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.
Anyone approaching Dumfries from the west by way of the Maxwelltown Path, the north by way of the Caledonian Cycleway or even the south via NCN7, might feel that Dumfries has a good cycling network with good provision for cyclists of all abilities. However, anyone living to the east of the town – including all the new housing being built along the Lockerbie Road – would consider it entirely hostile to bikes. The two main routes coming into the town from this direction, the Lockerbie and Annan Roads, have absolutely no provision for bikes at all, and there’s no alternative if you want to go east-west. This means that anyone wanting to visit the new Tescos, the retail park – or who lives in the new houses – is more or less forced to drive or use the bus unless they’re very confident cyclists or cycle on the pavement. The Lockerbie Road in particular is very hostile to cycling – narrow and busy near the town centre, and very fast flowing as you get out towards the bypass. This is the most glaring gap in the town’s cycling network and should be a priority for the council to sort out if it wants to encourage more people to cycle.
Up until now, we’ve looked at areas where small, simple – even cheap – changes could make a big difference. Unfortunately, sorting out these two roads will take bigger changes.
The Annan Road at least does have room for decent cycling provision and this should be the first priority. There are two options which would be suitable: bike lanes (i.e. on road space for bikes) and bike tracks (where the bikes are physically separated from the cars by means of a raised curb). Bike lanes are often very badly designed in the UK – too narrow, only separated by a dashed line (which means cars can cross into them without penalty), disappear at junctions, and cars can either park on them, or they run outside the line of parked cars, putting bikes in the ‘door zone’, meaning they’re at risk if a driver opens their door just as they’re trying to cycle past. On the Annan road there is room to put in a decent width of lane – a minimum of 1.5m in both directions, and for extra protection the lane should run along the inside of any parking, keeping bikes away from the traffic. (see this example from America, where such protected bike lanes have seen cycling number increase by 50%)
Even better would be a segregated track, of the sort that has been put in in Glasgow
This would provide reasonable security from the traffic, and would be a very visible encouragement to cycle, although such tracks are not cheap to put in. We think that it would be worth creating such a facility in Dumfries to demonstrate that cycling doesn’t have to be confined to old railway lines and river paths – bikes can be given their own space on the main roads as they are the ones that go where people want to go.
The Lockerbie Road is even tougher as there’s simply no room for a solution of this kind. Even drivers tend to avoid it, if they can take the Annan Road instead. Possibly, if a high quality segregated route were created on the Annan Road that might be enough, but there are things that can be done on a road like this. The first, and simplest, is to make it a 20mph road, which would instantly make it safer for pedestrians, drivers and cyclists. However, it’s unlikely that that on its own would make it attractive to novice cyclists as they would still have to contend with buses and lorries. Further out, where the speed limit goes up to 60mph now, there is room for a fully segregated path, as with the Annan Road, and this would be the minimum provision we’d recommend given how fast and busy that road is now.
The second option would be to make it one-way along the narrowest part of the route for cars, but two way for bikes. This would make space for a contraflow bike lane – but would seriously inconvenience buses on the Lockerbie route, as well as people who lived along that part of the road. Making the road two way for buses as well would mean there would be no extra room for bikes, although it would cut down on the traffic for cyclists to contend with and make the road more pleasant for pedestrians as well.
Finally, a more radical solution would be to use ‘filtered permeability’, i.e. close the road off partway along its length, with a gate that allowed buses and bikes through, but not other traffic. The rest of the road would still be two way – but it would no longer be a road to anywhere except the houses and businesses along its length. The radical drop in traffic that this would entail would make it much less hostile to bikes, especially if combined with a 20mph zone. Drivers to the retail parks could still reach them via the cross streets further up, while traffic going to and from Lockerbie would have a slightly longer trip round on the bypass. Residents could still cut through on the side streets easily enough – and they would also be able to choose the bike or bus as a more direct alternative, as well as enjoy a much quieter and less polluted environment. The Annan Road would get busier, but not by as much as you might think. Just as when new roads are built they quickly fill up with traffic, when roads are closed, some of the traffic simply disappears as people find alternative ways to get about. And on the rest of the road, there would be room to create a high quality bike route, just as for the Annan Road.
We appreciate that this is pretty radical and it’s possible that Dumfries isn’t ready for it. However it is just the sort of approach – cutting through routes for cars, creating them for bikes and buses – that the Dutch have used to create cycling rates of 25% of all journeys – and 50% in some towns and cities. Imagine the difference to Dumfries that that would make.