Last year, as the first lockdown eased, we spent a couple of weekends counting cyclists, among other things, to get a sense of just how many people were cycling (and walking) and where. We spend one day counting cyclists at Routin Bridge, about eight miles out of town, and another counting cyclists and pedestrians on the Whitesands. In both places we were surprised at just how many people were using active travel, with cyclists forming almost half the traffic at the Routin Bridge, and two people per minute using the crossing at Dock Park at the peak. There are lots of reasons for this, including the fact that there wasn’t much else to do at the time.
But one year on, with traffic more or less back to normal (if not worse), how have numbers held up? Anecdotally, we felt that there were more cyclists out and about than before the pandemic, although not as many as last year, while the numbers of people walking on the Whitesands (or otter watching!) also seemed up. We decided to repeat our surveys almost exactly a year on from the last ones to get an idea of what was going on.
We started at Routin Bridge (on a day that had promised to be sunny but ended up rather mizzly and cool) on Sunday 15th June. As before we counted all the cars and other vehicles as well as bikes and pedestrians. We divided cyclists into ‘sports’, ‘leisure’ and ‘other’ and recorded numbers of men, women and children.
Disappointingly, although bikes still make up a quarter of the traffic in this rural corner, cycling is definitely down from last year (46 cyclists between 10am and 4pm, compared to 121 last year) and 147 motorised vehicles (up from 123 last year). Interestingly women outnumbered men (by 24 to 20 plus 2 kids) but that might have been due to there being a football match on! Perhaps the weather played a part or perhaps the busier roads are putting off some of the new cyclists who got out during the lockdown last year.
We also repeated the survey in town, on Saturday 26th June, also from 10am to 4pm, just opposite the Dock Park crossing. Here the number of cyclists was also down (but by less than in our rural survey – 149 compared to 274 last year) but the number of pedestrians was actually up – from 900 to 975.
As before we counted all those using the crossing and found that use had also gone up from last year (despite taking so long to give people the green man) with over 120 people using it per hour during the lunchtime peak. That’s a lot of people being held up by a slow crossing – or taking their chances to nip across in a gap in the traffic. We also counted a number of disabled people using the crossing, including visually impaired people (with a guide dog or long cane), wheelchair users, and people on mobility scooters or using walking sticks or other mobility aids. It was also noticeable that at least two cars went into Dock Park with bikes on them, showing that people are perhaps happy to cycle in the park itself, but aren’t as willing to tackle the roads.
So what does this mean? It’s hard to know for sure, especially as we didn’t do any surveys before the pandemic, but it does confirm that people are continuing to walk and cycle in impressive numbers in and around Dumfries. We feel that the roads and paths around the town should do more to reflect that fact. In particular, we’re disappointed that still nothing has been done about the Dock Park crossing (despite years of promises – and it being the most commented area of the council’s Space for People survey last year. We welcome the extension of the town’s 20mph limit, but it remains very small, especially when you consider that our neighbours in the Borders now have 20mph limits in every town and village across the local authority area, as well as new cycle lanes and crossings going in.
We also think that the boom in cycling last year shows just how much potential there is for cycling in the town. Clearly, there’s no reluctance to cycle – just a reluctance to cycle in heavy traffic. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll be updating our list of ‘missing links’ – the gaps in the cycling network that make it harder for people to use their bikes for everyday journeys. Perhaps if we can work to get these closed, then we’ll see cyclist numbers rising again, but this time without a pandemic to make it happen.