Cycling


Some eight years ago when this blog was very new, I wrote a post called On cycle commuting, as it was “coming up to that time of year when people make resolutions to change their lives”. I think it is time to revisit that post. I hadn’t at that time seen just how much selling my car to fund my first year at university and getting a bicycle was going to change my life (OK, so the money only lasted the first term, but I did have a very good time).

That was how I came to sell my last car in 1994 and since then I have never looked back. The car was an MG Midget 1500 since you ask, and I had had two MKIII Midgets (one of which had round rear wheel arches, such a pretty wee car) before that, but despite the 1500’s ugly rubber bumper this one was my favourite, it was such fun. But I digress, at the time I sold the car I couldn’t imagine living without a car and thought that as soon as I graduated I would get myself another one. However, that was not the way things worked out, by the end of four years of car free living I had discovered freedom in the shape of a bicycle and my own two feet, and so I didn’t want to go back to owning a money pit. You never really realise just what a burden a car is until you get rid of it, it is a continual drain on resources. So people think of the car as freedom, but then constantly complain about congestion, the cost of fuel (even when it is getting cheaper), the lack of parking, the cost of insurance, etc. Drivers are never really happy.

When I was living in Aberdeen (2002-2005), I did for a short while consider buying another car. Aberdeen is an awful place to live as it is so car sick, it is difficult to get about by active travel even though it is a small city and distances are short. At the same time it is heavily congested, people drive everywhere, and as a result it can take over half an hour to make a two mile journey. Yes it would be quicker to walk, but there are continuous barriers put up to make walking unpleasant and dangerous, which further increases the incentive to drive. However, I discovered that even in Aberdeen I could get about by bike, although it was more stressful than anywhere else I have ever cycled. Have you tried cycling on roads used by Humvees? In a city where Range Rovers are two a penny, there are some drivers who feel vulnerable unless they are driving a light armoured car imported from a dubious source in the Middle East.

So while I did feel peer pressure to buy a car, especially for getting out of Aberdeen into glorious Aberdeenshire, the thing that ultimately stopped me was sitting down with a piece of paper and working out the economics of doing so. It didn’t take me long to work out that for what it would cost me to buy and run a well maintained five year old second hand car, I could hire a car for three week long rentals and several more weekends (which was as much usage as I could see myself needing at the time). Not only that, but by hiring I would always have the use of a brand new car, I could choose the right size for the journey I was making and if by any chance it did breakdown, I could just hand it back and get another one. Why buy, it really made no sense. After moving back to Edinburgh I did consider joining the City Car Club, but again found that it didn’t suit my needs, in Edinbugh I didn’t feel the need for so many weekend hires and the CCC is more expensive for longer hires, CCC cars are intended to be hired for a few hours at a time. In the last few years I haven’t even felt the need to hire a car at all, as I have discovered that car free holidays are really great fun.

Looking back at my blog post On cycle commuting I realise that it was only the tenth post I had written and the first on the subject of cycling. When I first started this blog I had no idea what I was going to write about, it certainly hadn’t occurred to me that cycling was a subject I was actually interested in. For me the bicycle was just a quick and convenient way of getting from A to B, it was transport, a utility item and nothing more. However, around the same time I found myself commenting on a cycling forum. I don’t quite remember how it happened, I think I was looking something up on the internet and found myself in the commuting section of the old C plus forum (now part of Bike Radar). For some reason I felt the need to join in the conversation, it was the first time that I had joined an internet forum. When the C plus forum was subsumed into Bike Radar, I, like many others, moved to a tiny new forum, run as a hobby by a guy called Shaun. This forum started to see exponential growth and in some ways being there at the start of the growth felt like being a pioneer. I became a regular poster and was involved in a few innovations which helped it to grow as a community.

I found that I made a number of friends through CycleChat, people I have broken bread (or should that be cake) with in the real world, not just on-line ‘friends’. However, over time I drifted away from forums and onto Twitter, here I was involved in a wider range of conversations. Around the same time I also became a qualified cycle trainer and for a while taught kids to ride bikes on the road. This, along with my experiences as a fully qualified driving instructor (before going to Uni as a mature student), changed my views on the safety of our roads. The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain formed around the same time (pretty much by accident). It looked like a good idea so I signed up to it, but as all the meetings were in London, a group of us started to talk about forming a Scottish Consulate, mostly over Twitter, but there was one memorable lunch as well, in our kitchen. Then one evening (24 Feb 2012, for the record) a couple of friends and I were discussing talk of a big protest in London. To quote an e-mail sent the same evening from Dave Brennan to Sally Hinchcliffe and myself:

Hi Guys,

The call has gone out […] for cyclists to go to London on the 28th April
in a show of support for the ‘cycle revolution’. I’d love to go, but I
just can’t make it. Too far, too expensive, too difficult. :-(

However, that got me thinking, surely this is the right time to push the
agenda north of the border. We have a separate parliament who have yet
to make any major noises about this campaign. So, I’m wondering if we
need a Scottish ride to coincide with the London ride. Probably an
Edinburgh ride to Holyrood.

What do you guys think?

So was born Pedal on Parliament. When we started, we had no idea just how big that would become. At one stage in the early planning we were filling out a form to get permission for the ride to go ahead, one question was about how many people did we expect? I suggested that we put down 300 and that if 50 turned up, we’d be doing well. On the 28th April 2012, 3,000 people turn out to ride to Holyrood in support of the PoP Manifesto. Following this first PoP protest ride, we were invited to meet the (then) Minister for Transport, Keith Brown MSP. Since then PoP has had a number of meetings with the Minister and we have made it clear that we are not going away until Scotland becomes a a cycle-friendly nation. It will, one day.

Having seen the turnout for the first Pedal on Parliament, I came up with another idea and innocently put up a blog post asking if there should be an Edinburgh Festival of Cycling? It seemed like a good idea at the time, I hadn’t really expected people to take it too literally, but they did and the next thing I knew, we were doing it. The first Edinburgh Festival of Cycling which was held between 15th and 23rd June 2013, the festival took place again this year (2014) and we are now planning 2015.

So if you are thinking about doing something in the new year to change your life, I would recommend, in the words of Mark Twain, “Get a bicycle. You will not regret it. If you live.”

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Spokes the Lothian Cycle Campaign group is always on the look out for opportunities to increase the funding of everyday cycling in Scotland. So when they spotted that the Scottish Government is about to receive a £213m boost as a result of the UK Chancellor’s Autumn Budget Statement (thanks to the so-called “Barnett consequentials”). Finance Secretary John Swinney MSP has said £125m of it will go to the NHS, but the remainder is not yet allocated. As the Scottish government will decide very soon, possibly in the next few days or certainly the next few weeks, how to use this money. They suggested that people should write to their MSP’s to suggest that some of this money should be used to invest in cycling infrastructure.

I took the opportunity write to all my MSP’s, and this is what I wrote:

Dear MSPs,

Repeated studies have shown that increasing rates of Active Travel, walking and cycling, for short journeys (and the majority of every day journeys are under 5 miles), have a positive impact on the health and well being of the population as a whole. Not only is Active Travel good for health, it is good for the economy too. Not only does it provide jobs directly, but also people who arrive at work via active means are more productive and take less sick leave. Infrastructure improvements to encourage Active Travel are also cheap and quick to implement, but they do need to be properly funded to achieve their full potential.

In his speech on 9th October 2014 the Finance Secretary, John Swinney, made a promise that the Scottish Government would spend “an additional
£10 million next year for cycling and walking infrastructure”. However, it has subsequently emerged that £5m had in fact been pre-announced in June and that the other £5m is not actually for is not even for walking and cycling. It is for car sharing, bus ticketing incentives, bus shelters and so on, not directly on Active Travel. Therefore unless Mr Swinney is able to find the additional money from somewhere else his promise to Parliament will have been bogus.

The UK government has recently announced £214m additional cycling investment in England. At the same time the Scottish Government will receive £123m in Barnet consequentials, this gives Mr Swinney the opportunity to make good on his promise to Parliament made on the 9th October 2014. Please urge Mr Swinney to take this opportunity to make good on his promise.

Yours sincerely,

Kim

 

I will list the replies as the come in below:

The first reply comes from Cameron Buchanan MSP:

Dear Ms Harding,

Thank you very much for your message. I agree with you about the importance of cycling – it should be encouraged wherever possible. I also agree that misleading announcements by the SNP, of which there are many, should be called out.

I will continue to advocate cycle-friendly policies in Parliament and in this your points are most welcome. Furthermore, I will be questioning the Scottish Government in Parliament today, when I will ask if they have any plans to increase investment in cycling infrastructure.

I hope you find this response helpful.

 

Second reply, was some what longer, from Sarah Boyack MSP:

Thank you for your e-mail about funding for cycling infrastructure. The Scottish Government has recently announced its draft budget for 2015/16 which gives an indication on its intentions for cycling and active travel. I believe that making active travel options more accessible for everyone could help address the physical and mental health problems we face in Scotland. My party, Scottish Labour supports active travel and the encouragement of walking and cycling, as well as more generally the culture of active travel.

We are pleased that in the draft budget for 2015/16, the total budget for sustainable and active travel has increased by over 40% in real terms. We welcome this commitment. However, at this stage we don’t know the details of what this money will be spent on. We are pushing the SNP Government to confirm how this money will be allocated and, in particular, how much of it will be allocated to cycling infrastructure.

Under the transport portfolio, £25m is earmarked for support for sustainable and active travel while local government will be provided with £8m grant funding for cycling walking and safer routes. In its submission to the Infrastructure and Capital Investment Committee, Spokes also identified funding for active travel within the Future Transport Fund, Forth Bridge construction and trunk road budget lines. Based on Spokes’ estimates, the total funding specifically targeted at active travel in 2015/16 will be £37m, around £28m of which will be spent on infrastructure. This compares with Spokes estimates of £40.3m (total) and £36m (infrastructure) in 2014/15. That’s a big drop in investment.

I want to see increased, sustained year on year investment in infrastructure to encourage cycling so I welcome Edinburgh’s leadership with the council’s commitment to ensure continual, increasing investment in cycling. In 2012/13, 5% of the total transport budget went on cycling investment. In 2014/15, that had increased to 7%.

The Scottish Government needs to put in place proper funding and sustained investment. We need both dedicated facilities for cycling and better integration across our trunk and local road networks. Part of this process must be to ensure that the needs of cyclists are designed into our roads maintenance, our local transport strategies and our planning decisions so that routes and dedicated infrastructure such as parking facilities are designed with the needs of cyclists in mind.

In my campaign to be Scottish Labour Leader I published 100 Ideas for a New Scotland and suggested that we should also be looking at more segregated cycle routes.

Alongside considering cycling as a mode of transport, there are interesting opportunities to take a broader approach. I’m keen that the debate considers how cycling can help to address other Scottish Government goals such as physical activity targets and legacy initiatives attached to the 2014 Commonwealth Games as opportunities to set clear targets on cycling participation. Promoting cycling amongst school students is also crucial.

We need to promote safer road cycling opportunities generally as well as targeting specific cycle interest developments for sport and tourism.

We need a step change to deliver the increases in cycle participation that the Scottish Government want to achieve under the Cycling Action Plan for Scotland and I, along with my Labour Party colleagues will continue to press for investment in facilities and initiatives to make this a reality.

 

Third reply from Alison Johnstone MSP

Dear Kim

Thank you for contacting me regarding active travel funding.

You may be aware that there is a Government debate this afternoon on Active Travel. I have lodged an amendment to the Government motion (copy below) and I am pleased that it has been selected for debate. I will be taking part in this afternoon’s debate, so you will be able to read my contribution in the Official Report, or watch the debate live on the Parliament website.


*S4M-11980.2 Alison Johnstone: Active Travel—As an amendment to motion S4M-11980 in the name of Derek Mackay (Active Travel), insert at end “; reaffirms the Scottish Government’s target of 10% of journeys to be made by bike by 2020; notes the estimate by Spokes that active travel funding in the 2015-16 draft budget is lower than in the previous year; calls on the Scottish Government to reverse this cut and substantially increase funding for active travel; notes the ongoing debate and research into the introduction of presumed liability in relation to road accidents, and urges local authorities to meet growing demand for high-quality walking and cycling infrastructure, extend 20mph speed limits in built-up areas and provide walking and cycling training opportunities to every child in Scotland”.

I have received emails from a number of constituents who share your concerns. My colleague Patrick Harvie MSP is meeting the Finance Secretary tomorrow to discuss the budget and he will be taking the opportunity to press him on active travel funding.

Please do not hesitate to contact me again if I can be of further assistance.

Best wishes

Alison

 

Who will be next?

 

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Suz: What do horses say?
Seb: Hello

It was the quote of the day, but then Seb is only three and so is entitled to a logic all of his own. Ulli and I were out for a wee ride with an old Uni friend of mine and her son. It might have been the end of November, but it was a glorious day for seeing East Lothian by bike. Suzanne and Sebastian met us at the station in Dunbar. The plan was to ride from Dunbar to North Berwick along the new John Muir Way cycle route, allowing Sebastian to ride his balance bike whenever it was safe to do so, well that was the plan.

Exiting the station, the first issue arose: trying to explain to Sebastian why it wasn’t safe for a three year old to ride from the station out to the edge of town. He wasn’t entirely happy about this, and who can blame him, he had been told he was going out for a ride and now he was told it wasn’t safe. “But why isn’t it safe?” he kept asking. Good question Seb, mainly because a few selfish adults in cars think that they are far more important than children (or even adults) on bikes and they drive badly. However, this is rather a difficult concept to get across to a three year old, and it took a little time for him to reluctantly accept that he would have to travel, at least part of the way, in bike trailer.

Getting out of town proved to be a fraught experience with numpty drivers trying to overtake on blind bends and in other inappropriate places. As a former fully qualified driving instructor I am shocked by the poor standard of driving I see on the roads. Certainly there were a few who could do with taking some driving lessons and learning how to overtake safely.

The town finally exited, we found ourselves on an offroad path with great views and space for Sebastian to show off his skills on his balance bike. Meanwhile I was grabbing some photos.

St Andrew's Day, Dunbar

View to the Bass Rock from Dunbar

By the time we time we had gotten to the end of the motor traffic free bit it was time for Sebastian to go back into the trailer. Fortunately by this time he was tired enough not to object and was happy to climb back into the trailer and take a nap while mum did all the work. This was fortunate as the route took us onto (what is euphemistically called) a shared use path. Now as regularly readers of this blog will know, Ulli and I have travelled a fair bit on the continent of Europe, and nowhere have we ever come across a path so narrow that it could only take a cycle trailer being called a shared use path. But this is family friendly East Lothian, where things are different.

Welcome to family friendly East Lothian

VisitScotland has recently woken up to the concept of cycle tourism, but sadly Scottish transport planners haven’t (yet). If Scotland is ever going to achieve its potential as a family friendly tourist destination, it is going to have to do a lot better than this.

Crossing minor roads was also the sort of experience that you wouldn’t come across on the mainland either…

Welcome to family friendly East Lothian

Welcome to family friendly East Lothian

Welcome to family friendly East Lothian

Not far from this crossing, we came across a field of Scottish road engineers and transport planners…

Of cabbages and traffic planners

Need I say more?

About this time Seb woke up, hungry, and informed us that he would like to have a ham sandwich. It soon became apparent that wee Sebastian is a follower of the Zoroastrian tradition whereby the repeated chanting can will an object into existence. He is obviously an advanced three year old, or maybe just a three year old. Either way, turning off to find a farm shop where we could source some bread and ham was a relief, especially to Suzanne. Near the farm shop there were an number of happy chickens happy wandering about a field (blissfully unaware of what was sold in the shop). On seeing them, Seb gave a perfect impersonation of a chicken. A short way further do the farm track we passed a field with horses in it, at which point Suzanne asked Sebastian what horses say, he replied “Hello”, bless.

The road past the farm was delightfully free of motor traffic, which might have had something to do with the river crossing half way along.

Welcome to family friendly East Lothian

Fortunately there was a footbridge to allow crossing, it was narrow (only just enough space for the trailer) and slippery, but it was the easier way to get across the river.

By now we were all getting hungry and it had, due to the poor infrastructure, taken far longer than we had expected to get as far as we had. We decided there was no way we would make North Berwick for lunch and so decided that the Tearoom at Smeaton Nursery (on the edge of East Linton) was a more realistic goal. Access to Smeaton Nursery was very muddy, but going in via the delivery entrance (being a Sunday) was mercifully traffic free.

Suitably fed, we decided that, as the day light was getting short, we should head back to Dunbar, but by a more direct rate route along the NCN 76 rather than the John Muir Way. However, this wasn’t without issue either. Trying to access one of the traffic free sections, we found that the western most set of bollards had been set too close together to get the trailer through, and Suzanne was forced to squeeze round the outside.

Welcome to family friendly East Lothian

Welcome to family friendly East Lothian

At the second set of bollards at the eastern end, the trailer was able to pass with about 5 cm to spare, likely not by design but by chance, as no thought had been given to the users in the planning process. The lack of professional competence of British road engineers and transport planners is something which needs to be addressed with some urgency. It is not that they can’t do it, it is more that they lack the training in planning for Active Travel and don’t think about it. The “profession” is totally fixated on motor vehicles and seemingly incapable of understanding the need of non-motorised traffic (for the origins of the word traffic). Earlier this year I tried to set up a CPD workshop for road engineers and transport planners, bringing in a Dutch/Danish consortium to do the training. I was shocked to find that the Professional Officers felt that they didn’t need such training, as they already knew everything they needed to know about providing for active travel.

Overall, I really enjoyed the day out, it is good to get out on the bike with friends. But was saddened by the lack of provision to make this easy for families. It doesn’t have to be this way, as I have seen on my travels on the mainland of Europe, where people expect and enjoy a better quality of life. Why should families be expected to accept second best? Why are we in Scotland not looking to take full advantage of the economic benefit of Active Travel? OK, VisitScotland are just starting to wake up to the fact that cycle tourism in Europe is worth in excess of €44,000,000,000 a year (the overall economic benefits of cycling are at least €205,000,000,000 p.a.), and Scotland is missing out on most of that. In fact our car dependent culture is costing us billions of pounds per year and has a highly negative impact not just on our quality of life, but our longevity, too.

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Following on from my last post after five years the on street cycle storage has finally arrived and so have the first set of keys.

Cycle storage now in use

It was interesting standing in the street talking about the cycle storage with a council officer and seeing the number of people coming up and asking how they could get a key. Apparently there is already a waiting list of places, even though many of the people living in the street don’t even know what the cycle storage are as they have not seen them opened before. I get the distinct feeling there will soon be demand for more!

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Just over five years ago (in September 2009) I wrote a blog post “Cycle parking, please can we have more…” in which I talked about the problems with lack of secure bicycle parking in Edinburgh. I flagged up issues the particular problems for tenement dwellers in Edinburgh, where storage is often a very real problem (as it is across most Scottish cities), added to which people living in tenement areas are less likely to own a car.

Three years ago things were looking positive as there where the first glimmerings of hope that something might actually be happening. There had been an announcement that City of Edinburgh Council (CEC) has proposed a Pilot of on-street residential cycle parking. I was one of the first to put in an application and waited with bated breath, well almost. As the closing date for application was December 2011, it seemed reasonable to expect that here might be something on the ground by the summer of 2012. In early May a letter arrived inviting all those who had applied to be a part of the trial parking project to a site meeting to consult on how it might work in practice. So it was that my self and one of my neighbours met with a number of officials, including the CEC’s cycling officer (Chris Brace), a CEC Project Engineer (Scott Mannion), one of the environmental manager (David Doig) and LBP Crime Prevention Officer (Carol Menzies). We had a wide ranging discussion, as we stood in the spring sun shine, covering all aspects of how that cycle parking (and its location) could affect the street, from accessibility to security, from refuse collection to turning space, and more. The meeting ended with a general consensus that the best location for the cycle storage was at the southern end of the street on the west side, on an area of concrete pavement which is currently just dead ground. It felt like something was really about to happen after two years of campaigning and lobbying, finally we were getting what was needed.

For a couple of months nothing happened, no information, nothing. In late July 2012 a letter arrived saying that the council was going to hold a written consultation for all residents in the street. A number of my neighbours came to ask me about this as they wanted to know more about the proposal, everyone I knew who lived in the street was in favour of the idea of having a secure cycle parking facility (even those who owned cars and those who didn’t own a bicycle). The written consultation was than followed with a series door to door interviews, and it was beginning to feel like someone at the Council was doing all they could to find an objector, so that they could stop the scheme (maybe I am being too cynical here).

Following all this consultation things went quite again until late June 2013 when another written consultation arrived, this time with plans showing the proposed location of the cycle storage on the opposite side of the street from that which residents said they wanted in the earlier consultation. I am told that there eleven responses to this consultation, all in favour of having the cycle storage on street and three saying explicitly that it should be on the far side of the street (the other made no comment on the location). One wonders why it is felt necessary to have quite to much “consultation” when they don’t bother to take notice of what the people who are going to live with the infrastructure actually have to say. It strikes me that a large amount of public money is wasted in this way.

Move forward to June 2014 and the City Council break their radio silence again with a letter to say that three different types of secure on street cycle storage across five locations across the city. The three types of storage chosen were the Cyclehoop Fietshangar, Cycle-Works Velo-Box lockers and Cycle-Works Streetstores (the latter a somewhat experimental design to judge by their website where there are several different prototype designs shown). The letter went on to say that the installation would be completed by the end of July 2014.

By this time I was starting to feel I would only believe when I saw it, so you can imagine my surprise and delight when I was told of shiny new Cyclehoop Fietshangars had been sighted in the city!

On street cycle storage in Edinburgh ©EdinburghCycleChic

Then came the news that Cycle-Works Velo-Safe lockers had also been sighted.

On street cycle storage in Edinburgh ©EdinburghCycleChic

On street cycle storage in Edinburgh ©EdinburghCycleChic

This was real progress at last! But wait where were the Cycle-Works Streetstores? There was no sign of them anywhere and again silence from the City Council, after some prompting there was a few vague comments that they were coming soon. July turned to August, the Festival came and went, September, still nothing, then finally in October Streetstores were sighted for the first time!

On street cycle storage in Edinburgh ©EdinburghCycleChic

How does the scheme actually work? Now there’s a question I keep getting asked, well, places in the cycle storage is offered to first to residents living within 100m of the stores. Only two places per flat are allowed per flat (which is rather unfair on students living in Houses in Multiple Occupation or HMOs) and place are allocated on a first come first serve basis. Each person gets a gets an individual contract and must give the details of the bicycle they are intending to store. The contract also states that the storage can only be used to store “a security-tagged bicycle belonging to or in the care of the member”, later in the contract it talks of bicycles with a permit and displaying a permit sticker.

As to costs and pricing, the contract states that “during the period of the Scheme the Council will not make a charge for participation in the Scheme. The Council may bring the pilot Scheme to an end on giving 14 days’ notice to the Members, and thereafter charge the Member for continued participation in a new scheme and take a deposit for the access key”. Nowhere, in the contract does it give any indication of how long the pilot Scheme will run for, nor is there any mention of how much the charge might be in the future. Elsewhere, it has been stated that the “cycle parking would be … trialled for around 2 years“. Also “It is expected that there would be a charge of around £5 per month per user for the use of the covered storage options to help cover running costs”. This would mean that it would cost £60 a year to park a bicycle compared with £31.50 to park low emission car in the same permit zone. When you bear in mind that 10 bicycle can be accommodated in the space required for one car, this seems rather excessive, no doubt the Council will say that this reflects cost of maintaining the cycle storage, whilst Blythe ignoring the costs involved in controlling car parking in the city. If the council are to introduce such a high charge for cycle parking, then it would only be reasonable that all subsidies for car parking be dropped and that the cost of car parking be brought up to a matching level.

 

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