22 September 2015

Living car-free in Scotland?

We've lived in the UK for over 20 years, and in Scotland for 12, without needing a car.  It helps that Oxford and Edinburgh have both proved cycle and walking friendly, and both have excellent bus systems too.  Even since we've had kids, we've not regretted not having a car in the city.  Just this summer, with an 8yo and a 4yo we managed expeditions by train and bike to Tantallon and Dirleton Castles, and their associated beaches.  It's great for the kids to have the experience of getting places under their own steam, and really seeing the countryside.  Plus it tires them out, so they sleep soundly at night :)

But half-term poses new challenges.  It's not that we can't cycle 40km easily in a day as a family, with the 8yo on her own bike, and the 4yo on the tandem.  And we're pretty adept at carrying supplies in panniers.  But a lot of places that we'd like to go require a train trip first -- like the off-road route from Glasgow to Loch Lomond.  The problem is that Scotrail only lets you book 2 bikes per train. And it won't take tandems at all (even 'compact' ones like ours).   So, while an ideal scenario would be to borrow a second tandem, load them up and take the train to Pitlochry, or up the West Highland way, we can't do that.  Even if we just took one tandem, we'd still have 3 bikes, which is also not allowed.  And as Alison Johnstone wrote earlier, just getting 2 bikes on some trains can be a challenge.

Supposedly, guards can use their discretion and let extra bikes on, but when travelling with kids, that's really not an option - you need to know that you'll all be able to get on trains, and arrive at a decent hour, not gamble on a friendly guard.   A few years ago, we got stuck on the platform at Longniddry with a toddler at dusk because the guard wouldn't let us on an otherwise empty train, because 2 bikes had boarded at an earlier station.  It didn't matter that the train was full of empty carriages, this particular woman was determined to show us that we didn't count and physically prevented us from boarding.  We had to wait another hour, as it got dark and cold. It spoiled a lovely day out watching the geese at Aberlady bay.   So, no, I won't be trusting to the good will of the guards when venturing further afield.

What's frustrating about this is that Abellio, the new franchise holder promotes itself as 'cycle friendly' and the Scottish government wants to promote 'cycle tourism'.  But I guess that's just for young fit couples, and single adventurous cyclists.  Not for families that would rather do without the hassles of car ownership.

Well, we've given in.  There is now a British license-holder in our family, and we'll be joining the car club as soon as we can.  But if the franchise terms for other lines and orders for new trains could contemplate some flexible seating into which bikes could go, or having multiple cars with bike carriage, then there would be so many more options for families like ours.

for more info:  http://www.spokes.org.uk/2015/07/new-glasgow-edinburgh-trains/


I ended in a bit of a twitter-slanging-match this morning.  With Stella Creasy of all people.  I've rather admired her style and approach to politics - she seemed to really want to bring an energetic, campaigning politics back into the Labour Party.  But I was disappointed by this tweet, which excerpted parts of a newsletter from her, which seemed very negative - portraying the Walthamstow 'miniholland' project as being about cyclists versus 'everyone else'.

Disappointed by @stellacreasy’s latest newsletter which echoes #miniholland concerns of a noisy pro-car minority http://t.co/WMiPfijqWM
22/09/2015 08:32

In our subsequent exchange, she kept emphasising how she was trying to 'balance' the competing needs.*  Which reminded me of how affirmative action campaigns for women are too often critiqued for not being 'balanced', and how often 'balance' is promoted by the status quo as a reason for keeping the status quo, as in this fun tweet that came in about the same time: 

"We have got to be very careful not to do things at a speed which will make male candidates feel that the cards are stacked against them."
22/09/2015 09:16   [
which links to this article. ]

Stella Creasy said that my comparison was 'silly'.  But is it?  surely our current infrastructure is built with cars and drivers as their primary concern?  

So here's my top examples of our transport infrastructure privileging cars, rather than active travel:

  • Tarmac is continuous across junctions, but pavements stop
  • Driveways and entrances to car parks always have dropped kerbs, but not pedestrian crossings
  • 'Green wave' traffic lights that turn green for cars, but give cyclists red after red
  • Wide corner radiuses that make it easy for cars to turn, but widen the crossings making it difficult for pedestrians to cross
  • Push buttons on toucans - do you ever see drivers having to get out and push a button? 
  • Dummy 'push buttons' on pelican crossings that are actually controlled automatically from junctions
  • Half of most roadways taken up with parked cars 
  • Road signs and parking meters on pavements, not on roadways, even though they deal with car regulations 
It's time to redress the balance - which is why we should all get behind the mini-holland schemes, and similar schemes elsewhere in the country. If criticism is needed, let's make it constrictive criticism, and not hide behind excuses of 'balance'. 

*  To be clear - she didn't use the word 'balance' - that is my reading of her various tweets and newsletter.  But she did say my comparison was "silly".