Well a week in Ghent, Belgium resulted in starting with a cold on the journey home on Friday night. Saturday wasn't too bad - I managed a short walk to test out a new pair of winter boots (not bought in Belgium!) but Sunday was a washout - I only got out of bed for a total of four hours.
An interesting point of note was the number of cyclists in Ghent. They weren't your lycra clad, turbo-charged style commuters but people dressed in their work day clothes going to and from work; mothers on converted tandems with babies or toddlers in a covered cot in place of one of the seats; old and young there was no typical cyclist, everyone was doing it.
The infrastructure helps - not just a couple of bike racks at the station and maybe a shop or two but storage for fifty or more bikes every couple of hundred metres. The main train station had bike racks covering an area around at least 100 metres by 200 metres and was packed! See the photos in the post "My Bike is Lost!" and this shot on flickr to see what I mean.
The bikes themselves were nothing out of the ordinary, being the old "sit up and beg" style, in fact I saw only a couple of mountain bikes and no road bikes at all. The bikes at the racks were all locked up but with pretty basic locks compared to what we'd consider acceptable in this country, but then we'd only consider commuting on a bike that cost £1000 or more. If any of the bikes in use cost more than €200 I would be surprised so much less attractive to steal but since virtually everyone seemed to have one there is probably not much point in stealing them. Something like this was probably top end of the range.
The one downside was that cyclists appeared to be allowed to ride anywhere in any direction even against traffic on one-way streets. Given the lack of tooting of horns or shouts about "not being allowed on the road!" I'd say that it was accepted, you did have to watch out when walking though! The speeds most were moving at were less than 10MPH, 6MPH being a much more realistic value, a collision would have hurt only pride, motor vehicles were limited to 30KPH. The only real downside I could see was having to avoid the slots formed by the tram rails.
Why can't we do this in our city centres? The cost of installing regular blocks of bike racks, a decent number not just a couple at each location, is minimal compared to the costs of traffic congestion and the future costs of poor health. Add in a few bye-laws allowing cyclists low speed access to the pedestrianised areas of city centres and the only thing stopping it is the selfish nature of some sections of the populace.
It'll never happen of course :-(