Edinburgh

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.

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The Great Edinburgh Bike Experiment – March, April and May

I’m a bit behind with my Great Edinburgh Bike Experiment. The stress of the house move got in the way of regular updates and I’ve only now looked at all my data.  This is cool in hindsight, because any savings and my mileage will look more impressive…

The bike numbers from the last three months

  • Total journeys: 103
  • Total distance: 490 miles
  • Total calories: 16,102 kcal
  • Total climb: 15,644 feet

This means I cycled to the top of Mount Churchill (a badass volcano in Alaska) while commuting to work, grabbing bottles of milk and undertaking other quaxing activities.

mount churchill

Credit to Game McGimsey and the Alaska Volcano Observatory / U.S. Geological Survey for showing you where I cycled to the top of in the last three months.

I’m not gonna brag or anything, but as mountain climbing goes, I’m not too disappointed with that ascent. I also managed about 6 feet of descent. So I’ll need to get wheeling down it again over the next few months…

Bike expenditure in last three months

  • I heard a weird squeak on the hybrid, so the bike shop guys gave it a wee service. £10 down.
  • £47 – Bus fares in total. Dumb knees! These fares also included journeys I wouldn’t have taken by bike anyway, but let’s just leave it at that to make things easier…
  • Total = £57.00

Public transport equivalent

  • I substituted £162 worth of bus fares in March, April and May. So the £51 Ridacard would have been marginally more economical.
  • Ridacard cost = £153

Car equivalent

  • Monthly car running cost – £39.16
  • Petrol cost for 490 miles – £47.83. Now, the journeys I’ve been doing are in the city, so I’m going to round it up to £55 to account for congestion. I think that’s being generous.
  • Total running cost = £165.31

Gym equivalent

  • Total cost – £91.50

Grand totals!

  • Public transport (£153) + gym (£91.50) – expenditure (£57.00) = £187.50 savings
  • Car (£165.31) + gym (£91.50) – expenditure (£57.00) = £199.81 savings

Year to date totals

  • Bike vs Public Transport – £305 in pocket
  • Bike vs Car – £331.63 in pocket

The first five months of the year have me up just over £330 on the car. Maybe by the end of 2015 I will be almost £800 better off in my highly unscientific experiment. I am being let down by my knees, which are eating into my costs via bus fares…

So far, I could buy a nice new telly with my savings, go on a last minute week-long holiday, eat 44kg of Dairy Milk (it’s 2 for £3 in Tesco) OR buy this Charge Plug…

Charge-Plug-0-2015-Single-Speed-Bikes-Silver-BYCHM5PLUG0XSSLV

Decisions, decisions… 😉

 

Clipping in, finally

Well, it only took about three years of solid cycling, but I finally clipped in last week. I got some cash for my birthday and decided there was no better way to treat myself than by buying a fancy set of Shimano pedals (£50!!!! Has the world gone mad? My first bike only cost me £80!) and a pair of corresponding shoes that would encourage me to fall over repeatedly.

For those that read the blog and don’t go in for all the cycling nomenclature, a brief explanation of clipping in is when you literally clip your feet to the pedals of a bike so they are stuck on. You buy these shoes with little metal bits on the bottom that slot into the pedal (aka cleats). Bizarrely, when you clip in to your pedals, the corresponding phrase is to go clipless. Which all sounds very weird and bonkers and makes no sense.

specialized shoes

My new Specialized shoes, complete with cleats and excellent shoelaces.

When I try to explain my newfound clipped in-ness to non-bike people they rightly look horrified, and couple their looks with lots of comments about things being dangerous or silly or both. It is clearly strange to non-cycling people to glue your feet to a bike.

I’ve been practising with my new Specialized shoes, which, by the way, are spectacularly ace. I love them. The cleats are on the sole but you hardly notice they are there. Passers-by don’t think you’re some crazy bike person with clippy cloppy road shoes on. They just think you’re a regular nutter with crazy purple trainers.

Specialized cycling shoes

Check out the cleat…

I am starting to get the hang of it now, because I’ve gone in at entry-level. The cleats are for mountain bikers rather than the road shoe milarky, they are set to be as loose as possible and the pedals I bought have one side that is just regular and flat. This means that if I get the fear, which is regularly, I can just ride about on my run-of-the-mill standard pedal instead of being quite literally attached to my bike and freaking out.

So far, I’ve fallen over three times. Thankfully, the errors happened on an enormous grassy mattress that I cycled out to at Blackness Castle. I had a small audience of castle visitors who watched me faff about and topple over, and they accompanied the entertainment with applause every time I took a fall. At least it was a beautiful place to embarrass myself.

Blackness Castle and forth estuary

My trip to Blackness Castle, including multiple tumbles.

Anyway, now I’m getting the hang of the things I’m quite liking them. I’ve noticed that hills are easier to climb already, and can see why riders favour them so. Roadies must see enormous benefit from longer rides.

I’m not sure about being glued to the bike in the city, because the environment is so unpredictable and I can’t unattach myself quickly yet. But once onto the open road I totally get why they exist.

Next step? Get clipped onto the road bike!

What volunteering a couple of hours a week can achieve

This week is Volunteers’ Week, an annual campaign that celebrates the incredible impact of millions of volunteers across the UK. As a third sector person I’ve been well aware of the importance of volunteering for a long time, having read endless press releases and infographics about just how much volunteers add to the economy and local communities. However, until recently I never practised what I preached. I’m a recent volunteer convert.

I’ve only been offering my time in the last year or so, but I’ve come to realise just how satisfying a volunteering role is. For readers unfamiliar, I am a cycle ride leader for Belles on Bikes Edinburgh.

Along with a handful of amazing Edinburgh ladies, we have built a busy, friendly women’s cycling group from scratch over the past year or so. We launched the group officially at the end of June 2014 with small grants funding support from CTC and Cycling Scotland, and have accumulated around 280 members, led around 40 rides across Edinburgh and the Lothians and encouraged approximately 460 participants to explore and discover new parts of the city and its surrounds.

This has been achieved in our own time and it’s great fun. Some of the Belles think that the ride leaders get paid for the work we do leading rides. But of course, we don’t. We plan, recce and risk assess each route, ensure that the women on the ride are in a safe environment and, maybe most importantly of all, plot in an acceptable cake stop on route 😉

Goodbye cake. You snooze you lose

By the time I remember to take a photo of cake, it’s usually a scene like this…

Some people ask me why I would spend my spare time planning and running rides for strangers. Which is a good question, I suppose. But the answer is pretty straightforward. I love cycling and think more women should do it. My bike has opened up freedom, fitness and huge opportunities for me, so I think it’s only fair to share the happiness.  Within Belles, women gain confidence, learn new low-traffic routes, meet new friends and improve their health. What is not to love about that? Of course, I get the added warm, fuzzy feeling from hearing positive stories and feedback. It’s a win-win situation.

Belle looks across the Forth

One of the Edinburgh Belles snaps a photo across the Forth

We have recently been successful in gaining some funding from City of Edinburgh Council and plan to extend our offering, with some basic bike mechanics classes, events at Edinburgh Festival of Cycling, training opportunities and more for the Belles members. So there’s plenty to be getting on with!

The Edinburgh Belles is a perfect example of how a local, grassroots approach can pay big dividends. On average, I spend maybe a couple of hours a week with Belles and the results are pretty wonderful:

belles residential

The Belles leaders’ residential in Stirling – volunteers from across Scotland, all encouraging more women to cycle!

 “Very much appreciate what all you leaders do and I just turn up and tag along, sometimes even when I don’t have my name down but adamant that I do. Lol. I enjoy it so much I’ve bought another bike!!!!!! Many thanks” – Belles member

If you don’t already volunteer, imagine what you could do with your time if you offered your enthusiasm and expertise to a cause you cared about 🙂 Doesn’t need to be cycling – could be anything! I highly recommend giving it a go…

Normal service will resume shortly

It’s all been a bit quiet lately on the old bike blogging front. My poor Great Edinburgh Bike Experiment is running two months behind schedule, I’ve had very little time (or inclination) to sit down and write and cycling has taken a bit of a back seat, too. For April was the month of The Move.

The Move was a sensationally stressful experience, but I am happy to say it’s over and done with. My now ex-flat needed 13 years’ worth of nonsense scooped out and deposited in an already full garage. And as I am without a car, I can advise that moving house with two wheels is a bit of major hassle. Even multiple cargo bikes at my beckon call would have been unlikely to stem the flow of stress leaking out of me.

My housing situation has been an ongoing saga for a while now. I am hamstrung in many ways, not least because I have four bikes and nowhere to put them. My humble chariots of awesomeness have been shunted from pillar to post in a bid to keep them dry and rust-free. Remember that old puzzle about the man with his chicken, grain and fox needing to cross the river? Replace the zoo with bikes and that accurately describes my life up until the end of April.

Now I am in a position to stop stressing about moving out and relaaaaaaax. Which means I can blog a bit more. And ride my bike a bit more. And focus on sorting out my knees a bit more. Huzzah.

Roseburn Park feeder ride to Pedal on Parliament

As per my previous post about Pedal on Parliament, I’ve finally gotten around to arranging a feeder ride to the main event. Come join myself and fellow Edinburgh Belles ride leader Puck on a relaxed group ride to the Meadows from Roseburn park on the morning of Saturday 25 April. We’ll be meeting at 10.30am for 10.45am, next to the cricket hut and friends of Roseburn mural.

All are welcome, blokes and bairns included. We would love your friends and family to come along with us to Pedal on Parliament. Dress your bikes up, wear something fun, get in the spirit of things! Flags with political messages relating to active travel are always good too, we like flags 😉

If you would like to come but haven’t been on your bike for a while, PLEASE check it before attending. Ensure gears, brakes and tyres are functioning okay and bring along a spare inner tube.

We plan to take a leisurely pootle along to the Meadows. No rush. There will be on-road riding and a couple of right turns. We’ll take Russell Road and then cut through Dalry, to get us up along Gilmour Place and into the Meadows. We should arrive for around 11.15am, giving us time to meet up with other attendees and Belles from across Scotland.

There is on-street parking around Roseburn Park in the surrounding streets. If you’re coming from further afield then this is a good place to get chummed into town.  Any questions, just add a blog comment and I’ll do my best to help.

The Belles and I look forward to seeing you there and asking our politicians for better, safer cycling infrastructure in Scotland! Learn more about Pedal on Parliament and its manifesto.

The countdown to Pedal on Parliament begins!

Pedal on Parliament, Scotland’s biggest, most weighty and visually impressive cycle campaigning event, is coming up on the horizon. Pencil the 25 April into your diary and come along to the mass cycle and walk on the Scottish Parliament. I’ve been for the past two years running and have written about how it’s influenced me previously, so will be there this year with bells on.

PoP is about more than just cycling provision, though. It’s tying to show politicians and the non-cycling public that the bike can make massive positive societal changes, from more connected local communities, to safer streets, to a healthier population and better environment. To that end, the campaign has produced this little animation called Katie Cycles To School:

If you’d like to get involved with PoP but can’t make it along personally, maybe you could share this video on your own blog, Twitter or Facebook page? The message can be spread with more than just you and your bike on the 25 April 🙂

I look forward to meeting lots of new like-minded people at PoP this year. If you’re planning to attend, drop me a comment below and we can maybe sort out feeder rides – I’ll be organising a Belles feeder ride likely from west Edinburgh and all are welcome!