Scenes from the border

Time for more holiday snaps now!

For some reason, crossing a border seems like it should be and exciting event. Perhaps it’s because most of us live far from a border of any sort. Although I live close to the anti-cycling wastelands of Westminster, the actual border isn’t marked in any way – perhaps there should be a cycle-and-crossbones sign.

While in Maastricht recently, the lure of crossing the border into Belgium got the better of us and we rode out to see it. (The lure of crossing the border into Germany was also present, but more on that later in another post.)

The border itself is a bit of a let down – the Netherlands and Belgium removed their border controls in 1970 so there’s not much to see – but I did find something interesting on the ground. Can you see what it is?

A photo of the border of Netherlands and Belgium. The road surface in Netherlands is much better for cycling.

Can you tell where the border is? (And yes, those are hills in the background.) A sunnier view can be found here.

A close-up of the road at the Netherlands/Belgium border, showing change in road surface

How about a close-up – which side has better cycle facilities?

The change isn’t always as stark as this. In some places the cycling facilities fizzle out before the border, probably in the knowledge that no sane Dutchman is going to ride across it. And in other places the cycling facilities continue some way across the border. But in some locations the difference is even more striking:

Two photos of the same road, one pointing into the Netherlands (with separate cycle path) and one pointing into Belgium (narrow painted cycle lanes).

Belgium vs Netherlands, see it for yourself here (Google Streetview) and here (Bing aerial photos).

The two photos above are taken from the same location, but pointing in different directions, and the difference couldn’t be more stark. I think this road is so wide because it was once a border crossing point, but while the Netherlands has made it a pleasant and safe environment, Belgium has instead decided to utilise the space to use up their surplus road paint supply.

Note how the generous two-way separate cycle path in the Netherlands (which you can see on the left of the top photo) becomes a narrow painted lane at the edge of the road in Belgium. Follow the road further south and you’ll see that the narrow painted lane is all you’ll get.

There’s also another one-way cycle path in the top photo, on the other side of the road, to allow northbound cyclists safe access to the two-way cycle path, and to provide access to the waterside.

Here’s another location:

Two photos of the border of the Netherlands and Belgium. Netherlands has separate cycle paths, Belgium has narrow painted lanes.

Which side looks more attractive to cycling to you? See it for yourself here (Google StreetView) or here (Bing aerial photos).

Again, good quality separated cycle paths turn into narrow painted lanes at the border.

Is there a point to this post? I don’t think so, other than that I thought readers of this blog might find it interesting. And because I love the Netherlands! (Belgium will have to work harder to win my love.)


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6 responses to “Scenes from the border

  1. Jim Moore

    The point I take from this is that even a country right next to the Netherlands chooses to ignore the lessons the latter provides. Perhaps this will make recalcitrants like CTC and other Anglophone cycling advocacy orgs realise that they haven’t been alone in their ignorance. Though I suspect they may turn this around and say that if Dutch cycling infrastructure is so good then why is one of their neighbours not installing similar.

    I can’t understand why the Belgians have done this, after all they make the Achielle, one of the most stylish bike brands in the world. It probably as you say has something to do with the local topography (“too hilly”).

  2. You can get a similar experience when cycling from Camden to Westminster on the old LCN Route 0. Nice post.

    • Paul M

      Indeed you can, although at the moment the effect is less marked because the final 100m on Howland St between Charlotte St and the border at New Cavendish St has been blocked off by builders’ hoardings.

      A similar effect can be seen where the borough of Gosport (about 7th in UK for cycling frequency – better than Hackney and par with Bristol) meets the borough of Fareham (116th out of 326, and lower than South Glos) in Hampshire. Never quite up to Dutch standards, but quite a decent, wide, parallel off-road cycle path comes to an abrupt end on the border. It does in fact do a 90 deg right turn to continue, along the border, to two of the principal schools in the borough, but it cannot escape!

  3. My experience of Belgian cycle facilities only comes from riding the Tour of Flanders this year but, whilst not up to Dutch standards, even from the photos above you can see the standard is way better than UK provision. There was a reasonable amount off carriageway and I’m pretty sure it had priority over side roads.

    The top picture doesn’t look great but at least the on carriageway provision in the second picture is a decent width, full time, and mandatory.

    Dutch preferred but a signifier of just how bad UK standards are.

  4. Pingback: Podsumowanie inwestycji drogowych w 2015 r. – jak wpłynęły na warunki do jazdy na rowerze? | Zrównoważona Mobilność w Jaworznie

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