When vision for cycling stalls: reflecting on tough decisions

By John Lauder,
cyclist on busy road

Two segregated cycle routes were voted down in the last two weeks. The second phase of the Bears Way from suburban Milngavie to the boundary with Glasgow alongside the busy A81 and the Holmston Road lane in Ayr, which was voted to be ‘ripped up’. Both provide better journeys for all and are two of Scotland’s newest substantially segregated cycling routes. It’s been a tough two weeks and here are my reflections.

Along with routes in Edinburgh and Glasgow, the Bears Way and Holmston Road were Community Links projects aiming to replicate the success at growing levels of cycling in Denmark and other small, Northern European countries. It’s one example of a route design that would make real progress in uplifting cycling levels, and realising the Scottish Government’s vision that 10% of everyday trips will be by bike by 2020; a vision backed up by record government spending on walking and cycling.

We know we can dramatically uplift cycling levels. Over half of all journeys in Scotland are under 3km – that takes me about ten minutes on a bike.

When it comes to cycling the evidence is clear that most of us will not share the road on commuting corridors congested with cars, buses and lorries. Lay down a separated track and all kinds of people will take to two wheels (even three) for their daily journeys. Before the first phase of the Bears Way went in, you wouldn’t have seen families and children cycling safely and happily along the very busy A81. Phase 1 of the Bears Way has made this possible. Phase two would have added a further 800 metres of protected cycle lane through a number of junctions and along the A81. With new pedestrian crossings and safer junctions it would make the route a better place to be on foot too.

Robust monitoring shows that the short section already open is used 1,000 times a week and double that in the summer. Every one of these journeys by bike is one less person in a car or one free space on the train, benefiting all who travel in the area. At a fifth of the space of a car, space for cycling is a more efficient use of our already congested roads.

In a lot of the discussions it is assumed that driving and parking is the only way people access local shops, but with five times more people able to travel in the same space we know that adding better walking and cycling infrastructure can make local shops more accessible and boost trade. The same goes for the local train station - all without adding any traffic to the roads.

On Holmston Road in Ayr, the project simply replaced painted cycle lanes with a two-way cycle track, protected by a rubber kerbstone. It formed a safe, traffic-free cycle route from the centre of Ayr along Holmston Road before linking onwards to a path out to Coylton. It made no changes to the previous road or parking space.

I am confident that both of these projects, given time to bed-in, would have lifted cycling levels further still. So I was deeply disappointed to hear that, first and albeit by a very close 12-11 vote, East Dunbartonshire Council took the difficult decision to reject a second phase of the Bears Way. Then on Thursday, South Ayrshire councillors voted 19-11 in favour of ‘ripping up’ the Holmston lane.

The decisions are made and I respect them of course. I hope that cancelling was not an easy decision. And frankly spending more public money to remove a public benefit doesn’t make sense to me. In my view, both should have gone ahead, been monitored and judged on the resultant evidence.

Our staff and the council officers will reflect and learn from this difficult experience. While we have the luxury of choice to build cycle routes, we have little other choice about the toxic air pollution, the congestion holding back our towns and cities and the worryingly increasing inactive unhealthy lifestyles we lead and the costs this is placing on our health service.

We will reflect and learn because, frankly, without segregated, coherent, attractive and direct cycle routes, we can’t unlock the clean, green and healthy transport we need.

Vision and leadership in times like these go a long way, this will be vital as we progress the successful Community Link Plus scheme in Glasgow and other schemes around Scotland.

Find out more about community links