Can we ‘go Dutch’ in Brighton?

Nearly 40% of Brighton & Hove households do not own a car or van, and a declining minority travel to work by car.

It’s very easy to live in Brighton without owning a car – the city is pretty compact, and it doesn’t take long to get from anywhere to anywhere by bus, bike or on foot. We have a good public transport networks (though of course they would be better if they were publicly owned, properly integrated and cheaper to use).

As you would expect, with the lowest level of car ownership in the South East, we also have a low proportion of people travelling to work by car – just 37%, compared to 60% in the South East.

However, this pattern is not replicated when it comes to bicycles. I couldn’t find specific figures for Brighton, but nationally around 43% of people own or have access to a bike. Yet only 5% of Brighton residents cycle to work. And that’s high, compared with the South East or the rest of England.

Why are cycling rates so low? As the BBC found out this week, the biggest reason is that people are scared to cycle on the roads. And who can blame them, when very little effort is made on most UK roads to keep people on bikes away from terrifying lorries, buses and cars?

After years of increasingly impatient pressure from campaigners in London and around the country, a growing movement led by cyclists is demanding decent space for cycling – protected cycle ways on main roads and smaller roads made truly safe, with low speeds and protection from rat-running.

This is not a revolutionary demand. It’s something they take for granted in the Netherlands, where nobody is “a cyclist” because everybody rides bikes. Children ride their bikes to school. Parents carry babies and toddlers on their bikes. People carry shopping by bike.

Though it seems the most natural thing in the world now, the Netherlands hasn’t become a cycling paradise by magic. It is the result of policy decisions and a serious level of spending. The Dutch decided to make cycling attractive and safe, rather than doing what the UK and many other countries have done, and designing roads only for cars.

I’m excited to be going on a short trip to Assen, in the Netherlands, at the beginning of September, to see how Dutch streets are designed. I’m hoping to come back to Brighton with ideas for how things could be different here, particularly for residential areas like Hanover, where I live. If anybody has specific questions they would like me to try and find answers to, please let me know in the comments box or on Twitter.

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