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.

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Street Audit …

We had quite a different sort of outing this morning, taking part in the Dumfries town centre community street audit, organised by Living Streets.

rain on the river

Apologies for the lack of any photos – it was just too wet! But this gives a good flavour of the weather (we seem to have a large stock of wet-weather photos on this site, for some reason!)

The aim of the audit was to look at the environment for walking (and cycling, but the emphasis was on the pedestrian experience) in Dumfries town centre, and particularly from the High Street to Dock Park. As well as a couple of Cycling Dumfries members, there were a good dozen participants, including the head teacher and four primary school children from St. Michael’s.

buddies bikes
The wheelchair bike (and friends) on a slightly dryer day!

We had brought along Buddies’ wheelchair transporter bike, because we thought it was a good illustration of the problems that come when you’re trying to get about on a non-standard bike, whether that be a cargo bike, trike or even a mobility scooter. It certainly showed up the difficulty of navigating the crossings at Dock Park, and even more so on the narrow pavements around St Michael’s school and St Michael’s street (note – we wheeled the bike on the pavements, there was no illegal pavement cycling!).

We were already very familiar with the problems of the crossing into Dock Park (which is slated for an upgrade in the next year or so) but it was eye-opening to see (or be reminded) just how poor St Michael street is for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers alike. As well as very narrow, caged in pavements, heavy traffic, long wait times at crossings, and wide busy streets, what was really striking was the poor air quality at the Loreburne Centre end of the street – even in the pouring rain, you could smell the traffic fumes.

The roundabout on St Michael’s from Google street view- note how this pedestrian has decided the road is a better option than those narrow boxed in pavements

We’re a cycle campaign, but we also recognise that pedestrians should have priority when it comes to our town streets. Today was a good reminder that in many ways, pedestrians can suffer even worse conditions than cyclists, especially where the car has been given priority as in Brooms Road and St Michael’s.

All in all, it was a very interesting morning – even in the rain and the cold. We hope that the audit report produces some bold suggestions as to how to make things better for pedestrians and cyclists – which in the end will benefit everyone, even drivers …

A little leaf clearing …

The forecast for this morning was pretty dire – but that didn’t stop Cycling Dumfries members and supporters from turning out at the station at 10am today to help clear the buildup of leaves that was threatening to overwhelm the station path.

getting started
Getting going. Apologies for the quality of the photograph, but it was a dark November morning and the camera struggled with the lack of light

In fact, we were so keen to get going so the work actually started early!

more clearing

With 8 helpers and a nice assortment of rakes, shovels, brushes and brooms, we were able to make a nice job of it and it was clear that, under the encroaching vegetation, the path was actually quite a bit wider than you might think.

making a difference
It’s very satisfying to make a visible difference after a couple of hours hard work

Quite a few passers-by and dog walkers complimented us on the job we were doing, which was appreciated! Sometimes this path can be a bit problematic, especially if you’re in a hurry for a train, so it was nice to see how much space there actually is, once the path’s been properly cleared.

It being Remembrance Sunday, and the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, we paused at 11 am to observe the two minute’s silence and hear Rhian read a poem from that war – Falling Leaves – that seemed suitable to mark the occasion.

As well as being slippery, wet leaves can be heavy work, so we decided to call it a day after about two hours, with the path much improved along its whole length (although the edges could still be cleared back at the Edinburgh Road end).

path afterwards

All in all, a job worth doing and a job well done. Thanks to everyone who turned out in the rain to help!group photo

 

Making headway with the hospital

Thanks to intrepid councillors Ronnie Nicholson and Jeff Leaver who joined us on bikes yesterday afternoon to look at options for new routes to the hospital from Troqueer.

Councillors at New Abbey Road
Jeff Leaver and Ronnie Nicholson discussion options for pedestrians and cyclists for New Abbey Road with Sustrans officers and Cycling Dumfries members

As we reported last year, the initial plans for this route were pretty timid and ended up pleasing nobody. Fortunately, with the help of Sustrans, the council have gone back to the drawing board and from what we’ve heard and seen, the results will be a major improvement – and not just for cycling.

So far, they’ve only looked at New Abbey Road and the junctions with Pleasance Avenue and Park Road, so there are no plans yet for the Park Road path or the Dalbeattie Road, which is where things get really tricky. However, we spent a bit of time looking at the conditions on the road with both councillors and with two Sustrans officers and there were lots of ideas about how things could be better. There’s really no substitute for getting out and seeing what the road and the traffic are like for understanding what can (and needs) to be done to make a route safer for cycling and more pleasant for walking.

The ensuing conversations, both on the road and with officers beforehand were constructive and useful and have left us feeling uncharacteristically optimistic that we’ll see some positive changes for active travel in this corner of town. Chapeau!

Hardthorn Road … Finally!

One of the more baffling cycle paths in Dumfries has finally been sorted out. The shared-use path along Hardthorn Road has been a bit of a joke for years – starting on one side of the road and then suddenly crossing over to the other side halfway along it’s length because … well, no we don’t really know why either. We did ask the council and they did give an explanation but it didn’t make any sense so we’ve forgotten what it was.

Hardthorn Road looking to town
Hardthorn road path crossing from one side to the other. Image from Google Streetview

But all that has changed – it’s still a shared use path (which isn’t brilliant) but it does now at least allow you to not have to cross a fast and fairly busy road to get from the Maxwelltown Path to the new school in Lochside.

new Hardthorn road path
No need to cross the road any more at least

It even continues a bit further, and while there’s no priority across this side road, the crossing is raised up to the surface of the road which will make it much safer (and more convenient) – all good news when the school opens and the area is busy with kids.

Hardthorn road crossing
Raised crossing at Alloway Road

It’s a shame we’re not seeing a proper segregated cycleway here, with pedestrians, cyclists and drivers all getting their own space (as you can see from the pictures, there’s plenty of room) but at least it’s no longer completely bonkers. And finished before the school opens to boot – credit all round!

 

Buddies Bike Barn

four person bike
Fun in Dock Park in April at Buddies’ inclusive cycling day

Can you help bring cycling to people who might not otherwise have the chance? Buddies will be opening their inclusive cycling project, the Bike Barn, within the next few weeks and they need people to help out. If you’ve got time free on a Sunday, could you lend a hand? You don’t necessarily need any special skills beyond a love of bikes and an eagerness to share that with everyone, whatever their ability. For those who can commit a bit more time, there may be training available, but even if all you can offer is a few hours this summer that would be a great help.

Four on a bike
Because a ‘bike’ needn’t mean a two wheeler- it could even be something like this

If you’re interested, drop Buddies a line at info@buddiesdumfries.co.uk / nelliedipstick@yahoo.co.uk or 01387 256 312, or get in touch with us and we’ll pass it on. Having spent some time working with Buddies and helping out at their last two inclusive cycling events – we know you won’t regret it. There’s really nothing like seeing someone take to two, three, or four wheels for the first time under their own power (or with a bit of assistance). And with Buddies involved, it’s guaranteed to be good fun.

Spring into April – Accessible bike day and more

Great news: Buddies will be running another of their accessible cycling days in Dock Park, this time on April 14th.

Buddies accessible cycling poster

Last year this was a great occasion and people had a wonderful time trying out all sorts of different bikes, trikes, and quads – including one centenarian. At Cycling Dumfries we strongly believe that cycling shouldn’t be just for the fit and the brave – and we embrace all sorts of cycling, pedal powered and e-assisted alike. Please do come along if you can and spread the word to anyone you know who would love to take up cycling but feels that for one reason or another they can’t manage a standard bike. It may just transform their lives

tandem trike
One of the many highlights of the bike barbecue was seeing a centenarian getting pedalling again (with a little assistance…). Photo Jim Craig.

Speaking of the fit and the brave – we’re delighted to learn that the Dumfries Farmers’ Market is moving from the Tarff Valley carpark on the Lockerbie Road to the train station covered parking (or “The Victorian Pavilion” as we must now learn to call it. Cycling up the Lockerbie Road is no fun, and it’s meant that this opportunity to sample local produce and goods has been pretty much limited to those who can come by car. The station is brilliantly sited between the Maxwelltown Path and the Caledonian cycleway and also has masses of bike parking, making a trip to the market the perfect Sunday outing. The first one will be held on Easter Sunday, April 1st and we urge everyone to give cycling there a go. See you there!

We’re also about to start our regular monthly meetings again – just sorting out the details of day, and venue, so watch this space