On Tuesday, Mike Gray and I attended the Cycling Scotland ‘Go Dutch’ conference in Edinburgh, which was held jointly with Dutch cycling experts. As the Netherlands sees over a quarter of all journeys take place by bike (with more than half in some areas), clearly it has a lot to teach us about how to make our towns and cities places where everyone feels they can cycle.
It was a very full day, and there was way more information than can be summarised here (I’ll add a link to the presentations once they’re available), but following Mike Gray’s wise advice, I thought I’d share the three main points that came across very strongly throughout the day. Basically, if the government wants to reach its stated target of 10% of journeys by bike by 2020 then they need to:
– concentrate on creating a network (rather than isolated individual cycle route) connecting all the places where people want to go to
– think local first, looking at journeys of under five miles
– make it more convenient to walk or cycle these short trips than to go by car.
As an example of the last point, we saw the entrance to Delft University, which was only accessible on foot, by bike or by tram. In contrast, the last time I cycled through the Crichton at around 5pm it was clearly being used as a rat run by through traffic.
The Dutch made the point that cycling facilities had to be made safe and feel safe – which meant wide bike lanes (1.5m wide at a minimum) or, even better, completely separated tracks for bicycles. Looking at Edinburgh’s recently opened Quality Bike Corridor they commetned ‘Narrow painted lanes suggest safety without providing safety’ (goodness knows what they’d make of the shared-use pavement along Hardthorn Road which not only make life unpleasant for the pedestrians but which require cyclists to cross the road half way along and continue on the other side). Sure, good (‘Rolls Royce’ as the Dutch described them) bicycle facilities are expensive – but the cost can be lowered by making sure that every time a road or junction is going to be dug up, then bicycle facilities are designed in from the start. A lesson for Edinburgh, still in the throes of its tram works, could definitely take on board.
So what does it mean for Cycling Dumfries? Well, we took away three main lessons that we’ll be putting into practice over the next few weeks and months:
- identify the missing links that would join our existing cycle paths up into a really useful network
- be ambitious in what we ask for; we may not get ‘Rolls Royce’ facilities, but there’s no point wasting money on paint on the road or the pavement if it’s going to be actively dangerous. That doesn’t do anyone any good
- identify ways to make it easier to get around by bike and not just by car. For instance, Dumfries has already done a lot to make it hard to drive through the town centre, with one-way and partially closed streets – but that also hampers people on bikes. Simply allowing bikes to cycle up and down Bank Stret, for example, or two ways on the High Street, would do a lot to make the bike a more practical alternative.
We’ve already started identifying the missing links: stand by for a series of posts laying them out in more detail. And we hope that anyone reading this will chip in with suggestions of their own.