29 April 2014

School run - what a joy!

A couple of weeks ago I posted a video of 5 minutes cycling with my daughter.  It got quite a lot of views and comments. Even the nicest commenters admitted that they'd found it terrifying, and I'm sure more than a few privately concluded we were mad.

As I said at the time, that ride was not typical of our family cycling. And I've been hoping to get a more representative video.  And this morning, we had 5 minutes of joyful cycling.  

Only 3 moving cars visible in the entire video. And yes, one of them does make a rather close pass (at 2.48), but that was it. 

I've left the sound on. Please excuse my inane chatter, but you will catch me reminding her rather a lot about gears, and when to 'go'.  I'd like to think that that wouldn't be necessary in Holland, and it really shouldn't be necessary on a quite route to school (although we were running late). 

A couple of other things to note -- from 4.42 onwards you can see why the pavements are inadequate for pedestrians, much less kids on scooters or bikes. And at the end, at 5.20 you can see our pathetic school bike shed -- a sorry comparison to the next nearest kids school, with shiny new racks all arrayed in front of the main door, and 10 times as many bikes on them. 

not our school

I think it does show that a cycle to school is not impossible for a sensible 7 year old. But it also shows how easy it would be to make this route - and other kids routes - easier, safer and more attractive. 

21 April 2014


I may have let the cat out of the bag in a recent post.  I said 'Edinburgh's a pretty decent place to cycle'.  And I actually do believe that. But you probably wouldn't know it from my usual moaning.  

It could easily be so much better. and that would be better for the city too.  

Equally important, we are really lucky to have elected politicians and council officials who care deeply about making the city accessible. 

We have a council leader who cycles, and gives priority to environmental and justice issues . We have a transport convenor with real commitment to public transport, and desire to take pedestrian issues seriously. We have had a series of young, dynamic and energetic deputy convenors/cycling supremos who have thrown themselves into their jobs . We even have talented and committed council officials, who - amazingly - now have the budget to make some big changes. 

So, when I moan, it's because there is so much potential. and it hurts to see it wasted.. 

I'll plead 'not guilty' to the charge of pessimism, and 'guilty' to the charge of being overly optimistic. 

Re-uniting Edinburgh with its coastline

Edinburgh's a strange city in many ways. It's a city with a port, not a port city.  This is in part a function of history - Leith  only became part of Edinburgh in 1920.  But even despite the massive growth in the city, this distinction remains visible not just in planning and transport networks (in fact Leith is well integrated), but in people's behaviour.

I grew up in a port city, my mum grew up in a port city, my parents currently live in a port town.  And, I always thought that if you live in a port, one of the things you do is drive (or walk or cycle) along the waterfront and check out what is going on  -- not just the arrivals and departures of ships, but also the weather, the tideline, the changing skyline.  But in Edinburgh, this is not an easy or natural thing to do.

Some parts of it - notably Cramond and Portobello - have fabulous infrastructure. But in between, despite fascinating nooks and crannies, it can be difficult to find your way, and certainly not suitable for unconfident cyclists, or even pleasant for walkers.   Even the John Muir way which is being celebrated and opened today  goes inland through the meadows - a lovely walk, but an odd inland route for a coastal city.

But there's a lot of potential, as we discovered when we were invited to join this 'study tour' of the waterfront (yes, that's us, definitely NOT going 27 mph).

It would be easy for the council to join up the bits and pieces and make a marketable 'round Edinburgh' path, mostly off-road, with spectacular views, industrial archaeology, cafes, pubs, playparks -- something for everyone.

The work currently being undertaken to link up Edinburgh's NEPN with the canal, the city centre and the south/east paths network is going to transform the city, but our next target must definitely be to build in the coastal network, enabling proper 'round the city' rides for everyone.

Keep an eye on http://edprom.wordpress.com/ for progress - and add your ideas too.

19 April 2014

Policy, not implementation

Edinburgh's a pretty decent place to cycle.  We like to say that they have all the right policies, but fall down on implementation.  But sometimes policy fails too.

Leith links have a much-used cycle path running through them that lots of commuters use.  As part of a broader strategy, the path is being 'improved'.  Since it also runs past a primary school, that improvement includes replacing chicanes.   Now there may be places where chicanes are necessary, but as a tandem and trailer user, I think these are infrequent. Luckily, 'Cycling by Design' the national guidance, agrees with me, and says:  " If staggered (chicane) barriers are used, the arrangement should be designed to slow cyclists rather than force them to dismount ".  

Cycling by design also gives clear specs on how chicanes should be installed - so as to allow tandems etc to negotiate them. So, I was dismayed to see that the Leith Links chicanes fail on all accounts.  So, the gap between chicanes and the wall should be 2m (preferred) and 1.5m (absolute minimum).  But on Leith Links, it is 1.2m.  And the gap between chicanes should be at least 3m, while on Leith Links it is 1.9m.*

I've fondly assumed that this is just another implementation issue that could be caught by 'snagging'.  But no,  I was told today that they are designed to make cyclists dismount or send them out onto the grass.

So, designed to do exactly the thing that national guidelines say they are not designed to do.

If the city wants to encourage cycling - which it claims to do - then when volumes of cycle traffic increase, they need to consider what infrastructure is suitable.

Clearly a busy shared space path is not appropriate right outside a school - even after 'widening'.  What is needed is a well designed segregated track.   This isn't intended to excuse speeding or inconsiderate cyclists. It is simply about building the infrastructure that we need, and getting both policy and implementation right, so that pedestrians and cyclists aren't pushed into conflict.

For more on this see: http://greenerleith.org.uk/blog/q-big-budget-cycling-bad-thing-3913  and http://citycyclingedinburgh.info/bbpress/topic.php?id=12173

* I'm indebted to wingpig for the measurements.

12 April 2014

Why most families won't cycle in Edinburgh

(inspired by a comment on my last post....)

Earlier in the week, it being the Easter Holidays, a plan was concocted that required getting the kids to Waverley, with bikes.  It's not that far from us. Haymarket is closer so we often choose to start journeys there, but we were meeting people, and riding to Waverley didn't seem like a problem.  The first third is on a 30 mph rd, but one that we ride everyday to school.  So, not a big obstacle.  The middle section is off-road segregated lanes.  Very nice.  It's the final bit -- part of the city's Quality Bike Corridor (official map here) -- that turned out to be a  nerve-wracking 5 minutes, despite there hardly being any traffic at all.

I'm not sharing this video as an example of 'great family cycling'  -- I've got others that show how we do it much better -- but I think we did okay. There's only one place - where the big lorry overtakes us down the Mound - where I think I should have been closer to her.  There are other places, where she's trying too hard to keep up with her Dad - who is too far ahead, and coping with me shouting stuff at both him and her.  But this was probably the hardest bit of family cycling we've done over the past 3 years.

What makes me angry though, is that this is touted as 'quality'. It is a route than many families wanting to visit the National Museum, events at Princes Street Gardens, the Museum of Art etc would all want to do. And it shows perfectly why most sane people would choose not to cycle in Edinburgh with kids, despite the excellent nearby off-road paths.

Just to point out the highlights: as you can see, the access from Middle Meadow Walk (c 60s) is inadequate, as it requires cyclists to merge into traffic coming from a totally different direction, with no indication to them that cyclists are allowed to do this.  The van 'loading' in the bike lane outside Greggs (c1.10) doesn't help.  Neither does the taxi parked further on.  You can really see here how dangerous door zones and leap-frogging are for kids.   At c2.22 you can also see why bus lanes don't count as cycle infrastructure.

Then, there is the comedy bike lane beside the Missoni  (c.2.40-3.15), just before the intersection with the High Street. For once, the bike lane itself was un-blocked. But because the turning Lorry is in the ASL, we end up out in front of it - and blocking the fire engine's access.  But I was worried the second lorry -- the arctic with crane -- was also turning, so didn't want to risk sitting in the bike lane.

And finally, we get that  downhill, with vehicles overtaking at speed - where we are had to change lanes and turn right as well.  Madness.  The entrance to Waverley itself, doesn't help -- it is entirely unclear that the first entrance is not for cyclists (there's a teeny weeny sign), and the at the second entrance, again, it's unclear that cyclists ARE in fact allowed to carry on down the ramp.  Inside the station, it's very well-signposted, but obviously if your journey originates at Waverley, you're not going to have arrived by bike.

I'm sure some folk will think we're mad to let a 7 year old cycle this.  But she wanted to, and she had a great day out. On the way back, with a lot more traffic on the roads, we rode some of the same intersections in a much tighter convoy configuration with more cyclists around us, and it was great.  But at 9 in the morning, with hardly any personal vehicles out, the roads felt ridiculously dangerous.  It also shows how dominated our roads are by lorries, vans, and taxis during the day - and how much difference a reduction in them would make for cyclists. But my main reflection is that if there was proper infrastructure on this route then little mistakes - either by a 7 year old or by a professional lorry driver - wouldn't matter. And I can't see many other families following us down this path.

It's five minutes riding - about half a mile - that could easily be fixed, but without those changes, it's not going to be a part of the 'family network' that sees many families.

Cycling and the Gender Dilemma

First bike.
I'm the worst possible person to speak about 'getting people cycling' and especially 'getting women cycling'. It's just always been something I've done, and I didn't ever question that until I moved to Edinburgh.  I learned to ride a proper bike a bit later than my friends -- I had a big old trike and was small, so it fit me for a long time. Wish I had a picture of the trike - I loved it, even though my friends teased me about still riding a trike when they were on bikes, and I couldn't keep up with them.  Then my parents gave me a second-hand bike - blue with white tires, that I loved (even though my friends still teased me because it was one a big girl up the street had grown out of...aren't kids great).   I have two abiding memories of that bike - my big brother taking me to the petrol station to put air in the tyres, and the tyre exploding as we rode off.  And riding with my Dad to a nearby park and falling in the big mud puddle under the swing, so that I had to ride home soaking wet and dripping.

My $99 Canadian Tire Special. Still going strong.
I must have ridden other bikes in between, but the next bike I remember was a 10 speed from Canadian Tire for $99.  It was the cheapest bike they sold - I remember poring over the newspaper advert insert. But it was my OWN, NEW bike. Bought with my own money, that I had earned. And - 30 years later - it's still running fine, with all the original components.

I don't recall ever cycling to school.  We lived up hill from my primary school and downhill from my junior and senior highs.  But when I started kayaking seriously and had to get to the other end of town every morning at 6 and every night at 6, it was clear I'd have to get there on my own.  So I cycled.  And then I would sometimes ride to Uni too, even though it was walking distance. I don't recall ever receiving any training in riding on the road. Or anyone worrying about it being dangerous.

 And when I moved to Oxford, pretty much the first thing my new friend and I did was go out and buy bikes - matching white ones with flowers and baskets.  And with a great group of friends we explored all sorts of places around Oxfordshire on our bikes. And I cycled in Harare - the wide roads were lovely.  Until we got to Edinburgh, cycling had just seemed the obvious solution -- it wasn't a 'thing' for me, I didn't race. I didn't know how to do any maintenance.  I wasn't 'into' bikes. I just found them convenient.

Edinburgh changed that. Living just off Leith Walk kept me off my bike for 5 years.  No way I was cycling up and across the bridges to get to work ever day. And I didn't know about any of the off-road paths that would have allowed us to get out to East Lothian or to Cramond.   All those years we took the bus, or walked.   But then we had a baby and just didn't have the time to get her to nursery and get to work, so we moved house and bought bikes.  It was an entirely pragmatic response, and I didn't regret doing it, but when I saw http://citycyclingedinburgh.info/bbpress/  mentioned in the Evening News, I checked it out, and found a wealth of people and information that helped me cope with the hostile roads that was encountering on a daily basis.  Even though I considered myself an experienced cyclist, I found I needed their camaraderie and advice to cope.  They also opened my eyes to issues like road design and the finer details of the Highway Code (especially as it pertains to pedestrians).  So, when POP came along, it made sense to join in, and try to help improve conditions for others.

So, unlike others, who have rather wonderfully described POP as an epiphany my attitude to bikes has always been rather hum-drum - it gets me where I need to go and under my own steam. That's why I particularly love the first 5 points on the Guardian bike blog.  But it also makes me feel rather useless when asked about 'getting people [ie women] cycling'. Yes, having had all those blue bikes, and equally boring blue raincoats, I love the fact that you can get girly accessories - baskets, pink gloves, flowery helmets. But ultimately, it's about freedom, and efficiency, and health (mental and physical). And those shouldn't be gendered.

Decent infrastructure and safer streets are needed so that women who want to cycle can feel just as independent, save just as much time and money, and be just as healthy as all the lyrca-louts and businessmen commuters.

So rather than 'encouraging women to cycle' my goal is to make cycling something that isn't gendered, and then we won't need to organise special events. It's not women we need to change, it's the environment.

Me and my girl on our tandem.

01 April 2014

Not an April Fool's Day Joke

We've been running a bit late this week, owing to the time change. Which meant that my 7yo has been riding her bike to school, and arriving around 8.40. 

The school is on a cul de sac, with two gates, and three pedestrian crossings (in green) forming three sides of a rectangle between them.  You can see the range of possible movements here in red: 

Today I stayed around to watch what the cars actually do. Here's a selection of what I saw, starting with the left-most gate where older children are often dropped. 

It's hard to see because of the rain drop on the lens but I count 5 cars outside the gate to the playground where the bike shed is sited (the gate is to the left of the left-most green line in the image above).

It's not a taxi rank. It's the entrance to the bike racks. 

The green car is attempting a three point turn. Right across where parents and kids cycling from one end of the catchment would be turning in to the bike shed. 

 A lot of drivers that drop their kids between the two gates then use the space between the three crossings to attempt a U turn.  Unfortunately, this often means impinging on the crossings themselves, turning the space right in front of the school into an ersatz  turning circle - as you can see below.

this vehicle is reversing

this vehicle is reversing as well

 Clipping the crossing. All the drivers that I saw attempt this manoeuvre did this. 
Basically, these cars are avoiding the cul de sac, but instead driving over one crossing twice, and 'clipping' another one as they turned.  


This illustrates very clearly how easily accidents can happen in a contricted space, with too many people in a hurry trying to go in different directions. 

These two cars are 'parked'. No drivers in them, while they walked their kids to the main gate and did other errands.

The vast majority of parents either walk their kids up, or park sensibly and considerately before walking the final few metres to the school.  The cars pictured here are a tiny minority. But the space is so constrained - and there are so many children and parents using it -  that even one poorly manoeuvred car can be a danger to all.