Surveys, strategies and consultations (and a bike ride too!)

map of issues in the townTypical – you wait years for one major transport infrastructure initiative to come along – and then three come along at once! Having begun to feel like we were in a forgotten corner of Scotland, there are suddenly some major initiatives starting that could all have some impact on walking and cycling in the region. It’s a huge opportunity – but there is also every chance that our perspective could be overlooked, so we need your help!

Those who’ve been following us on Twitter will have already seen that the Scottish Government have released an initial report on the South West Scotland Transport Study Initiative – looking at the options for some major transport investments in Dumfries and Galloway and parts of Ayrshire. These include options for major railway investments (and potentially a southern bypass for Dumfries) – but also upgrades to the region’s cycling and walking network. The report is open for consultation for the next 8 weeks and you can have your say here – note that it doesn’t include questions about the individual options (but there are spaces where you can add any additional information you want to provide).

At the same time, you may have seen the Transport Minister looking very smart on a mountain bike at the launch of the Borderlands initiative – this was to celebrate the Borderlands Growth Deal which covers southern Scotland and the northern counties of England and also has a cycling and walking element (currently just for the Tweed Valley but hopefully that could change).

And then there’s the Southern Scotland Economic Partnership which will ultimately feed into an Enterprise Agency for the region – this has just held a series of consultation events, which we unfortunately missed, but it does have an infrastructure element to it, with certainly some initial emphasis on sustainable forms of transport, including cycling.

Plans for the New Abbey Road

Add to that the fact that the council is currently surveying residents about transport issues – you can find a series of short surveys here on topics including public transport and active travel – while ScotRail are looking into travel links to both Dumfries and Lockerbie stations, and of course there are works planned for the Dock Park crossing, New Abbey Road, and ultimately further links on to the hospital. There are also planning applications which can have an impact on cycle routes.

All this is leaving us feeling a little bit overwhelmed – we want to get involved as much as we can, and make sure cycling and walking  don’t get overlooked. Up to now we’ve been covering these things by email and at our monthly meetings but it’s all a bit ad hoc, so we’d like to form a small working group to keep on top of what’s going on and how we want to respond to it.

We’ll be emailing all members shortly to see who’s interested in getting involved – if this is something you think you could help with then please get in touch (cyclingdumfries AT gmail.com).  It may all sound a bit dry – but as anyone who cycles in the UK knows, the devil is in the detail when it comes to building cycle routes, so we need to make sure we make our voices heard

chicane barriers on the Aldi path
Even something as small as a chicane can make the difference between a good cycle route and one that’s inaccessible to some users.

And if that all sounds too much like hard work then how about a nice bike ride instead? Our summer rides start on Saturday with a jaunt around Mavis Grove – do join us at Dock Park at 2pm for a relaxed short ride at the speed of chat!

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Of Coos and Crossings

Pop Dumfries poster
Poster for our Mad Cow Ride!

As we announced last week we’re joining in with the Pedal on Parliament Pop-up Pops weekend of action with our own Mad Cow Ride – a tour of some of the worst crossings for pedestrians and cyclists in Dumfries.

We chose to focus on crossings because they’re a real Achilles’ heel in Dumfries’s cycling network. We’ve got some great cycle paths and some amazing rural roads, but they’re not as joined up as they could be because when it comes to crossing the road then it’s clear that people on foot and on bikes are considered second class citizens – they mustn’t do anything to slow the flow of motorised traffic.

map of route
The map of our planned route – click on the map for more details

The route of the ride takes us through some of the most glaring examples (although it’s by no means all of them!) This post is to just to explain why we’ve chosen them and how we think they can be improved.

So sit back, relax, and join us on a pictoral tour of the crossings of Dumfries:

Dock Park

Dock Park crossing
Crossing into Dock Park with a couple of the Buddies bikes

To be fair, the council are planning to upgrade this crossing and have had some funding from Sustrans to look at options for it. However, it’s been a long time coming (almost as long as it takes to get a decent sized group of cyclists across). Anyone who’s been on any of our summer rides knows what this crossing is like if you need to cross safely with children and wait for the green man/bike. Add in non-standard bikes or trikes, and the fact that sometimes the green man simply doesn’t come on, and it can be very slow and stressful using this crossing. Dock Park needs a better entrance than this.

The Vennel Crossing

Crossing to the Vennel
Run! You’ve got 5 seconds to cross here. Usain Bolt might manage it …

There’s a lot that’s right about this crossing – it’s a single stage crossing, there’s no railing penning you in, and it is a nice connection between the river and the town. But the green man/bike lasts for just 5 seconds (and you can be waiting for almost a minute depending on when it last came one). That’s fine for alert able-bodied people, but if you’re a bit slow off the mark, then the green man will have gone before you’ve even left the kerb. Hurry! Hurry! Mustn’t keep the important cars waiting …

Cuckoo Bridge Retail Park

Cuckoo Bridge crossing
Crossing to the Cuckoo Bridge Retail Park. Via a drive-thru …

Cyclists and pedestrians make good customers – plenty of studies have shown that they spend more than people who drive to the shops, yet the entrance to the Cuckoo Bridge Retail Park couldn’t be less welcoming if you’re not driving. It takes two stages to cross the road, and there’s a narrow traffic island that’s caged in to make it extra awkward. And once you’ve negotiated that, you have to go past the exit to the KFC drive thru – hopefully its customers will be paying attention to where they’re going rather than their meal…

KFC drive thru
Here’s how cyclists and pedestrians enter the Cuckoo Bridge retail park now … right past the drive thru exit

The ‘McDonalds’ Crossing

Mc Donald's Crossing
Another two-stage crossing with a narrow fenced-in island (and an endless wait).

Crossing the A76 into Lochside is no better. Despite the fact that this crossing joins the new campus with the new learning hub, priority is clearly given to those in their cars heading for a Big Mac rather than pupils who may be going between the two on foot. This crossing can take ages for the lights to change, you have to cross in two stages, and there’s barely room in the middle for one bike.  Compare and contrast the huge amount of space given to the entrance and exit of McDonalds. Is this really where our priorities lie as a town?

McDonalds entrance
Are three lanes – and a nice sweeping curve – really necessary to allow cars in and out of the drive thru?

The Garroch Loaning

Garroch crossing
Heading to the new hospital? Here’s where they wouldn’t put a proper crossing …

We’ve spilled a lot of digital ink on the crossing to the hospital in the last few years – and while the new crossing is an improvement on the old one, it still means that anyone wanting to get from the Maxwelltown Path to the cycle path to the hospital has to find a gap in the traffic in what is officially a 60mph road. We went round and round in circles on this one – but at the end of the day, if the will was there, we think the council could have either put in a proper green man crossing here – or bought the land needed to use the viaduct as a bridge.

Garroch loaning crossing NCN 7
The other crossing of the Garroch

But it’s even worse at the bottom of the road. This crossing is part of NCN 7 – supposedly a national flagship route – as well as the council’s route to Mabie Forest, but the dropped kerb doesn’t even line up with the traffic island. This is a 30mph limit just here so there could have been a proper crossing here, rather than some faded paint and a dropped kerb.

Dalbeattie Road

Crossing the Dalbeattie Road
Another ‘find a gap and run for your life!’ crossing

And it gets worse if you want to use the cycle path back into town via Troqueer…  Crossing the Dalbeattie road onto the path, you don’t even get a traffic island. Although technically in the 30 mph limit, the cars go fast here and when it’s busy, good luck finding a gap in both directions big enough to cross.  Again, we know the council have plans to put a wider shared-use path on the other side of the road eventually – but those plans have already gone through two iterations and they still haven’t worked out how it will all work between here and the New Abbey Road.

end of the Park Road route
Where the Park Road track ends …

Meanwhile, this is what greets you if you do manage to cross and continue on down Park Road. Right on a bend, with poor visibility, the cycle path just … ends. Time to rejoin the road and take your chances with the traffic. That’s fine for fit, confident cyclists, but it’s no good for families, less confident riders, or anyone who’d actually prefer not to have  cars squeezing past them on the road.

And the rest

There’s more … including the complete lack of any safe way to cross from Newall Terrace to the station – but we end with this interesting puzzle:

Whitesands to the Loreburne Centre
A crossing without a cycle path…

This pedestrian and cycle crossing is a bit of a puzzle because there’s no cycle path on the other side of it. Head up towards the Loreburn Centre and you’re suddenly going the wrong way into the bus stances. We don’t know what the plans are here – but it’s been like that for several years now. Just one more disjointed piece in the half-finished puzzle that is the Dumfries cycle network. But at least this is one junction that’s actually just as much of a pain in the neck in a car as on a bike …

If you think that the town could do more to make riding a bike (or walking) as inviting as driving a car, then please join us on Sunday 28th April for our Mad Cow Ride. Because cows get to cross the road in relative comfort  in Dumfries and Galloway – and we think people should be able to too!

Parking at the Hospital: A suggestion

overflow parking
Cars parked on the bike path exit at the new hospital

As we posted last week, we were quite surprised that an outpatient appointment letter at the hospital mentioned difficulties in finding parking – but didn’t suggest anything other than ‘allowing plenty of time’ to find a parking space when arriving for the appointment (thereby increasing pressure on parking if everyone has to park for longer).

We understand that not everyone will be willing or able to cycle to the hospital for an appointment (although as we found out, it’s easier than you might think). But it is shocking that the letters don’t suggest taking the bus as an alternative – the new 111 bus goes from the town centre to the hospital every 20 minutes Monday to Saturday, and other buses for Dalbeattie and Castle Douglas and beyond also now stop by the hospital on their way to and from town.

Hospital entrance
Both bikes and buses take you right to the hospital front door

Humans are generally quite suggestible creatures, and it’s amazing what a little nudge at the right time can do to change their behaviour. So we would suggest a minor change to the wording of appointment letters to encourage people not to just default to driving. How about if, instead of only appearing to consider the car as a means of transport they instead said:

“There is a regular bus service between Dumfries and the hospital (see timetable overleaf) and it is easily accessible via the Maxwelltown cyclepath for those on foot or on bikes. Please note that parking is limited so if you are coming by car, allow extra time to find a parking space.”

We think that might just prompt people to at least consider the alternatives – but in fact, it would be very easy to test it out. The NHS is nothing if not evidence-based, so how about a small trial. Choose a department where outpatients aren’t likely to need to be driven and randomly assign half of the patients (perhaps in the DG1 and DG2 postcode area) to get a letter with the original wording, and half to get one with our suggested wording (or something similar). When they turn up for their appointments, ask them how they got there. Collate the results and see if it makes a difference. If it doesn’t, no harm done, except a little bit of time wasted. But if it does, we’ll all be better off – fewer cars on the roads, the bus service gets more fares, our cycle path won’t be blocked by overflow parking – and those who do need to drive won’t have to worry about finding somewhere to park.

The only problem then might be finding a space to park our bikes!

hospital bike parking

Georgetown – enabling cycling?

There were five of us who braved the February weather on Sunday to go on our little ‘safari’ around Georgetown, and the first thing we learned was that five cyclists feels like a lot for Georgetown! There were definitely some curious glances as we made our way around its tangled streets

So what did we find? If you’ve got a map (or a good sense of direction) Georgetown and Calside themselves aren’t that difficult to cycle around – there are plenty of quiet streets and even a few handy little cut throughs where bikes can get through but cars can’t (although none of them are signposted so even our local guide wasn’t aware of one of them!)

handy cut through
Filtered permeability like this (where cars can’t get through but bikes and pedestrians can) are really handy.

Unfortunately,  occasionally, the barriers are in the way of bikes, at least those which aren’t standard two wheelers

barrier onto the cycle path
This barrier at either end of the playing fields path makes it harder for trikes, tandems, cargobikes and handcycles to get through

It’s clear that when the suburb was built, there was no thought given to providing short cuts for pedestrians and cyclists which makes journeys longer and forces bikes onto busier roads. This is probably best illustrated by the access (or lack thereof) from Calside and Georgetown to the Maidenbower Path

maidenbower access
The Maidenbower Path should connect Georgetown to the Crichton, but lack of access points onto Craigs Road make it surprisingly hard to get to

As the map shows, there are almost no points of entry onto Craigs Road, other than through people’s back gardens, which they tend to object to. In fact, there is one handy path that cuts up from Calside Road (marked with the middle arrow) but it’s difficult to spot on the ground! There’s no signpost indicating that this might be a short cut to the Maidenbower (and it’s not even on Google maps) but with the help of some local knowledge we found it:

link to Maidenbower

This is yet another example of the council investing in creating cycle routes, which is the expensive bit, and then for the want of a few signs, which are relatively cheap in the great scheme of things, fails to let anyone know they exist (see also, Mabie Forest path).

Still, nice as the Maidenbower is if you’ve got the legs for a one-in-five hill and don’t mind the lack of lighting and gritting, it’s not really a practical route into town. Much of the rest of our visit was spent exploring the options for getting from Georgetown into Dumfries, and this is the real reason why so few people choose to cycle in the area.

Georgetown map routes
Routes between Georgetown and Dumfries

As well as being undeniably hilly, Georgetown is cut off on one side by the railway line, while Craigs Road is uninviting for cycling (and also involves climbing up and over a much steeper hill than the rest of the routes in).

Given the nice cycle route that runs alongside St. Joseph’s Playing fields, the most obvious route into town is down Eastfield Road and onto the Brooms Road cycle path. The council have actually signposted an official route which is also reasonably quiet – the wiggly route in brown through Cresswell – but although it’s shown as a cycle route there isn’t a cycle path or even a painted lane, just some directional signs.

Brooms road path
Brooms road path. But how to get across?

Nor is there any sensible way to get from either Eastfield Road or the signposted route onto the Brooms Road path. The signposted route does have a crossing, but it’s for pedestrians only, and if you’re trying to cross at Eastfield Road you’re on your own, with just a bit of dropped kerb to help you. There’s also the problem that the Brooms Road path drops you out at the Morrison’s roundabout, which is a bit of a hotspot for people getting knocked off their bikes.

Perhaps more pleasant is the route down Aldermanhill and the back of St Joes, which has the advantage of being much less steep than Craigs Road. From there you can either go down Glebe Street and cross Brooms Road by the car park (again, there’s a pedestrian crossing but not a bike one) or down Barnslaps and onto St Michael’s Street, which is very unpleasant to cycle on.

Finally, there’s the railway bridge out to the Annan Road which has the disadvantage of taking you to the Annan Road …

Annan Road roundabout
This sort of road is not inviting to either cyclists or pedestrians

There are options here  – a route down Milburn Avenue (off to the left) which is a dead end for cars (although it still means ending up on Brooms Road) or to somehow get across to Greenbrae Loaning, if it wasn’t one way at one end, although that just leads to the equally challenging Lockerbie Road. Even so, making these two roads more accessible to bikes would offer some local choices for cyclists and start to form part of a potential network.

In short – Georgetown needn’t be the black hole for cycling it sometimes appears to be! In order of doableness (we’re sure that’s a word) here are some simple and not-so-simple changes that could make a difference:

  • Signpost the cut-through to the Maidenbower Path (meanwhile maybe if someone has a laminator this could be done informally) and put in a dropped curb where the path meets Calside Road.
  • Remove the chicanes making it harder to access the path alongside the playing fields.
  • Signpost more routes into town, particularly down Aldermanhill Road.
  • Make the crossing from the Brooms Road path onto the signed cycle route up Barrie Avenue a toucan crossing, and remove the guard rails so that bikes can use that short stretch of pavement to reach Barrie Avenue
  • Alternatively (or as well!) create a toucan crossing so that cyclists can get from the Brooms Road path to Eastfield Road.
  • Make the whole area (actually, the whole of Dumfries) a 20 mph speed limit, including the bigger roads like Georgetown Road.
  • Remove the guard rails from the roundabout that joins the Annan Road and Georgetown Road, widen the pavement and create a cut through from Georgetown Road to Milburn Avenue.
  • Consider making Greenbrae Loaning a no through road for cars, but accessible for bikes, to provide a route from Georgetown Road down towards the Lockerbie Road.
  • Make Aldermanhill Road a no-through-road for cars, even if only during the school run, to prevent it becoming a rat run for drivers avoiding Craigs Road.
  • Convert the crossing from Glebe Street to Cumberland Street into a toucan crossing, giving bikes access into the traffic calmed Queen St area.
  • Create a cycle track from where Barnslaps joins St Michael St all the way down to Brooms Road, and continue it along the Dock Park side of Brooms Road down to the Whitesands.
  • Create an off-road route along the railway line out to the east, which could ultimately form a route out to Collin.

We’ll be passing these on to the council via Cycle Scape – but what have we missed? What would you do? Let us know in the comments!

 

Want to see more cycle paths? Let our MSP know!

Emma Harper MSP
Emma Harper, on her bike at last year’s bike breakfast

Here’s a quick simple thing you can do to encourage the powers that be to invest more in cycling infrastructure, especially locally! Emma Harper MSP wants to hear from people about what they’d like to see done in the region, so she can take that to our new Transport Secretary. You can reach Emma easily on her official email address (emma.harper.msp@parliament.scot) and if you’re a bit stuck for words, you can borrow our email below – just add your own examples after ‘For instance’ of where you’d like to see something change. We’ve had a great response to a recent Facebook post about Community Links funding, so we know the demand is out there – but our politicians won’t know themselves unless we tell them, so get writing!

Dear Emma Harper

I’m emailing to ask for your support to bring more high-quality infrastructure for both cycling and walking to our region. As you know, the best way to encourage people to cycle and walk more is to give them safe conditions to do so, preferably away from heavy and fast traffic. This in turn means fewer car journeys, less pollution, a healthier population and also gives children and young people freedom to get about without being dependent on their parents to drive. In our beautiful rural areas, it also has huge potential to increase tourism without putting too much of a strain on our resources and infrastructure.

I’m delighted that the Scottish Government has already announced more money for active travel investment, but progress is painfully slow and Dumfries and Galloway is in danger of missing out. Because of the need to provide match funding, the council is only bidding for a few Community Links projects a year. Even when bids are successful, they are often then held up or even cancelled because of objections from landowners who haven’t been properly consulted.

We already have some great locations for cycling and walking but there are some glaring omissions which mean people who would like to cycle more have no safe alternative to driving – even for some quite short journeys. For instance, ….

Dumfries and Galloway was originally the home of cycling, and it could become a byword for active travel with proper investment, amounting to just a fraction of what a road scheme would cost. If the Scottish government is serious about seeing 10% of journeys by bike, as it has said, then it needs to start investing now in filling these (and other) gaps in the network.

I hope you will pass this message on to the minister and help us make our region one of the healthiest places in Scotland.

Let’s not just Beat the Streets – let’s improve them

With the Beat the Street game well underway, we were pleased this morning to note that our team were second on the average points leaderboard  – showing just how handy a bike is for getting about Dumfries.

Beat the Streets leaderboard
Go team Cycling Dumfries! We’ve got off to a great start

It’s even better to see so many primary school kids taking part, with Heathhall School topping the leaderboard overall. Given Scotland’s woefully low figures for physical activity among children, this can only be a good thing. We hope that for many people, this game will be the nudge they need to get walking and cycling around town even once the game is over. As our summer rides show, there are plenty of good routes to cycle around the town, if you know where to look!

curly wurly bridge
Using the new dropped curb at the ‘curly wurly bridge’ in Lincluden. For years there wasn’t one, until it got listed on CycleScape.

However we also know that there are plenty of places where Dumfries could be improved for cycling and walking, especially the routes kids take to primary school and beyond. A few years back we listed many of the bigger missing links – and there are plenty of small barriers too (some of them literally barriers like at the new Aldi). As we reported last year, we’re using CycleScape to collate these barriers, and we know that the council are listening, even if they don’t always respond immediately.

Beat the Street map
Beat the Street – where will it take you?

So as you walk, cycle, run or scoot around Dumfries collecting points for Beat the Street – especially if you’re going places where you might not normally walk or cycle – then please do keep note of the things that you would like to see to make it easier not just for ‘hardened’ cyclists but for those who can’t necessarily ride in among the traffic on the road.

You can report things direct onto CycleScape (you’ll need to create an account) or you can email us (cyclingdumfries@gmail.com) and we’ll add them (and take up the issue) on your behalf. Sometimes things can be quite quickly fixed, others take longer – but the better we make walking and cycling in the town, the more likely it is people will keep being active on their own initiative, without any games to do so. And that will benefit us all.

And speaking of games – we still want to make sure we win! Do please join us if you haven’t already, and join us on Tuesday afternoon for a group ‘beat box hunt’ around town before our monthly meeting. Meet on the Whitesands opposite the Coach and Horses at 5:30, followed by the pub at 6:30 having worked up a bit of a thirst …

Insert Loved One Here

The Cycling Embassy of Great Britain has launched a new online tool “Insert loved one here” that draws attention to particularly terrifying cycling infrastructure, like the bike lanes at the Morrison’s Roundabout

Insert loved one here
Would you want to see someone you loved on a bike here?

We’re actually fairly fortunate in Dumfries that there isn’t too much of this sort of paint on the road that ends up making things worse for cycling not better (it seems like anyone who’s ever been knocked off their bike in Dumfries has been knocked off at this roundabout – and no wonder as following the lanes around the outside of the roundabout actually puts you in a dangerous position if you’re not turning left).  There are plenty of problems with our existing cycling network – from slow crossings to a lack of joined-up routes – but most of the time the effect is inconvenience rather than outright danger. And there are plenty of scary roads, although they mostly don’t have cycle lanes on them – with the exception of Brooms Road, where the bike lanes take you into the left-turn lane, potentially putting you in conflict with turning traffic

bike lanes on Brooms Road
Brooms Road bike lanes

However, we do need to be vigilant against attempts to ‘cater for cycling’ by simply putting paint on the road that ends up either achieving nothing or actually puts cyclists into a dangerous position. Plans for a route to the hospital along the Dalbeattie Road, for instance, is just an on-road lane which will probably end up underneath parked cars for most of its length.

Every year our summer rides (and remember – the first one is tomorrow!) remind us just how well-designed a cycle route has to be before you can comfortably take a young child on it, or a novice, or even someone who just likes to ride slowly and safely and not have to tangle with traffic. We are all mostly cyclists ourselves, and some of us even go round Morrison’s roundabout (if there’s no alternative), but we also all have families who aren’t so foolhardy (and who sometimes wish we weren’t either) At Cycling Dumfries, we believe cycling should be for everyone, not just the quick and the brave, and we want to see a whole network where all our loved ones can happily cycle.

bike bridge
There are some places where we’d happily see anyone we loved cycle. Let’s have more of them

Where would you love to – or hate to – have your loved ones cycle in Dumfries?