Thanks to both Cycling Dumfries members and council officers who came on Monday for a ride in and around Dumfries, to look at a few of the issues that raise barriers to cycling in the town. You can see the route we took on the map – starting at Cargen Towers, with lots of stops along the way to discuss various issues that have been raised at one time or another.
Some particular themes emerged. One is barriers to non-standard bikes – as you can see we had one handcyclist for part of the tour and we could all see the difficulty he had getting through the chicane barriers that still remain along some of our cycle routes.
Another issue is one-way streets designed to restrict cars without any consideration being given to bikes. We pointed out that there was still no legal way to cycle from the Whitesands to the High Street – even though plans were drawn up for two way cycling on Bank Street and the Vennel (and the High Street itself) several years ago but never implemented.
We looked at some of the places where cycling infrastructure (or, rather, painted bike lanes) can make things worse, for instance the lanes around the Morrison’s roundabout (which put bikes on the outside of the roundabout, which is dangerous if you’re not actually turning) and the ones on Brooms Road that leave bikes at risk from left-turning traffic. This was also a reminder that while we have some wonderful cycle paths and routes in some parts of town, there are whole areas of Dumfries which are still extremely hostile to all but the most experienced cyclist.
Another issue is gradient – too often the bike route appears to have been designed without reference to the contours on the map. For instance, most of the planning around routes from the centre of town up to the new hospital assume cyclists will go up Suspension Brae. Quite apart from the fact that you’re not allowed to cycle over the Suspension Bridge, this means an extremely stiff climb up from the river – and we made sure that the council officers experienced that for themselves! To be fair, they mostly made it to the top, but it did make the point that this is not necessarily the way to arrive at work looking cool, calm and collected.
Crossings are another big issue that cause problems where cycle routes intersect with roads. There’s the crossing into Dock Park which takes forever and is almost impossible to use with adaptive cycles. And then there are the crossings like Park Road and the bottom of the Garroch where sight lines are poor and in some cases traffic is going at quite high speeds – despite being on part of the National Cycle Route and the fairly recently designed route to Mabie Forest.
As well as riding, there was the opportunity to discuss some of the issues raised, both along the way and after the ride was over. Some themes emerged here too. One was about time – a lot of these problems are well known in the council, and there are plans to do something about it, but they seem to take ages – we’ve been talking about two way cycling in the town centre, the Dock Park crossing and the New Abbey route for several years now, and every year that passes just serves to put people off taking up cycling. The council has declared a climate emergency in recent months, so we hope that a little more urgency will be injected into the proceedings.
The second overall theme is that we’ve pretty much reached the end of what we can do by repurposing railway lines and sharing footpaths. To build a proper cycling network in Dumfries (without making life worse for pedstrians) we need to start reallocating road space away from private cars. That takes political courage – there’s an army of people ready to complain about even adding a pedestrian cycle to a road junction – but it is what needs to happen, and really it needs to start now.
Thanks again to the officers of the council for coming along and being willing to have their ears bent by us all – I think we can agree that the discussion was good humoured and constructive but that we were pretty robust in our views. We’ll keep you posted with what happens next.