When is a Cycle Route Not a Cycle Route?
This week was ‘The Big Pedal‘ My children’s school – along with the rest of the country – were encouraging pupils to cycle or scoot to school. Not really a problem for us since we travel by cargo bike anyway.
I do worry though that my children get no more exercise travelling by cargo bike than they would travelling by car. This was fine while they were little, but they are now nearly 5 and nearly 7 and it is really time that they started shifting under their own steam a bit more. After all, they both have their own bikes and can ride them.
I tried, I really did try to get my head around the idea of my eldest riding his own bike to school. But I just couldn’t do it. The thought simply terrifies me. This is not overprotective parenting, or paranoia. This is a fear based on my daily experience on the roads between our home and our school.
I Know, Let’s Scoot To School
In my wisdom, I decided that, if we couldn’t all cycle, then we would scoot to school. (Yes, I do have an adult scooter. Yes, I am aware that at 43 years old I look a bit daft on a scooter).
In my head, this would be a lovely morning of the three of us scooting happily down the pavement. OK, so it would take a little longer than cycling, but that was fine.
It was not fine.
The thing is, our primary school has a huge catchment and we live towards the edge of it. This means that the most direct route to school is still 1.5 miles. It turns out that scooting 1.5 miles is really hard work. Especially if you are used to being a passenger on a cargo bike. And if you only got two-wheeled scooters the previous day. It took us 45 minutes to get to school and you can imagine the amount of complaining that went on. Suffice to say, it was not a good start to the day.
Scooting to school is not going to be a daily feature for us for the time being.
The West Edinburgh Link Project
Not to be deterred from my mission to get my children more active in their travel to school, I looked up the long awaited plans for the forthcoming West Edinburgh Link (WEL) Project.
This is the statement on the WEL home page:
‘Our vision is to transform cycling, walking, public spaces and accessibility for all within and around one of Scotland’s key business parks, in the west of Edinburgh.
The project will connect up South Gyle, Edinburgh Park and local neighbourhoods with high quality walking and cycling routes and new public spaces.’
Excellent, I thought. I live within the area covered by this project, and I am ready for my cycling, walking and public spaces to be transformed!
Half an hour later, after looking at the parts of the plans which should affect me, I had to accept that my life was not about to be transformed.
I was sorely disappointed and massively frustrated for three reasons:
- The complete disregard for any journeys which are not directly from home to work (journeys).
- The continued focus on painted cycle lanes and ‘quiet routes’ (safety).
- The absurd detours cyclists are expected to make (distance).
To my mind, the WEL project lacks ambition and understanding.
I am sure that lots of very well intentioned people have worked hard to put the project together. However, they seem to have completely failed to take account of people who need to take their children to school. The entire project appears to be aimed at people who will leave their houses and go directly to their place of work at the big business parks within the project. This is great, but most people’s lives don’t actually work like that. For anyone with children, life certainly does not work like that.
Another quote from the WEL website:
‘Situated in west Edinburgh, this project will transform cycling and walking access to one of Scotland’s key business parks. It will create friendly, new outdoor spaces in the South Gyle and Edinburgh business parks with new high quality cycling and walking routes.’
No mention of taking children to school or nursery before work. No mention of nipping to the shop for milk and bread between home, school drop off and work. This is a project which will only benefit those who travel directly between home and work.
I realise that I am very focused on the school run because that is what I do five days a week. However, even if you do not have children and you really do only travel directly between your home and your work, think about how different the roads around you are during the school holidays. Roads everywhere are undeniably quieter and less congested when the schools are on holiday.
So why are planners of projects such as this taking no account whatsoever of school catchments and journeys which involve home to childcare and then to work? Why are there no consultations being held at the local primary schools?
Instead of a focus on high quality, segregated cycle paths, the WEL has a pathetic reliance on ‘quiet routes’ and painted lanes on existed roads. Granted, there are a few segregated cycle paths planned, but to me they smack of tokenism.
I cycle my local network of ‘quiet routes’ every day between home and school. They are the most dangerous parts of my journey. ‘Quiet routes’ are the reason why I do not allow my children to ride their own bikes to school. One problem with ‘quiet routes’ is that they are used as rat runs by drivers at busy times of the day (such as school run time).
Even worse, they usually have parked cars on at least one side of the road, if not both. This forces cyclists into the path of oncoming traffic. It also means that drivers try to squeeze past from behind where there is not sufficient room to do so safely. The vast majority of the close passes which I experience are on these ‘quiet routes’. I experience close passes multiple times each and every day.
After five years of using these ‘quiet routes’ every day, I feel qualified in my opinion that quiet routes are absolutely pointless.
Incidentally, near me, the ‘quiet routes’ are the place to go to find the biggest potholes. They also are not gritted in winter.
As for painted cycle lanes on existing roads, they simply encourage drivers to pass cyclists closely, or drive in them, or park in them. They are so narrow that I could not even cycle alongside my child in these lanes. Again, I feel qualified in my opinion that painted cycle lanes are absolutely pointless.
Instead of dealing with the massive obstacle of Maybury Road – a congested nightmare of four narrow lanes which takes the most direct route towards these business areas, instead the WEL gives us a meandering maze of shared paths and ‘quiet streets’. Yet the same project is very proud to announce their plans for a bridge over a railway line which will make a route more direct. Incidentally, this bridge also cuts out the part of the existing path which goes to another local school.
The End of the Rant
What really frustrates me about this project, is that it is not just this project. Time and again it seems that projects like this are applauded despite their massive limitations. I am happy to admit that I know nothing about how Sustrans funding works, but I can’t help thinking that they should be expecting more for their money before they hand it out.
When is a cycle route not a cycle route? When it is not safe to allow a six year old child to ride their own bike along it. And sadly, that is the existing cycle route to our school and there are no signs of that changing any time soon.