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.

Bike boom continues

We’ve heard a lot recently in the news and online about a cycling boom both locally and in Scotland more generally. We’ve also enjoyed seeing so many more cyclists around locally in town and out on the back roads – with traffic levels down and people looking for things to do, it seems cycling has filled the gap, and long may it continue.

Routin Bridge
Our survey spot …

We wanted to put some actual figures beyond the one headline of a 29% rise in April in Cargenbridge (the only place where there’s a working cycle counter that we know of). So yesterday afternoon we did an informal count of cyclists (and other vehicles) at the Routin Bridge which is on a number of popular cycle routes and also a destination for those who like to admire the waterfall or go for a walk or a swim in the river.

hourly breakdown of cars and cyclists

We knew that there were a lot more bikes out – but the figures surprised even us. Over the six hours from 10 am to 4pm, we saw 121 cyclists, which is impressive when you consider it’s 7 miles away from the town centre. To put that into perspective we also saw 123 motorised vehicles (mostly cars – 16 were farm vehicles of some sort). We also counted 3 pedestrians and one horse rider.

breakdown of cyclists into men, women and children

Looking at the types of cyclists – there were more men than women, but not by a massive amount (48 women and 68 men). There were only 5 cyclists who looked to be under 18 – perhaps it’s a bit far to go for a day out with the kids if you live in Dumfries (but don’t tell that to this young lass who was out for a 20-mile round trip – via Dunscore no less – with her dad).

young girl cycling
Young girl cycling (photo posted with permission)

We did a (somewhat subjective) breakdown of riders into ‘sports’ (normally the ones who didn’t stop to admire the waterfall), ‘leisure’ (those who looked as if they were out for enjoyment rather than just fitness) and ‘other’ – including one couple who were commuting to their jobs in the hospital, as well as a few folk who were using their bikes as transport to get to the river to swim or walk. Unsurprisingly, leisure and sports dominated on this rural route, and it was clear that there were many more new or leisure cyclist than those who were out on serious training rides.

breakdown of sports, leisure and other

Sometimes it was hard to tell – after some discussion (with him!) we put Robin here down as ‘sport’ – he was riding as part of his recovery from prostate cancer, and he wanted to be sure to spread the word that if anyone reading this is in the same position then Prostate Buddies D&G are a friendly group providing support to and by men who are in a similar position (thanks Robin! It’s also good to share how useful exercise like cycling can be if you’re recovering from many serious health conditions conditions, including cancer).

Robin at the bridge

There were a fair few who were clearly quite new to cycling, or perhaps returning after a long break – something which always gladdens our hearts to see. And there were at least 5 e-bikes, another sight we always enjoy as they open up the joy of cycling, especially on longer rural routes to folk who otherwise wouldn’t be able to experience it or who might find it too daunting.

So what conclusions can we draw? Well, first that the people of Dumfries seem to show no signs of stopping cycling even though  traffic levels are starting to return to normal (123 vehicles is quite a lot for a rural backwater on a Sunday).  And that there seem to be loads of people out there who are not serious ‘sporty’ cyclists – but just using bikes to get around and to get out to enjoy our countryside.

It also shows that our back roads are as important for people cycling as they are for motorised vehicles, and maybe we should start to reflect that in local policies. And especially as we start to open up our economy again after the lockdown, when attracting cycling visitors who want to come and enjoy our amazing network of quiet rural roads could be key to a sustainable recovery.

At the top of the Glen Road
There are so many beautiful places to cycle in the region, could it be key to our recovery?

We’re now hoping to repeat the exercise but this time in the town centre – another place where we’ve seen bikes booming. We’ll undoubtedly see a different mix of riders but hopefully just as impressive numbers. If you want to help out with the counting, let us know!

Dock park crossing struggles to cope with the numbers yesterday

2019: A busy year in review!

As we look forward to Hogmanay (and our New Year’s Day ride), it seems like a good opportunity to look back at the year just gone, which has been a busy one!

Group photo
At the start of our New Year’s Day ride

January got off to a good start with two winter rides: our traditional New Year’s Resolution Ride on New Year’s Day, and jaunt to Brow Well at the end of the month that tested our  tolerance for headwinds.

February was busy too – as well as welcoming the council’s new approach to tackling icy cycle paths, we had a springlike ride out to New Abbey – and ventured into the wilds of Georgetown to investigate what would make cycling in Dumfries’ most populous suburb more inviting.

en route to Dalbeattie
Which way now? Photo by Steve Jefkin

In March we welcomed Scotland’s Active Nation Commissioner down to Dumfries and Galloway – and battled into epic headwinds with her down to Dalbeattie for a well-attended networking event (insert your own metaphors here).

In April we joined groups the length and breadth of Scotland in running a Pop-up PoP – in our case, a Mad Cow Ride! And if you want to know why, a quick tour of Dumfries’ worst crossings might explain it.

Like many of our ideas, this made more sense in the pub

In May we welcomed planned progress for the New Abbey Road – although at the time of writing we’re still waiting for the actual improvements. June saw us helping out with the Buddies Big Bike Bonanza as they took a tour of the roads south of Dumfries as far as Caerlaverock – an epic effort when you realise how heavy some of their adaptive bikes can be.

group shot at the rhino

In July and August we ran our programme of summer rides – which took place come rain or shine (and we got a nice thank you email from Historic Scotland for our clean-up efforts at Lincluden Abbey to boot). We also formed a new consultations and planning subcommittee to try and keep on top of the various proposals we wanted to respond to, which has been invaluable.

St Michael's kids
Form an orderly queue! Trying to feed the masses as the St. Michael’s pupils arrive

September saw record turnout at our Big Bike Breakfast – with the kids, parents and teachers of St Michael’s turning up en masse to join regular cycle commuters for a hot roll, and a chance to bend the ears of local politicians and council officials alike.

black cat

With the shortening days, October saw the resumption of our autumn and winter rides – and our traditional after-dark ride up to the reservoir and down through Speddoch. We also held our AGM (with a record turnout) and welcomed a (slightly) new committee to help keep the Cycling Dumfries wheels turning.

In November we braved the drizzle for our ride out to Ae as well as taking part in the Greystone Rovers environment fair where we encouraged people to try replacing just one car journey with a more sustainable alternative – something we’ll be continuing into the new year.

December saw us joining local residents in helping to clear encroaching vegetation on the Maxwelltown path on a bitingly cold but sunny Sunday morning. We also put the ‘recycling’ into cycling with our fabulous Christmas Tree Festival tree – a suitably festive note to end this round up on!

If that all seems like a lot – it was! We’ve got a good active group of members who’ve supported us all year round and we’d like to thank everyone who’s taken part in 2019 whether it’s been organising, helping out, leading rides, reading consultation documents or just turning up – it’s all welcome.

Here’s to more of the same in 2020!

riders on the road

Meet the new Cycling Dumfries Committee

Thanks to all who turned up at our AGM last week – we had a good turnout and a good discussion about the year gone and what we’ll be doing over the next 12 months! Watch this space if you didn’t make it along yourself.

Buddies on bikes
Rosie with a member of Buddies at our Parking Day event on Irish Street

We also had a slight ringing of the changes with our committee. Rosie Rutherford stood down as Secretary, and has been replaced by Rhian Davies, who up to now has been a ‘member without portfolio’ on the committee (or Wing Commander, as we let her choose her own title).  Steve Cussell has also joined the committee. Sally Hinchcliffe remains Convenor, and Richard Smith remains as Treasurer.

Maidenbower Path
Steve taking the lead at a winter ride earlier this year

We’d like to thank Rosie for her service on the committee and we look forward to working with our new team.

Bike registering
Rhian registering and security marking bikes at a bike breakfast a few years ago.

Join our Big Climate Conversation – online!

Bikes not Bypasses sign

Earlier this year, the Big Climate Conversation came to Dumfries – but it was quickly booked up so not everyone got a chance to go along and help shape the Scottish Government’s response to the Climate Emergency. We thought the conversation idea was a nice alternative to the more usual consultation exercise (we’re still recovering from responding to the National Transport Strategy!) so we thought we’d see if we could bring it to a wider audience with an online version.

There are two ways to get involved – if you’re on Twitter, join us on Sunday evening at 8pm (after the latest David Attenborough documentary of course – and our Halloween Ride!) using the hashtag #DGClimateConversation to see the questions and prompts used in the real Big Climate Conversations, and to also see what other people have to say – making it as much like the real thing as possible (if you’re not following us – we’re @CyclingDumfries – then please do so!)

If you’re not on Twitter or  aren’t around at the crucial time, then you can fill in our online survey instead at any time, which has the same questions. It doesn’t take very long, and if you find it doesn’t ask the right questions, there are plenty of places where you can put in your own ideas and suggestions instead.

We will be collating all the information on Wednesday, and feeding it back to the Scottish Government. We can’t promise they’ll take it all on board, but at least we will have had our say – and made it clear that declaring a climate emergency shouldn’t just be about nice words, but about action right from the top.

Glasgow Road works – an opportunity?!

As you may have seen online or even on the big electronic sign by the road, the Glasgow Road will be completely or partially closed from the 9th to the 19th August for resurfacing

map of road closure
Map of the closure and the diversion (for cars!)

The main closures will not be during rush hour, but this road can get busy and backed up at the best of times – so this might be the perfect opportunity to anyone who normally drives through this part of town to try cycling instead.

The road will also be closed to bikes, but there are alternatives which are much more pleasant, depending on where you’re coming in from.

Route from Lincluden
Cycle route avoiding the Glasgow Road – from Lincluden. Click for more details

Coming from Lincluden, the best bet is probably the ‘curly wurly’ bridge off College Road, which takes you over the bypass and then you can make your way through quiet streets down to the Loreburn Bridge by the rowing club.

Route from Lochside
Route for those coming from Lochside or further west (e.g. along the Irongray Road). Click for more details

If you’re coming from Lochside or further out, then the Cuckoo Bridge over the A76 roundabout might be a better option, again taking you across the river at the rowing club.

Your commute could look like this …

If you’re coming from further afield you could always park and ride – there are parking spaces by the Rhino in Lincluden for instance, and there’s usually plenty of space to park on the Irongray road around the industrial estate.

We’re happy to help if you have a different journey and would like advice on quiet routes. Leave a comment or email us on cyclingdumfries@gmail.com and we’ll do our best to provide you with some options. Not everywhere in Dumfries is bike friendly but there are lots of sneaky routes that don’t involve mixing with heavy traffic even in rush hour – and you may surprise yourself and discover it’s actually quicker than driving.

In fact, you may never want to go back to the car – so why not give it a go?

New Abbey Road – Actually, several steps forward

First – an apology. An over hasty post last week (partially fuelled by Pedal on Parliament related stress and the ill-advised effects of opening Twitter before the coffee has had a chance to kick in) suggested that the council had rowed back on some of their more promising plans for the New Abbey Road.

Having now been to the information event at Troqueer Primary School yesterday, we can confirm that if anything the plans are better than we had initially hoped, so we completely retract that suggestion. For those who couldn’t make it (and we stand by our assertion that it would be much better if these plans could appear properly on line for everyone to see) here’s what we gleaned:

As a recap, here’s the plan of where the works are to take place

Plans for New Abbey Road
Plans for New Abbey Road

(Apologies for the poor quality of the photos that follow – taken from the 3D ‘fly through’ that was playing at the time)

First, we’re happy to see plans for a segregated cycle track, with space for both pedestrians and cyclists, rather than a shared use path. The devil can be in the details with these – but the principle of everyone having their own space is sound and it would be good to see this used more widely in the town.

Here’s the crossing of New Abbey Road from Park Road to Rotchell Road at the Toll Bar:

Toll Bar Crossing – this will be a toucan crossing which will be a major benefit for pedestrians and cyclists alike – especially giving access to the shop on the corner

Here’s the main junction between Pleasance Avenue and the New Abbey Road, with an ‘all ways green’ stage promised that will get cyclists onto the track on the Park Farm side of the road:

Pleasance Avenue junction

And finally – and this is quite exciting and a new departure for Dumfries, here’s the crossing at Priestlands Drive:

Parallel zebra and cycle crossing

First, it’s really nice to see a return of the use of a zebra crossing which gives pedestrians priority without the need for traffic lights. They’re not perfect (they’re difficult for visually impaired pedestrians to use, for instance) but they’re better than just a dropped kerb and maybe a traffic island. Second, the parallel cycle crossing should give bikes similar priority to pedestrians, without needing to dismount. These have started to be used in London and they’re proving quite successful. It will be great to have something like this in Dumfries, and it will also hopefully connect up to the Mavis Grove path, which currently stops short, dumping cyclists onto the main road before they’re able to turn into the side streets of Troqueer.

All in all, as with Hardthorn Road, these plans show how far cycling provision has evolved in Dumfries, and that’s something to celebrate. Now we just have to ensure that the council has the courage to build what it’s designed and doesn’t get spooked by the inevitable nay-sayers online.

Pedalling on Cooncil

A quick post to say a huge thanks to everyone who took part in our ‘Mad Cow Ride’ today – those who turned up on the day (and gamely wore fancy dress) as well as those who helped with the preparations!

Coos assemble in Dock Park

We got some strange looks (and some friendly toots and waves) from those we passed but when we explained what we were up to, most people were supportive of our cause (apologies to the chap who objected to us blocking the pavement at the Cuckoo Bridge crossing)

Cycling up to McDonaldsOur circuit out to the hospital and back did serve to remind us why we were doing it though. It took two cycles of the lights to get a dozen riders across the road at Dock Park, and again at McDonald’s because there wasn’t room on the traffic island for everyone

Riding down the Maxwelltown Path
No problem riding the Maxwelltown path – even in full cow costume. Photo Paul Mackey

Once off the Maxwelltown path, things got harder – even on a Sunday it took a while to find a gap in the traffic to cross Garroch Loaning and it was even harder to find a safe place for our youngest participant to get across the road at the end of the Park Road path.

Waiting to cross Garroch Loaning Crossing the GarrochOnce at the council, we hoped a few councillors might be available to meet us, but although they had been invited, none were able to make it. We’ll be following up by email instead.

at the council offices
Arriving at the council offices – Photo Paul Mackey

We will keep on raising these issues, because a network is only as good as its weakest link. We already know that there are hospital staff who won’t cycle there because they don’t fancy crossing the Garroch Loaning without a proper crossing.  With climate change becoming an increasingly urgent problem, we have to provide people with alternatives to taking the car.

cow on a bike
The thought of cycling to work shouldn’t be as absurd as the thought of a cow on a bike – yet as long as our roads continue to be dominated by cars, for many people that’s exactly how it is. Photo by John Henry

New Abbey Road – one step forward, two steps back

UPDATE – we have since been reassured that the crossing between Park Road and Rotchell Road WILL be a toucan crossing (with a green man/bike). Apologies for spreading premature alarm! But please do go to the information event yourselves to find out more.
New Abbey Road information event poster

As you may have seen, the council are consulting on Thursday about changes to the Pleasance Road / New Abbey Road junction and an associated cycleway. This is something that has been a long-running saga – the original plans back in 2017 were at best only a partial improvement and got sent back to the drawing board. When we visited the site again with councillors last summer we were pleasantly surprised at how much the plans had improved with a segregated cycle path along the Park Farm side of the New Abbey Road and crossings between Rotchell Road and Park Road – this is a very poor crossing at the moment, and is the  reason why we have stopped taking family rides along this route.

Unfortunately, the latest plans for the New Abbey Road are nothing like as promising as the ones we saw before. Although the cycleway remains, there are no controlled crossings onto it at either Priestlands Drive or, apparently, Rotchell Road – i.e. either end. The only place where there will be a toucan crossing is right in the middle, at Pleasance Avenue (as part of the whole traffic light sequence for the cars). This seems ridiculous – why build segregated infrastructure for cyclists if you’re not going to offer a safe way to cross that can be used by families, people with disabilities, and anyone who can’t simply find a gap in the traffic and dash across

Plans for New Abbey Road
Plans for New Abbey Road – as found buried in the committee papers for the Infrastructure committee

It’s not immediately clear from the plans themselves, but if you read the committee papers (Section 3.25 onwards) you’ll see that there are no plans for a toucan crossing at either end – and there’s a whole other conversation to be had about why this information isn’t being properly put out online, rather than only making it available to those who know how to navigate committee papers or can go to an information event held on a single afternoon and evening.

This is why we’re going to the trouble of dressing up as cows on Sunday – because we want the same consideration for people as dairy cows get when they have to cross the road. It’s all very well building cycle tracks but if you can’t get to them easily, safely and conveniently, then what is the point?

Dressing up as a cow is a bit of fun – but the need for safe crossings is deadly serious

If you think this is ridiculous then please join us on Sunday – you can sign up on Facebook here  or just show up at 11am at the Bandstand at Dock Park ready to ride a route of our worst crossings – including the New Abbey Road (we didn’t even highlight that one because we thought it was going to be dealt with – naively).  You don’t need to come dressed as a cow, but please come and show your support for a decent, joined up cycle network  for Dumfries- not isolated bits and pieces put in where it won’t inconvenience the cars.

If you can’t make it (or even if you do) then get along to the information event and have your say – or write to your councillors to tell them we need proper crossings for people in Dumfries and Galloway

Winter Maintenance – Two Cheers

A rare beast has been spotted on the cycle paths of Dumfries:

cycle path deicer
Cycle path deicer at work on the Caledonian Cycleway

This is the council’s latest acquisition and we’re really delighted – it’s for treating cycle paths (we’d call it a gritter but it actually uses brine rather than grit and rock salt because that’s more effective on cycle paths where there are no car wheels to help spread it). We’ve long been calling for cycle paths to be treated against ice and snow, just as the roads are. Since the opening of the new hospital, the lack of gritting of the Maxwelltown path has been a real problem because it is now a major commuter route for hospital staff who may be travelling to and from work at all hours.

Maxwelltown path in snow
A reminder of what the Maxwelltown Path used to look like in the ice and snow. Hopefully no more!

Not only that, but the council have also been working to cut back vegetation on some of the paths where it has started to encroach (as well as removing some of the barriers to path entrances, partly to let their little not-a-gritter through) – this has been positively noted by the cyclists of Dumfries, who have gone so far as to describe the Station path as ‘a delight’. A big thanks and well done to the council for organising that!

making a difference
We’ve been known to do our own clearing work when needs must – so it’s great when we don’t have to!

That said – with the icy weather last week, we still saw lots of cyclists coming off their bikes on the ice, particularly on Tuesday, so what’s going on? Partly it’s to do with the limitations of winter path treatment: if the brine goes on before it rains then it can be washed off, or if it’s more than a few degrees below freezing, ice will still form. So please do check the weather forecast and the overnight conditions before setting off, and plan your journey accordingly.

There’s also the fact that not all paths are treated. We know that the station path is too narrow for the de-icing machine to access, so doesn’t get treated. We’re told that the grit bins at path entrances are for the public’s use, so if you’re feeling particularly public spirited and have the time, feel free to treat the worst spots yourself. Other paths also may not get treated (the Maidenbower for instance) so check with the council about whether the ones near you are treated and if not, ask your councillors about getting it added to the route.

The de-icing also doesn’t seem to reach the access paths for the Maxwelltown path (which are probably the most dangerous bits to ride if it’s icy!) and the ‘snail trail’ of brine it leaves is quite narrow – it doesn’t treat the whole path. Hopefully, these are things that can be improved once the system beds in but meanwhile, be cautious when entering and leaving the path and try and keep on the brined strip if you can (random dogs and pedestrians permitting).

If you’re still finding ice a problem on your route, you can get a bit more grip by letting some air out of your tyres (to increase the contact patch with the tarmac) or even fitting ice tyres (like Marathon Winters – other brands are available) which are pretty magic even on black ice.  But the best safety tip of all (whether you’re cycling, walking OR driving) is to allow extra time for your journey – being in a rush is a recipe for danger.

Despite these limitations, we are still very pleased to see the council starting to treat cycling and walking as a year-round means of transport and treating its flagship routes accordingly. We spend a lot of time complaining about things in Cycling Dumfries – and this is an issue that has come up year after year – so thank you, and here’s to safe cycling for everyone for the rest of the winter.