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.
Apologies for the break in the series – life and other cycling stuff got in the way. But a trip down to Glencaple earlier this week served as a reminder of one of the least obvious gaps in our cycling network – even though it’s technically already part of our cycling network.
As the map shows, NCN7 offers a direct route from Glencaple to Dumfries (it’s not even particularly hilly…) Any experience road or touring cyclist might look at the road and wonder what the problem was. After all, there are no roundabouts, it’s not a dual carriageway – apart from the usual potholes, it might be thought of as perfectly acceptable as a bike route. But bear in mind, the National Cycle Network guidelines say that NCN routes should be “suitable for use by a novice adult cyclist, a family with young children or a sensible unaccompanied twelve-year-old.”
As it happens, I was talking to someone who might be described as a novice adult cyclist before I set off – she loves riding her bike, and has been riding daily in the winter along the riverside paths, but the prospect of riding to Glencaple, even with a companion, made her extremely nervous. She’s not the only one. Other friends have refused to contemplate cycling to Glencaple (despite the lure of its excellent cafe) and although we have taken our summer rides down there, even riding in a group feels unpleasant and risky. In fact, even hardened road cyclists don’t like that stretch of road either, many preferring to take the Bankend route instead, despite it going out of their way and involving steeper hills.
The problem is, although the road is not particularly busy, it’s busy enough, and it’s fast. Unusually for a rural road around here it has a centre line which means cars don’t have to worry about the prospect of giving way to an oncoming vehicle, so they get up to speed and are impatient if they perceive a bike to be holding them up. It’s also narrow – narrow enough that if a car is overtaking you and another car comes the other way, you’re going to end up in the hedge, and even if there’s nothing coming the other way having a vehicle whip past you at 60 when you’re doing at best 15mph is nerve wracking at close quarters. Add in the potholes and the notorious dogleg just past Kelton – where drivers often cut corners – and it doesn’t make for a pleasant day out. It certainly isn’t somewhere I’d be happy to send an unaccompanied 12-year-old on a bike, however sensible.
The ideal solution would be to provide a completely off-road route along the river – making the bike a really pleasant option for both Glencaple residents wanting to go the five miles into town, and for tourists wanting to visit the cafe in Glencaple or go on to Caerlaverock castle and the Wetland centre. However, even if an upgraded river path was to be funded (which is unlikely seeing as Sustrans already considers the route to be complete on the current road) it would be prone to flooding during high tides and would be quite an engineering task. An alternative would be to make the road itself more hospitable to cycling (and indeed walking).
The Dutch solution to such a situation is actually quite familiar to anyone who knows the roads around here – make it a single track road! Here’s an example from David Hembrow’s blog A View from the Cycle Path (which is recommended reading by the way for anyone who’s interested in what really top class cycling provision looks like and how it works)
The road is visually narrowed to about 4m – about the width of a single track road – with the rest of the tarmac taken up by what are effectively bike lanes. The absence of a centre line slows cars down as they know they may have to negotiate with something coming the other way. There would still be room for cars to pass each other and for the Glencaple bus as well as farm traffic, but any cyclist gets their own space. Anyone who’s done much rural riding here knows that on the whole, drivers on single track roads are generally patient with bikes, waiting until there’s room to pass, much more so than on a wider road where you’d think there would be room for everyone.
The Dutch would also limit the speed on this road to 60km/h – about 40mph. Considering poor old Kelton only gets a 50mph limit when the road passes through, this would be a major improvement for everyone (it would theoretically add about 2.5 minutes to the drive from Glencaple, but that time is easily lost in congestion getting into town, so increasing the number of people choosing to use their bikes instead might actually improve things for drivers too).
Update: A commenter on Facebook has added:
John Henry There is a riverside track all the way from Kingholm Quay, I cycled it last week. Someone has spent a fair bit of cash bridging all the big ditches/creeks. I am sure it is intended as a walk but it is an easy ride on a mountain bike. From my home it was a 20ml round trip.
Perhaps an off-road route would be a possibility as well.