30 November 2014

1/3 of 1/3 = not worth the £

I've taken my 4 year old swimming twice.  His big sister went all the time, but that was when Waterworld was open. 

We've been to Dalry Swim centre twice now, for what is advertised as a  'fun' session.  On Sundays 1/3 of the pool is roped off into lanes, and the third of the pool next to that is occupied by people swimming laps.

So that leaves 1/3 of the pool.  Only, if you're with a pre-schooler who can't swim on his own, you have to stay in the shallow end.  Which means that the available space for us, and all the other families, is 1/3 of 1/3 of the pool.   

It's not the pool staff's fault that the swimmers don't use the lanes set aside for them.  They got out some floaty toys for us, which was nice.  The 4 year old had a blast. 

But what is telling is how few other families turn up, and what they're like.  I'm a poor swimmer, and I take my kids along in the hopes that they'll move on to lessons and be better swimmers than I am.  But the other families there tend to be keen swimmers - kids with lots of kit. Serious stuff. Not average local families splashing around.  In Waterworld you used to see lots of young dads with tattoos, Asian families, grandparents - a real mix of people from all walks of life.  

Doubtless the swimming lessons are attractive to a wider range of local residents, but that's not the same as splashing around and having fun.  And no exercise at all for the Mums and Dads and Grandparents. 

I can't compare this to other pools - maybe they are different - but the word on the street is that parents who can are taking their kids to Perth or Dunbar for water play.   

None of this augurs well for the future of Edinburgh Leisure's local facilities, or the health of local communities, who are being let down.

28 November 2014

A solution to cycle path maintenance

photo by Chris Hill

If you ask for a list of the top 10 things Edinburgh has done for cyclists recently, you will almost certainly hear someone mention 'widening North Meadow Walk'.   You can see the improvement in this Spokes report here.  Not only was it an excellent use of unexpected government money, but it responded to the network being 'over-capacity' by widening the path.  And as I reported in an earlier blogpost the design was adapted to accommodate the responses received in the consultation.  So, all good.  

Except, that with most of the work done in the summer of 2013, and finished in autumn 2013, it is already showing signs of poor design and maintenance issues.   The design problems showed up within weeks -- while the pedestrian (north) side of the path remains dry in the rain, the south side - for cyclists - is prone to puddles.  On the north side, the path sits slightly higher than the surrounding turf, but on the south side it is roughly level, with no drainage channels

In the autumn, this is compounded by dropping leaves, which also favour the south side of the path, because of the age of the trees, and the prevailing wind (see here for an expert explanation).  The combination of leaf 'jam' and mud makes for a worryingly slippery ride. 

And finally, the path is growing narrower as the mud and leaf mulch combine with the grass growing out over the stone border and onto the tarmac.  If you look at the pedestrian side you can clearly see the coping stones along the side, but on the cycle side, they are covered in turf - about 4 inches has grown over in some places. 

This is compounded by vehicles going along here and mashing the side of the path, as you can see in this picture.  
This isn't an issue that can be dealt with by sending a street sweeping machine along, or  even leaf blowers.  So, rather reluctantly, I canvassed for opinion on CityCyclingEdinburgh and a small group of us tackled the worst section of the path.  

This isn't a solution though, especially when the main problem is the actual design of the path.  The council doesn't expect drivers to sweep the roads, or fix potholes.  But it seems to be pretty standard to expect community groups to maintain cycle paths.  I think it's because cycle paths are still thought of as parks, and leisure spaces, not commuting routes, which obviously needs to change. 

Edinburgh's excellent about gritting paths in winter and not bad at sending out street sweepers,  but their budget's pretty stretched at the moment. So, here's my solution - all those drivers stopped for being on their mobiles, or eating their cereal, or even worse cases of careless and dangerous driving who get community service, should be given bikes with trailers, shovels, and rakes, and sent out to keep the mud and grass from our cycle paths.  

(so seriously, how do we get the council to deal with this?)

03 November 2014

A rather boring, slightly ranty, post

I've been pretty sceptical about the George Street cycle lanes since they were first proposed. But I thought I should at least try them out rather than just critiquing from afar. Last Saturday seemed like a good opportunity.  We again had to go to Jack Browns, so the stoker and I saddled up and made sure we had the helmet camera ready and loaded.

It's perhaps telling that cycle streets definitely doesn't recommend the route that I used (my route is shown ikn red below), even though it has the most/best cycle specific infrastructure on it, as well as the most direct route. It's a mile and a quarter through a vibrant shopping area with high pedestrian footfall, a bus station, a train station and a tram route, surrounded by parks and historic sights.   You'd think we want to make this a pleasant journey?  Even encourage people into the city centre?

As you can see I went for the most direct route, which is also along the best cycle infrastructure - in theory. What I did was to head from Lothian Road onto the new George Street cycle lane -- requiring crossing tram tracks at speed and then changing lanes.  This would be okay if it was clear what to do, but I was frantically trying to figure it out.  The cars and buses were surprisingly patient - probably because of my stoker - or because they didn't know where to go either. I've speeded this video up a bit too much at 16x, but that means its only 15 seconds long.

Once on the George Street lanes, it was fairly smooth sailing - once the furniture was moved.  the first couple of crossings are fine, then there's the slightly odd roundabout thing where we switch from one side of the road to the other - basically okay if the traffic's light, but I was at least expecting that.  can't imagine cycling that blind.  And finally, the cycle-specific lights.  Fine as far as they go, but quite a long wait?

Finally however, we get to what I consider the coup-de-grace -- we are directed onto the pavement (I think) then around the north side of St Andrew's square (I think), then onto some more pavement, then across the tram tracks (oddly there is a bike light suggesting the crossing is a toucan, but with railings on the island, I'd recommend walking), then down Queen street, which is 4 lanes + trams, I think, then across the tram tracks again...

Not my idea of fun.   On that ride, and the return leg a couple of hours later, I saw precisely 2 cyclists.  Unlike others, I had no issues with cars driving or parked on the lane.  and the pedestrians were pretty polite too - if a bit baffled by it all.

So, should I be being more positive about it?  Grateful that the council is thinking out of the box? Happy that they're taking segregation seriously?  Today's local paper quoted me as saying ""'It’s an attempt 2 balance so many different interests, but it’s not suited any of them' .  You can read the rest of the story here.  It also sparked a polite debate on our cycle forum.

I really wish I could be more positive and see it as a 'start', but I can't.  The George St lanes serve no purpose at all in making the city centre more cyclable.  Those who are more optimistic may hope that this first step convinces the local businesses that they can still function - thrive even - on a pedestrianised road, or next to cycle lanes.  If that is the outcome then it will be positive. But I don't think we should pretend that what has been created is some sort of cycle infrastructure, because it clearly isn't.