It is widely recognised that, if we want to encourage more people to cycle, attractive, good quality cycleways need to be built. But what exactly do we mean by “good quality”?
Our standards - what do we deem cyclable?
It is a rare and beautiful thing to ride a cycle route that is 100% traffic-free, wide enough to accommodate two chatty cycling friends side by side, with a wonderful smooth and well-maintained surface traversing diverse terrains, yet without any steep gradients to negotiate. Not to mention the vagaries of the weather. In reality, even in the most cycle-friendly regions of the world, cyclists need to know how to make the best of often disconnected sections of better or poorer cycling infrastructure.
Special: cycling in rural areas
Whilst much has been written about city cycleways, there is less information and debate about cycling in rural areas. Yet some of the best cycleways are found in rural areas. In Germany, for example there is the 240km-long Ruhrtalweg. Like the EV8 in Provence, this uses old railway routes. Nearby is the 22 kilometre long Nordbahn. It is motor-traffic-free, and includes 5 properly lit tunnels and several viaducts. In the Netherlands, a series of fast bike highways – snelfietsroute – are being developed, primarily with commuters in mind. These extend to both urban and rural areas.
The Nordbahn in Wuppertal in north-west Germany
Challenge: a 120 km cycle path in Provence
And so we turn to Provence, where cycling is still primarily a challenge sport rather than a means of transport. Bringing a cycleway to this area is something quite unique – the nearest existing cycleway before EV8 was started is 25 kilometres to the south, where a cycleway starts in the town of Trets and ends 12 kilometres farther west. So building a 120 kilometre long cycleway presents a lot of challenges, whether topographical, cultural, or financial.
Meeting these challenges is the comité d’itinéraire de l’EuroVelo 8. Launched in 2015, it covers the full 850 kilometres of EV8 in France from Perthus to Menton. In that year, only 30% of those 850 kilometres were complete, most of which lie to the west in Languedoc-Roussillon. Work on the rest is ongoing, but due to a lack of financial support it is painfully slow.
Where can we cycle now?
Meanwhile, anyone wishing to cycle sections of the EV8 here in Provence have a couple of options.
First, cyclists can follow the “official” route. Authorities across the French stretch of the EV8 have decided to create a provisional, signed route, using local roads as a means of connecting the existing sections of cycleway. These so-called “jalonnement” lead cyclists along quiet country lanes, but also onto the main, and often busy, departmental roads that the route follows.
Alternatively, cyclists can use local knowledge to find better alternatives. Like cyclists the world over, we have got to know little-used lanes and tracks that are more or less cyclable. But in the case of EV8, options are changing all the time, as new stretches are worked on or left partially finished. We have found that there are stretches of the future EV8, not yet sign-posted or officially opened, that can be used by cyclists willing to accept poor surfaces in exchange for a largely car-free experience.
Local cyclists’ secrets
These are the local cyclist secrets we aim to share with you. Wherever there is such an alternative to the official route, we’ll try to give an objective assessment of its advantages and disadvantages.
Regarding motorised traffic, our ideal is complete separation. However, there are times when a small amount of local traffic is acceptable, provided their speed is limited. The problem that motor traffic poses is most obvious at tunnels. The solution in other countries is to simply make it impossible for motor traffic to access these. It is unclear whether this is a policy that will be pursued here in Provence. Meanwhile, tunnels at minimum need to be well lit and made more difficult for motor traffic to speed through.
So what makes a great rural cycleway? The Austrian cycle touring company Eurobike describes it as follows:
- Few confusing parts and bottlenecks
- Priority for cyclists on the path
- Wide lanes, which also allow for overtaking
- Cyclist-friendly businesses along the route
- Optimal road surface
- Adequate lighting
- Path off the road
To this we would add:
- Little or no motor traffic
- Few or no steep gradients
- Direct routes
- Enjoyable landscapes
It would be great to see the EV8 develop according to best practice. But clearly there are other pressures at play. We ourselves have experienced local motorists aggressively complaining to us that we slowed them down in an EV8 tunnel. The quality of the future cycleway will have as much to do with local politics as available finance.