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My favorite city now by some margin is Amsterdam, it’s a beautiful place, full of beautiful people and has looked after the planet via cycling more than any other city in Europe. It really is amazing that Amsterdam has most of its city on bikes, meanwhile here in Newcastle we had a cycle rental scheme for a couple of months until the council got tired of the bikes ending up in the Tyne. I don’t think I realized how severely bad the UK is with cycling, until attending Alan Wann’s lecture. But is it really all that bad for sustainable transport in the UK?

In recent years across the UK the government have been doing there best to promote cycling in the most ham-fisted way you can probably imagine. As mentioned before rent a bike schemes are thrown into a city and the government just kind of expects them to miraculously transform someone’s way of life. The government want it to happen to cut the carbon footprint and endorse exercise to the public, both essential in the current environmental climate and to tackle the serious issue of obesity rates in the UK.

What is often missed by cities not just in the UK, but across Europe is the nuance that goes into constructing roads and paths, it’s Urban Design 101 that we as designers need to see space as a series of relationships and not a street of individual parts. Doing this creates a symbiotic system where each part is reliant on the other, as a result these connections create a strong network. Cycle paths need to get this same treatment otherwise cycling will never truly take off, as bikes are often running on an infrastructure that doesn’t welcome them. To say the least the implementation of cycle paths in the UK is pretty half baked. But this also applies to other aspects of sustainable transport, the networks of trams/metros and bus routes are as equally important.


So, it sounds pretty damning of the UK doesn’t it? Well it’s not so bad as it seems, sure cycling is poorly implemented but London is doing well in other regards. In the ‘Sustainable Cities Mobility Index 2017’ London is listed 7th in the world, above Amsterdam which is listed in at 11th. This is because London has a huge platform for other methods of sustainable transport, London has an extensive bus and underground rail network, which has recorded:


  • In 2018/19 a total of 2,220 million journeys were made on London’s Buses
  • 1,384 million journeys on the Underground network

This is sustainability, although not in its purest form. Of course buses and railways aren’t exactly completely environmentally friendly, and because of this places like Amsterdam may seem much more Eco-friendly because of their emphasis on cycling instead, along with getting the population fitter, hitting those two birds with one stone which the UK government has desperately wanted to do for a long time. However on the scale that it’s at, these networks significantly reduces the carbon footprint in the capital, this is because unlike the cycle routes London has strong established railways and roads, they were never made to accommodate bikes, and thus other methods work much better in endorsing sustainability.

Well that’s the capital, but what about the rest of the country?

Manchester is an interesting one. In the same list of Mobility sustainability, it’s down at 35th, for context that’s below the concrete jungle New York City. On a smaller scale to London, yet the capital is better off with an extra 10.6%. So perhaps the rest of the country isn’t getting as much love and care that London is getting, the funding is always there, but always seeming a bit mislead, with the failed cycle schemes in Newcastle and Reading as an example. Again, instead of playing to a cities strength and what would work and instead going to what seems ‘ideal’.

Bottom Line

What’s to be taken away by this is that there are more sustainable methods than just cycling. Yeah, it’s the holy grail of sustainability, with one solid infrastructure you can tackle so many issues all at once but trying to do so some cities forget what they are and what they have. Trying to squeeze a bike into a square shaped hole simply won’t work, Amsterdam works because it’s established routes since the 1890’s and it’s deep in its culture to cycle for their own reason, the UK doesn’t have that, and is much more powerful playing to its strengths in understanding metro lines and buses. Sustainability is a vast language, there isn’t one direct answer, but many, the sooner we understand that the sooner we can get it done.


[1] Arcadis (2019) Sustainable Cities Mobility Index [online] Available at: [Accessed 10th Jan. 2020].

[2] BBC (2019) Reading cycle hire scheme ReadyBike to end [online] Available at: [Accessed 12th Jan. 2020].

[3] ChronicleLive (2019) ‘A real shame’ – cyclists react to Mobike’s Newcastle exit and demand action from council [online] Available at: [Accessed 12th Jan. 2020].

[4] (2019). Cycling UK’s Cycling Statistics | Cycling UK. [online] Available at: [Accessed 10th Jan. 2020].

[5] Parliament (2019) Obesity Statistics [Online] Available At: [Accessed 12th Jan 2020]

[6] The Guardian (2015) How Amsterdam became the bicycle capital of the world [online]Available at: [Accessed 12th Jan. 2020].

[7] Transport for London (2019) Annual Report and Statement of Accounts [online] Available at: [Accessed 10th Jan. 2020].


All Photos Taken by Ben Johnson

One response to “Amsterdam if you do. Damned if you don’t.”

  1. The author mainly focuses on bicycles as a portable and sustainable mode of transportation, and also reflects on changes in the surroundings, and the promotion of bicycles in other cities in the United Kingdom except London is not far enough. Bicycles are relatively very short-distance Convenient, can also effectively reduce the obesity problem in the British, but its safety, as well as various geographical conditions, weather adaptability also has a great impact on people’s choice of travel methods, such as the Newcastle city center , Roads are high and low, cycling is more tiring than walking, and it often rains. Even if the government or company invests in this, no large-scale people will choose this way of travel, it is better to pay attention to other Sustainable ways to travel, such as how to encourage more people to use public transport. In fact, compared to my country, China, I think the UK is doing a very good job, and I like the way of travel here, but my country is overpopulated, which makes it convenient, but it will also It often causes congestion, especially in the past few years, the household purchase rate has increased year by year, and it will definitely face greater challenges in the future. Moreover, China ’s architectural layout is different from that in the UK. Almost every time you go out, you must drive or You can get there by car.

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