By Jonny Ives

A FEW months ago, before we were launched into this unexpected and seemingly endless summer, I was looking through a steamy window from inside one of George Street’s many restaurants on a darkening weekday evening. I could see the road and pavements packed with people heading home after work.

From my side of the glass it looked pretty miserable out there; an overcast sky was delivering steady rain and a strong breeze was making sure everybody and everything was getting wet.

It was a scene typical of any city-centre rush hour across the UK but as I worked my way through the menu to delay the point at which I would have to face the weather outside two things occurred to me.

First, there were plenty of people on bikes. Of course there were. This is Oxford where cycling is part of the culture. But there really were a lot of people on bikes. Despite the miserable weather, despite the buses and the cabs and the trucks, a large number of people had made the choice of a bike as their preferred mode of transport home. The bus ticket in my own pocket was a reminder that the number of people using a bike would probably be a lot higher in better conditions but the continuous flow of bikes continued.

The second thing that surprised me was my surprise. I don’t often cycle down George Street so I suppose I had never noticed that a lot of other people do. It is a major route for buses and cabs, there are numerous side roads and crossing points, much of the traffic seems to be going a bit quicker than they need to be, and it gets pretty narrow around the pinch points. It can be an unnerving place to be on a bike and is about as far from an example of a mini-Holland as one could imagine.

But still there were plenty of people on bikes. Despite the weather, despite the other vehicles and the weight of traffic, despite the lack of obvious provision for cycling, a significant number of people were on their bikes on that road on their way home. No doubt the scene was being repeated on all of the city’s other main routes out of town.

In Oxford it seems that we have a mini-Holland in spite of our selves; or perhaps more accurately our own anti-Holland. Despite very few facilities to encourage or facilitate cycling on that stretch of road, despite the other transport options available, despite the patchy state of our cycle route networks, a highly significant and highly visible number of people choose to ride a bike because it is for them the quickest, cheapest, most convenient, most predictable or just the most enjoyable way to travel.

If so many people are willing and able and determined to ride in an anti-Holland, imagine how many might ride if we made it easier and safer and more pleasant with a mini-Holland. A little encouragement could go a long way.