Aberdeen: A cycling city?

In a recent survey by Aberdeen City Council, related to their draft Active Travel Plan, 83% of respondents answering the question as to whether it was a ‘cycle friendly’ city, gave the answer that it was either ‘unfriendly’ or ‘very unfriendly’. 

No one is less surprised than us. 

Despite years (actually decades!) of campaigning for active travel, we still see very few positive changes, and at the same time the Council continues to bring forward new road-building schemes which will increase traffic capacity on key routes coming into the city centre.

When we respond and question the logic of this, it feels like we are dismissed because we are ‘only’ cycle campaigners and not transport or planning experts. So what can we do about that?

Last week we held an on-line seminar to try and raise the level of debate.  The speaker was Professor Phil Goodwin, an eminent academic in topics such as traffic modelling , road space allocation and active travel.  Professor Goodwin doesn’t know Aberdeen so wasn’t directly speaking about new Aberdeen road schemes like the Berryden corridor or South College Street, but he has lots of examples of what has and hasn’t worked elsewhere.  The one-hour seminar was recorded and you can watch it below or read a short note of some of the main points (scroll down this page to see the notes).

As to the main question of whether these new road schemes will do what the Council say they will, and actually reduce traffic in the city centre?  Well, Professor Goodwin couldn’t answer that because he freely admits he doesn’t know Aberdeen nor has he seen the Council’s modelling data.  But if you watch the seminar, it’s pretty clear what he thinks based on his experience elsewhere. 

Notes from Urban Traffic Problems webinar by Professor Phil Goodwin (28/1/21)

Hosted by Aberdeen Cycle Forum

History:

– 1989: Road for prosperity, the  ‘biggest road programme since the Romans’, was abandoned within five years as even twice the number of roads would not keep up with traffic forecasts, as demand management was required (rather than increased offer AKA more roads).

Recurrent traffic forecasts problem: over-estimation of long-term traffic growth, under-estimation of induced traffic derived from new road projects. Road projects are often fine at first but are back to the same problem soon after, as traffic grows to fill the available space, so-called “induced demand”.

– 1990s: UK looks at German and Dutch realities/examples for town centre pedestrianisation and traffic calming in residential areas, respectively.

(Minute 7:00) Both realities aimed at better distributed road space allocation. Research and case studies (200 urban areas around the world) show that reducing road capacity leads to traffic reduction too (particularly effective in pedestrianisation schemes).  But the results are not consistent.  Instead, in some places there has been an increase in traffic in towns where pedestrianisation schemes and by-passes were implemented. Induced traffic from bypasses was greater than reduced traffic in city centre. This happens particularly when pedestrianisation isn’t ambitious enough and is limited to a few key shopping streets.

(Minute 11:20) Changing dynamics – The total amount of traffic is increasing, but this growth is led by Age 60+ group, while younger groups recorded car use reductions. Reduction is greater in urban areas (including small towns).

Low confidence on how trends evolve even before Covid and Brexit; even harder to understand now.

(Minute 13:40) UK Treasury recently released a review of the “Green Book” (finance manual), which assesses value for money of projects. The Review criticises how at present BCR (benefit-cost ratio) are boosted to promote new projects, whereas money would be better spent on strategic coherence and risk management (i.e. to improve what’s there). Even with this critique, ongoing projects have not been reviewed to re-calculate their actual value. Pandemic and Brexit is a good time to pause/reset and re-appraise.

(Minute 16:40) Questions for Aberdeen based on this:

– Have proposed schemes been reviewed to take account of carbon calculations, given climate emergency?

– Are effects of Covid/Brexit being considered?

– Financial and budget constraints, what schemes are really worth being implemented?

(Minute 18:08) Following Scottish Gov targets, traffic should be reduced by 20% compared to current rates, not expanded to future growth forecasts. In other words, we are already 20% above what will be allowed by future targets.

There are  cities elsewhere, similar in size to Aberdeen, that have managed traffic much better (e.g. Freiburg in Germany); there is ‘experience’/case studies to take inspiration from, perhaps there is a need to look at these case studies, working trips to go and see what and how it has been done.

Q&A

(Minute 25:20) Transport planning skills within Council and elsewhere-> There is a disconnect between priorities and resources. Huge teams of qualified and expert people dedicating their work for, say, roundabouts; only a handful dedicated to active travel (walking and cycling provision) and perhaps not as expert, leading to poorer quality projects. A reallocation of road space is required; but for this to happen, a reallocation of skills and resources is also  required, otherwise the so-called priorities (e.g. Transport Hierarchy) are a sham.

(Minute 27:10) Q: Local Strategies are being developed in line with Scottish Gov direction; When is a good time to go on and write a transport strategy?  Connectivity is hugely important for Aberdeen.

A: Connectivity is important to any city; there tends to be an over-estimation of how better connectivity will lead to better economy, particularly if the cause it’s elsewhere. From experience, road building has served the richer areas more than the poorer nearby the project implemented (hence no levelling-up happens). Need to focus less on carbon-intense projects; Best time for developing a transport strategy is 20 years ago, second best time is now (Covid/Brexit a good time to reset), can’t be waiting/’thinking’ about writing new strategies for much longer, it needs to be done instead.

(Minute 33:47) Q: Aberdeen has narrow roads, what can be done about this?

A: Freiburg, Ghent and Seville brought about change via good buy-in from residents (even in terms of designs) and strong political support. Places with narrow roads have been some of the places where it’s been easiest to implement radical changes/policies. If too narrow, it’s best to not have mixed traffic, instead prefer street closure (for car/through traffic) and implement placemaking features.

(Minute 36:40) Q/Statement: A lot is happening in the UK (e.g. Greater Manchester) on taking the experience from other European cities, some changes also in Scotland, but it is true a lot more has to happen in Aberdeen.

A: It is not always the leading cities that remain leaders. There is an opportunity for Aberdeen to get recognition if good changes start to happen.

Q: What proportion of budget should be allocated to active travel?

A: 15% (as suggested in the question) is a good amount to start with. The main point is that allocation of funds is currently not matching the stated priorities (e.g., road hierarchy, environment), hence stated priorities are not being implemented. 

Q: Villages nearby Aberdeen (eg Kingswells – Weshill) . Some of these places are less than 4 miles away, yet no quality active travel infrastructure. What needs done to get this sorted?

Best approach by Switzerland where there’s lots of small places well connected with bigger towns/cities (via multi-modal connections). Enforcement is also very important, often lacking.

Q: Are ring-roads effective in reducing traffic in the area within them?

A: Yes, if far enough from the inside central area AND traffic calming/pedestrianisation has been widely implemented within the central area. Both need to happen around the same time.

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.

Frustration with council plans to remove beach cycle path

The Aberdeen Cycle Forum is dismayed to see the city council is planning to remove the cycle lanes at the beach. The segregated cycle path was installed less than two months ago using money from the Sustrans Spaces of People fund as a way to allow for social distancing during this pandemic.

The beach path was the very first of its kind in the city and provided hope for cyclists that this would be the start of a connected network of paths. Aberdeen city currently accommodates cyclists poorly and the environment on the roads can feel hostile and dangerous. This presents a barrier to people and discourages them from cycling.

You don’t have to be a cyclist yourself to benefit from cycling infrastructure. People who replace trips by car with trips be bike lower the carbon footprint of the community, reduce expenses for the NHS, and lower air pollution in the city. This benefits the entire community.

If you’re as disappointed as we are by the council’s decision then please write to your local councillor. You can find emails at the links below:

You can find your local councillor at this link: your councillor
Email the transport spokesperson: Councillor Sandra Macdonald
Email the transport strategy team: transport strategy

We recommend emailing all three. If you live in Aberdeenshire then just use the second two emails.

More cycling lessons planned for October

The Aberdeen Cycle Forum has been organising cycling lessons for adults. We started in August and have put on 6 lessons and Dr Bikes so far. They’ve been a terrific success and we’ve had an overwhelming response from people wanting more so your wish is our command and we have booked in two more dates for lessons in October. Lessons are capped at four people each so please reserve your spot at the links below. We will have a Dr Bike at both events . The instructors and Dr Bike are provided by Adventure Aberdeen.

October 17th Hazlehead Park

Beginners 9:30am
Refresher 11:00am

October 31st Duthie Park

Beginners 9:30am
Refresher 11:00am

Here’s some of the feedback we’ve had so far:

Fantastic lessons. Chris our teacher was quite knowledgable and very good. I enjoyed getting to know my bike and learning to ride.

Thank you so much for such a great opportunity, it was a great lesson, the teachers were patient and superb. Thanks to the organisers.

The funding for these lessons comes from Cycling UK and Paths for all.

Cycling lessons and Dr. Bike

The Aberdeen Cycle Forum is putting on a series of cycling lessons along with a Dr. Bike. The first two lessons in the series were last Saturday, 29th August. It was heart-warming to see beginner adult cyclists get their first taste for cycling and to experience the thrill that comes with it. Those of us who learnt to cycle as kids take it for granted when we’re adults but there are many adults today who never had the opportunity to learn when they were young.

Adventure Aberdeen provided the instructor and the Dr Bike while Aberdeen Cycle Forum was able to pay the costs using funding from Cycling UK’s Big Bike Revival, Paths for All, and the fundraising we did for our Reclaim the Streets event which got cancelled due to the pandemic.

The next set of lessons and Dr. Bike will be at Hazlehead Park on the 12th September. The lessons are already all fully booked up but subscribe to our blog so you’ll be notified if we add some more.

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Active travel to school: a Welsh case study

We were very fortunate to have Dafydd Trystan speak at our meeting on Tuesday night on developing an active travel plan for a Welsh school. It was inspiring to hear what they have achieved which is less than 5% of parents driving their children to school. These are numbers we can only dream of in Aberdeen but if it can be done at one school in another part of the country then there’s no reason it can’t be done here. We just need to find the political will.

The benefits of active travel are too great to ignore: children who walk or cycle to school perform better at school and children who have clean air to breathe are physically healthier. Air pollution from vehicles causes all sorts of problems for young bodies from asthma to heart disease and cancer. We adults owe it to this young generation to create an environment in which they can thrive.

You can read more about Dafydd’s case study at The Ysgol Hamadryad Story.

Space for distancing

The UK and Holyrood governments have both made large pots of money available to fund new temporary infrastructure to boost walking and cycling while respecting social distancing rules.  Glasgow and Edinburgh have already implemented measures and we know that Dundee City Council are taking it seriously and applying for some of the £10m available in Scotland.  We haven’t yet heard what the Aberdeen City Council has planned, so until we do here are ten suggestions from the Aberdeen Cycle Forum.

These need to be implemented quickly. The new guidelines from the UK government make this clear:  

“Measures should be taken as swiftly as possible, and in any event within weeks, given the urgent need to change travel habits before the restart takes full effect.”

1. Keep existing pavements clear

No parking on pavements. The Council has powers to make regulations to stop parking on pavements – they’ve done it in Altens and Palmerston / Poyernook previously – let’s do it everywhere.  Employ more Community Wardens and give them powers to enforce and issue tickets.

2. 20 mph speed limit city-wide

The existing city centre 20 mph limit needs to be made much wider but it needs to be better enforced too.  Does the new City Fibre network, or 5G technology make it much more practical to have widespread urban speed detection?  When urban speed cameras were introduced in Edinburgh, speeding dropped significantly. 

3. School exclusion zones

Prohibit vehicle movements within 200 metres of all schools at the start and end of the school day, to provide a safer environment for children walking and cycling to school.

4. 40 mph speed limit on all minor rural roads

There is a fantastic network of back-roads around the outskirts of the city which provide an attractive alternative to the main corridors.  But they also have a tendency to be used as rat-runs, which is a big disincentive to cycling when the speed limit is still 60mph.  Introduce 40 mph limits for the benefit of cycling, pedestrian and equestrian use.

5. Paint is not protection – provide physical segregation

Create routes with physical separation from motorised traffic to make it safe for children and non-confident cyclists.  The UK government’s recent guidance says:

Installing ‘pop-up’ cycle facilities with a minimum level of physical separation from volume traffic; for example, mandatory cycle lanes, using light segregation features such as flexible plastic wands; or quickly converting traffic lanes into temporary cycle lanes (suspending parking bays where necessary); widening existing cycle lanes to enable cyclists to maintain distancing. Facilities should be segregated as far as possible, i.e. with physical measures separating cyclists and other traffic. Lanes indicated by road markings only are very unlikely to be sufficient to deliver the level of change needed, especially in the longer term

6. Routes need to be continuous

Cycle paths should form continuous routes between major destinations: for instance, the railway station and the University of Aberdeen, Union Square and the beach, Hazlehead Park and Union Street. Don’t create cycle lanes which stop at junctions or pinch-points, just when they are most needed.

7. Car parking is not the priority

Don’t put cycle lanes on the outside of rows of parked cars.  Suspend on-street parking or put the cycle route on the inside, away from traffic and carelessly opened doors.  Don’t allow parking in cycle lanes.

8. Make existing pedestrianised streets work.

The “pedestrianisation” of some of our city-centre streets (Belmont St, Little Belmont St, George St, Loch St) suffer from widespread abuse by motorists and ineffective enforcement by the council.  Introduce ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) enforcement, such as that used on Broad St, so that only vehicles with a legitimate reason have access.

9. More bike parking

Boosting cycling will see an increase in the need for cycle parking. To avoid cluttering up pavements with bike racks use car parks for bike parking. 

10. Keep us safe at junctions.

Motorists who go through red lights put cyclists and pedestrians in grave danger.  We need better camera enforcement of motorists breaking the law and also an advance green phase to allow cyclists to set off first (this already happens in Edinburgh).

South College Street, Aberdeen

The Aberdeen City Council will tomorrow be voting on the purchase of land on South College Street for the purposes of increasing road capacity as part of their Berryden Corridor plan. Note that the council website describes it as the “Berryden Corridor Improvement“, presupposing it as a benefit.

The Aberdeen Cycle Forum submitted a response to the plan during a consultation back in 2009. We felt that the Berryden Corridor plan was contrary to the aims of the AWPR to reduce traffic in Aberdeen city and was also at odds with the local transport strategy objective “to increase the share of travel of the most sustainable modes and to promote economic growth without associated traffic growth.” Our views are unchanged since then. Last month we submitted another objection to the proposal which you can read here – Berryden Objection.

The Scottish government published the National Transport Strategy on 5th February 2020 which sets out four priorities for transport in Scotland:

1. Reduces inequalities
2. Takes climate action
3. Helps deliver inclusive economic growth
4. Improves our health and wellbeing

Increasing road capacity for private motor vehicles in the centre of Aberdeen fails to deliver on all of these priorities, especially points 2. and 4 – climate action and improving health and wellbeing. 

The city council says they need to build this corridor to “reduce city centre traffic” and to help “develop a Low Emissions Zone within the City”. But the Berryden Corridor is contrary to both these aims because increasing road capacity generates more traffic. It’s also hard to see how increasing road capacity will help with pollution reduction. It will simply move the pollution hotspots from one road to another.

Please write to your local councillor about this plan. You can find their contact details on the council website – Your Councillors.