Photo of rally in Aberdeen

COP 26 rally, Aberdeen

On Saturday 23 October a few ACF members gathered at the pre-COP26 rally in Aberdeen, where ACF Chair Gavin was amongst the speakers.  His message on active travel and the lack of proper infrastructure in Aberdeen was heartfelt and is the same sort of thing ACF has been saying for most of its 18 year history.  You can read what Gavin had to say below.  It seemed to go down well with the hardy audience who braved a chilly couple of hours on Broad St. 

But we never forget that we are often preaching to the converted:  although an MP and MSP were included in the list of speakers, with their own climate change messages, any elected members from Aberdeen City Council were notable by their absence – either among the speakers or even in the crowd (apologies if any were there that I didn’t spot).  

Most of the things that could be done quickly and relatively easily to improve active travel in Aberdeen are within the powers of the City Council.  Are Councillors even listening?  From where we are, it doesn’t feel like it.

ACF presentation at COP-26 rally, Broad St Aberdeen, 23 October 2021

Providing a means of low carbon mass transport is one of the big challenges facing us: private cars contribute about 15% of our emissions – that’s more than domestic heating and way more than aviation. Cars have their uses and many of us enjoy the convenience they offer. Yet cars are hopelessly inefficient in congested cities, and make no sense for many short journeys.

Unfortunately over the last 100 years we – as a nation – have been obsessed with cars. As a result we have a road system and even our city centre designed around the motor car with pedestrians and cyclists in second or third place.

What if someone invented a form of transport that was cheap, low impact, zero-emission, and helped to keep us fit at the same time? Well, they did, they invented it 200 years ago, and it’s called a bicycle…

The humble bicycle is a machine that can fight climate change …

But having to share the road with motorised traffic can make Aberdeen a pretty unpleasant place to ride a bike, and as a result cycling as an everyday form of transport has become a minority choice.

It doesn’t have to be like that. In continental Europe and increasingly in many British cities too, cycling is becoming a part of mainstream everyday transport. In Copenhagen roughly 50% of people get around by bike everyday. In Aberdeen, it’s one or 2%.

It isn’t rocket science, but it does need investment in a network of safe, segregated cycle paths where anyone and everyone can travel around safely. But we haven’t even got to the question of how to pay for it, because it seems in Aberdeen we don’t have politicians with enough imagination to even conceive what a city centre with a network of safe active travel routes would even look like. We had a segregated cycle path installed along the beach esplanade last year and it lasted barely two months before Councillors decided to rip it out again. A decision not informed by facts; no consultation, no statistics.

We had a small network of cycle paths proposed in the City Centre Masterplan which Councillors unanimously voted for in 2015. Six years later how much of that has been built? Unless you count this street we’re standing on, the answer is pretty much none of it.

Arguably the real reason we don’t have proper segregated cycle paths isn’t the lack of funding, it’s because our cities are tight for space so something’s got to give: what needs to be done is to reallocate road space away from cars, and that where it gets difficult because – guess what – nobody with a car wants to give up the convenience they currently have, and they’ll get really upset if you try to take away their on-street parking to make space for a proper bike lane.

It can be done with the political will. Glasgow has just announced a plan to build a network of 270km of cycle paths by the end of the decade. Imagine – almost all of that city reachable by bike within 30 minutes, no school more than 400m from a proper segregated bike path, and no house more than 800m. Edinburgh will build 85km within the next 5 years.

Aberdeen is of course a much smaller city – we don’t need anything like 270km – but we are starting from a low base. How many proper segregated bike paths do we have at the moment, well none really. And yet Aberdeen City Council is instead still working on plans to build new dual carriageway capacity to bring yet more traffic into the city. It’s hard to comprehend, and it certainly doesn’t reflect the climate emergency. Of course we get the usual excuses and wishful thinking: everything will be fine once all our cars are electric. Well, no it won’t. Just like we were told all Aberdeen’s transport problems were going to be solved by the AWPR. How did that go? If you build more roads, you get more cars. It’s called induced demand. Of course the same applies to cycling: if you build proper bike lanes, many more people will use them.

Our transport system would be so much better if people were given the realistic choice of cycling. Imagine how much better our city centre would be if we could emulate Copenhagen and take half of motorised traffic off the streets. And not just better for cyclists – better for everyone: less noise, less time-wasting congestion, less air pollution, better health for us and our children. Higher levels of walking and cycling could save the NHS £17 billion over 20 years.

Our Council’s best effort so far on encouraging cycling is to bring us a universal bike hire scheme, maybe sometime next year. What they don’t seem to recognise is that the single biggest reason more people don’t ride a bike isn’t lack of access to a bike, it’s because they don’t feel safe on the roads. By all means give us a fancy London-style bike hire scheme, but first please give us places to ride them safely.

Aberdeen Cycle Forum has been campaigning for better cycle facilities for almost 20 years, and you’d have to say we have so far failed to bring about meaningful change. The levers of power still lie with our elected representatives, and it feels like they aren’t listening. We need them to wake up to climate change, wake up to air pollution and wake up to the fact that there are alternatives to a car-dominated transport system.

Gavin Clark
Chair, Aberdeen Cycle Forum

Farewell to Liz Lindsey

Aberdeen Cycle Forum members gathered at the café in Duthie Park today to wish long-standing member, Liz Lindsey, goodbye as she embarks on a new life down south in Durham.

Liz has been associated with the forum since almost the start. She has been one of our most faithful and consistent members, regularly attending meetings and always willing to help at events or contribute when we are responding to consultations. Her husband, David Lindsey, was one of the founding members back in 2003. You can read minutes from those early meetings and all our meetings since then on our website at Aberdeen Cycle Forum meeting minutes.

I snapped this photo of some of us afterwards. Liz is in the purple jacket second from the left.

Liz brought along an old newspaper clipping of a letter David wrote to the paper way back in 1993. This is from the Evening Express 24/11/1993 about the controversy of putting some painted lines on North Deeside Road. Not much has changed in 30 years, it seems.

We wish Liz all the very best and big thanks to her for all her contributions to the forum over the past two decades.

On elite vs everyday cycling & approaching deadline for the ‘Make Aberdeen Accessible’ campaign

The Tour of Britain will be coming to Aberdeen this Sunday. We are glad to see bigger events being allowed to happen again, and for the Tour to highlight the beauty of the North East of Scotland. We are sure the general public will share this feeling and a lot of our members will also be out and about to have a peek at the race.

In fact, there is no denying that plenty of Aberdeen Cycle Forum members see and enjoy cycling as a sport only; but many others see, or would like to see, cycling promoted as an everyday activity and a valid mode of transport. We believe that cycling should be accessible to everyone and not just to elite athletes. 

The beach esplanade recently got a new layer of tarmac as part of the preparations for the Tour and the lack of potholes will benefit all road users. However, much more work is required elsewhere in the city for Aberdeen to become a place where cycling is for everyone; the focus should be on high-quality, permanent cycling-specific infrastructure. 

The little infrastructure we currently have would also be much better utilised if it were designed properly. To address this latter point and identify existing infrastructure barriers to cycling, earlier this summer we launched the ‘Make Aberdeen Accessible’ campaign. We’ve had lots of submissions (see the map below), which we are going to report to the relevant parties while suggesting how they could be addressed. There are still a few days left to submit more entries, with the deadline for the campaign set for Monday 13 September.

Both the lack of robust cycling infrastructure and the poor design of existing cycling infrastructure could be addressed thanks to the recently announced Scottish Government plans to dedicate 10% of the total transport budget to active travel (walking, wheeling and cycling) by 2024-25, up from the current 3.5% share.

If you have experienced issues with barriers to active travel such as locked gates, chicanes, bollards and missing dropped kerbs, please let us know by submitting entries at this link. Or if you’d prefer to email us then you can get in touch at info@aberdeencycleforum.org.uk.

Image of cyclists at Duthie Park

Cycling lessons at Duthie Park 2021

Thanks to funding from Paths for All and Cycling UK we were able to run more cycling lessons in Duthie Park today. These were a continuation of lessons we ran last year and the last of the series was meant to be in March this year but it was cancelled due to covid. Finally the lessons went ahead today and they were a great success.

These lovely ladies were absolute beginners and learning how to ride a bike for the first time. It’s truly satisfying to see someone learn to ride and get the thrill you only get from whizzing along on two wheels with the wind in your face. They were both cycling without assistance by the end.

We also had a lessons for adults who wanted to develop confidence cycling on roads with traffic. After some initial cycling in the park our second group braved the local roads and the traffic and did so splendidly.

We forget when we’ve been cycling for years how scary it is being on the road with motorised vehicles especially trucks and buses. It’s a frightening experience when you do it for the first time and having an experienced instructor lead you through the traffic and show you the road positions to take for ultimate safety is a big confidence booster which can help people make the leap from leisure cycling in the park to commuter cycling to work and the shops. The humble bicycle is, after all, more than just a contraption for Sunday cycling in the park; it’s a legitimate mode of transport that can replace the car and that is exactly what the world needs.

Make Aberdeen Accessible

We’ve received lots of photos of unaccessible infrastructure in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire to our Make Aberdeen Accessible campaign. Here are a couple of examples.

Barriers like these make active travel difficult and in many cases completely exclude wheelchair users and people with non-standard bicycles like trikes and cargo bikes. Thanks for all the submissions so far and please keep it up! The more examples we get the more we can take to the local authority to demand action.

Cycling lessons in August

The Aberdeen Cycle Forum is very happy to announce we have more cycling lessons planned for the 14th August 2021. The lessons have been very popular but we have been unable to hold any so far this year because of covid restrictions. Until now ….

We’ll have two sets of lessons: one for beginner cyclists and a refresher session for cyclists wanting to improve their skills. Both lessons will be at Duthie Park on the 14th August along with a Dr Bike which is where you can bring your bike along for a free health check.

Places are limited and booking is essential. You can get a free ticket here:

Beginner cycling: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/learn-to-cycle-14th-august-tickets-163370432361

Refresher cycling: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/refresher-cycling-14th-august-tickets-163370217719

These lessons are possible thanks to funding from Paths for all and Cycling UK.

Make Aberdeen Accessible

Today Aberdeen Cycle Forum is launching the #MakeAberdeenAccessible campaign, a call to action for people in Aberdeen City and Shire to report barriers to active travel (walking, wheeling and cycling) on our streets and paths.

In recent weeks, ACF members have got in touch to highlight how they encounter areas where they struggle to continue on their journey due to street barriers that don’t follow the Scottish Cycling by Design guidelines. We want to raise awareness of the issue and create a collection of locations where this is happening to pass onto our local authority with the hope to improve the situation.

Scottish Cycling by Design specifies “that cycle routes are coherent and do not require cyclists to dismount to cross footways and other barriers or take unnecessary detours.

The guidance provided for England and Northern Ireland in the Local Transport Note (LTN) 1/20 Cycling Infrastructure Design goes even further and refers specifically to the Equality Act 2010, “Deliberately restricting space, introducing staggered barriers or blind bends to slow cyclists is likely to increase the potential for user conflict and may prevent access for larger cycles and disabled people and so should not be used.

The Aberdeen Cycle Forum would like to hear from people who have encountered barriers like these. They can be chicanes, bollards, staggered gates, or missing dropped kerbs. Please submit images and locations to our MakeAberdeenAccessible campaign website at https://acf.awardsplatform.com.

We are also accepting posts via Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook using the hashtag #MakeAberdeenAccessible. Or if you’d prefer to email us then you can get in touch at info@aberdeencycleforum.org.uk.

Examples do not need to be related to cycling only, but can include walking and wheeling, as accessibility barriers affect other groups in the community like wheelchair users and parents with prams. The beauty of designing for accessibility is that it is universal and can be used by all.

If you, a friend or family member have run into an accessibility issue, please share this on social media with the hashtag #MakeAberdeenAccessible or get in touch via email!

“No idling” banner available for loan to schools in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire

The Aberdeen Cycle Forum has commissioned a “No Idling” banner for schools across the North East to borrow for free on a month-by-month basis.

Our recent no-idling competition was a great success and as a result of that we gave pupil-designed banners to the winning schools in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.

However, we realise car engines polluting the air next to school playgrounds is still a problem in many other schools and so we’ve created another banner for loan to schools that don’t have one. If you’d like to borrow our waterproof 2m x 1m banner for your school gate or fence then please get in touch at this email address: info@aberdeencycleforum.org.uk.

Have a look at our gallery of winners:

More winners from our No Idling competition

We had so many terrific entries to our No Idling competition and decided to announce two more winners. This takes the total number of winners to five students from schools in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire.

Amelia Walker from Westpark School created a fantastic, colourful poster. We especially love the bike in the bottom right corner. A large waterproof banner is in the process of being made for her.

Poppy Bernard from Ferryhill Primary School. We love how Poppy has captured the flow of air pollution here to show it goes everywhere, affecting people and animals. A large banner has been created and given to Ferryhill Primary School for Poppy.

Click this link to see the designs from the other three winners.