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Council budget – a letter to our local politicians

If there was one clear theme that stood out during our ride with council officers earlier this month, it was that even when the will is there to do something – it all takes ages. Partly this is down to the way the council works – but a lot of it is to do with money. The council is in the middle of setting its budget at the moment so we’re writing to all the political group leaders to ask them to prioritise active travel if they’re serious about tackling climate change – after all, they have declared a climate emergency.

We’ll let you know if they reply – but you may wish to email your own councillors independently yourself (you can find yours here) – in which case, let us know how you get on.

I am writing as Convener of Dumfries Cycling to ask you what the local SNP grouping’s proposals are in your proposed Council budget for 2020-21 to reflect the Council’s declaration of a climate emergency in June 2019. In particular to ask how you will deliver the commitments in the Council’s 12 point climate emergency plan to “move further and faster on carbon reduction measures” and “ensure that measures to reduce or eliminate carbon emissions are acted on”.

Enabling and encouraging cycling, and walking, journeys is an obvious way to help reduce carbon emissions and therefore we would like to know what your proposals are within the new budget to make cycling an easier, safer, more attractive and more viable alternative for journeys within Dumfries in particular, but also in the region as a whole.

We note the results of the consultation on budget options late last year and that most participants disagreed with options to reduce spending on roads maintenance and winter service treatment of roads. We also note that the Full Council meeting in December 2019 “agreed to recommend that Political Groups take the consultation feedback into account as they develop their draft Council Budget for 2020/21 and beyond, including the level of Council Tax”. We would therefore hope not to see reductions in such expenditure in your proposed budget. Indeed we would like to see increases in maintenance expenditure on cycle and walking routes, including roads, and greater consideration in decision making on expenditure within these budgets given how these modes can have a part in reducing carbon emissions. This is particularly the case for cutting back vegetation and leaf clearing as well as winter treatment of our off-road cycle network which enables residents to walk and cycle year round, not just during the summer months.

As supporters of We Walk, We Cycle, We Vote, we are asking the council to follow Edinburgh Council’s lead and commit to increasing expenditure on active travel to reach 10% of the overall transport spend (capital and revenue). As a first step, we therefore ask you to increase the capital budget for Active Travel, which was reduced from £22,000 in 2018/19 to £20,000 for 2019/20. This means the 2019/20 allocation was a tiny 0.19% of the Infrastructure Asset Class Capital Programme Budget of £10,570,000.

To deliver enhanced expenditure on active travel we would also suggest greater staff resources need to be dedicated to encouraging and enabling active travel. This would have the further advantage of providing greater resources to make bids for Scottish Government money for walking and cycling, effectively doubling our resources in this area. It would also ensure that the money is spent efficiently and effectively as we develop local expertise.

Thank you for your attention. We will publish this letter on our website, together with the responses we receive from political parties/groups.

I look forward to hearing from you soon.

group photo at the start
Our ride with council officers raised plenty of issues – but it’s the councillors who will have to agree the budgets they will need to put things right.

A ride with council officers

group photo at the start
Group photo at the start of the ride
Route of the ride
Ride route – click on the map for more details

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.

chicane barriers
Chicane barriers. This and the photos that follow are all courtesy of Annick Laroque of Sustrans (as I was too busy talking to take any!)

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.

looking at the high streetAnother 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.

crossingsCrossings 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.

 

Short notice: Cycle with council officers

Apologies for the short notice – and inconvenient timing – but if you’re free on Monday morning for an hour or so, we’ve been invited to take some senior council officers out for a tour of some of the highlights and lowlights of cycling in Dumfries. If you can make it, we’re meeting at Cargenbridge (the Park and Go car park at the entrance to Cargen Towers) at 10am for roughly an hour’s cycle around the town.

Route of the ride
Proposed ride route – click on the map for more details

Because we’re looking not just at existing cycling infrastructure but also some on-road issues and opportunities to expand the network, this will mean some riding on roads (although there will be an option to avoid the worst of the route).

Mixed Messages
Mixed messages

If you’ve ever scratched your head at part of the cycling network in Dumfries and wondered what on earth they were thinking – then this is your perfect opportunity to raise it directly with those who, if not responsible, at least might be able to sort out the worst problems.

If you can’t make it, feel free to let us know of what you’d raise with them if you could – you can tell us in the comments, or email us on cyclingdumfries@gmail.com and we’ll do our best to include everyone’s concerns, and report back with any answers.

Dodging puddles on our January winter ride

Bike waiting at the start
Not the nicest weather at the start

On days when the weather’s not great, there’s always a moment at the start of any ride when we wonder if anyone will turn up. Fortunately, despite a wet and blustery morning yesterday, there were six people willing to find out if the forecast was correct – and prepared for the weather if it wasn’t!

Plastic bag boot liners
This natty strawberry-patterned trim was in fact some repurposed plastic bags acting as waterproof boot liners

Fortunately, the forecast was correct and by the time we’d got out to the outskirts of town, the rain had stopped and the wind dropped and there was even some brightness later on in the day. We headed out over the river and along College Road to cross the bypass at the ‘curly wurly bridge’ and then made our way through Lincluden to the Glasgow Road.

We were heading for Holywood, but although there is a footpath along the A76 to the village it’s not a shared-use path and it’s too narrow to make for pleasant cycling when there are lorries bombing along just inches away, so we detoured via Newbridge and the 12 Apostles, to come back and cross the A76 again just at the Holywood turnoff. (Note that this is a really obvious missing link in the cycle path network – it wouldn’t take much to widen the path from Holywood to Newbridge and this would connect the village nicely into the town – and make the primary school much more accessible by bike).

We then followed quiet back roads – dodging puddles from the rain and at one point chasing some deer along the road until they disappeared into the woods.

cycling through puddles
It’s not just the cycle paths that suffer from poor drainage when it rains! Fortunately there was almost no traffic on this road (apart from us and deer).

We then crossed the A76 once more to tackle the climb up Coldside Lane – and enjoy the descent down into Auldgirth where the Hamans Cafe had a warm welcome waiting for us.

climbing the hill
Tackling the hill … we decided to get the hillier part of the route over with before lunch!

This is a new cafe to us and they’ve recently refurbished their dining area and put in a woodburning stove which was extremely welcome after our wet start. The food was plentiful and good value and a bit out of the ordinary (while deep-fried cheese can in no way be described as a health food, it certainly appealed to some after a few miles on the bike).

After lunch, well fed and dried out, we ventured out again for the ride home. Two of our number peeled off to return more directly to Shawhead, while the rest of us crossed the A76 one last time, to ride back on a slightly flatter and more direct route through Dalswinton and Kirkton, cutting across to the Quarry Road and then reaching Dumfries by way of the Caledonian Cycleway, where we could admire the council’s efforts at clearing the path of leaves

(We’re not completely out of the woods yet though – the section at the bottom of the bridge out by the bypass is still pretty slippery).

All in all a good day out and in the end the weather didn’t dampen our enjoyment at all. The next ride is out to Crocketford at the end of February – please join us and don’t be put off by a little rain!

Thanks to John Henry for some of the photographs – you can see more of our day out on our Facebook page.

Path fun continues!

 

shovel transport by bikeJoin us and local residents once more on Sunday 2nd February  for a session working on the Maxwelltown Path – this time we’ll be at the Cargenbridge end (at the ‘zig zags’) cutting back encroaching vegetation before spring gets too advance and we’re at risk of disturbing nesting birds. Join us from 11am for a couple of hours of exercise in the fresh air – probably followed by a pedal down to the Farmers’ Market to replace all the calories burned.

As you may have seen on social media we seem to have been doing more path work than pedalling – but it’s finally starting to prove effective.

After reporting problems, multiple emails, two months of waiting and no response – we took matter into our own hands and cleared the station path ourselves. It’s taken a little longer, but as of yesterday the most problematic section of the Caledonian path – from the Edinburgh Road to the Moffat Road – has been cleared of leaves (it took the wee machine a few goes apparently – they should have tried shovelling).

The work we do on the Maxwelltown Path is a little different, as we’re trying to be proactive in preventive work that will help make this flagship path something everyone can use  – and to work with local residents to keep a huge asset for the town in top condition. So far our efforts have made a huge difference and it’s been a very pleasant way to spend a winter weekend morning too.

people at work
Working on the Maxwelltown Path last year

So please do join us if you can for another session – bring tools (loppers and pruning tools will be handy) and gloves and come along ready to make a difference to our environment!

If you use Facebook, you can sign up and spread the word through our event page – if only so we know how much home baking to bring!

A new cafe stop … and a Burns ride out!

As mentioned, we’re refreshing our winter ride routes this year and the first change comes next Sunday when we return to Auldgirth for the first time in a while to check out The Hamans cafe, which has been recently revamped and extended. Meet us at Devorgilla Bridge on the Whitesands for an 11am start on Sunday 26th, and bring a bit of lunch money for the cafe if you can – we do like to spread the cycling pound. If you use Facebook we have an event set up so you can sign up or use it to spread the word, but you can equally just turn up on the day.

climb out of Auldgirth
Blue skies and distant hills on the climb up out of Auldgirth last time we visited

This is perhaps a slightly more challenging ride than our jaunt out to Ae (although it covers some of the same route). The road from Duncow to Auldgirth is a little busier than our normal single track back roads (although still pretty quiet by most standards) and depending on the route we take back to Dumfries, the climb up and out of Auldgirth can be a trial! But we’ll take it as easy as folk want to and we’re always happy to spend time admiring the view (or catching our breath …) on the way up a climb!

Buddies Burns Bike Ride posterThis ride replaces our old ‘Burns Ride’ out to Brow Well (by popular demand) but if you still feel the need to combine celebrating Scotland’s national poet with bike riding then never fear, because Buddies have got your back. On Wednesday 29th January they’re hosting a led ride from their Bike Barn on the Vennel into Dock Park.

The ride starts at 4 so light up your bike – indeed, there’s a prize for the best lit bike so don’t hold back. You can also dress up as Burns himself and bring along a bike-related poem.

Buddies rides are absolutely for all abilities and they have a range of adaptive bikes to share so get in touch with them if you or someone you know needs a little assistance getting pedalling. The ride is for everyone, though so please do come along if you want a little Burns-and-bikes related fun!

Leaf it to us…

Join us – Friday morning, 10-12 at the Station path for a bit of DIY action on the leaves.

station path with leaves
The state of the station path

While we’ve been working on improving the Maxwelltown Path, you may well be wondering what’s going on with the station path and the Caledonian path, both of which were reported as needed clearing of leaves two months ago.

more clearing
Working on the path last year – this gives you some idea of how wide the path actually is

Despite being told this work was scheduled back in November, since then absolutely nothing has happened. The Castledykes Park path was finally cleared after two follow-ups, but it seems the station path is just too difficult. This causes conflict between cyclists and pedestrians on a busy stretch of path – and it’s also dangerous for anyone cycling after dark (which is most people who commute in winter) who can’t always see where the edge of the path is. It’s even more dangerous on the stretch of the Caledonian up to the Moffatt Road which is both sloping and curving – perfect conditions for causing someone to skid off.

leaf buildup on the Caledonian PathWhile we’re happy to help local residents improve the Maxwelltown Path – we know that the council can’t do everything in these straitened times – we had hoped that they wouldn’t leave safety critical work like this to voluntary action. However, we’ve run out of patience now. It’s extra frustrating that they were out with leaf blowers again along the Edinburgh Road, which is  right next to the path – but the station path has gone beyond leaf blowers now because it’s been left too long. The sweeping machine won’t touch it either, so it’s down to elbow grease and showing willing. If they can’t do it, we’ll show them how.

If you can spare a couple of hours on Friday morning, Jill and Alyson, two Cycling Dumfries members and local residents, will be heading out to see what they can do from 10-12. The best tool will be a shovel but a stiff brush might be helpful if it’s not too wet and stout gloves will be essential. If we’ve enough people we can spread out to both paths.

getting started
Let’s show them how it’s done

 

Maxwelltown Path: Do mind the width!

path with encroaching grass
Getting ready to start work

Thanks to everyone who came out this morning to continue our work clearing encroaching vegetation on the Maxwelltown path. Ten people is pretty good on a drizzly January Sunday and we soon discovered that when everything isn’t frozen solid then you can make quick work of clearing back the encroaching grass, leaves and soil (and the occasional dog poo …).

leaves on path
Leaf buildup further down the path

We even had time to send a satellite work party down to the College Road entrance, where the leaf build up was particularly hazardous because of people turning and coming down the side path. It’s times like these that it’s handy to have the bike trailer for transporting tools …

path cleared

It’s amazing how much wider the path is once we’d got to work. Much less conflict between path users on what is becoming an increasingly busy route.

clearer path

All in all, a job well done!

Our next work party will be on Sunday 2nd February and we’re going to start tackling the vegetation at the Cargenbridge end – so meet us at the ‘zig-zags’ at the end of the path at 11 am.

Happy New Year

We didn’t have quite the bright sunshine we’ve had on past New Year’s Day rides this year – but it was mild and a great winter day for cycling all the same.

group photo
The traditional group photo at the start

There were nine of us willing to brave post-Hogmanay hangovers and grey skies for a chance to stretch our legs, take in the rather murky scenery and ride the 20-odd mile loop down to Caerlaverock WWT for lunch.

Parkrun were also seeing in the new year with some physical activity, so we avoided the Crichton on our way out and headed down via Glencaple, coming back up through Bankend. With a smaller group than usual on our NYD ride, we kept together (apart from John Henry shooting forward periodically to take photos of us on the road).  The roads are always pretty quiet on New Year’s Day so it was possible to ride side-by-side and chat for most of the route.

Riding down to Kingholm – photo John Henry

It was the kind of day when the daylight never quite got going, but it stayed dry and was pleasantly mild for the time of year. The WWT cafe did us proud with soup, sandwiches and a nice variety of cakes – after all, we were cycling – and it was a good opportunity to try out (and completely fill) their new cycle parking.

The group after lunch at the new cycle shelter – photo Steve Cussell.

We then rode back via Bankend, with a bit of a breeze at our backs to push us home. As is traditional with winter rides, the group splintered as we made our way towards Dumfries and people peeled off  either for home or the pub for a spot of hair of the dog. Some people really are starting off 2020 as they want to go on!

Don’t forget that on Sunday we’re meeting again at the Maxwelltown Path (the Terregles Road entrance) at 11am for some path maintenance – if you can help out for a couple of hours please come along and bring gardening gloves and any tools that might be useful. And we’ve got two rides in January – so we hope to see you at the end of the month for our new ride out to Auldgirth.

Just One Journey – a 2020 challenge

Bikes not Bypasses sign

As we wave goodbye to 2019, and look forward to 2020, for many of us the issue of climate change is high on the agenda. Tackling the climate crisis is something that needs government and local government action – but it also means individuals taking action themselves. Most people are conscious that too much driving is part of the problem but they also don’t feel that giving up their car is part of the problem. We live in a very rural area, public transport is pretty patchy, and many people have to travel long distances to get to work, education or to shop.

bike at the butchers

Even so, we still believe that cutting down car usage has to be part of the answer to tackling climate change – and we can’t afford to wait for everyone to switch to electric cars (even if they were the whole answer). We’re not suggesting ditching your car altogether, but if you’re someone who drives a lot we wondered if you could ask yourself this question:

Is there one journey that you do regularly by car, that you might be able to do by a more sustainable mode?

And by ‘more sustainable’, we don’t necessarily mean ‘by bike’ – it could be on foot, by bus or train, or even simply sharing the journey with someone else who might otherwise have driven independently.

If you’re concerned about climate change, then could 2020 be the year when you start to change your own habits – with our ‘just one journey’ challenge?

If you have a medium-sized car, every mile you don’t drive could save around 240g of CO2 emissions. If you switched just one weekly 3-mile car journey (a 6-mile round trip) to bike, bus, car sharing or walking then in a year you could save 72kg of carbon – that’s just under 1% of the average annual emissions for a person in the UK. You’d also save about £100 and, depending on the traffic, it might even save you time.

A three-mile radius around Dumfries
A three-mile radius around Dumfries shows you how short some journeys can be

Here’s what 3 miles will cover in Dumfries. On a bike, that’s approximately 20 minutes cycling at 10 mph – slow enough for most people not to break into a sweat.

Obviously, not all those journeys are possible by bike now (the lack of any safe alternative for cycling from Collin into town is a glaring example) but depending on where you live and where you have to get to, there may well be ways that you can leave the car at home – and take a small step towards helping cut carbon emissions. And if you’re interested in giving it a go, we’re happy to help with route planning and other advice.

So let’s see if 2020 can be the year when all of us start to make a difference and find out where our bikes (and feet, and bus passes) can take us.

Jim animation

It might even be fun!