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To EuroBike and Back: a continental journey (part 3) Arnhem to Austria

To EuroBike and Back: a continental journey (part 3) Arnhem to Austria

On our third day of cycling across the Netherlands, we started the day riding downhill from the outskirts of Arnhem to the centre. A descent of all of 70m, but hey, this was in the Netherlands.

Arnhem is best known for the John Frost Bridge (John Frostbrug in Dutch) across the Rhine, and the battle fought over the bridge during the second world war. As a consequence of this battle, there is little of interest in the town centre as most of it was flattened during the fight. The bridge was rebuilt after the war and renamed after Major-General John Dutton Frost, who commanded the British forces during the battle. It is now a tourist attraction, as well as a transport route.

However, it is no longer the only bridge over the Lower Rhine. There are now two others, the Nelson Mandela Bridge (about 900 m downstream) and the Andrei Sakharov Bridge (about 3 km upstream). I know this because a young guy, who looked like a student, came up and started to tell me about them as I was trying to take a photograph. He also told me that this wasn’t the bridge shown in the film “A Bridge Too Far”, as there were too many new buildings in the background. So, for the film, a similar-looking bridge over the IJssel at Deventer was used instead. When I asked about how we could get the bikes up onto the bridge, he pointed to steps leading up to the deck of the bridge (this was also the route which Komoot was suggesting) and said that there was a channel to guide the wheels of the bikes up. The deck of the bridge was some 10 m above the viewpoint by the river where I had stopped to (try) take photos. This wasn’t an appealing prospect with loaded touring bikes, so Ulli and I decided to look for an alternative route.

The John Frost Bridge we crossed during To EuroBike and Back: a continental journey (part 3) Arnhem to Austria

We were sure that there had to be a cycle path parallel to the road on the bridge, it was just a question of finding a way onto it. Looking at the map on my phone, we could see that there was a roundabout a few hundred metres back from the river, which could give access to the bridge. As with all Dutch roundabouts, there was a separate but parallel cycle route. In this case, rather than crossing the roads entering the roundabout with priority for the cycles, the cycleways passed underneath the roads and had their own entirely separate roundabout. So easy to use and with no stress at all, why can’t we have this sort of thing?

Finally, we were up and over the bridge John Frost Bridge and heading upstream towards the Andrei Sakharov bridge. Without giving a thought to disarmament, peace or human rights we headed on upstream, following the cycle path. Maybe we should have stopped and given thought to the man the bridge was named after, but it was a dull concrete thing and not at all inspiring, besides we were more interested in riding atop of the winter dykes.

Having dropped down from the giddy height of 123m above sea level at the start of the day, we were now at only 50m above sea level (and that was on top of the winter dyke). Before the building of the dykes, the rivers of the Rhine delta would have braided their way through swamp, meadow and alder carr. Although the earliest earthworks used to divert river flow in the Netherlands date to around 12 BC, the serious business of controlling floodwaters from the river didn’t start in earnest until the 11th Century AD. After which things got really messy, with flood protection in one area exacerbating flooding in another. This, in turn, led to a system of summer and winter dykes, the summer dykes lower and the land behind them is allowed to flood in winter, whereas the winter dykes are higher and intended to prevent flooding of the land behind them year-round. Hope that is clear.

Anyway, being up on top of a winter dyke gives you a commanding view of the landscape around you, and puts you in the unusual position of being able to look down on the roofs of two-storey houses built on the land protected from flooding. It also means that you are fully exposed to the wind, fortunately, this wasn’t a particularly windy day. Or at least so I thought so. When Ulli decided to stop to take a photo of a thatched farmhouse or a stork or something, I thought I would just slowly glide to a halt and wait for her to finish. But that wasn’t what happened, instead, I found myself drifting along at about 10 Km/h with no sign of stopping and I was almost a kilometre along the road before Ulli caught me up.

To EuroBike and Back: a continental journey (part 3) Arnhem to Austria. just being blown along

We diverted down off the dyke to take a look at Castle Doornenburg, one of the biggest and most well-preserved castles in the Netherlands, not that we got much beyond the entrance gate. It was originally a fortified manor built in the 9th century, then expanded to a full-blown castle around the 13th century. By the 15th century it contained sleeping quarters, a chapel and a farm, and was occupied for a further 400 years before falling into a state of disrepair. In the 20th century, it was restored between 1937 and 1941, only to be reduced to a pile of smoking rubble by a British bombardment in March 1945. Following the war, the castle was completely rebuilt between 1947 and 1968.

Castle Doornenburg
Inside Castle Doornenburg

Then it was back up to the dyke for a while, but we couldn’t stay up there, at some stage we would need to cross the water again. To cross by bridge would mean a long detour via Nijmegen, so instead, we first took a ferry across the Pannerden Canal and then later a second ferry across the Waal/Rhine/Bijlands Canal. The river has a bit of an identity crisis at this point in its journey from the Alps to the sea. The first ferry was notable as it is a reaction ferry, that is a ferry that uses the reaction of the current of a river against a fixed tether to propel the vessel across the water. The second was a pedestrian and bicycle-only ferry, crossing a much busier waterway.

Riding down to the Doornenburg/Pannerden reaction ferry

Following this second Rhine crossing of the day, we were soon back atop a dyke wall again, with open farmland to one side and a wooded nature reserve on the other. Being so high up, we could also see the weather coming towards us with towering clouds building up and the threat of rain later. Just past the village of Leuth the road we were on joined a busier one and cycles are directed down off the top dyke on to a path below it, so that we no longer had sight of the looming clouds for a time.

The next waypoint on Ulli’s list was a windmill, which was now on the far side of the dyke, which required us to continue until we found a minor road crossing the main road (on the dyke) and then turned back a short way on the far side. Now, windmills aren’t my thing, when you’ve seen one there ain’t that much new with the next. So I was pleased to find that this one had a cafe attached and so insisted on stopping for cake, as all good touring cyclists should. It was sunny and all the tables in the sunshine were taken, but we were happy to sit in the shade of a large awning. No sooner had our apple cake arrived, when a sudden shower hit. we had seen it hanging off the clouds looming earlier. And all the smug people who had been sitting in the sun were now rushing for cover, giving us a delightful sense of schadenfreude.

Did someone day cake?

Cake eaten and rain finished, it was back on the road again, this time on the south side of the dyke. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, Komoot (the phone app I was using for navigation) announced hat the name of the road we were on had changed, notably from Dutch to German, yet there was no sign to say that we had just crossed the border. Looking at the map now, I am at a loss to understand why the border runs where it does. But the main thing for us was the roads were quiet and the cycling easy. We didn’t meet any of the natives, so we didn’t find out if they were friendly to touring cyclists or not.

Difficult to know if the natives are cycle friendly

Riding through Kleve gave us our first taste of urban cycling infrastructure in North Rhine-Westphalia. Every German state is different, and this was sub-Dutch but better than British (not difficult). Exiting the town we found that there was a fully separated cycleway alongside the main road to the Emmerich Rhine Bridge (German: ‘Rheinbrücke Emmerich’), our final crossing of the Rhine for the day. The Emmerich Bridge is the longest suspension bridge in Germany and fancies itself as looking like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, which it doesn’t.

Safely across the Rhine once more, we wound our way through Emmerich to the quirky B&B we had booked for the night. There were only two other guests that night, a German couple who were e-bike trekking. At breakfast, they proudly told us that, with their e-bikes, they could go 100Km a day. They were a bit surprised when we told them that we could cover 120Km a day on our ordinary bikes.

Breakfast over, we set off for the station. As I said back in part one, Ulli felt that it would take too long to cycle across Germany, but by train, we could make it to the Austrian border in about 10 hours. The idea was to use a one-day train pass (Quer-durchs-Land-Ticket) which gives unlimited travel on regional express trains and we could take the bikes, all for €63. This way would also allow us time in Austria visiting Ulli’s family, before going on to the EuroBike Show. Arriving at the station we picked up the tickets at the ticket office, which was very straight forward and then though just a case of wait for the train and get the bikes on.

Waiting fr a train in Germany

Bikes on German train

It turned out not to be quite as simple as this, the reputation of German railways might be one of great efficiency but not on this day. As we had planned a route using the regional express trains rather than the more expensive (but more direct) national express trains (ICE), this involved several changes along the way. Every train we travelled on that day had a problem, mostly just delays but in one case the service was cancelled partway through the journey and we had to re-route.

So maybe we should have paid the extra and taken an ICE train? Well no, on the first train we met a Dutch couple who were using the regional express to get to Cologne where they were going get the ICE to Munich, except they missed their connection as the first train was delayed, and we saw them several times later in the day as they tried to find other connections.

Fortunately, we had decided in advance that the 10-hour crossing of Germany was probably a bit ambitious and just in case anything should go wrong (which it duly did) we should stop for the night in Ulm. This was fortunate as we arrived over four hours later than planned. The following day we caught a train to Munich, which was late, but fortunately, we didn’t miss the connection to Rosenheim.

Once over the border into Austria, it was just a case of buying another ticket for an ÖBB regional train, sitting back and watching the view of the mountains of Tirol glide past. We did talk about getting off a few stops early, but in the end stayed on the train until the nearest station to our destination. The ride from the station was a mere 3 Km, with 250 m of ascent at an average gradient of 8%, something that riding across the Netherlands hadn’t quite prepared us for.

Night Ride along Hadrian’s Wall

Night Ride along Hadrian’s Wall

A guest post by Ulli.

This was my first proper night ride, and I was very curious what it would be like staying awake and keeping cycling the whole night – not anxious-like, but I was wondering about staying alert and not doing anything stupid due to a moment’s doziness or inattention. I had also been hearing tales of seasoned audaxers (long-distance cyclists doing silly rides of several 100 km in one go) about sleeping in bus shelters or ditches when they feel tired…

But I wasn’t unduly worried, as I had recently proved to myself that I could function perfectly well for 24 hours or so without sleeping (helping out at the premier UK long-distance cycling event, London-Edinburgh-London – participants need to cover the whole distance of 1400+ km in less than five days, by bike). The night ride was one of the most brilliant experiences on a bike I’ve had (and there have been a few) … cycling on empty roads under a starry sky, along Hadrian’s Wall for some stretches, watching dawn breaking and finally the sun rising, all in the excellent company of 12 other slightly mad people (with a 13th joining in from Hexham, and a couple more beating us to breakfast at the Quayside in Newcastle). But I am getting ahead of myself …

We met up at Carlisle railway station, with six of us arriving just over an hour before the off, so we had time for a drink and for getting to know each other a bit (I only knew Marcus, the organiser, but others were clearly old friends, or had met before). There was a mix of people, some regular night riders and a few complete newbies, myself included.

Just after 11pm we set off after an obligatory photo outside the station, slightly incongruous amidst the normal Friday night population of Carlisle, some of whom were tottering about on extremely high heels and were clearly intending to party the night away in their own fashion…

Ready2Roll
Ready to roll, outside Carlisle Station

The first stop was just a couple of km later, at the 24-hour supermarket at the eastern edge of Carlisle, to stock up on snacks, buy a woolly hat in expectation of the temperature dropping and/or use the facilities. While we were waiting outside, a policeman came up and asked us what we were up to. Our explanations bemused him, and when we asked if he wanted to come along, he declined politely.

Soon we were off again, heading east along the A69 to Brampton. Normally this road would be a bad choice for a group cycle ride, but just before midnight there was hardly any traffic, and we were off onto the wee roads before very long, cycling through the deserted town, where we joined the NCN72 (Hadrian’s Wall Cycle Route) which we’d follow on and off for most of the way to the other side of the country. Shortly after Brampton, we went past Lanercost Priory, a beautiful ruined abbey that was built to a large part from nicely prepared stones, freely available from some old wall nearby at the time – some stones with Roman inscriptions, mason’s marks and even the knee of a broken statue with toga folds still visible. [Kim and I had stopped and visited the abbey and pretty much all the Roman sites along the Wall and a few nearby castles in April, during a long weekend – he never got round to writing a blog post about it.] But during the night we only saw the signposts, and I could just about make out the dark silhouette of the tallest building against the little light provided by the very orange crescent moon that was rising to the east as we came over the hill from Brampton.

Soon after, we hit the first proper hill at Banks which I remembered well, including the various twists & turns, so there were no surprises, but it was quite different riding it at night, seeing the various blinking red lights moving along ahead and bits of the road illuminated by some pretty powerful front lights that provided plenty of brightness to see by, both ahead and behind. We stopped at the turret/watch tower at the top of the hill to re-group, have some snacks and admire the starry sky. After switching off all the bright lights, the Milky Way was clearly visible, and so many more stars that I’d seen in a long while, due to the clear skies and absence of light pollution (even though we could see the lights of Carlisle in the distance, but they already seemed quite a long way away). Somebody was asking about the wall, and I said there was a bit just off to one side and switched the front light on, pointing it straight at some rather impressive looking remains that he (and possibly others) had been completely unaware of, having not had the advantage of seeing the place in daylight before.

I was then leaning on my handlebars, and there was suddenly quite a large amount of give. I was thinking that this was rather strange, as my bike didn’t have a front suspension. It was a slow puncture that I must have picked up on the way home from work in the evening (which already seemed a world away), where I had tried to avoid some hawthorn hedge cuttings. Luckily I had a spare inner tube etc. with me, and between a few of us the puncture was fixed very quickly – many thanks to the expert fixers, much faster than I could have done it myself. It turned out to be the only puncture of the night, there were a few other very slight mechanicals, but nothing serious, thankfully.

We continued along the Wall, past Birdoswald (a big Roman Fort), some quick downs and ups into Gillsland and through Greenhead, where we could see the next BIG hill looming up in the weak light provided by the crescent moon. It was here that we came across the first couple of cars since Brampton, which was quite a while ago. The road steepens as the buildings run out, and there is a parallel cycling and walking path that is separated from the road by some bushes. We all ignored it as the road was completely deserted, but it’s quite handy during normal waking hours, especially at weekends when all the Wall tourists are out and about in their 4-wheelers. [I had been very happy to be off the road in April, as fast moving traffic and cyclists wobbling uphill in their granny gears don’t mix all that well. The road surface on the cycle track is nothing to write home about, sadly, but it’s sufficient.]

Where the hill finally flattens out, there is a wee turn-off to the Roman Army Museum and the B&B where we stayed on our spring tour and had a very nice and hilarious evening meal with a group of walkers going the opposite way, but I digress. There was yet more police presence, this time a patrol car parked with a friendly police woman asking the obvious questions as we waited for everybody to conquer the hill … what were we up to? … and of course, why? … We had quite a long chat, but eventually headed off along the very straight B6138 along the Wall which was completely deserted, apart from some owls hooting somewhere off to the right.

[The official NCN72 turns off the B road at the next opportunity and sweeps down the hill again to the town of Haltwhistle, which claims to be the Centre of Britain and has a number of shops and hostelries to feed and water hungry cyclists. Another reason for the diversion of the official cycle route away from the Wall is that the B road gets rather busy and motorists drive faster than they should, ignoring the restricted visibility due to the various dips and rises. That’s what our B&B landlady had told us, and turned out to be spot-on when we did a wee diversion off the NCN to visit the spectacular Roman Fort & museum at Housesteads … – but if I had to choose only one Roman site to see along the Wall, Housesteads would be my favourite.]

I think it was somewhere along this undulating B road that we came across a solo cyclist going the opposite way – we all said hello, like it was the most normal thing in the world to go cycling in the middle of the night and carried on cycling. At this stage, it might have been around 2 AM (?), I was starting to wonder when I might begin to feel tired, but Cathy, another 1st time night rider, and I agreed that we couldn’t possible have been more alert and alive than we were feeling. Maybe because it was all new to us and such an amazing experience, or because the temperature was dropping and stopping us from getting sleepy?

After another quick stop near the intriguingly named Twice Brewed Inn (and Once Brewed Hostel), where a slack chain was sorted, we soon left the deserted B road and headed down the 6-mile long descent to Newbrough along the Stanegate road. We were spread out again, and after I dropped back from the front group to add more layers, I was suddenly all alone. I could occasionally see the twinkling red lights of the front group ahead, and the yellow glow of the group behind just over my personal horizon, but this made me even more aware of just how quiet it was, apart from another owl, some sheep bleating off to the left, and suddenly a rather loud noise, from an invisible donkey that must have been startled by the strange flashing lights disturbing its peace.

Another quick stop to regroup resulted in a search for a dropped glove, which was eventually found on the other side of the stone wall next to the road and restored to its owner by a kind gentleman hopping over the wall. Suddenly the silence was interrupted by a polite sounding cough from the field over the wall, from the complete darkness outside the circle of lights surrounding us. “What was that?” We shone a light over the wall, and found a herd of cattle just a few metres away, panic over.

Next stop at Newbrough, to search for a front light that had worked itself loose from somebody’s handlebars, luckily it was found just a few metres behind, but I don’t think it survived the fall. We used the break to scoff some homemade flapjack, which lightened my load quite a bit. From there it wasn’t far to Bridge End, where we turned sharp right to cross an old stone bridge south over the South Tyne, just before its union with the North Tyne. [It was here that we turned off north on our Roman forts tour in April, to Chesters, just a few miles up the road, where we randomly came across a re-enactment group of Roman foot soldiers and cavalry spearing cabbage heads on stakes in full gallop, and a small museum completely stuffed with artefacts rescued by a local landowner who bought up several Roman sites in the vicinity to protect them from being robbed out for stones – well worth a visit if you are passing during opening hours.]

We shot up the slight incline beyond the bridge, past a signposted left turn for the riverside cycle route, but I assumed that this was intentional, grateful for the additional heat generated by the extra effort, as I was feeling quite cold at the time. We stopped where the road met up with the dualled A69 and some fast moving delivery lorries thundering past, to wait for Marcus, who was leading from the rear at this stage … only to decide to turn back to re-join the NCN72 by the bridge.

A little further on, on the edge of Hexham, we crossed over the railway line, and quickly reached the 24-hour supermarket that was our main planned food stop, it must have been a little after 4 AM. Just outside we were met by the very wide awake 14th night rider, who had made his own way to Hexham on his rather fetching trike. We all piled into the supermarket and did our shopping before congregating in the deserted café, where we scoffed an interesting assortment of foods. I saw sushi, sandwiches, rather colourful iced doughnuts, bananas, a large yoghurt pots very politely emptied with the folded up lid used as a spoon replacement, etc. Soon the first heads started to nod, and one body was stretched out on a row of chairs, fast asleep within seconds.

SleepyHexham
Sleepy in Hexham

NoddingOff
More nodding off ..

NoddingOff2
And more … while others were wide awake!

I was starting to warm up quite quickly once the food had found its way into my system (lesson learnt: body needs feeding if it is supposed to function properly in the middle of the night). But I still followed the example of somebody else and went on another shopping trip, to buy a pair of tights to wear under my rather ancient and thin Ronhill tracksters – I found some rather nice thermal tights which were perfect for the rest of the ride. Somebody mentioned that the lowest temperature he had measured during the night was 3-point-something degrees C.

Around 5:20 we were on our way again, leaving the bright lights of Hexham behind and heading back onto the NCN72 towards Corbridge. I thought I could make out a very slight brightening in the sky to the east, but wasn’t sure whether this was dawn starting to break or just an artefact of the slight mist reflecting our lights. Near the entrance to Corbridge Roman Town [another site looked after by English Heritage and well worth visiting – I’ll stop the tourist ads now] we came across another couple of well-lit cyclists going in the opposite direction, not sure if they were early commuters. In Corbridge itself, we met the early commuter bus to Newcastle and a few more delivery vans and lorries, but after the hill at the eastern edge of the town we soon turned off onto a wee road again.

By this time there was an orange glow on the horizon, and we could see the silhouettes of hills, trees and Prudhoe Castle with some very picturesque bits of mist floating about. It really was magical, words can’t do it justice. The wee road was twisting and turning, and there was a sudden steep uphill, which caused somebody on a fixie to start weaving across the road rather unexpectedly, right in front of me. I stopped and then had to walk a few steps to the top of the wee hill as I was in the wrong gear, whereas said fixie rider keeled over at 0 speed, fortunately the only injury was to pride, rather than rider or bike.

We then stopped at the entrance to a field, to wait for everybody to catch up, enjoying the views, and the very earnest discussion on the workings of free wheels and fixies and what happens when a bike of either of those persuasions goes backwards. This was rather funny, and indicated that maybe some brains were starting to show the effects of the lack of sleep…

Dawn
Dawn

FreewheelDemo
Demonstration of freewheeling backwards

At Ovingham, we crossed a pretty spectacular old bridge on stilts, clearly not built for modern traffic, but just about wide enough for single cars, as long as they weren’t too big… demonstrated by one car following us across. Immediately after the bridge, the cycle path heads off road and east along the Tyne, before crossing back north again after a few km, over another impressive bridge, this time a single span metal one. We stopped there for quite a while for photos, chatting and watching some rather large fish jump out of the water to catch insects, and I am pretty sure I saw a bat hunting close to the water surface, too.

TyneBridgeView3
On the single span bridge

TyneBridgeView1
Tyne looking west from single span bridge

TyneBridgeView2
Tyne looking east from single span bridge

By this time the first dog walkers were out in force, and most of us switched off at least some of our assorted bike lights, as they were definitely no longer needed to see by. The cycle path meandered along through woods and fields, with the sun rising as we neared Newcastle. Along the river, several herons were flying about, and we went on a slight detour due to some of us rushing ahead in our eagerness for breakfast – by this time I had been looking forward to a nice hot cup of tea for hours … we passed by a very closed looking café in an industrial estate, where on last year’s ride coffee and tea had been available, but sadly not this time. We pressed on around another bend or two in the river, and under the A1 motorway bridge. The path then left the river again and we cycled along a massive multi-lane road, on a shared pedestrian/cycle path that crossed over said lanes a couple of times via pedestrian lights and a big roundabout. As it was only 7:30/8AM on a Saturday morning, we didn’t really have to stop or wait anywhere, as there was only the odd delivery vehicle or car around, but I was thinking this must be pretty unpleasant during rush hour. Soon we turned back to the riverside with its wide pavement, along the tidal mudflats of the Tyne with lots of wading birds, ducks and gulls enjoying the early morning sunshine, and a fair number of cyclists and walkers doing the same, but on firm ground. The famous bridges across the river finally came into view, and suddenly we were at the Quayside, our breakfast destination. We parked up and shared bike locks before piling into the place, where the only other customers were a couple of fellow riders who had decided to meet us at for breakfast after their own night ride rather than doing Carlisle to Newcastle.

That first long-anticipated mug of tea was SOOO good, followed by a massive breakfast and more tea. We compared photos, sent messages home to report our safe arrival. Some headed on to the Hub, a cycle café just a bit further down the river, after a while. But inertia claimed most of us, and we just stayed and chatted some more or rested our eyes for a little while, before it was time to head to the train station and our separate ways. I dozed for a bit on the train between Newcastle & Berwick, but didn’t actually go to bed until just after 10pm, and slept like a log.

Overall the ride was 100+ km, at a rolling speed of somewhere between 10.x and 12.x mph, depending on whether one was mostly at the front or rear of the group (sorry about the mix of units, I’m only repeating what I seem to remember being told). One rider had even been recording “lap times”, which caused much amusement, until he explained that the laps were 10 mile stretches …

A massive thanks again to the Marcus for the idea in the first place, and for organising everybody, to all my fellow night riders for their company, help with fixing my puncture, and the entertainment … this definitely won’t be my last night ride, but I might wait for slightly warmer nights before I have another go.

This post started as a thread on the CycleChat forum.

It’s not far, so leave the car…

It’s not far, so leave the car…

Almost three years ago I wrote a post called Say no to ridiculous car trips in which I pointed out that there has been a steady decline in the number of journeys which people are taking by active means. Scarily enough 20% of people said they take walks of 20 minutes less than once a year or never, which goes a long way to explaining why in the UK an estimated 60.8 per cent of adults and 31.1 per cent of children are overweight. This of course comes at a cost, in the cast of the NHS more than £5bn every year and the wider economy more than £2bn a year in lost productivity.

One obvious solution to this is get people more active, this is where active travel has a role to play, so I was please to hear that the Scottish Government was finally going to take some action. Sadly it turned only this 40 second video and not anything substantial such as putting real funding into active travel or seriously trying to make the roads safer (I have a few suggestions of how to do that).

OK, so it is a start, but is not enough and that is why I will be joining the second Pedal on Parliament protest ride on Sunday.

A cycle bloggers conference?

A cycle bloggers conference?

While in the shower this morning, I was thinking about social media networking and how it has changed my life. When I first started writing this blog I had no idea of just how much impact it was going to make on my life, nor did I realise what its dominant theme would become. One evening, while writing a post about my ride to work or some such (I can’t remember which post it was), I wanted to check something on Google, and this led me to my first encounter with cycle forums. Starting with the old Cycle Plus forum which then became BikeRadar, I then joined the refugees leaving the abysmal BikeRadar who flooded onto a tiny forum called Cycle Chat (which has since grown somewhat), and latterly City Cycling Edinburgh.

These fora introduced me to ideas about cycling which I had never come across, for instance it had never crossed my mind that people really believed plastic hats were some sort of safety device. I also learned that getting involved in “helmet debates” could result in a lot of energy being expended to no useful purpose. Along the way I also made a few new friends and met fellow bloggers, the likes of Dave Brennan aka Magnatom. Coming closer the present day, at a conference on plants I was introduced to Twitter by @Flic_Anderson (that’s who is to be praised/blamed – delete as you feel appropriate). Through Twitter I discovered more bloggers, such as Sally Hinchcliffe, and also found that there were whole networks of bloggers, who use their blogs to discuss and develop ideas. I picked out those two bloggers for a reason, as we went on to start Pedal on Parliament together.

After the first Pedal on Parliament protest ride, we had a discussion about the importance of the blogosphere in the success of such events. At the time we discussed how we might try to engage with the Scottish cycle bloggers, how to get all of us to swap ideas and spark off each other, in the way some of the London cycle bloggers do. This was also a technique used by the #salvaiciclisti movement (the Italian equivalent of PoP), who managed to bring 50,000 people with bicycles onto the streets of Rome. After that event Paolo Pinzuti wrote a handy wee guide on How To Start Your Own Bicycle Revolution: A Blogger’s Guide.

So there I was, mulling all this over in the shower, when the thought occurred to me what we should have a cycle bloggers conference. A conference as in: a) meeting for consultation or discussion, or b) an exchange of views, not a formal event with plenary sessions and key note speakers. Hey, it could even involve going for a ride. The point being to bring together bloggers scattered across Scotland (and maybe beyond), to give us the chance to meet one another and exchange ideas (although it might be necessary to ban any mention of plastic hats). This could be done as a part of the Edinburgh Festival of Cycling, or could be somewhere else … either way, who is interested?

The QBC to Leith Walk, where did it all go wrong?

The QBC to Leith Walk, where did it all go wrong?

There has been a real sense of hope in the air, cycling was/is on the up following the Olympics. There was talk of a Golden Legacy, which seemed to have some support from the City of Edinburgh Council. It seemed there was a chance that Edinburgh could really become the cycle friendly city that has so long been promised, it is after all the only city in the UK to have signed the Charter of Brussels. It has also committed 5% of its Transport budget to cycling and drawn up an Active Travel Action Plan.

All in all, you might expect that Edinburgh is in a good position to become Scotland’s top cycling city. However, things are not as good as they should be, the money may be there, but what is it being spent on? Well, recently we have seen the opening of the so called Quality Bike Corridor (QBC), built at a cost of £650,000. Now, with a name like that ,you’d expect something really special. You’d expect the local cycling community to be jumping up and down with excitement, but I am not, and I am not alone in my disappointment. I have recently discovered that this route has been 27 years in planning, and that the original 1985 plan was considerably more ambitious that the current miserable effort. Something has obviously gone badly wrong!

As if this wasn’t enough, there is the case of Leith Walk. Following the decision not to take the new Edinburgh tram “network” down Leith Walk, this road now has to be re-developed. This should be an ideal opportunity for the Council to show some commitment and add in some good quality cycling infrastructure. This is something which the local residents named as their top priority in the consultation on the re-development of the area. However, the council planners seem to have decided to totally ignore the local desire for good quality cycle infrastructure alone the entire length of the road, and instead have planned for just a short bike lane between the two roundabouts at the top. This is according to a leaked document, I don’t have any further details at present.

leaked doc

At this point it needs to be made clear that the Council’s Active Travel Action Plan is now aimed at 15% of commuter journeys to be by bike by 2020, rather than 15% of all journeys (in other words, a 15% modal share for cycling). This means the Council is not interested in achieving a modal shift by making the roads safe for family cycling, as has been done in every place where cycling levels are high. The question is: who are facilities like the QBC for? “Experienced, confident cyclists”, according to the plan – who are they? The road warriors, the club cyclists, the MAMILs who are cycling already? But these groups (tribes?) will cycle without £650,000 being spent on some coloured tarmac, and a poorly designed junction at KB. Also, it is very unlikely that this group will expand to 15% of commuter journeys in a few years’ time, let alone 15% of all journeys. It is currently not safe for family cycling. We have seen increased interest in cycling in the past, similar to the current post-Olympic boom, which failed to result in large increases in modal share (whereas commuting modal share has increased slightly over the last decades). The modal share in Edinburgh remains stubbornly around 2%, as the majority of the population don’t feel it is safe to cycle on the roads. If we want to change this, we have to make riding a bicycle as a means of transport safe, convenient and easy for everyone, not just “experienced, confident cyclists”.

According to Prof John Whitelegg, speaking at a recent conference, politicians think that 60% of citizens prefer motorised travel, whereas only 15% of citizens actually do. He is also on record for saying there is no reason why we can’t have 20% of trips by bike by 2020, we just need the political will to do so. Of course, things are not helped by the Dutch saying that it takes 20 years to get to where they are in terms of infrastructure. This maybe so when you look at changing transport infrastructure over the entire country. But at a local level, changes can happen much faster by using temporary measures, such as white paint and plastic bollards to create safe space, as has been done to great effect in New York. The effect of these simple measures had a dramatic effect on the local economy, with retail sales increasing by up to 49%. So you would think this is something that the City of Edinburgh Council would be grabbing with both hands. Instead, Edinburgh is spending £55,000 a week on “free parking” as a part of the “Alive after 5” campaign. Newcastle has experimented with the same campaign, but couldn’t split how many people came by bus, bike, on foot, etc. Basically this is money just thrown down the drain.

Edinburgh is recognised as being the best place in the UK to live, so why is the Council looking to places which are not as good? To make Edinburgh a better place to live, we should be looking outward and copying ideas from cities which are recognised as being among the best places in the world. Places like Copenhagen, a city that owes its success to the ideas of Jan Gehl. A man who told the Sir Patrick Geddes Commemorative Lecture 2012: “Edinburgh looks fantastic from the air, but if you go to eye level it looks neglected and treats people as sheep”. He has “been coming to Edinburgh for 47 years, this is a city that needs to take power from traffic engineers”. He says that “lists of most liveable cities in the world don’t include Edinburgh or other Scottish or UK cities.” In order to change this, “there is a need for political commitment to working towards becoming the most liveable city in the world”. So there we have it, until the Council starts looking for ideas from places that have a proven track record of being the best places in the world to live and stop treating people like sheep, they will continue throw council tax payers’ money down the drain!

Open letter to MSPs on Active Travel

Open letter to MSPs on Active Travel

Having made suggestions as to how to include active travel in party manifestos (here and here) and the Scottish Budget coming up, I though it time to write to my MSPs about this issue. So I sent this message to them via WriteToThem.

Dear Sarah Boyack, Neil Findlay, Margo MacDonald, Alison Johnstone, Kezia Dugdale, David McLetchie, Gavin Brown, and Marco Biagi,

As you know, I am keen to see an increase in Active Travel, so welcomed the recent announcement of an additional £6m to be spent on encouraging cycling. Although I was rather disappointed to hear that it was to be spread over two years and that £500,000 will be wasted on the “Give me space” campaign (Where is the research that this sort of campaign produces any long term benefit? Surely policy should be based on sound evidence?). The small increase in funding is a long way short of the level of funding needed to achieve the CAPS target of 10% of all journeys by 2020. In order to reach this target, spending needs to be at least £25 per head of population, which is rather more than the 50p per head which has just been announced.

The problem with this approach is that nowhere enough is being put into actually making the roads safe for people to cycle. The economic and social benefits of increasing levels of Active Travel are well known. When the economic analysis of the English Cycling Demonstration Towns was carried out, it was found that the overall benefit-cost ratio was 19:1 (with the bulk of the benefit coming from health improvements). This is significantly greater than any of the high-cost road projects which the Scottish Government is currently investing. It is in contrast to the claims that “We are using every possible opportunity to support economic recovery, create growth and maximise the effect of every pound spent”. If this were the case, the Scottish Government should be putting far more into active, sustainable travel and cutting back on the vanity projects.

There are claims that it takes years for the health benefits to be seen, but these clams are not supported by the medical literature. There are an increasing number of papers which show that when sedentary, often over weight patients are encouraged to take regular exercise their health shows improvements within weeks. Like wise with air pollution, there is plenty of evidence to show that reducing motor vehicle traffic dramatically improves air quality and this impacts on people health. Recent studies from China have shown that the improvements to air quality prior to and during the Beijing Olympics, there was an clear improvement in the health of people living in Beijing. That this declined again after the Olympics ended as air quality declined following the restrictions on emissions.

Scotland currently has one of the worst health records in Europe, twenty years ago this place was taken by Finland. Now Finland has a good health record with some of the healthiest citizens in Europe, they made the change by encouraging people to eat healthily and take regular exercise. Currently 10% of all journeys in Finland are made by bicycle, they improved the health of the nation by encouraging healthy eating and regular exercise. Active Travel is an important part of the mix in encouraging regular exercise, it makes it easy and also make life more pleasant for everyone. At a time when resources are being squeezed, it is better that money is spent to benefit the greatest number of people. Improving infrastructure to make Active Travel safe, easy and convenient, can improve the health of the whole nation. Whereas spending billions of pounds to reduce the journey time between Perth and Inverness by 12 minutes is a waste of money.

Please ask the Finance and Transport Minsters to support Active Travel and stop wasting money on nonsensical road schemes which offer very low social and economic returns.

Yours sincerely,

Kim Harding

 

The reply I have received so far are given below in the order in which they were received. The first was from Neil Findlay (Lab):

Thanks Kim, I too believe that active travel is better than spending money on Tarmac and road building and will speak to colleagues about this in the run up to the budget.

 

Next was Alison Johnstone (Green):

Dear Kim

Thank you very much for getting in touch on this important issue. As we work closely together, you know that the Scottish Green MSPs have consistently called for substantially increased spending on public transport and active travel within the Scottish Government’s transport budget and the levels announced are, indeed, far below what we need. I believe the Government’s spending priorities are wrong, by prioritising an absurdly expensive second road bridge across the Firth of Forth ahead of other areas, such as active travel, that would be far healthier for people, better for the environment, and reduce costs and congestion.

Our most recent manifesto included a commitment to target 10% of the transport budget towards active travel. It is vitally important to ensure that those who wish to cycle are encouraged to do so and the provision of new and maintenance of existing cycle lanes will help progress this aim. Safe streets with well-maintained pavements are required if we wish to see an increase in those walking to work and education. Street furniture should be streamlined and safer routes to school should be in operation across the school estate.

I have, and will continue to do all I can to challenge the Government, so that money within Scotland’s budget flows in a direction that improves people’s health, livelihoods and our environment. To this end, as you know, I have spoken about active travel, public transport and infrastructure within a number of Parliamentary debates. I hope that our new-ish Cross Party Group on Cycling can act as a focus for these messages to the Government.

Please be assured of my continued support on this matter.

Yours sincerely

Alison

 

So far Sarah Boyack’s (Lab) staff have acknowledged my letter twice, but Sarah herself has yet to reply, which is unusual and has now sent a pdf rely.

The most recent reply has been from Marco Biagi (SNP)

Dear Mr Harding,

Thank you again for raising this issue, and there is indeed much in your email that I agree with. As you know I was involved in the parliamentary side of securing the first additional £13m and indeed also this further £6m. I spoke on Thursday in Perth [at the SNP party conference] to many of my colleagues about the importance of creating foot-friendly cities both in terms of walking and cycling, and I will continue to work in Parliament toward that end also. I do believe the necessary framework is now in place, provided local authorities seek to show leadership. I think we can also both agree that neither of us would object to increased resourcing of the plan as set out.

Yours
Marco Biagi

 

I will add further replies as I receive them.

 

Gifford for lunch?

Gifford for lunch?

The plan was simple, ride out to Gifford, have lunch, pootle around East Lothian for a bit and take some photos before going home again. Well, that was the plan. It was one of those autumnal days when the air was clear and the sun bright, so I packed my big camera in a pannier and we set off, heading out through Holyrood Park, with the intention of picking up the Innocent path below the tunnel. Arriving at the park, we found there were lots of people running along the roads. Although the roads are normally closed on a Sunday, there aren’t usually this many runners around, nor are they usually as muddy as this lot were. We noticed a sign proclaiming “Survival of the Fittest” and realised this was some sort of race, also they were being directed down the path towards the Innocent tunnel. At this point we decided to carry on to Duddingston instead and join the Innocent Path and the NCN 1 after that. So far so good.

At Brunstane we had the absurdity of having to carry the bikes over the footbridge to cross the railway line. This always grates, it is typical of the couldn’t care less attitude of British transport planners. This bridge could easily be made accessible to wheelchair users, parents with pushchairs and cyclists with a little thought, but no, just put up something that is inadequate and tell people to make do. Certainly in the past, the same attitude has been shown by Sustrans, describing this as part of a Traffic Free route and the National Cycle Network. Why do we have to put up with second rate crap? For that matter why does Sustrans think this is suitable for an international long distance cycle route? Rant over*.

We departed the NCN1 at Whitecraig, and where we headed towards Smeaton Shaw, when we had to stop to investigate a strange rattling coming from the back of Ulli’s bike. It turned out to be a loose cable from her rear light, cable tided away we carried on. We had not gone much further, to the turn off onto the old railway line to Ormiston, when I noticed a strange rattling coming from the back of my bike. On stopping to investigate, I found this to be rather more serious. One of the bolts attaching the pannier rack to my bike was hanging loose and the spacer between it and the frame was missing (as I now have disk brakes, there has to be a spacer to stop the rack from pressing on the calliper and applying the brake). Fortunately we only had one pannier each, so I could swap mine onto Ulli’s bike. However I was reluctant to go on, as I was worried about the bolt shaking loose and being lost, so we decided to head home again.

On reaching the Esk, the bolt was still holding firm and Ulli suggested that we head to Musselburgh for lunch instead. We followed the path down the Esk to the town, but couldn’t find anywhere that looked interesting to eat. Rather than retrace our route, we headed west along the coast to Portobello. So it was that for a second weekend in a row we found ourselves on Porty Prom, this time I decided to get the camera out and take a few photos:

Looking across the Forth
Looking across the Forth.

Porty beach on an autumnal day
Porty beach on an autumnal day.

Tides out
The tide was out, people were wandering about…

Fetch!
… and a dog was fetching a stick.

Strange vessels in the Forth
There were some odd looking vessels out the Forth.

Arthur's Seat from the other side
Then, on the way home we took in the view of Arthur’s Seat from the other side, the low angle of the sun showing up the prehistoric cultivation terraces.

The morale of the story, it is always worth carrying a camera…

* I have now been told that there is a way round without going over the bridge.

A few images of the “Quality Bike Corridor” Edinburgh

A few images of the “Quality Bike Corridor” Edinburgh

I my last post I gave a few thoughts on the “Quality Bike Corridor” in Edinburgh, but I forgot to add any images. So here are a few, just count the number of parked cars…

Quality Bike Corridor?
Note the way the cycle lane takes cyclists around the outside of the parked cars and down the left side of queuing traffic which may turn left at the lights. There is no way this can be considered to be best practice.

Quality Bike Corridor?

Quality Bike Corridor?

Quality Bike Corridor?

Note that only two of the motor vehicles shown above are parked legally, the one in the first picture and the yellow car.

The Quality Bike Corridor (QBiC) does have a 20mph speed limit along only a short section:

Southern end of the 20mph limit:
Edinburgh's new 20 mph Zone
^looking south (end of 20mph)
Edinburgh's new 20 mph Zone
^looking north (start of 20mph)

Northern end of the 20mph limit:
Edinburgh's new 20 mph Zone
^looking south (start of 20mph)
Edinburgh's new 20 mph Zone
^looking north (end of 20mph)

It is worth noting that at the northern end of the 20 mph zone stops short of an existing accident black sport, so not the best place to encourage drivers to accelerate.

Yet the roads with the highest rates of Road Traffic Accidents (RTAs) are not given 20mph speed limits:
RTAs south Edinburgh
From ITO road casualties UK.

Thoughts on the Quality Bike Corridor

Thoughts on the Quality Bike Corridor

This post first appeared on the STV Edinburgh website, as part of a series of articles for Bike Week. I have slightly rewritten and expanded it here.

As I have said before, cycling is a good thing, as it achieves so many policy objectives: it is clean, it is green, it reduces congestion, it can boost local economic activity. It is healthy – active people, such as regular cyclists, live longer and make fewer calls on the NHS. In addition, people who use active ways of travel to get to work are more productive, it is relatively cheap and therefore has great potential to save money (the future savings in health costs alone make worthwhile). Apart from all that, over distances of up to 10Km cycling is fast and efficient, it is also fun and increasingly fashionable. So it is no wonder that many people want to be able to use bicycles to make short journeys. Surveys have shown that up to 60% of ordinary people would like to be able cycle for transport on short journeys, at least some of the time. So what is stopping them? The answer is simple, they don’t feel it is safe to ride on the roads, and this is the major barrier to increasing cycling rates across Scotland.

When I first heard about the proposed Quality Bike Corridor between the King’s Buildings and George IV Bridge, I thought this was a great idea. I have been cycling in Edinburgh for nearly 20 years and must have ridden parts of this route thousands of times, starting from when I was a student at the King’s Buildings. Over the years I have noticed a number of changes around the city. In the early years there were the new, and then controversial, cycle lanes painted red at the side of the road, then the introduction of Advanced Stop Lines (ASL) at traffic lights. Over that same period, the annual counts of commuter cyclists carried out by the SPOKES Cycle Campaign, have risen steadily.

However, cycling as a share of all means of transport for all short journeys remains low. Why isn’t utility cycling taking off, when cycling is apparently booming and the City of Edinburgh Council has committed 5% of its transport budget to cycling? Part of the problem is the “dual network” approach. This is based on the idea that people will start off on the “family network” which is “catering for less confident cyclists” and then, as they gain confidence (and maybe have some training), they will “graduate” to using the “Quality Bike Corridors” as part of the “cycle-friendly city”. According to the council’s Active Travel Action Plan this is to “include on street cycle facilities such as cycle lanes, enhanced cycle parking/loading restrictions and marketing” [sic]. Here is the central flaw, this “cycle-friendly city” is aimed at “confident cyclists” who are happy to ride on the roads with the existing motor traffic. These are the people who are already cycling, not the ordinary people who want to cycle but don’t at present because they don’t feel safe. If the aim is to create a truly cycle-friendly city, then there would be no need for a “family network”, all areas of the city would be accessible by people riding bicycles, as almost all Dutch cities and many more cities across Europe are.

The section of the Active Travel Action Plan which deals with cycling recognises that “safety, and perceived safety, especially on busy roads” is a barrier to cycling. However, given the rising rates of pedestrians and cyclists injured on the roads across Scotland as a result of collisions with motor vehicles (Provisional results from Transport Scotland for 2011), it is time for a change in approach. We need to look to best practice internationally. In the Netherlands, where 25% of trips are by bicycle, the risk of being killed or seriously injured is over seven times lower than in the UK. The “dual network” approach does not in any way fit with the Dutch approach, which is based on the concept of Sustainable Safety. In order to make cycling as a means of transport attractive to the greatest number of people, the routes available need to be direct, pleasant and safe. It should not be required to make a choice between direct and safe, however this is implicit in the dual network approach. Only on the “family network” is there any form of separation or traffic calming (i.e., on quite back roads, which are quiet because they don’t offer direct easy access to anywhere). This is the central flaw to the “dual network” approach, that it is designed to avoid making any changes to the road environment which might “inconvenience” the motorist. For this reason, we have painted bike lanes which go around car parking bays on the “Quality Bike Corridor” (aka QBiC or QBC), rather than removing the parking on main roads. In Paris before introducing their Vélib cycle share scheme 7000 car parking spaces were removed and cycle lanes introduced, the world did not end, the city did not grind to a halt.

I am not alone in being disappointed that the first “Quality Bike Corridor” has made no attempt to provide a separated on-street cycle lane, or cycle priority junctions (no, ASLs just don’t cut it). Many of the 3,000 people who Pedalled on Parliament feel the same disappointed that a more ambition approach wasn’t tried. There are cities in the UK which are experimenting with separated cycle infrastructure, among them Birmingham, Manchester, London and even Glasgow! Although none of these have cycling rates approaching those of cycle-friendly cities on mainland Europe. No, the Edinburgh approach is simply not good enough, we need change, we need to move forward and learn from our near neighbours across the North Sea.

Addendum: I have added a new post with images from the “Quality Bike Corridor”.

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