Monday, 22 December 2014

Renfrewshire Council, Please Stop Building Dangerous Rubbish

Some Context

London's a really interesting place for cycling campaigners to look to. There's a large number of cyclists by British standards, especially in Central London, yet most roads remain hostile to cycling. The mayor, after a poor start, seems to finally be 'getting it' and the latest plans are genuinely ambitious. The latest guidance in the London Cycling Design Standards is very promising and cycling is a big part of the political debate at City Hall.

One thing Johnston has said is that

“I want more of the kind of cyclists you see in Holland, going at a leisurely pace on often-clunky steeds”

Making infrastructure that's compatible with leisurely paced cycling will doubtless lead to modal share increasing (getting towards targets, such as Scotland's 10% by 2020) as cycling becomes a viable mode for everyday transport by people of all ages, genders and abilities.

It's in stark contrast to the dangerous bollocks planned by car-centric Renfrewshire Council, who have designed some cycling lanes that will be unattractive to everyone, lead to conflict for the few who chose to use or ignore them (the latter may well be the more sensible choice) and do nothing to increase the pitiful modal share we have.

The Junction

The junction in question is on the A8 at Inchinnan village. From a distance, it should just be a T-junction, but it complicated by the presence of a large bus garage, several bus stops (including one which the bus company regularly use to swap drivers, which takes a good few minutes), a car park exit and a few parking spaces in front of the local Post Office. The existing junction, which I know well as a driver, car passenger, bus passenger and cyclist, is a dog's dinner. The 50mph speed limit is excessive (and of course, we know limits aren't always adhered to), the layout isn't terribly intuitive and the geometry encourages speed. CrashMap indicates that between 2005 and 2013 there were 15 incidents, two of which were serious (thankfully none fatal) at this junction. As for cycling, it's for the brave and mad (I count myself firmly in the latter category). 

Here's an annotated Google Maps snapshot to give an idea of the starting point.

The Redesign

The southern part of the 'dual carriageway' becomes a two-way road, wth the northern part remaining for Eastbound traffic only, with the part on the West being for traffic accessing Inchinnan, and the part on the East allowing for a new bus stand and also allowing buses (and cyclists, but not taxis) to bypass the new traffic lights. Two new pedestrian crossings are introduced, one of which is staggered (hurrah), but they serve no very useful purpose, only leading to a bus stop on the south of the junction that only a handful of buses service. There's also a change in speed limit on the northern half of the old dual carriageway (30mph), which seems sensible.

In redesigning the junction, there may be safety improvements for motorists (though it still looks awfully overcomplicated to me). The council have, at the same time, introduced some cycling provision. It doesn't really link to anything else, but we have to start somewhere I don't think that should stand in our way. This should be a post of joy. But sadly, the schematics show dangerous rubbish that I can't quite believe anyone has planned in this century

Let's take a journey through this mess and identify the hazards cyclists will face.

(All diagrams are taken from an original available at Renfrewshire Council's website)

A Cyclist's Trip

Travelling Westbound, nothing much changes. No cycle-specific provision, though maybe we'll get some ASLs at the new traffic lights (spoiler: waste of time). The traffic lights may make it easier to turn right into Inchinnan (which is more useful on bike than car since Inchinnan is a dead-end for drivers, but a through road into its bigger neighbour Erskine for buses, and with a small law break or push of the bike, for cyclists too) depending where in the light sequence you reach the junction, but it's basically nothing. Worth noting that of the few cyclists there are around here, many understandably opt for the pavement anyway, so this is all a bit academic.

Eastbound is where things get interesting. A cycle lane appears from nowhere as the new road layout approaches. It's advisory at first and then gets protection from what looks like a traffic island, but it's only paint that separates bikes from motor vehicles after the island. No widths on the diagrams, but I'm not optimistic. This is crap, but sadly far from unusual on Britain's roads.

This advisory lane then continues, as a new lane forms on its left. The left lane's purpose is for buses leaving and entering the bus garage (these buses include lots of double deckers, and I think they have a couple of bendy-buses too at present) as well as a (seldom-used) bus stop. Buses leaving the garage will have to cross the cycle lane to get in the outside lane, and buses coming from the West will need to cross the cycle lane to enter the garage. The latter movement is often known as a 'left hook', where traffic turning left misses a cyclist in a blind spot. Buses can have awfully large blind spots, and a reminder that this is one of the largest garages in Renfrewshire. What are they thinking? This is dangerous and unpleasant for cyclists. If you can't be arsed doing it properly, just ignore cycling completely. The brave/mad will continue to suffer having to cycle defensively, the non-mad will use the pavement or (much more likely) jump in their car. I don't see who benefits from this kind of substandard provision.

What comes next ticks off some more of the classics - a lane in the door zone and a narrow and advisory lane. It's unclear how cyclists travelling straight ahead are supposed to approach the give way, since the motor traffic on their right could well turn left into them (another 'left-hook' example). Again, experienced cyclists will likely ignore the paint (leading to frustration from ignorant motorists) and any inexperienced cyclists will be put into danger. So, who is this lane for? 

Inexplicably, two new car parking spaces on the right of the carriageway have been created, alongside a new loading bay. It doesn't affect cycling directly, but drivers would be much safer in the car park, rather than having to manoeuvre into a space and cross a road. It shows where priorities lie.

Assuming a cyclist has managed to continue straight ahead, they'll find their lane has disappeared (good luck merging back into traffic) to make way for hatching, a bus stand (where driver changes will now happen), more hatching and finally the lane re-appears (bus stop bypasses, apparently unheard of - that grass can be removed for car parking only!). Perfect for those who can break the space-time continuum, but not so much for the rest of us.

If you've made it this far, your challenge is just to merge onto the 50mph road! And your lane will, of course, disappear again immediately after you do.

Stop Building Dangerous Rubbish

If it's not fast enough for Lycra clad club cyclists, it's not good enough.
If it's not safe enough for an 8 year old, it's not good enough.
If it's not convenient enough for everyday journeys, it's not good enough.

Renfrewshire Council, if you don't have the will, the expertise or the desire to do it properly, just don't bother. Those of us who tolerate crap will continue to, and the rest won't. But please don't make any more rubbish for cycling like this. Box-ticking does nobody any favours, except those who can boast of how many boxes they've ticked.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Spot The Difference

Over the last few days I've read a blogpost about current Under-Secretary of State for Transport Robert Goodwill's attitude towards providing for cycling. I've also read a newspaper article in Glasgow's Evening Times newspaper about the 50th anniversary of Glasgow's M8 motorway. I'd like to compare and contrast.

Firstly, from the Evening Times (emphasis mine):

The 1960s was a time when planners looked ahead and began work on a network of motorways. Car ownership was on the rise, and the planners also recognised the importance of taking traffic away from old residential neighbourhoods. 
Some parts of the old A8 were unsafe. It had three lanes, with a shared overtaking lane, and the high number of fatalities and serious accidents made it clear that something more than just upgrading the road was needed. 
What was required was a brand-new motorway along a safer route.
"In Glasgow there was a massive building programme for a good few years," Stuart said.  
"There were even plans for more motorways, which, however, were cancelled. 
"The motorways were designed for traffic flows that were 20, 30 years in the future. Flows were projected as far as 1990 or 2000, which at the time was unknown in forward planning. 
"The planners were thinking ahead, but this made it difficult to justify the new motorways. People asked them, 'Why are you building this new eight-lane motorway at Townhead?' 
"The planners said the motorways would eventually get up to 120,000 vehicles a day, but the reply would come back - 'Well, we're only getting 20,000 a day at the moment.' Needless to say, a lot of justification was needed at the time." 
The planners got their way, and Glasgow now has some 50 miles of motorway within its boundaries.

We do not place the same emphasis on segregation in the UK [as NL/DK]. Whilst alongside high speed roads we encourage it, in urban environments space is often at a premium. Providing a broad, high quality cycle route segregated from motor traffic in these circumstances might be desirable but in many cases it is not always practicable. There are also concerns about the potential for conflict between cyclists and motor vehicles where these routes cross roads, regardless of whether cyclists have priority.
In the UK, we tend not to encourage cycle priority in these situations because, given the relatively low current levels of cycling, there are concerns that motorists might fail to give way. That said, cycle priority crossings are not ruled out and local authorities are of course free to consider them if they think they might be suitable in a given situation.
If we begin to see the increases in cycling that we all wish for, it is likely we would want to reconsider our guidance in general, and specifically our position on segregated cycle routes and cycle priority at road crossings.
Spot the difference? Let me spell it out.

In the 1960s, planners justified massive capital outlay, tearing apart large parts of a city and fundamentally changing Glasgow to accommodate motor vehicles. Not the motor vehicles of the day, but those of 30-40 years in the future. They won the argument of the day. This despite private motor vehicles being expensive, polluting, leading to air pollution, obesity... need I go on? And them being in relatively low numbers at that time.

In 2014, the government refuses to invest seriously in a mode of transport that would require a modest proportion of the transport budget, would result in more liveable towns and cities and is cheap, doesn't pollute and counters obesity and air pollution. Sadly, cycle campaigners in the UK, with the exception of London to an extent, are not winning the argument of the day. This despite the Scottish government's 'vision' of 20% of journeys being by bike.

In the 1960s we predicted and provided for something that's had a largely negative effect on cities. In 2014 we refuse to do the same for something that could have a very positive effect. What will it take for the argument to be won this time?

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Meeting with the Council

Following from my previous blog Renfrewshire Council - Delusional?, I e-mailed a link to the Councillor involved in the blog and the leader of the council. To my surprise, I was invited to a meeting with them both which took place this morning. I am not in either councillor's ward, so I appreciated them agreeing to meet.

In the end, Cllr Gilmour couldn't make it due to an urgent situation, and sent his apologies, so the meeting was just with Cllr Mark MacMillan, leader of Renfrewshire Council.

I had a presentation prepared, which I had hoped to start the meeting with. However, Cllr MacMillan started by discussing the aforementioned blogpost and questioning whether it was 'fair', primarily due to the cuts the council's budget has seen. I stood my ground, but it set the tone for a meeting that was livelier than I'd anticipated.

I'll split this post into a few themes.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, money was where the discussion kept returning to. The council, like all across Scotland, has had its budget cut by Holyrood over the last few years. Cllr MacMillan argued that Renfrewshire has been disproportionately hit. Of course, it's a position I sympathise with, but regardless of how big or small the budget is it'll always have priorities. My argument is, of course, that cycling should absolutely be a high priority, certainly within the transport budget.

My point that the cost of doing nothing about cycling is high (struggling town centres and health issues) was taken on board I think, but the statistic of £4 gain to the NHS for every £1 spent on cycling was deemed problematic since the council has to spend the £1 on cycling, yet it's the Scottish Government that fund the health service and so see that £4 dividend. Again, I sympathise with the problem, but it's a shame that this kind of bureaucracy stands in the way of investment.

CAPS 10% Target

The Cycling Action Plan for Scotland's 10% modal share by 2020 target was dismissed by the Councillor as not being worth the paper it's written on, since it hasn't been backed by money to make it happen. It's a position I'd struggle to disagree with - targets are easy to set and forget, and this certainly looks like one of them. No wonder the Scottish Government are back-pedalling on it, with the language of 'shared vision'. Of course, that shouldn't stop campaigners talking about it loudly, as Darkerside rightly says. I think it's fair to say that the odds on Renfrewshire meeting that target are zero.

'Raising the Profile'

The council leader talked a number of times about raising the profile of cycling, through mass participation events and the like. I argued, strongly I hope, that people who cycle on closed roads during such events will surely not cycle on Renfrewshire's roads as long as they are hostile to cycling and so won't be converted to cycling for everyday journeys. I've got no problem with sport cycling, the Tour de France etc, but they're as relevant to everyday cycling as Formula 1 is to driving to work.

He talked about London's increase in cycling, which I argued is more due to 'sticks' (congestion charge, cost of public transport) than 'carrots' (good facilities for cycling). I argued that for cycling to truly take off, we need both carrots and sticks - he said that he envisioned more carrots in Renfrewshire, but not sticks. I think that's a pity - we need both.

Benefits for Towns

One point I made was rebuffed very quickly - that cycling would help revive our town centres. He claimed that Paisley town centre provides well for pedestrians (I largely agree), perhaps over-provides (I disagree entirely), but that people want places to park and so are going to out of town centres such as Silverburn and Braehead. I'm not sure I articulated my arguments against this point well enough, to be honest. Suffice to say, all evidence suggests that provision for cycling benefits towns and cities.

We also spoke briefly about Renfrew, which he said had been recently remodelled as a shared space, yet no-one seems to like the design. I don't like the design - it's crap for pedestrians, crap for cyclists, crap for drivers, crap for businesses and good for those who like fancy paving. Its fundamental problem is that it's not only a town centre, but also a through route for people travelling from Erskine/Bishopton/Inchinnan towards the eastbound M8, and a through route for people travelling from Paisley to Braehead. That traffic is hurting Renfrew, and different coloured paving has unsurprisingly done absolutely nothing to fix that. Hopefully the acknowledgement that this scheme hasn't been well-received means we won't be seeing more of the same, but nevertheless it's a lot of money that was blown only a few years ago (remember, we don't have money).

Clyde Valley Investment

The proposed investment in infrastructure across the Clyde Valley was brought up a number of times, in terms of it helping modal share shift away from private cars towards public transport and active travel. It was claimed that the plan includes cycling at its core, not an add-on (I think we agreed that a lick of paint on the road wasn't terribly useful). Without having seen the plans (they're not in the public domain as far as I'm aware) it's hard to comment on their quality and to what extent they'll benefit cycling.

However, this optimism was mitigated by the mention of road-building potentially being part of the plans, since the M74 extension hasn't alleviated traffic as expected (more roads, more car journeys - should surprise no one). I pushed this one quite hard, that building more roads leads to more traffic. He argued that the new Fastlink buses will need roads, but that they won't be dedicated to public transport. I think there's a very big 'watch this space' on this topic.

Working Together

The final, and positive point, is that the council leader agreed that the council should be working with and consulting people when making plans, rather than spending money on cycling facilities for people like me to then write blogs about it, claiming that they're crap and seeing no modal shift. He's agreed to keep in touch, and I hope I can positively contribute to any dialogues.


We spoke for a full hour, yet I feel there are issues we didn't manage to fully address, and I think the discussion could have easily lasted another. Ultimately, I think the leader of the council would like more cycling in Renfrewshire, but I'm not convinced that he's willing to give it the funding and priority it deserves. There are a lot of players in getting cycling modal share up, including the UK Government, Scottish Government and local government: campaigners need to be applying pressure and winning the arguments with all of them. Unfortunately, it's all too easy for local government to blame national government, and vice-versa, with no accountability when targets are inevitably not met. 

If you haven't already, please consider shaping the Renfrewshire Cycling Campaign, write to your local councillors about #space4cycling and take a look at the excellent Pedal on Parliament and Cycling Embassy of Great Britain websites, as well as the City Cycling Glasgow forum (thanks to members there for help in making the presentation there, especially joel_c and sallyhinch). I tweet about cycling too.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Renfrewshire Council - Delusional?

Time to celebrate - another 600 metres of cycling!

Renfrewshire council, alongside neighbouring East Renfrewshire Council, recently opened a new path connecting South Paisley to Barrhead. It's 600 metres of shared use (so, not really a cycle path) and was completed with co-operation between 4 different public bodies. SPT (who are resisting cycle paths in Glasgow City), Sustrans (who recently approved £300k of Cycle Safety Fund money on a car-centric roundabout in Bedford), East Renfrewshire Council (56% of journeys less than 5km, 1% modal share for cycling) and Renfrewshire Council (58% of journeys less than 5km, <0.5% modal share for cycling). 

Let's put that 600 metres in context. East Renfrewshire has 473km of roads in its control, while Renfrewshire has 818km. Combined, that's 1291km. The new shared use path represents 0.05% of the combined roads network of these two counties.

Still, it's something. I hope it is well used and useful. It's not near me and I haven't seen the quality of it, so can't comment on that. The purpose of this post isn't to criticise the path, but to show that it's a drop in the ocean. And the ocean isn't pretty.

"We [Renfrewshire] have an excellent network of cycle paths"

Unsurprisingly, this isn't my view. Surprisingly, it is someone's view. In this case, it's Councillor Chris Gilmour, Deputy Convener of Renfrewshire Council's Environment Policy Board. He made this quite extraordinary statement while commenting on the new path. His quote in full:

"We are happy to have played a lead role on this collaborative project between the two councils. 

"With the assistance of funding from SPT, we have delivered the final part of this cycle route, which is part of a much longer route running through south Paisley before connecting to the national cycle route network at Fulbar Road. 

"We are fortunate that here in Renfrewshire we have an excellent network of cycle paths and we would encourage young and old cyclists to continue to make use of them as much as possible."

Over the last week I've used two of Renfrewshire's cycle paths, and taken some pictures. These are marked cycle paths, but are not part of the 'National Cycle Network.' They are the kind of paths you'll end up on if you follow cycling directions from the likes of Google Maps or CycleStreets.

Inchinnan Swing Bridge to Porterfield Road

This route is supposed to be for bikes. Really.
This is just part of a longer route, it continues towards the Braehead Shopping Centre in the other direction. From where the above photo was taken, the continuation of the path is on the other side of the road (the A8). There are traffic lights, but with no pedestrian crossing, let alone a toucan.

Following the path, it's quickly clear that the surface is completely inadequate. 

Remember, this is marked for pedestrian and cycles.

Going a little further, we can see that the maintenance of it is clearly non-existent.

Weeds like those don't grow overnight
Putting the pointless barriers to one side, this has never been suitable for mass cycling. It's totally inadequate in terms of width - imagine getting a bakfiets (cargo bike) or a motability scooter let alone two passing each other. Although it's separated from motor vehicles, it's lacking subjective safety since it's very isolated and unlit - I doubt I'd feel safe using this path after dark, but I can't think of any road I'd say the same about. The on-road alternatives to this route have lots of space for hatching, pinchpoints, pedestrian refuges, but none for cycling.

"We are fortunate that here in Renfrewshire we have an excellent network of cycle paths" Hmmm.

Inchinnan Business Park to Glasgow Airport

Another cycle path, not just signposted but featured on Renfrewshire Council's website in their 'cycle routes through the airport' map. It's a rather arbitrary link, connecting two places of work rather than a place of work with where workers live. Of course, like many (most? all?) cycle paths in Renfrewshire it's not really a cycle path but is shared with pedestrians.

It couldn't be much worse than the previous example, could it?

Side Road? Dismount
The part through the business park is presumably on fairly wide and lightly used pavements which I didn't see a shared use marking on. I'll start some commentary here, with a shared use path that runs alongside the busy A726 road (speed limit here is 50mph). The straight bits are OK - the surface isn't as smooth as the road, it's too narrow for mass cycling but wide enough to be usable. It crosses only one side road, which the path doesn't have priority over. Being only one road, it's not a deal breaker, but it is poor. Ideally, it'd be treated something like this.

However, the path to the airport doesn't follow this the whole way, but significantly changes

All downhill from here
At this point, the not-great-but-OK shared use path turns into a complete joke. Notice that there's no provision to leave the path and join the road at this stage (road speed here is now 40mph).

Further along, we get to something labeled as a shared use path, but is basically nothing. 

That sign is a bit of an insult really

I never cycled past anyone using this path. No surprise really.

The Reality

"We are fortunate that here in Renfrewshire we have an excellent network of cycle paths," claims Cllr. Chris Gilmour. 

I'd say that we are terribly unfortunate that here in Renfrewshire we have a council who don't understand utility cycling, who have no solution to problems such as inactivity (and its serious consequences) and who treat cycling as an afterthought instead of a serious mode of transport. A council that with negligible modal share of cycling, despite over a third of households not having access to a car.

In the interests of fairness, I'll send a link to this blog post to Cllr. Gilmour and the council leader, both of whom are very welcome to respond.

Follow my updates about cycling on Twitter @justacwab
Based in Renfrewshire? Get involved with forming a Renfrewshire Cycle Campaign

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The Freedom Machine

Bikes have been known as 'Freedom Machines'. Here are some freedoms I get and don't get on two wheels.

Cycling gives me freedom from...

...paying for a car, petrol, VED, MOTs, repairs. Sure, my bike costs me, but it's trivial by comparison.
No need to go here. Image from Image Money on Flickr

...relying on buses, their erratic timetables and paying their fares.
Don't need to wait on one of these, nor go where it goes. Image from Les Chatfield on Flickr

...trying to find a parking space or paying for parking.
Image from Tim Regan on Flickr

...contributing to air pollution when travelling around town.
Image from eutrophication&hypoxia on Flickr

Unfortunately, cycling doesn't give me freedom from...

This kind of overtake, and far worse, are all too common. Image from Klaas Brumann on CycleStreets
knowing my family genuinely worry about my safety.
No picture for this one. I worry that they worry.

verbal abuse and intimidation.
Direct quote from one of the Paisley's less polite motorists


In Scotland? Come to Pedal on Parliament.

In Renfrewshire? I'm in the process of starting up a 'Renfrewshire Cycling Campaign'. More on Facebook.

Follow me on Twitter: @justacwab