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

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.

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.

Don't be an Idler

The winners are …

We’re very pleased to announce the winners of the Aberdeen Cycle Forum’s No Idling competition. We received over 50 entries and they were all fabulous which made the judging very difficult. Nevertheless the judges voted for their favourites and we chose three winners and printed two banners.

The judges

Gavin Thomson from Friends of the Earth
Cllr Sandra Macdonald from the Aberdeen City Council
Heather Dickson – art teacher
Elizabeth Martin age 11
Daniel Martin age 14

The Aberdeen Cycle Forum also had final say as we had to select images that would print well and were sufficient resolution for printing.

The winners

The unanimous favourite from all judges was a very resourceful design by Alexander Petrov from Cults Primary School. Alexander created a 3D poster using materials from his environment. Because we were unable to print this one onto a banner we awarded Alexander a £20 gift voucher at Alpine Bikes, an Aberdeen Cycle Forum snood, and a certificate. Great job Alex!

The second winner was Ellis Routledge from Milne’s High School in Elgin. Our young judges in particular liked this image. Ellis has received a large waterproof banner with his design on it.

And coming in third was this design by Daniel Fox from Cults Primary School. Daniel has also received a large waterproof banner with his design printed on it.

Thank you to everyone who entered. We enjoyed seeing all the terrific designs and hope the students enjoyed making them.

Don’t be an idler! competition

The Aberdeen Cycle Forum has launched a “Don’t be an idler!” competition for school pupils in the north east of Scotland. We want students to design a banner encouraging their parents and caregivers to turn their car engines off when the car is stationary.

It’s an offence in Scotland to leave your car engine running but more importantly, it’s harmful to our children’s health. Children are particularly vulnerable to exhaust emissions because they absorb more pollutants per pound of body weight than adults do.

Here’s what car fumes do to children. They can cause asthma and allergies, damage the growth of their lungs, raise the risk of heart disease and cancer, damage the development of their brains, and even pass into the bloodstream of unborn babies.

We want students to design a banner for their school gate, church, drama hall, etc, that convinces adults to turn their engines off and help keep the air clean for growing bodies. The winner will receive a large outdoor banner with their design featured which they can then hang proudly wherever car engines gather.

Let’s keep our children healthy and safe. Please turn off your car engines while you wait.

Image of children inhaling car exhaust fumes.

Duthie Park – A cycle audit

Last year when we started up our programme of lessons for beginners, Duthie Park was the obvious place to go because there is lots of space and plenty of wide, well-surfaced and mostly flat paths.  The park is generally a great place to cycle, especially for kids, learners or just less confident cyclists who want to stay away from traffic. But could it be better?  There is hardly any cycle parking, and the layout of the access points is far from ideal.

We’ve produced a cycle audit which hopefully captures what is good but also what could be improved.  This is our second attempt at an ‘audit’ of this sort.  The first one looked at the new cycle path on Tillydrone Avenue and the Diamond bridge and you can read it – Third Don Crossing – Cyclists’ perspective.  We don’t claim to be engineers or design professionals – we’re just pointing out things that are obvious to a cyclist but maybe not to everyone else.

Maybe you know somewhere that would benefit from a cycle audit?  Send us your ideas, or even better, do your own one!

Fighting prejudice

Sometimes it feels like there’s a lot of anti-cycling sentiment in Aberdeen. Cyclists are our husbands and wives, our children and parents, our brothers and sisters, which makes the prejudice all the more distressing and frightening, especially when it fuels aggression from motorists.

With this in mind the Aberdeen Cycle Forum has started a social media campaign to change attitudes towards cyclists. We want to focus on the benefits of cycling not just for the cyclist but for the whole community. Here are some of our messages:

You may see these messages in your social media feed and we encourage you to like and share them. You’re also welcome to download and use them yourself and if you have any suggestions for more like this then please get in touch.

Keeping Aberdeen beach cycle lane is a win-win for everyone

We have written a joint letter along with Grampian Cycle Partnership and Scottish Cycling North East Grampian to Aberdeen City Council in a plea to reverse the decision to remove the segregated cycle path on the beach esplanade.

The new cycle path is a first of its kind for Aberdeen, creating a safe space for cycling that is physically separated from the carriageway. The path was installed with funding from the Scottish Government’s Spaces for People programme, which aims to help people safely distance from one another whilst they walk, wheel or cycle.

We are still in the middle of a pandemic where social distancing is as vital as ever. The paths at the beach will facilitate this not just at the beach but across the city by taking the pressure off other modes of transport such as buses.

The road is sufficiently wide to accommodate the cycle path without removing any parking spaces. It has also resolved a long-standing issue with speeding as the narrower carriageway has slowed the speed of traffic. It’s a win-win for everyone.

One of the reasons given for the removal of the paths is the difficulty motorists are having unloading their cars. The council could address this issue with simple changes such as increasing the width of the buffer zone between the cycle path and the car parking. We’re keen to work with the council to improve the design and make the scheme work for all.

Another reason given for the removal of the path is supposedly poor usage. However the council’s own papers show that cycling has increased significantly in the area, including by children, and people getting more active. It’s still early days for this path and we believe even more people will use it if it’s embraced and well promoted.

The wider issue is the lack of a coherent city-wide network. It is still difficult to get from the city centre (or anywhere) to the beach by bicycle. But as the number of segregated paths grows, more cyclists will use them. The beach esplanade route is an excellent foundation for a wider network which makes it all the more tragic to see it taken away.

Physically distanced demo at the beach tomorrow

We’re doing all we can to challenge the removal of the Aberdeen beach segregated cycle lanes. In normal times we’d organise a protest but with the current restrictions mass gatherings are banned and with good reason. Instead we’re going to encourage people to use the cycle lanes tomorrow from 12 – 2pm. We’re going to be there and will have a dozen or so Aberdeen Cycle Forum-branded snoods to give away. We can toss one to you from two metres away!

If you haven’t written to the council about the cycle paths yet then we encourage you to do so. You can find contact details here.

Now more than ever we need to redistribute road space to active travel. Cars take up an amount of space that’s disproportionate to the number of people they can move which is in many cases just one or two people per car.

We know the segregated bike lane was made with ugly orange bollards but they were temporary. The lanes could be made permanent into something like this:

Source: https://www.brightonandhovenews.org/2020/06/22/first-pictures-of-how-new-seafront-cycle-lane-could-look-released/

This is a huge improvement on what was there which is four lanes for cars.