Infrastructure

A highly unscientific report on cycling in Seville

Flamenco, oranges and sunshine are usually the first things that spring to mind when Seville is mentioned, with cycling infrastructure last place on the list of sights. After all, junctions and bollards aren’t everyone’s idea of a good time. However, when you say the word “Seville” to a bunch of cycle campaigners, the chat on bike lanes comes thick and fast.

Seville is well-known for its investment in segregated cycling infrastructure and is considered a poster-child for cities with little on offer when it comes to cycling provision. With this in hand, myself and some fellow campaigners decided it was the perfect place to visit in order to see what Scotland could do on the active travel front with more investment. Of course, it is also sunny and warm, and for us four Scotland-based campaigners the UV rays and non-sub-zero temperatures were arguably more of a selling point than the blissful cycling.

Four intrepid and sun-starved cycle campaigners bask in the sunshine and enjoy the glow of stress-free cycling

About ten years ago the local government bunged in 120km of separated cycling routes in Seville and the city hasn’t cycled backwards since, with modal share rocketing up from less than 1% to over 6% of all journeys in little over five years. So what was cycling in Seville like?

Pretty easy and enjoyable, as it turned out. Seville isn’t hilly, but it is tarmac-meltingly hot (summers routinely hit over 40C) so it’s a wonder I managed any cycling at all what with the extended bouts of sun cream slathering on every visible part of my body.

Despite the scorching heat everyday cycling is the done thing here, with people on bikes a regular sight. High vis and body armour, helmets and the like are a non-entity because people riding rarely have to interact with traffic, if at all.

The infrastructure is far from perfect, but it gets the job done. This is something to be mindful of – as campaigners we should obviously strive for Dutch-style best practice when it comes to cycle infrastructure design in our local communities, but the practicalities of less-than-amazing segregated infra do encourage more people to get cycling for everyday journeys. Separation from traffic is key, alongside direct routes that take people to places they actually want to visit.

It’s fair to note that our visit was hardly a rigorous examination of the infrastructure on offer so my thoughts are really only impressions and takeaways from cycling about for several days (they do make orange wine in Seville and it’s sunny, so forgive us for our lax scientific attention to detail).

We encountered lots of tight bends, trees literally in the middle of the cycle lane, longish waits at traffic lights and tight squeezes due to the narrowness of the two-way lanes. The old and beautiful city centre was devoid of any decent cycling infra at all. But a lot of people were cycling, so the sometimes ropey provision has succeeded in the task at hand.

Where Seville seems to have chickened out is the reallocation of road space away from vehicles and over to people who walk and cycle. By and large, the bike routes had been squeezed onto existing pedestrian footways, with absolutely massive roads left untouched. This did really bug me, as I don’t think walking  should be compromised for cycling.

There is apparently a reason why this happened, with political tos and fros and an eventual compromise in the form of bike lanes being given the green light as long as they didn’t encroach on cars’ space. So motorist worship is still well embedded in Andalusia and it seems that more work needs to be done on Seville’s space reallocation, despite the clear evidence of an impressive modal shift to cycling.

This is just a bit crap for all concerned, but somehow it still works. See massive road space left untouched, obviously.

With these gripes aired, I can still absolutely 100% state that everyday cycling was far, far superior to anything in Scotland to date. The connected nature of the infrastructure was vital with a proper network within densely populated areas of the city, it was completely separate from traffic, it was clearly visible to ensure as little pedestrian conflict as possible despite the squeezes, it was used by people on all kinds of bikes, it was kept well away from tramlines and crossed them at appropriate angles, was mostly well surfaced and was completely stress-free and easy to use. So that’s a win in my book.

Cycling is splendidly relaxed when there’s no traffic to contend with

Using a bike to get around is, in my view, the most civilised and sensible way to get from A to B in dense urban areas. It’s difficult to articulate just how relaxed and enjoyable it was to explore the city by bike without tangling in traffic; the sights, smells and sounds of Seville made the ride from A to B even more fun and there was no stress or hassle at all.

Infrastructure means people cycling can look like actual human beings wearing actual normal clothes

After seeing Seville’s successes first-hand, the need for more investment in Scotland to make cycling a real option for people is even clearer for me. On a trip to the Netherlands last year I visited a cycling utopia with 40 years’ head start on Scotland. But Seville is much, much closer to where we are now, and the gains it has seen from cycling investment have been evidenced through various studies and actual proper science and that.

So cheers Seville, it was a great trip and an eye-opener to what my home nation could achieve in a short space of time. Let’s drink to a future cycle-friendly Scotland 🙂

Marmalade wine makes cycling infrastructure chat even MORE fun. ¡Salud!

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A new bike rider’s perspective on cycling in Edinburgh

**I attended a support ride for the East West cycle route in Edinburgh today. Sadly, my partner Jon couldn’t make it. So instead he’s written a piece from his perspective as a new rider on Edinburgh’s impending decision on the route.**

Getting in the saddle

It was back in February that I ditched the bus pass and start cycling to work from Corstorphine to Orchard Brae. There wasn’t one deciding factor for the change, but between saving £50 on a monthly bus pass, avoiding lengthy bus queues and getting fitter, switching to two wheels seemed a good idea.

I’d bought a bike in 2014, going out for the occasional weekend cycle on city back roads, but not taking a chance on busy main roads. Despite being the fastest way to get from A to B, I felt that cycling busy, trafficked streets wasn’t much fun.

The madness of barriers preventing accessible cycle routes (and accessible routes full stop).

The madness of barriers preventing accessible cycle routes (and accessible routes full stop).

There are a few issues facing the new cyclist, from building confidence on roads to finding a route that gets you to work safely and, hopefully, quickly. I’m lucky to have a cycling-mad partner (**way-hey! Fame!**) who had a copy of the Spokes Edinburgh Map which includes various potential routes that looked promising on paper.

I was also introduced to the City Cycling Edinburgh Forum, a friendly bunch that offered plenty of advice for a newbie.

With some support, plus a couple of trial journeys that took me down some dead ends and into the path of some pretty hellish traffic on Queensferry Road, I was soon negotiating the quieter streets of Corstorphine, Murrayfield and Roseburn. Bear in mind, I had a four mile commute – it was a lot of effort to find a safe cycle route.

Within six months I’d dropped a jean size, saved a few hundred quid and found a fantastic new way of getting to work that brings the city to life every day.

I also realised the strange situation that Edinburgh’s active travellers – that’s cyclists and pedestrians – find themselves.

Making Edinburgh more cycle friendly

Roseburn cycle route option a

Thanks to Andy Catlin for this great image from the support ride

I’ve recently started a new job in the city centre, so gone is my daily Orchard Brae round trip. One of the most awkward parts of my new commute is Roseburn. On leaving leafy Roseburn Park and arriving on Roseburn Place, the ideal option would be to turn up Roseburn Street onto Roseburn Terrace, before taking off towards Haymarket via West Coates, just like the cars do.

Instead I have to take an awkward detour through Dalry, onto the canal, through corporate plazas before reaching the city centre without tangling in too much traffic.

A direct cycle route into town would be ideal, and I’m sure would encourage many others to hop on a bike. The current set up makes this area a pretty horrendous option for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians alike, but it’s something that’s currently being debated by numerous parties as Edinburgh Council gets set to decide on a new route that will favour active travel (pedestrians and cyclists), the City Centre West to East Link.

It’s a heated debate, with those in favour of change pointing out that segregating bikes from drivers on the journey into the city centre will help make the journey safer for everyone, while pedestrians will also be given more space to walk the pavement and cross at the lights.

Similar schemes can be found around the world, with good levels of success. There’s more footfall for local shops, more people are encouraged to take their bike to work and everyday journeys thereby reducing the number of cars on the road and the pollution they cause. In the long term it’s win-win for residents and commuters.

Like any big changes, there’s been opposition to the proposals, driven by scaremongering that overlooks key facts, but it’s understandable that change is seen as a bad thing for those at the centre of it. Perhaps some of them will look at evidence-based arguments.

Where next for Edinburgh?

There are three choices for the Council when it comes to Roseburn – A and B or nothing at all.

If the West to East Link falls foul of Edinburgh Council and they either choose Option B or to scrap the whole thing, then I suspect we’ll see fewer people taking up cycling and car usage increasing over the next few years.

The brave option would be to go for Option A, but in the current political climate, I’m not sure if councillors are brave enough to face the wrath of a minority of vocal council tax payers.

There’ll be some hardy souls who’ll keep taking up cycling, but to my mind riding a bike to get around shouldn’t be seen as a game of Russian Roulette that will hopefully result in the winner getting home in one piece.

Cycling and walking deserve to be at the heart of our council’s transport plan. Shouldn’t we be trying to make Edinburgh cleaner and healthier for everyone?

Spending the day cycling in Clackmannanshire

Summer seems to be slipping through my fingers, and with its slide there is an accompanying mild panic that I am not fitting in enough exploration of Scotland on two wheels while the weather is playing fair. Thankfully, I am not the only person currently experiencing this sensation, and so to that end my pal Suzanne and I hatched a plan to spend a weekend in the Highlands cycling. Sadly, as time is wont to do, it disappeared in typical fashion and we found we didn’t have enough of it to plan a few nights away with the pair of us and her adorable mini-cyclist. So instead we decided to go to Clackmannanshire on a day adventure!

The Ochil hills of Clacks looking particularly lovely

The Ochil hills of Clacks looking  lovely. That high-quality stretch of path is also pretty glorious.

I have to admit, Clackmannanshire didn’t really inspire much in me when we initially decided to pay it a visit by bike. Suzanne was keen to explore the cycling in the local authority as it was considered a good bet for wee legs and little bikes as there is a decent network of shared use paths and cycle-friendly roads around the area. It’s a small local authority, so it’s relatively easy to connect to places by bike.

The Clackmannanshire network at a glance

The Clackmannanshire network at a glance. You may need to zoom in to see it, though!

After the familiar fight on the Scotrail train from Waverley, whereby four grown ups attempted to squeeze four and a half bikes into a space that comfortably takes two (whilst simultaneously receiving glares and a telling off from the guard), we made a tight connection at Stirling and alighted, slightly frazzled but in one piece, at Alloa.

Our adventure began with various squints at the map and spots of the Sustrans blue signs that highlighted our way around the cycle network. We took the NCN 768 to Alva, which was almost entirely on wide and well maintained shared use paths. When we hit Tillicoultry I almost felt like i was in the Netherlands, as there was a fully segregated path running parallel to the busy A91 into Alva. Of course, with no tangling in traffic the cycle journey was stress free and highly enjoyable for all concerned.

Other than jelly babies, this infrastructure makes cycling with a four year old a doddle.

Other than jelly babies, this infrastructure makes cycling with a four year old a doddle.

I learned a fair bit cycling with a little one. As I don’t have sprogs of my own, cycling with a child provides a whole other bucket of considerations that sit outside of a solo rider’s thought processes. For example, our route included small sections on rural road and even though they were quiet and non-threatening I still had nerves about the mini-adventurer and traffic. With two of us to tag-team with the little guy everything went without a hitch, but it was a good way for me to learn more about cycling with kids.

Gear like the follow-me tagalong is impressive and means everyone can enjoy the amazing activity of cycling

Gear like the follow-me tagalong is impressive and means everyone (including mini-cyclists with tired legs) can enjoy the amazing activity of cycling

One of the best things about the day was our relaxed pace. Family-paced cycling has a lot to be said for itself. You literally stop and smell the flowers. You point out the animals, plants and people you see as you tootle along. There is lots of discussion about treats and sweeties and cakes, and it all just fits so wonderfully together that it feels like the most natural way possible to travel.

Sharing the cycle path with a child unfurls so many bonuses to a bike trip.

Sharing the cycle path with a child unfurls so many bonuses to a bike trip.

Of course, our day trip wasn’t 100% idyllic. There were annoying barriers and dismounts, and we encountered such a ridiculous irony on the on-road cycle route that I had to stop and snap the silliness of it. A car complete with two bikes taped to its rear was parked over the cycle lane on the road in Clackmannan. Normally this would be a minor inconvenience for me, but when you have a tiny person with you the flaws in infrastructure and resulting behaviours of people take on a whole new colour.

Oh the irony of a bunch of bikes blocking the on-road cycle path.

Oh the irony of a bunch of bikes parked over the on-road cycle route.

After this ironic encounter, we took the NCN 764 to Dunfermline, a route almost wholly on disused railway line and complete with abandoned brickworks. The route stretched for something like 12 miles on the old railway and we encountered other cyclists and walkers enjoying the day.

#brickworks #clackmannan #oldruins #instascotland #clackmannanshire #chimney #abandonded #abandonedscotland

A post shared by Brian Allan (@brianallan7) on

 

Upon reaching Dunfermline, the map came back into force and we struggled our way through the town. It always confuses me that cycling routes are so grimly signposted in urban areas, but so easy to follow in the sticks. You’d think it would be the other way around, right? After negotiating a gyratory-type roundabout and blender-esque junctions in the town, complete with bizarre breadcrumb-style painted bikes on the ground, we made it into the park and finally train station.  Huzzah!

Clacks offers some spectacularly good cycling.

Clacks offers some spectacularly good cycling.

I would just like to say bravo to Clackmannanshire Council for maintaining such a good shared path network. Sure, it’s not perfect, but Suzanne, the mini-cyclist and I managed 32 miles of almost pristine cycling and I think that’s a pretty good effort. Quite a few of Scotland’s local authorities could take a leaf out of Clacks’ book with their cycling provision.

I highly recommend a visit, especially if you have a family. Clacks is easily accessible by train, well connected with paths and in my experience was flat and easy to ride. Plus, it’s really pretty!

Lanzarote’s attitude to cycling

Much to my other half’s despair, I just spent two weeks with him in Lanzarote taking photos and spraffing on about the island’s cycling provision and infrastructure. Never mind sun, sand and sangria, on my trip to the Canaries I was all about the segregated cycling provision, demographic breakdowns and the impact of presumed liability.

Cycling in Lanzarote has a lot of perks

Cycling in Lanzarote has a lot of perks

Lanzarote is not only sunny, warm and visually arresting, but is very appealing for cycling. I don’t just mean all-day road rides or epic mountain bike adventures; cycling is a viable form of everyday transport. I was really impressed by the island’s attitude towards bikes, and my trip there put some things into perspective when I think about Edinburgh.

Bike at El Golfo

Bike at El Golfo

Lanzarote is a small island with a population of around 120k. Even at the peak of the summer season with a a tourist influx, the island’s population swells to around 200k, less than half the population of Edinburgh. The island is well connected with beautifully tarmaced and well-maintained roads, and isn’t overly mountainous.

There was a considerable amount of segregated infrastructure available in the resorts of Lanzarote, used by all different kinds of people.

Segregated provision in Puerto del Carmen

Segregated provision in Puerto del Carmen

Visitors use hire bikes to get around in Puerto del Carmen

Visitors use hire bikes to get around on segregated infrastructure in Puerto del Carmen

In my two weeks on the island, I saw hardly any high visibility clothing and helmet wear. Visitors and locals alike used segregated infrastructure, as well as riding happily on the road. Cycling was accessible to all ages, and it warmed my cockles to see just about every kind of person out and about on a bike.

Older people cycled happily

Older people cycled happily

Family cycling provision

Family cycling provision – see how happy this family are!

I didn’t see a single painted bike lane on the streets of Lanzarote, but interestingly vehicles appeared to be extremely courteous of cycling all over the island, including roadies out for longer spins in the Timanfaya National Park. This will be partly due to presumed liability, which ensures that the most vulnerable road users are protected and facilitates mutual respect on the road (the UK is one of only five European countries that doesn’t operate in this fashion).

I saw a lot of mountain bikers as well as roadies as I travelled around the island on a couple of bus tours. The Lanzarote landscape is spectacular and would be pretty incredible to see via a bike. The roads are immaculate and there are some good climbs to keep everyone entertained.

MTB riders take a break at Haria

MTB riders take a break at Haria

This small island does have the weather on its side, but its resident population is less than a quarter of Edinburgh’s yet the investment in segregated infrastructure and presumed liability means that cycling is normalised, popular and not the preserve of the fit and the fast.

As illustrated time and time and time again, good quality cycling provision that is safe and separate from traffic is what encourages everyday cycling. It would be unfair to say my home town is ignorant of this fact, as the recently published Roseburn to Leith consultation demonstrates that Edinburgh understands what works. I would heartily recommend you respond to the council consultation positively – it’s brave and re-allocates space from traffic to pedestrians and cyclists so it’s imperative you show your support.

I hope our city takes a leaf out of Lanzarote’s book and we start to see more segregated provision (and a bit more sunshine wouldn’t go amiss, either!). Until that happens, maybe it’s not such a bad thing to pedal off into a Canary-coloured sunset…