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.

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.

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.

Image of motorway by Ellis Garvey

Seminar: Urban Traffic Problems – should road capacity be increased, reduced, or reallocated?

In Aberdeen there have for many years been proposals affecting road capacity, with the Berryden corridor, and current proposals on Union Street and South College Street. The controversies about these have been equally long. But Aberdeen is not alone in such discussions – there is experience in other towns in Scotland, the rest of the UK, other countries in Europe and indeed other continents.

This seminar is aimed at better understanding how these controversies have evolved over recent years, and especially the experience of what works and what does not. We have invited an expert who has not been directly concerned with the discussions in Aberdeen, but has a wide experience of how similar ideas have been tried elsewhere, to add a wider context to our discussions.

He is Professor Phil Goodwin, a leading academic from University College London, the University of Oxford, and the University of the West of England, who has been an adviser to the DfT and the European Commission, and carried out research on the effects of road building, reallocation of road capacity, public transport, walking and cycling. In the seminar he will give an introduction with plenty of time for full discussion of the implications for Aberdeen.

The seminar will run from 1pm – 2pm on the 28th January. It will be virtual, by Zoom, and participants should register in advance at by clicking the button below.

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!

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.

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.

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.

A vision for Market Street

Last year the Aberdeen Cycle Forum got some funding to create two visualisations of streets in Aberdeen with a cycle path. It costs a lot of money to create these visualisations and so we wanted to choose two streets that, if they had a segregated cycle path, would have a huge and positive impact on cycling in Aberdeen.

We chose King Street for the first one and the release of that image gave the impetus for a successful campaign which sent hundreds of postcards to the city council. The city council even included our visualisation in their Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan (SUMP).

Today we are officially releasing our second visualisation which is for Market Street.

We felt Market Street was important because we repeatedly get feedback from cyclists that it’s unsafe to use. It’s a key corridor between Torry and the city centre and provides a link to the train station and Union Square. It also gets a lot of HGVs which are particularly dangerous for cyclists. For this reason a bike path on Market Street is essential if Aberdeen is to become a cycling city. The street is certainly wide enough for a bike path. In the visualisation we’ve taken one lane away from private motor vehicles and split it in half for a bike path on either side.

Bike paths on Market Street, Union Street, and King Street would provide a safe corridor for active travel from Torry all the way to the Bridge of Don – in just three streets. It could connect the train station with the University of Aberdeen, Union Square with the city centre, Torry with the Aberdeen Sports Village and so much more.

As part of our campaign for Market Street we’ve got hundreds of postcards addressed to the city council. Please grab one, sign it (add your address if you want a reply), put a stamp on it, then post it. You can pick one up from Newton Dee, Foodstory Café, or Nature’s Larder. If anyone would like to help distribute them then please get in touch with Rachel (rachelmmartin@gmail.com).