Occasional Thoughts About Cycling In and Around Dundee

Tag: Member Contribution

Building back Better – a new Dundee!

The DCF recently contacted Dundee City Council highlighting several recently published articles and reports written about the need for change in the way we design our cities and recover from lockdown.

Most recently, the “Stealing our Cities” report shows that, at Dundee Waterfront, there is a full 34.7% of space dedicated to car infrastructure. 20% of this is roads, which are clearly over-designed for the amount of traffic they carry. In addition, only 0.1% of space at the waterfront is allocated to dedicated cycle infrastructure. The report highlights that, despite ample space dedicated to pedestrians, the network is fragmented due to the wide, multi-lane roads and long waiting times (up to 5 mins) at pedestrian crossings. This is clearly not conducive to connecting the city centre to the waterfront, and (anecdotally) is a problem frequently brought up by visitors to the waterfront. 
The report recommended such quick and simple measures as reducing the pedestrian waiting times, and converting all crossings to toucan crossings to allow cyclists to use them. If funding is made available, segregated cycle infrastructure should also be implemented. Indeed DCC’s cycling spokesperson has admitted that if the waterfront had been designed today, it would have been done differently. £700k of the recent “Spaces for People” bid is for temporary cycle infrastructure; if this funding bid is successful, there will be a golden opportunity to experiment with a new layout using the ample space available. There is no reason that any changes, if successful, cannot be made permanent. 

This should, indeed, be city-wide. Communities, places of interest and the city centre need to be connected to each other via protected active travel infrastructure, integrated with public transport. Urban design experts Mikael Colville-Andersen and Dundee University’s Dr Husam AlWaer have called for Dundee to experiment with allocating space away from cars and creating safe cycle infrastructure. Bike Life Dundee has also shown that people here are in favour of this – a full 72% of residents approve the creation of safe cycle infrastructure, even when this means the reduction in roadspace. This is backed up with the Courier’s recent survey of cyclists in Dundee – 60% of Dundee cyclists feel the infrastructure here is poor or very poor. With the first “Spaces for People” bid it became abundantly clear that DCC did not have a library of “shovel-ready” projects which could be brought forward and funded. DCC’s cycling spokesperson admitted as much in a recent interview.

Highlighted in this interview was that a goal of the 2016 Cycle Strategy was to have this library ready by April 2016 so that projects could be strategically implemented as and when funding became available; this goal was missed and subsequently changed in the  2019 strategy to drop the time target (without consulting the DCF). The consultants who were engaged to produce the 2016 Dundee cycling strategy were aware that timescales for delivery on actions were essential for the council to deliver on its commitments; timescales should now be put back into the strategy as a matter of urgency otherwise the culture of non delivery will continue. There also needs to be a 10-year sustainable transport plan (much like Edinburgh’s) which includes the development of a strategic active travel network, with key dates for project phase implementation. Full funding to develop this strategy would be available from Sustrans – so again, there is no reason for this not to happen.

There is a desperate need to change the way our city is configured; as we come out of lockdown people must be able to continue to walk, wheel and cycle safely around Dundee. This will aid with the economic recovery of the city by allowing people to safely travel to work, shops and local businesses. With 42% of households without access to a car and with bus capacity severely reduced this will be absolutely key. 

This issue is very much in the public eye at the moment, and has never been more relevant. The public support a “Green recovery” from Covid, and the World Economic Forum suggest that a “nature-led” recovery could create as much as $10tn a year. Creative Dundee and UNESCO City of Design Dundee have been doing some great work collecting people’s views and thoughts about how they would like to see Dundee post-lockdown; a clear theme of sustainability runs through many people’s submissions. There has also been much talk about prioritising wellbeing, with Scotland being part of the Wellbeing Economy Alliance which is working towards an economy which serves the wellbeing of people and planet; sustainable transport is essential as part of this. They have recently published ten principles to “Build Back Better” in a report entitled “Wellbeing Economies for the COVID-19 recovery” One of these principles is the provision of green infrastructure which includes the goal to “transform urban space towards active travel and away from car use”. Additionally, the C40 Cities Network has just published the “C40 Mayors’ Agenda for a Green and Just Recovery” which highlights the importance of sustainable transport, walkable neighbourhoods and green space. As DCC is now looking to work on writing Dundee’s COVID-19 recovery plan and rethinking Dundee’s 10-year City Plan, this evidence ought to prove very useful.

There have been some great things done so far as a result of the first “Spaces for People” bid. 20mph zones have been installed in the West End and Douglas, with more to go in Fintry and Broughty Ferry. Douglas Terrance and The Esplanade have been closed to through traffic, and Union Street has been pedestrianised with space for outdoor eating and drinking. In addition, DCC has streamlined the planning process for many businesses to apply for pavement cafes, even allowing parking and road space to be taken!
The DCF was also asked by the Depute Convener of City Development to provide a “wish list” of routes; we then provided a network of very wide and multi-lane roads which would create the backbone of a cycle network around Dundee – this formed part of the second “Spaces for People” bid and we wait with baited breath the outcome of this funding application. These moves are unprecedented in the speed they have been implemented, and they are a very promising start.

The time is now to lead Dundee into a new future, and we are very much looking forward to working with DCC on this. If you’d like to help, please email your local councillors expressing your desire for things to be done differently from now on! Together we can help make this change a reality.

Cycling During Lockdown

In normal times, you will find me cycling to work everyday. My cycling style is one of pootling along at a steady pace, wearing my normal clothes, no helmet, and sitting straight up so that I can admire the world around me. I probably caught these habits from living in York for several years, and perhaps I can say my style is more typical of a city with more of a cycling culture than we have in Dundee. York’s cycle culture is, I think, more like that in Amsterdam or Copenhagen.

Why has cycling not taken off here in Dundee, the same as it has in the cities I just mentioned and in many others? Actually, York is an exception: cycling has not taken off, it just didn’t go away. But Amsterdam and Copenhagen: what do they have that Dundee doesn’t? We are all compact cities so cycling is definitely a practical choice. One thing Dundee doesn’t have (very often) is the fierce headwinds that are common in Amsterdam. But in Dundee pretty much the only cyclists you see are clad in Lycra with their heads down, dedicated to their choice of transport. Normal people who just happen to be cycling are very much the minority.*

The answer appears in UK government statistics**, which report that 60% of people are put off cycling because they do not feel the road is a safe place for them. This is understandable, but actually it is a matter of perception rather than reality. To quote some more statistics, the benefits of cycling outweigh the risks between 13:1 and 415:1, depending on which benefits the reporting study was looking at. And the risk (in England, but there is no reason to suppose it would be much different in Scotland as we have the same traffic laws and road layouts) is of 0.05 accidents of any severity per 1,000 hours of cycling. That’s 1 accident per 20,000 hours. Let’s say your commute is 20 minutes each way, so 40 minutes a day, and you work 240 days per year, then that is roughly one accident every 125 years. That feels like good odds to me. And remember, this includes even minor accidents, not just serious one which would be even less common. And all of this is taken into account in the 13:1 – 415:1 findings: even with that small risk of an accident, cycling is still really good for you.

But enough numbers. What we need is an experiment. Remove the main source of the perceived risk and see what people do. And what do you know, for all the wrong reasons, we are finding ourselves right in the middle of that experiment.

I have not been cycling as much since lockdown began because I have been working from home rather than commuting into the city centre, but when I have gone out, it has been a revelation. There have been very few cars and those that remain have been mainly very well behaved. Perhaps they have learnt something about giving space to others from the 2m social separation rule, and are applying this to their driving too? They have also become more patient – waiting until there is room to pass instead of squeezing by, too close. And finally, nearly all the lockdown cars I have seen have been travelling at a sensible, non-threatening speed.

So, the causes of perceived risk have gone away. Has it changed cycling? It looks as if it has. The Courier reported that cycling in Dundee has doubled during lockdown, and that is even though many existing regular cyclists like me will have stopped their regular commute. When I have gone out cycling or running, cyclists seem to be much more prominent than before and many of the cyclists are wearing their normal clothes. These are normal people finally feeling able to venture out onto Dundee’s roads on their cycles.

I would say the conclusion is pretty clear. Make the roads feel safe and you unleash people’s desire to cycle. If the volume and speed of cars can be made to stay low enough as we all return to our workplaces over the coming months, then these newly-emboldened cyclists will become used to their new choice of transport. They will have realised that they feel fitter and healthier, and that even the occasional wet or windy day (yes Dundee does have these sometimes, but not as often as you might think) is not enough to put them off. A habit once formed is hard to break.

This brings us back to the question, what do Amsterdam and Copenhagen have that Dundee doesn’t? Those two cities made deliberate decisions to make their roads feel safer for cycling and have been building on that for many years since. The lockdown has done something similar for Dundee, but what will happen as we return to work over the coming months? If nothing changes on our roads, then the answer is that all these new cyclists will be scared away again.

Luckily, the Scottish Government is providing money for councils to make their areas more suitable for people travelling by cycle, on foot and wheeling. It’s called “Space for People”. Dundee has been awarded some of this funding and will make some important changes. It is a start, but they need to go back and ask for more funding to make bolder changes. If this opportunity can be grasped, then Dundee can join the growing number of cities embracing a cleaner, healthier transport system, where people are no longer being scared away from making the choice they want: to cycle, like a normal person.

* I got the statistics from https://www.cyclinguk.org/statistics.

* And I have nothing against Lycra-clad cyclists, it is simply that you do not have a city where cycling has been normalised until people stop feeling they have to put on sports wear before they set out.