There is a place, only 40 miles from Glasgow. A place where families cycle together; where the bikes have baskets; where cars give space to cyclists (who ride two or three abreast on roads); where few wear Lycra and helmets aren't the norm.
The place is in fact an island, about 10 miles in circumference and on the Clyde. Technically the Isle of Cumbrae, but better known as the name of its only town: Millport.
Cycling on Cumbrae
People, main from Glasgow, travel to Cumbrae for day trips and longer holidays. It's a picturesque island, and one of the most popular activities is cycling round it. There are three bike hire shops, and they do a very good trade on a hot day! The perimeter road is almost flat and some of the views are fantastic.
I feel a bit strange taking photos of strangers while cycling, so I missed my chance to take one of the dog in basket. You'll have to just take my word on that one! Here are some that I did take.
|Sharing the road. Lycra-clad cyclist, cyclist with a childseat, walkers and a van|
|Lots of parked cars, but very few actually moving|
|A family 'taking the lane'!|
|I saw more kids' trailers in a day here than in 10 years in Glasgow|
|Almost everyone (on a sunny day!) arrives at the Fintry Bay Tearooms on foot or by bike|
|Another picture of Fintry Bay. Image from http://www.millport.org/place/fintry-bay-tearoom/|
Explaining the phenomenon
Why do so many people cycle on Cumbrae? Why do families feel safe cycling on a road (that has a speed limit of 60mph for the most part, and a recommended maximum of 30mph throughout)? Can we replicate it elsewhere?
A big part of why cycling on Cumbrae is a joy (and it is - at any speed) is that the number of cars is tiny. The island is very small (as I said, its circumference is about 10 miles) and there is only one main town. A bus meets the ferry from the mainland, taking passengers the 4 miles trip from 'Cumbrae Slip' to 'Millport'. Unless you are transporting a lot of goods, or perhaps someone with mobility problems, there is no need for a car on the island. That fact, combined with the ferry charges for cars (usually £19.65 return, plus normal passenger charges for each person in the car - effectively a congestion charge) mean taking a car onto the island just doesn't make sense in most cases.
While I don't believe in the principle of 'safety in numbers' in general (it doesn't seem to be holding true in London, sadly), there is an element of it here. The car drivers know they're in the minority, and almost without exception act accordingly. The fact that the people on bikes are largely families including children doubtless affects their behaviour too. There is no comparison to the stories of 'road wars' and 'Lycra louts' in Surrey. Finally, most people are on holiday (tourism is pretty much Millport's raison d'être) which seems to also put people in a calmer mood!
What Millport does perfectly, is debunk the argument that British people, Scottish people, Glaswegians or whoever don't want to cycle. Like the 'SkyRides', it shows that people will make a big effort to go somewhere to cycle in (subjective and objective) safety. A good overview of suppressed demand here.
I can't (and don't) believe that these same people, most of whom have travelled about 40 miles and taken a ferry to come to Millport wouldn't cycle to the shops, to schools, to their friends' houses day in, day out if they felt as safe.
Like it or not, we can't reduce traffic levels in cities and towns across the country to Millport's levels. In that sense, it is a special case. Normal people will take the lane here, but they won't (and don't) elsewhere. The only way to experience this level of subjective safety is Dutch quality segregated cycling infrastructure. If it comes, really comes, I've no doubt it'll be used.