Manufactured conflict: postscript

Despite re-alignment, the natural line to take to enter this new path is still on the “wrong” side of the road…

When even stupid design goals aren’t met

I posted recently about the redesign of a cycleway in Edinburgh which has manufactured conflict between pedestrians and cyclists.

One prominent part of the discussion around this step back in bike/walking provision is the weird way that pedestrians have to walk out onto the “wrong” side of the road then walk across the road onto the pavement, where previously the path just led them naturally onto the pavement.

Apparently this re-alignment is because there “had been reports of conflicts arising with cyclists travelling on the wrong lane and vehicles manoeuvring at the end of Barnton Avenue.”

Ignoring the obvious issue that Edinburgh Council’s design team seem to have forgotten that legally, cyclists are vehicles, and ignoring the issue that vehicles manoeuvring at the end of a mile-long cul-de-sac are basically nowhere to be seen – the natural line to take to enter the new path is still on the “wrong” side of the road.

The chicane could potentially be reversed, but I think at that point a desire line would open up around the boulders on the right instead. I keep thinking the paved gutter there invites a cut-through.

So pedestrians have to dodge through a chicane and walk over the road to get to the pavement because… planners don’t understand how cycling works?

How ironic is that?

Incidentally, I have no idea who the silver fox on the bike in front is – hundreds and hundreds of people cycle on this route and I know about three of them personally. Someone elsewhere suggested I had a ready supply of actors to try and show up Edinburgh council, but that’s quite unnecessary!

ASA-compliant cycling: low life expectancy

If you want to live more than five minutes cycling in the UK you *absolutely cannot* afford to cycle as timidly as this!

If you want to live, get out of the gutter

The ASA kicked up a storm a while back with its ludicrous and widely-condemned verdict that cyclists must be shown cycling in the gutter in the mainstream media.

This week the ASA issued a humiliating climbdown, but too late for this pair of Edinburgh cyclists who I passed on a commute the other day.

Holy shit, if you want to live more than five minutes cycling in the UK you absolutely cannot afford to cycle as timidly as this:

I wouldn’t be at all surprised to hear that these people were killed under the nearside of an overtaking HGV. You can see how little hesitation the three motors in front of me in the queue have in taking up the invite to pass. The internet is littered with the names of cyclists killed by truck drivers in circumstances like this, including more than one in Edinburgh.

Safe responsible cycling means getting in the way of dangerous driving. It’s easier said than done, but I’d rather have a shouting match with a moron every six months than be six feet under.

Road without pavement?

…or pavement without road? A critical look at the contradictions in provisioning “space for cycling” and expecting it not to compete with pedestrian interests.

Or pavement without road?

As the debate about manufactured conflict on Edinburgh’s cycleways continues, there have been encouraging signs that I’m not alone in wondering why people are suddenly held to a much higher standard when they leave their car at home.

Less than chivalrous behaviour behind the wheel is seen as lamentable, perhaps, but certainly understandable, even inevitable. When the same person is persuaded to try cycling instead, any failing on their part becomes a moral panic, not just bringing down wrath on them but on all of the other 43% of UK citizens who own bikes!

I’ve already written about my scorn for collective responsibility (twice!). In this post I’d like to try and stir some thought on the other great question of our times: why is it seen as less than legitimate to use a shared cycleway for… cycling on?

I was prompted to write this post in particular by yet another CCE debate. The point has been made many times that people drive at similar (or greater) speeds on roads where peopler are walking, with or without pavements, so cycling behaviour is both expected and still a massive improvement. Someone replied:

A cyclist brushing by a pedestrian at 20mph on a shared space route doesn’t feel like a brush with a slow moving vehicle.

Make driving in town wholly unattractive … thus freeing up road space for safer cycling.

Then remove the shared space routes; it doesn’t work, and will never work, while people see them as a belt along as fast as you can pedal, (motorised)traffic-free cycle route.

They’re not; they’re for pedestrians and more vulnerable, less road-confident, or just those out for a meander, cyclists.

If you want a “hard-going” route into town at maximum pace, use a road. Not a shared space. It doesn’t work, and causes unnecessary animosity.

A question of expectations

Edinburgh’s West Approach Road was built onto the North British rail line which ran into Princes Street Station (demolished in the late 60s). It’s an unfriendly tarmac canyon which speeds traffic for a little over a mile, saving drivers a few minutes at either end of the day:


Let’s suppose for a moment that the Council decided to seize the forum’s advice boldly and re-allocate the West Approach Road for cycling. They’d probably want to let some greenery grow at either side and have a narrower strip of tarmac, but everything about the route is otherwise spot on – good gradients, well lit, etc etc.

At last we’d have a route which re-allocated space to cycling, one which wasn’t contentious with pedestrian lobby groups, a virtual paradise!

But wait… Edinburgh Council have done *exactly this* with another stretch of the same railway line. Just a few hundred feet from the paving of the West Approach Road, the same railbed has been (slightly more sympathetically) tarmacked and presented to the city as a key commuter route which is not accessible to cars:


Naturally it’s wildly popular with people cycling between the West End, Leith, and anywhere else in the northern half of the city. And what do we say about it?

“remove the shared space routes; it doesn’t work, and will never work … use a road”


Cycle routes for cycling on

I’m sure I’m not the only person who thinks this process of self-hatred is weird. I don’t want to condone nasty cycling any more than I would condone nasty driving, but if we have any realistic aspirations for cycling as an everyday (continental style) activity, we have to understand that people must ride somewhere.

Some of them will go faster than others, and if the West Approach Road ever is converted to a shared cycleway, we *will* see this exact debate play out again. It is not realistic to imagine that we can create separate cycle space free of pedestrian conflict, because almost by definition, cyclists and pedestrians will compete for anywhere that fear of violence at motorists’ hands is removed.

Shouldn’t we be honest about the fact that creating cycle space competes directly with other modes (pedestrian as well as motorised) but that it’s still eminently worth doing?

Shouldn’t we be up front about the fact that not every driver is perfect, and so taking people out of their cars in the process of making a more liveable city inevitably results in less-than-heavenly cycling, but that this is still a huge leap forward?

Because if even cyclists don’t believe this, what hope anyone else?

Manufactured conflict

Two way traffic (and pedestrians) are forced into head on conflict which just didn’t exist before, and has been completely manufactured by the redesign of the path…

Public funds squandered making vital cycle route less safe?

In the north-west of Edinburgh a short stretch of tarmac links the city centre with West Lothian and Fife, converting tens of thousands of car journeys from the gridlocked A90 to virtually car-free bike commutes.

Just twenty minutes hard riding will take you from the edge of Edinburgh at Cramond Brig Toll to Haymarket, or down to Leith – without ever suffering from the city’s dodgy drivers.

Recently the city decided to spend a sackload of cash giving this path a facelift, the primary benefit being path lighting to improve personal safety. (Unfortunately an unlit wooded path doesn’t convert all that many car commutes to cycle ones in the winter months, especially – if you can forgive an anecdote – amongst the women I know who would otherwise use this route.)

In short order the contractors came in, repaved the path and added in the handy stud lighting that has proven so popular on the Union canal. So far, so good…


Then the rot started to set in. Within days, trenches were dug across the path and half-buried bricks put in, to prevent cyclists getting too comfortable. Giant slow signs have been painted everywhere for the benefit of occasional dog walkers, putting them in a strong bargaining position when Fenton is allowed to hospitalise a hapless commuter.

Finally, a chicane has been put in at the top of the path along with the city’s favourite “tramline” tactile paving (naturally no space has been allowed for cyclists to negotiate the paving before the chicane, they’re right next to each other).

Incredibly, the city actually paid to *remove* the existing path entrance and even put giant boulders across it. Now two way traffic (and pedestrians) are forced into head on conflict which just didn’t exist before, and has been completely manufactured by the redesign of the path:

Apparently this has been done because “we are under a lot of pressure from residents there to tackle excess speeding from cyclists”, according to a council source. (Strava reveals that the 85th percentile cycling speed is under 20mph and the official Stats19 data shows there were no injuries, even slight ones, to any pedestrian or cyclist in the ten years from 2000-2010, but hey ho).

Take a look at the video. Is that really what residents wanted? Couldn’t they have enjoyed walking along a path that’s twice as wide where cyclists start off on the opposite side?

Image pinched from the discussion on the CCE forum, by Kaputnik

Ironically the far side of the path (I didn’t bother uploading the whole video) is considerably narrower as houses have been built hard up to the tarmac, with typical lack of foresight. There the council has installed speed tables because residents’ driveways preclude chicanes.

The moral would appear to be that it’s OK to drive at 20mph but cycling at that speed is reckless, optimistically ignoring the fact that 95% of the people cycling through *are* drivers who’ve given up the cut-and-thrust of Edinburgh’s roads. (While you wouldn’t drive on such a path, after you remove oncoming traffic and parked cars from the width of Edinburgh’s actual roads the space you’re left with to drive in is not dissimilar).

I don’t pretend to offer any kind of solution to the odd nutter on a bike, other than pointing out that we should be using the available space to make wide paths when it’s so easy to do so. Unfortunately so long as the only alternative route is a multi-lane road where traffic is either completely stationary or belting along at 40-50mph, a lot of commuters are going to switch to an attractive empty cycle path, and every so often one of them will annoy a pedestrian.

It’s still better than putting them back in their car.

Cycling near Lochinver, Assynt

80 miles and 7700 feet of paradise riding in north-west Scotland – amazing roads, better scenery…

80 miles, 7700+ feet of ascent

Dave Barter’s Best British Bike Ride…

Last weekend we were in the right place at the right time to take on the ultimate route in Dave Barter’s excellent Great British Bike Rides guidebook.

This is an amazingly scenic 80 mile loop around Lochinver and the hills of Assynt – you get to see Sulivan from 360 degrees (literally). Photos courtesy Rob T of ARCC…

Some of Britain’s best mountains too… Stac Pollaidh, Cul Mor and Sulivan, Canisp and Quinag behind.

Looking across to the Summer Isles

The roads are fantastically quiet and predominantly singletrack, except for a fair pitch in the middle along the deserted and very wide A837. The route has a respectable amount of ascent – 7,700 feet – but there are no classic climbs, just a never-ending rollercoaster of sharp coastal grades, topping out at 25% or so.

All things considered the riding is absolutely world-class, and easily justifies the monstrous 5+ hour drive from central Scotland.

We took a leisurely six hours on this circuit, stopping off for toasties and a bitter shandy opposite the Summer Isles. I managed to sneak a KOM in, which topped off a perfect day.

The Drumbeg road: Scotland’s hilliest?

I deliberately haven’t broken this route down as I have most of my others, since you should support Dave Barter by buying his excellent guidebook instead.

Route map / elevation profile

Beside Loch Osgaig


The highly deserted A837 “main road”

A 25% pitch on the Drumbeg road – mile after mile of hairpins, blind bends… perfect terrain!

What are you waiting for? It’s only three hours drive north of Inverness! 😉