Building on the bike boom

After our successful rural cycle count – where we saw bikes form almost 50% of all traffic at Routin Bridge – we wanted to look at where things stood in the town centre. So we decided to do a similar count at Dockhead – keeping an eye on cyclists heading to and from Dock Park, along the Whitesands, and also over St Michael’s Bridge. In particular, we were interested in the number of people (cyclists and pedestrians) using the crossing into Dock Park, which is a key route and a struggle to use safely at the best of times.

The crossing at Dock Park – a struggle at the best of times

Choosing a similarly sunny weekend day as the last one, we ran the count from 10am to 4pm on Saturday 20th June. We concentrated on the people riding bikes, but also anyone on foot.  We didn’t have the resources to count motorised traffic, unfortunately – although traffic levels haven’t returned to normal yet, there were still too many vehicles to keep track of on top of all the pedestrians and cyclists.  And there were a lot!

The hourly numbers of cyclists, pedestrians, and people using the crossing

In total we counted a nice round 900 pedestrians over the six hours, and 286 cyclists. Out of the bikes, 24 were e-bikes, which is a little over 8% – and that’s  just the ones we recognised as such (several of our volunteer surveyors are e-bike riders themselves, and they were much better at spotting them …).

We also tracked how many of those we counted used the crossing: 490 people (out of a total of 1186), whether on bikes on foot or in wheelchairs (we didn’t keep a separate count – but there were several wheelchair and mobility scooter users, as well as plenty of prams and buggies). We only counted those using the official toucan crossing, but there were quite a few people taking alternative routes to get to or from Dock Park, possibly because the lights are so slow, and the crossing itself so awkward to negotiate.

People using the crossing
Two cyclists taking a bit of a detour to leave the middle island free for the family with the buggy

It was noticeable how many people risked crossing when the lights were against them, and how some people had to wait a long time to get across or went outside the railings because they were avoiding being stuck in the island in the middle. By the peak of our count, there were more than two people crossing per minute on average – and given it can take over a minute to cross if you wait for the green man, that inevitably meant crowding and delays. (The Twitter video below taken by Buddies before the lockdown shows how long you have to wait to cross from the Dock Park side)

Compared with the rural cycle count, we saw many more children – not just accompanied by adults, but also teenagers riding independently, which is very encouraging (especially as we try and work out how everyone will safely get to school again in August).
25% of the cyclists we counted were (or appeared to be) under 18

The gender balance was a little worse than the rural count, with just 30% women or girls, compared to 70% men or boys (the numbers genuinely did come out this neatly!) Fewer female cyclists is generally a sign of more hostile cycling conditions, although the healthy numbers of children suggest otherwise here. On the other hand it was noticeable that very few of the cyclists who were riding with traffic along St Michael’s Bridge were women.

Just 30% of the cyclists we counted were women or girls

We also had a go at assessing whether the cyclists were out mainly for leisure or exercise, versus those on purposeful trips such as shopping or commuting. As you might expect on a Saturday, leisure cyclists dominated but there were a significant minority of riders who appeared to be using their bikes largely for transport – a good sign if we are to keep traffic levels down as lockdown eases.

20% of cyclists were ‘utility’ cyclists – using their bikes for transport (in our judgement!)

In conclusion – Dumfries’ bike boom is certainly continuing, but it’s becoming clear that the space given over to walking and cycling isn’t going to be enough to sustain these numbers. We hope that the council’s planned ‘Spaces for People’ funding will include measures to mitigate this – in particular, the lights at Dock Park should be retimed so that people can cross more easily. The Whitesands path is also proving too narrow to accommodate the numbers of pedestrians and cyclists using it – many cyclists are riding through the (currently still empty) car parks, but this option could be dangerous as the car parks become busier.

It’s been great to see so many people out walking and cycling over the past few weeks – a small bright spot in an otherwise grim picture. If you think about it, everyone we counted on Saturday was in a small way contributing to the recovery: keeping themselves healthy by being active, keeping the air clear by walking or cycling, and keeping the roads clear for the emergency services and those who really need to travel by car. We think they deserve the space to continue to do so safely and distantly for now and into the future.

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