courteous towards me as a cyclist. Well done for playing what I am sure must have been an instrumental part in moving the UK’s attitude forward like this. If only I hadn’t seen so many cyclists who failed to follow the highway code as well as the motorists – I am afraid that they may tarnish the reputation of London cyclists in general.
Now I’m not sure if you are involved in the relationship between cyclists and trains, but I also wanted to mention my experience taking my fully-loaded touring bicycle across London on the First Capital Connect regional train network. I was expecting a complicated system of bicycle reservations and compartments, extra fees, or – worse – not being able to take the bike at all. Instead, I found a heart-warmingly sensible system at work – outside of rush-hour, I could wheel my bike onto the train and stick it anywhere there was space. Free. On a train with precious few passengers at that time of day, it was I have to say a refreshingly common-sense approach, with no fuss involved whatsoever, in contrast with the cycle provisions on regional trains in some other parts of Europe in which I’ve had the displeasure of using them.
Heading north from London, I lost the National Cycle Network route I had planned to follow, but I quickly discovered that it didn’t really matter, because given a good map of minor roads England really is a joy for the cyclist – the landscape painted with the verdant greenery which sprouts from every nook and cranny, the stunning sunrises that herald every new day (even if the rain-clouds do rush in a few hours later), the convenient abundance of hedgerows behind which it’s so easy to hide one’s tent at night, the hearty lunchtime refreshments that can be found in every little village pub – why don’t more people cycle-tour on this lovely little island?
Of course the system isn’t perfect – if it was, Sustrans wouldn’t have anything to do! But regardless of the criticism I am sure you face, believe me when I say you’re doing a sterling job. Thank you once again for all of the above, and keep up the good work.