We promised you a more detailed posting on the new Mabie route, and here are our first impressions. Bear in mind that this is a brand new route, developed in conjunction with Sustrans, and so we could expect that it would be of a high quality. Unfortunately, that’s not entirely the case. Although the bulk of what has been built is okay, and certainly perfectly safe to ride on with children and novice cyclists, as is far too often the case, the infrastructure simply disappears just at the point where you might need it most. As a result, it will probably get much less use than it otherwise would, and particularly among those people who might benefit from it most.
Let’s start with the route itself. It joins Dumfries to Mabie Forest – which seems on the face of it a good thing. It’s clearly intended to boost tourism and the plans are to signpost the route from the station, aiming squarely at visitors to the town (at the moment it’s not signposted at all, so good luck finding it – we certainly would have struggled had Rhian not known the way). Cyclists can use it to visit Mabie Farm Park (and its cafe, which will be opened to all comers, not just those who have paid to enter the Farm Park) and Mabie Forest itself. At about 5.5 miles, it’s a feasible distance even for novice riders on Orange Bikes (as we proved last week) although whether it will appeal to Mabie Forest’s core mountain bike users is slightly doubtful. Any decent bike route is a useful addition, although we wouldn’t say it was anything like as high a priority as, say, Collin to Dumfries.
And to be fair, let’s start with the Yes, the good stuff:
The bit of the route that’s actually been built is great. It’s wide – wider than the road that follows, it’s smooth, and it’s safely separated from the fast heavy traffic on the Dalbeattie Road. Although nominally shared with pedestrians, once out of town there are barely any, and it’s wide enough for people to cycle sociably, mums to give kids a helping hand up the hill, and for faster cyclists to overtake slower ones.
The only downside is that it is very close to a busy road, so it’s not all that pleasant to ride on, and it’s very loud. While it feels safe, it’s a bit stressful to be that close to timber lorries doing 60mph. A bit more separation from the road would have been ideal, although there are also benefits to being close to the road, like being visible in the event of an accident. It may mean that it also gets gritted and cleared in the winter, although that may be too much to hope for.
So what is there to complain about? Well, at the Cargenbridge end, it would appear that it’s not been finished at all. Consider the route from the end of the Maxwelltown Path to the beginning of the new Mabie path:
The road at the top is Garroch Loaning. This is a 60mph road, except at the approach to the roundbout, where the shared-use path that runs down from the Maxwelltown Cycleway ends. Here cyclists are expected to cross the road, with traffic coming from three directions, and not even a traffic island to help (or if you do use the traffic island that’s there, there’s no dropped kerb)
Crossing on Saturday with our group ride, we could only get the group across when a lorry driver stopped to let us past. And even then, there were cars coming round the roundabout the other way, so we had to wait a bit longer before we could get everyone safely over.
The route then follows a shared-use path along the Dalbeattie Road to the second bigger roundabout, where you have to cross three exits:
OK, the first one isn’t bad as it leads to a locked gate, so it’s fairly safe to cross. Note that cyclists still don’t have right of way here, though.
The second one is a wide sweeping turn into an industrial site – with associated heavy goods vehicles, but at least drivers are likely to be slow, as the site itself has a 20 mph limit. This would be quite tricky to cross in rush hour.
Finally there’s crossing the Dalbeattie Road itself – fast (the drivers can see the national speed limit sign as they come off the roundabout) and busy, and likely to get busier with the construction and opening of the new hospital. Again, there’s not even a traffic island to help you cross, although the road has been narrowed slightly and there is a sign asking the drivers to be careful, so that’s all right then. Again, it took a driver to stop (voluntarily) to allow us to get our group ride across here quickly.
That’s four road crossings to join two traffic-free routes – and not a toucan crossing or even a traffic island between them. Crossing at roundabouts is tricky at the best of times, and doing it at the entrance to a 60 mph zone makes it much harder as approach speeds will be higher and drivers may be focused on putting their foot down, not looking out for the cyclists. Until proper crossings are put in, we can’t consider this route to be finished.
And finally, there’s the ‘maybe’ – a stretch of the route which ought to be okay but which in practice proved quite difficult.
The road that runs between the Dalbeattie Road and Mabie Farm Park ought to be a very pleasant cycle ride. It’s an unclassified rural road, with no white line down the middle, which normally means that drivers have to negotiate their way past other road users, rather than just steaming down the road regardless. But it is very narrow – there isn’t room for a car to pass at all except at the passing places. In practice, although most cars do wait at the passing places for the bikes to get past, there are always a few drivers who believe that cyclists have no width at all, and persist in trying to pass them where there is no space to do so. For an adult cyclist this is annoying, especially when a driver has passed a perfectly good passing space, but when you’re cycling with children it’s very dangerous. And because Mabie Farm Park attracts a lot of traffic, even if 90% of drivers get it right, you’re still likely to encounter one or two who don’t, especially on a sunny Saturday afternoon – exactly the time when you’re also going to get a lot of cyclists wanting to use this route. Conflict is built in. To make this work for everyone, then a foot and cycle path along the verge would help complete this route.
On balance, we feel that this route is an improvement on our alternative, the route down to Glencaple (which is also a Sustrans route). But it is by no means a complete route yet. While it is doable on a group ride with experienced ride leaders, I’d hesitate to encourage real novices to use it on their own. It’s frustrating, because the bulk of the route has been done well – but a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Until the council and/or Sustrans actually tackle those short stretches we’ve identified here, then the whole route is compromised.
It will be great when it’s finished…