This post is one of our Missing Links series, where we’ll be detailing how the existing cycling network could be made more joined up. The aim is to make it easy for people to cycle safely anywhere they need to go, making the bike a true practical alternative to the car for shorter journeys in Dumfries.
Maxwelltown High School is probably the easiest secondary school to reach by bike, at least in its surrounding area. Unlike St. Joseph’s and the Academy the streets around it are primarily residential ones, and unlike the High School, the streets around it are generally wide, and the houses have off-street parking, so bikes dont’ have to be squeezed in with the traffic. In general, Lochside and Lincluden have high cycling rates, including cycling to school. Lochside Primary always has an impressive number of bikes in its bike racks even in the depths of winter.
There are two principle routes that join Maxwelltown High to the traffic-free network, outlined in red (via Lochside Road) and blue (via Hardthorn Road) on the map:
Lochside Road, the principal route through the area, is a 20mph limit for much of its length and has a short stretch of off-road path alongside it between the McDonalds and the church. It’s a popular route for commuting cyclists. Unfortunately, the traffic calming measures used, road cushions, tend to make it quite hostile for all but the most confident cyclists. Drivers seem to become obsessed by getting their wheels squarely over the little humps and so woe betide any cyclist who they’re passing at the time. Cyclists, too, are encouraged right over to the left hand side of the road, where they are more likely to be squeezed by an impatient driver. As a result, unsurprisingly, most cyclists vote with their feet and simply cycle along the pavement, making it unpleasant for pedestrians. This has been further encouraged by a short stretch of shared use pavement which doesn’t have any really clear ending to it, so it’s not obvious to any cyclist when (or how) they are supposed to get back onto the road.
Fortunately there’s masses of room on this road to put in a proper, separated track for cyclists on both sides of the road, running parallel to the road but separate to the pavement. Similar tracks have been created in Glasgow, and they are ubiquitous in the Netherlands, where as a result there are very high levels of cycling, including children of all ages getting independently to school. This would not need to impact on the parking, nor on the bus stops, as the tracks could run inside both, reducing conflicts between cyclists and drivers, and between cyclists and bus passengers. It would mean losing some of the nice grass verges. The road cushions could be removed, and instead traffic calming could be provided by moving the parking bays so that they narrowed the road lanes somewhat, encouraging drivers to negotiate their passage. This would provide a really high quality route and benefit everyone, including drivers.
For the Hardthorn Road route, you might think the problem is already halfway solved – for there is already a cycle path, off the road, that runs from the Maxwelltown path down towards the turn off to the school. This is needed because Hardthorn Road is wide and straight – encouraging drivers to get up to some speed. In the winter, it’s extra hazardous because in the morning the path is oriented so that the low winter sun is right in drivers’ eyes.
Unfortunately, this path pretty much embodies poor quality cycling provision. For a start, it’s shared use – in other words, it’s a pavement with a picture of a bike painted on it. This puts bikes into conflict with pedestrians – and that pavement is quite well used. And it’s not even particularly safe, as the picture shows, because half way along its length cyclists have to suddenly cross the road – the wide, fast road, remember – and proceed along the other side. Not only that, but it’s the opposite side of the road to the turn off to the school. So anyone wanting to use the path has to cross the road twice. I don’t know what the people who designed that path were thinking. They certainly weren’t thinking ‘bike’.
Once more, there’s masses of room to put in a decent cycle track, separated from both cars and people on foot. Once up to the quieter residential streets, then the bikes can rejoin the road especially if the speed limit is 20mph.
The result would connect not just Maxwelltown High School, but the whole of Lochside, into the bike network. Given that this is a part of Dumfries where car ownership is low, and people often have to use their bikes to get to work or to the shops, this would be a significant improvement to the town.