City of Edinburgh Council

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?

Encouraging new bike riders with the Edinburgh Cycle Challenge

I’ve been a very busy bee recently. For the next few months I’m project managing the Love To Ride Edinburgh Cycle Challenge, a three week cycling event from 1 – 21 March funded by City of Edinburgh Council.

The aim of the game is to encourage new and occasional cyclists to get on their bike, log rides via the website or app, and win some great prizes in the process. Of course, regular cyclists are more than welcome to get involved, too.

If you live or work in Edinburgh, all you need to do is:

  1. Register yourself (and workplace) for free on the website: www.lovetoride.net/edinburgh
  2. Encourage colleagues and friends to take part.
  3. Ride a bike anywhere for 10 minutes or more between 1 – 21 March, log the ride online and win some great prizes.
  4.  Workplaces across Edinburgh compete on leaderboards to get the most people on bikes!

It’s really easy to get involved and offers a range of benefits for individuals as well as employers. A ten minute bike ride is accessible to most people, and even if participants don’t have a bike they can borrow one and enjoy a short trip somewhere they feel comfortable. Plus, it’s all about participation and not distance – cycle 1 or 100 miles and there’s the same chance of winning a prize.

The challenge also fosters a bit of friendly competition between businesses and individual departments within organisations. The leaderboard is a fun way to encourage more colleagues to jump on a bike and rediscover the joys of cycling.  But even if your workplace isn’t interested in getting involved, you can sign up as an individual and still take part. There’s no reason not to register, really! 🙂

What’s particularly interesting about the challenge is the behaviour change model that encourages more people to get cycling. On average, around 40% of non-cyclists that participate in the challenge start to ride a bike after the challenge finishes. The model is well established and successful. Take a look at this video to see how this works in practice.

But back to Edinburgh. This March’s Cycle Challenge prizes include:

  • a beautiful Gazelle Esprit bike from Hart’s Cyclery
  • B&B stay at the Cramond Mill
  • 100 cinema tickets
  • bike gear from Wee Cog
  • goodies from Route Clothing
  • massages from Blue Morpho
  • memberships to CTC
  • tickets to the Edinburgh Festival of Cycling, as well as a day’s cargo bike hire and some snazzy mugs
  • lunch for four at the Cramond Falls Cafe
  • Rich Dyson photography workshops
  • and more to be confirmed.

There are plenty of prizes up for grabs, and all for just ten minutes on a bike.  If you know anyone in the city that’s been toying with the idea of cycling or just needs a bit of a nudge, then this could be just what they need to rediscover the joys of travel by two wheels.

With the myriad of benefits cycling brings for you and your colleagues, what’s to lose with the Edinburgh Cycle Challenge? I’m encouraging organisations and individuals across the city to get involved, so I’d be delighted if you wanted to register and take part.  It’s free and good fun, so register here and get on your bike!

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…

My much less woeful George Street consultation experience

Since writing up my experience of the George Street design consultation in mid-August, there’s been a fair bit of discussion and chat about it. The City Cycling Edinburgh forum has several threads dedicated to the consultation, the blog comments have some good discussion points, and I’ve had quite a few face-to-face conversations about it, too. Who says democracy is dead, eh?

In a surprising twist, I also had a chap from the council on the phone to me last week. He was keen to hear about how I felt the consultation exercise went, and I hope I came across as honest and not-mad. We spoke for probably around 20 minutes, and I recounted my confusing and slightly depressing foray into public consultation. He was really helpful, attentive and promised to feed back my experiences. Which is really nice. Bear in mind he’s not taking forward my actual input on the George Street redesign because I’ve already done it via a blank sheet of paper and even blanker stares from consultants.

Here’s his blog comment that led to the conversation, which I think is very useful and relevant for anyone interested in George Street:

Hi Claire
I’m the guy at the Council who has been in charge of the George Street Experimental Traffic Regulation Order from the outset, so I wanted to say I’d seen your blog and thanks for posting it.

The meeting you were at (13/8) was in fact the only part of the George Street trial that I have not been in charge of and I wasn’t in attendance. I’m sorry to read how negative it was for you, especially as the rest of the project to date has been characterised by a huge effort to engage the public and to value people and their needs above all else.

By way of example, from July 2014 to July 2015 there were some groundbreaking aspects of the project. We took the view that there was only any point in running a trial if it is tested properly, and to everyone’s satisfaction. Otherwise, why trial. So to reassure and to overcome people’s (natural) scpeticism, the public were put in charge of the research aspects.

The Council paid for an independent research company to undertake 1200 interviews and other traffic-based research, but there have been quarterly meetings where the public have been first to receive the results (before any elected members or senior officials) and it has been the public who have interrogated and scrutinised the feedback. It’s been a refreshing approach, in many people’s eyes – for example here http://www.broughtonspurtle.org.uk/news/george-street-experiment-thrives-success-and-failure)

So, with this meeting being the first to have moved away from this model, I was interested in your feedback, sorry to read it was negative, but I’m interested in hearing from you about your thoughts. The street is so important to the city, to its many stakeholders, and getting the design right for the long run is something I am passionate about. I’d be happy to pick up the conversation with you if you’d like.

Well done, council! Thank you for taking the time to do this 🙂

It was brilliant to be so pro-active and I was pleased to hear that the council’s staff working on the street design are so invested in the project and keen to get a positive outcome for all users of the street.

I believe there are more George Street consultation bits and bobs lined up, so I will be keeping an eye on how it all goes. I might even go to another event! 😉

 

 

 

 

My woeful George Street Design consultation experience

For those not in the know, George Street has been under an experimental road traffic order for the past year. As part of the experiment, the 30 metre-wide road has given over some space to cyclists. Which is nice.

What’s not so nice is its poor design. I’ve been using it for the last year as part of my daily commute, and although I absolutely embrace the council’s decision to offer some proper space for cycling, in practice the experience is flawed for all users of the street. There are plenty other online discussions that are much clearer than I could ever be when it comes to George Street’s ETRO, so I won’t go into detail here.

I did, however, attempt to go into some detail at an open consultation event yesterday. I am not a very vocal cycle campaigner, as this blog confirms. Nor am I a transport planner. I only have my opinions from first-hand experience of riding a bike and reading a lot of cycling literature. I also walk, use public transport and occasionally drive. I feel frustrated and isolated whenever I attempt to “discuss” cycling issues with people that don’t ride a bike for transport, but I felt it important to attend the event and weigh in with my two pennies.

When it comes to cycle campaigning, my usual tact is to write to MSPs and the like as I feel I can be much more considered and back up my observations with links to relevant studies and evidence. Of course, in conversation that’s not so easy to do and I can get frustrated and emotional and can’t articulate myself.

My George Street design experience was almost a carbon copy of that template situation. I was dismayed to hear a range of bizarre and sometimes frightening responses from some of the consultants hired to undertake the consultation, as well as attendees. I couldn’t fight the good fight because I was too busy disliking conflict with strangers.

Some choice exchanges and overheard conversation included snobby opinions on how all the traffic should be moved onto Princes Street because the shops there are very tatty (!). Another grim comment went along the lines of how George Street needs loadsa parking, as posh people will only shop in posh shops if they can have their cars parked outside.

I had a classic conversation when I asked the consultants whether they thought people on bikes were shortchanged in Edinburgh due to the lack of space for them. Pedestrians get footways, traffic gets roads, bikes get a useless hybrid that encourages conflict. They disagreed.

I also had a cracking comment from a consultant who stated that cycling was embedded in Dutch culture, so they are not very relevant as a comparison to the UK. I was too flummoxed to mention that the Dutch only have a cycling culture because investment was made in infrastructure 40 years ago and it has grown from nothing to amazing.

Another choice snippet came from a fellow consultation participant, who stated that the cycling lobby in Edinburgh was getting too strong. As if fighting for cycling as a legit transport mode is the enemy. Because bikes are such a bad idea by easing congestion, being environmentally friendly, keeping people fit, encouraging more robust and connected communities etc etc.

Of course, I also got the standard red light jumping, cyclists on pavements crap and that “You don’t do yourself any favours”… Because if one cyclist red light jumps then we all do it, OBVIOUSLY.

I appreciate that the point of consultation is to gather feedback from lots of different people. I totally get it. And I also understand that some people don’t think bikes are brilliant. What I don’t get is the thinly veiled vitriol and meanness directed towards people riding bikes and the willful ignorance of the problems that too many cars create.

So it’s back to the old considered email, I think. I’m a bit fed up feeling belittled because I choose to cycle in my city.

*** Update 01/09/2015 – I have since been contacted by the council re the above blog post and experience, feel free to read about it.