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Cycling in Oxford

I have no clue whether my blog has readers that do not know me otherwise. For those that don’t know: I live in Oxford, England, since Saturday last week. I am staying here to do an internship at Oxford Brookes University.

There are many things that I notice while being here. Cultural differences, differences in economy etc, but I think it would be most interesting to discuss one of the most fundamental things. Getting around. And for a Dutchman that means getting around by bike.

When I was in Southampton earlier this year, I skipped my planned cycling trip. I saw people cycling on the fringe of a road with two lanes, and this, in combination with the fact that I had to cycle on the left side of the road, made me cancel my trip. I decided to go around by foot. Now, I moved to Oxford and I had to make a decision. The first two days, I had to go around by bus and foot. Besides of the fact that I walked huge distances I paid at around four pounds to go back and forth to the city centre.

Since I have to go ‘down the road’ quite a couple of times, and since I want to go to the city centre every now and then, I decided that I had to buy a bike. After some problems finding a bike, I now have one at my disposal. Wednesday I drove to the department, but Thursday was the real first test, I had to go to the other end of town.

It is certainly not like cycling at home. There are only very few cycling lanes. On Wednesday, the first real difficulty came. I had to pass a roundabout, and I did not know whether I should cycle close to the centre or at the outside of the roundabout. Strange. Then I realised that there is almost never a roundabout in the Netherlands where there is no cycling lane. If there is, it is in a quiet residential area or something, so you can usually take it however you want. Now there was other traffic. I decided to take roundabouts always on the outside.

The second thing that I noticed is that there are sometimes cycling lanes, but right when you would need them the most, they seem to disappear. At the points where the streets are the most narrow the cycling lanes are ‘sacrificed’, so that there is more room for cars. This sometimes has as a consequence that you go from cycling lane, to road, to cycling lane and back to the road again in a couple of hundred meters.

Some of the roads basically have three, or sometimes four, lanes. On one lane there is buses and taxies, and on the other two (or three) lanes the cars are going. The bus-stops are on the left lane, and sometimes, you cannot go past the buses that are waiting at the stops. You have to wait behind the buses, smelling their fumes, and wait until the passengers are ‘processed’ before I can go further. Of course that happens on some Dutch roads as well, but the streets in Oxford are, fortunately, quite busy with buses.

All in all, the traffic flows, but it is certainly not like at home. It seems right now that the cycling part is one of the few things that I truly miss from the Netherlands. I know my way around now, and I know my position on the road, but this is one of the aspects that the Netherlands is rightly famous for and this is one of the few occasions that I am really proud to be a Dutchman.

Driving on the left side is the least of the problems. I haven’t made a single mistake with it yet, and I hope to keep it that way. If I do make the mistake, I will have to jump on the sidewalk or something to save myself.

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