14 April 2013

Good for business?

There's a lot of data around these days pointing out that cycling is good for business and that cycle-lanes drive up footfall etc

But I've been struck by how many new cycle-related businesses have started up in the past two years or so

My attempt to itemize them (much helped by this useful site) came up with:

3 new tour companies: Storybikes, Tartan bike tours and Edinburgh Bike Rides

Loads of new repair shops:  The Bike Garage,  the Bike Smith  Harts  Pedals &  Greasemonkey,

Bike sales:  A couple of  big national players -- Evans and Decathlon -- have opened up and   although the Bike Chain has sadly closed, the Bike co-op is keeping the shop open as a second Edinburgh branch.  There seem to be fewer new, independent retailers, but considering that we have a total of 14 already, perhaps that's not so surprising. One exception might be the redoubtable Laidback bikes, which  has now got a 'proper' shopfront in Marchmont. There is also a new second-hand dealer: Soulcycles.  Their website's a bit primitive, but like a lot of the newer shops, they're using facebook quite effectively to promote themselves.

Even one cafe: Ronde and two pubs:  Ventoux and Tourmalet....

Couldn't some enterprising researcher or journalist work out their contribution to the local economy, jobs, etc and quantify it for us?

Parent solidarity needed?

On Friday, I wrote two posts about cars/driving/traffic near my daughter's primary school.  Well worn territory for me, unfortunately (see 'school run' labels). That same day, the Guardian ran a piece about getting kids to school on bikes.

Nursery run!
All this fed into a couple of discussions on CityCyclingEdinburgh - one about a school which had 'banned' kids from riding to school  and another one where a lot of money has gone into building a turning circle in front of the school, apparently to facilitate car-based drop-offs.  But we also know of schools in the vicinity with really enthusiastic programmes supporting cycling and walking to school.    And in other places, the police and traffic wardens are supporting various initiatives - like adding double yellows to zigzags and banning cars from 300m from school entrances. 

This unevenness leads to the ridiculousness of kids being told in writing that they have to push their bikes to school, while just down the road, the Head Teacher at my school - despite being personally supportive - says that she can't do anything 'beyond her gate' i.e. all the parents who stop on the zig-zags and 'keep clears' and double-park in the road to drop off their kids.

But it's not just that these policies are random and  incoherent, and that enforcement varies greatly, but also that groups of parents feel isolated and  uncertain of what their rights are, or what other schools are doing to change things.

There seems to be some momentum for a city-wide meeting of parents to discuss how different schools deal with such issues and what lessons can be garnered.  I'd also like to have some representation from Council, either from the road safety or active travel teams, as they have a lot of knowledge and experience.

There's a couple of different issues bundled in here - encouraging more kids/parents to use active travel to get to school where appropriate but also making the streets around schools safer in general.  We all know how quieter and safer the streets feel when the schools are on holiday, but it shouldn't be like that. I'd like to see them safer when the kids are on them, not when they're at home or in the park playing!

If you'd be interested in getting involved, or just attending a meeting to share ideas, please get in touch via comments, twitter, or email.

12 April 2013

Why people stop cycling...

View Larger Map

This is a lovely intersection that I go through most mornings. There are at least 3 primary schools in the vicinity, and myriads of nurseries. It's also a main throughfare between two much used parts of the off-road network. So lots of bikes, and as you can see, a pretty decent layout for cyclists wanting to cross at the Toucan crossing.

But, earlier this year a neighbour of mine was knocked off here by a supermarket delivery van turning left. My friend was going straight on like the royal mail van.  (Oh, and he thought he was okay, but was later rushed into hospital for emergency surgery). Not nice.

And then this morning, as I coasted up the little ramp on the left, I saw a dad with a bright eyed toddler on the back nearly get left-hooked in exactly the same place by a blue Volkswagon that, just like the Tesco van, some how 'didn't see' the cyclist who had been coming straight down the hill for some distance.

This wasn't a cyclist who had just nipped into the car's near-side or anything else.  The dad had been cycling safely and carefully along. The kid had give me a big wide-eyed look as they went by, clearly enjoying the ride. And it came so close to tragedy.   Just because of inattention on the driver's part.

I really hope this dad doesn't stop cycling his wee boy to nursery, but I wouldn't blame him if he did.

Keep clear?

Yesterday and today I found myself stopping to take pictures of vehicles parked on the 'keep clear' area at the end of Montpelier, where there is a cycle-cut through to Viewforth (googlemap link here).  For those who don't know it, it is one of the main routes to Bruntsfield Primary school with hundreds of little kids coming through every morning, and also the route between the main Boroughmuir secondary school building and a smaller annexe.  So, well used by vulnerable road users.

Yesterday  there was a big scaffolding lorry completely blocking the space, stopped for an extended time, but with engine still running. Another mum on a bike came through just after me and commented that she was worried it was going to reverse into her.  But a look at the cab showed the drivers were stopped for a fag and tea break.  

Today it was 'merely' a white van, but knowing the difficulty that most of the cars that usually use that 'turning circle' have in making a 3 point turn, I'm inclined to think they're also causing an obstruction.

Ironically, both vehicles are most likely connected to the construction work on the school, so found a nice 'safe' spot to keep out of the way until the kids were safely inside.  But the keep clear being blocked means that all those parents who feel a compulsion to drive into the dead-end, so that they can drop their kids at the second gate then had to reverse back over the pedestrian crossing in front of the school.  And their doing that then lead to other parents reversing back over the other pedestrian crossing.  While hundreds of little kids were streaming across and into the school.

The thing is,  if the parents 'learned' that they couldn't expect to turn at the bottom of the road, maybe they would stop driving in there?  Because actually, they're much more of a menace to the kids and parents at the school than these vehicles are 'parked'.

And that's the real irony.  Police and traffic wardens would be happy to ticket these vehicles for being illegally stopped, but my efforts to get some back up which would discourage parents from driving in front of the school have simply led to platitudes in the school newsletter and some clever banners on the railings, with no discernible effect.

07 April 2013

Not much has changed...everything has changed.

Two and a half years ago, Edinburgh launched its Active Travel Action Plan.  In many ways, it's not a bad plan.  But it hasn't aged well, and the current review process is showing this up all too clearly.

First,  nothing much has changed. Of the things that I really wanted to see implemented via ATAP, very few have even begun.  Some of these are really small interventions like public bike counters (or just publishing the data that exists!), removing 'guard' railings, cycle contraflows on one-way streets, and tackling footway parking.  Others where we have seen incremental change include a piloted 20 mph zones (which leaves out all the big roads) and  better cycle parking (but not in the city centre!).

However, the star attraction of ATAP (or drawback for some), was the plan for a 'family network' (see map on page 23 of this pdf).  This approach comes in for a lot of criticism for directing cyclists along quiet roads, without doing anything much to improve the big roads that we all need to use to get to school, work and shopping.  I'm not convinced that this is an entirely fair criticism of Edinburgh's plan.  Our family network has the potential to be a lot more than that. Because we already have the extensive off-road network, the network was proposed to link up various bits of the city.  Right now, from where I live in south-west Edinburgh, near the canal, we can cycle to the beach at Cramond, or the Botanics, or Leith, or out to Musselburgh and go most of the way on lovely, well-maintained off-road paths.  But the remaining 10% of our journey is on scary, fast, poorly designed roads.

A few weeks ago, we had a lovely family cycle to Cramond. When we got there, we ran into a lot of people who live around us. They had all driven there so that their kids could cycle up and down the promenade.  Ironically, we'd probably gotten there faster - or certainly not much slower.  But they didn't feel that they could put their kids on the road even for that short section.

The Family Network is supposed to link all those bits up, so that you can go across town with your kids - faster than the buses - and not feel like a bad parent for risking their lives.  On page 22 of this pdf  you can read a list of the connecting bits that are prioritized for rapid completion. One of these has been done - an off-road connector between Leith and Portobello.  By all accounts it is a fantastic addition, and already encouraging new cyclists to start cycling regularly.

But none of the rest has been done.  And my concern is that plans for those mainly involve paint on roads, and that simply isn't going to get the South Edinburgh equivalent of the busy Mum who now cycles from Leith to work in Portobello on her bike, and certainly not if she has her kids in tow.

To look at just one example: the link from the Union Canal to the Russell Road access for the North Edinburgh Path Network. To anyone who knows this route, it is the most obvious, amazing access from South Edinburgh to the North (on the link above chose 'fastest route').  The Council's take on it is that there is an expensive off-road option that involves old railway infrastructure, OR a cheap on road access.  And, if you look carefully at the on-road access (very hard to see because the map is so tiny), it appears to take you on a twisty route through the car parks of various housing estates, Dundee Terrace, and then down the Telfer subway to the Dalry Road.  This is a massive diversion, and no real improvement if it just means paint on roads.  I dare you to find a parent who currently doesn't let their kids cycle on the road, who says this would make the slightest difference to them.

When I asked why not just make the direct route safer for cyclists, I was told 'we'd have to take road-space away from cars'.

There you have it folks.  Why Edinburgh's Family Network and Active Travel Action Plan - as presently being implemented - will never make more than incremental change to the number of cyclists on our streets.

We can have off-road cyclepaths -- where developments permit, or old infrastructure can be amended -- and on-road paint and signs, but we won't redesign roads so as to take roadspace away from cars.

This is where we come to what has changed since ATAP was launched.  Not in Edinburgh, but everywhere else.  In London, Chicago, New York, even Detroit, roadspace is being re-allocated away from cars to bikes, with spectacular results for local businesses and communities.  Edinburgh needs to realize that while their plans are still stuck in the past, the environment has moved on.

06 April 2013

A Cycling High Heid Yin?

I was sent this picture earlier today.  It's a salutary reminder of how far we have come.  On Monday, Spokes is holding a public meeting about 'the future of local transport', and an MSP and a local councillor are speaking.  The MSP is co-convenor of the newly created Cross-party group on cycling, while the Councillor is deputy transport convenor, with a specific responsibility for cycling.  It's a long way from local government with no real interest in or commitment to cycling, that led Spokes to cancel their 1980 meeting.

But despite all the remarkable changes -- most visible to many of us in the gritting of cycle paths this winter -- one conversation keeps recurring in different contexts.  And that's people saying - where's the blockage?   Is it the officials or the politicians?

Because somehow, despite the budget commitments, the explicit commitment by many Councillors, the good-natured cycling officers, the transport forum, a much lauded Active Travel Action Plan (ATAP), not much has really changed for cycling in Edinburgh in the 5 or so years that I've been back on the road (I was too scared to cycle here when we first moved here, despite having cycled in Canada, England and Zimbabwe).

The launch of the ATAP more or less coincided with my first foray  into cycle campaigning - at a Spokes meeting, where I suggested that maybe cyclelanes with parking bays painted on top of them shouldn't be counted in our grand total of 'x number of miles of cycle lanes'.  This seemed radical then, but I'm not sure it was, nor that it should have been.  When I pursued the issue, the then transport convenor told me that it was no longer council policy to put cycle lanes in where they could be parked on.

But where have we gone since?  There are no on-road segregated paths.. There are no mandatory cycle-lanes (ie ones that cars must stay out of).  Instead, we get the 'quality' bike corridor, where the painted lanes sometimes go around parking bays instead of straight through them.

I think this captures the issue that people are trying to get at, when they say 'where's the blockage? what is holding us back'?  There are valid points made about budgets, about a shortage of manpower, and many other issues that explain the failure to implement more than a tiny fraction of ATAP so far.

But the bigger question is, why has our vision stayed so stagnant?  Why are hesitant commitments to 'consider' cycle infrastructure only accomplished after great lobbying efforts?  Why is cycling infrastructure still not integrated into all planning?  It remains an after thought, a box-ticking exercise - despite all the good will at Council.

All this leads me to think that we need a cycling champion to overcome these roadblocks.  To knock heads together. To change how we think about cycling and to connect up all the synergies.  I'm not usually enamoured with this very English approach to policy-making, but if the alternative is wasting the enthusiasm and goodwill that is currently present, then I think we should consider it.  I suppose we'd need to call it something more Scottish though - how about a Cycling High Heid Yin?

In the meantime, I'm very much looking forward to this week's Spokes meeting.