There was a cycling boom from the start of lockdown in March 2020. Vehicle traffic declined to almost nothing and many people enjoyed cycling on roads that they would never have previously dared to venture onto. Bicycle sales soared and many roads had more people cycling than driving. Now that traffic levels have returned to near normal what has been the impact on this cycling boom? My personal story is a positive one, so I thought I would share it with you.
I take my son to nursery on a child seat on the back of my bike most days, unless the weather is really awful. My daily commute from home to the nursery is around 3 miles if you take the quickest direct route. I live in Edinburgh and this direct route means using Colinton Road to reach Bruntsfield. Those familiar with this part of Edinburgh will know that Colinton Road can be busy and has no cycle lane on it. Before the pandemic I never felt confident to use this road with my son because it is pretty busy with traffic, but now I am using the road most days. What changed?
I'll start by explaining the route I used to take to get my son to nursery. It was somewhat convoluted , mainly traffic-free, using the Braid Burn path and the quieter backstreets of Morningside and Bruntsfield. It is not a direct route and the Braid Burn path can be slow going as it is narrow, shared with pedestrians and has some awkward gradients and barriers to negotiate. It probably added at least another mile, if not more, to the journey.
I happily cycled Colinton Road on my own. It's not the most dangerous road in Edinburgh, but it does have a high volume of traffic at peak times. I have not had any serious incidents and only a few close passes, because the road is mostly wide enough for vehicles to give bikes space without the vehicles having to cross over to the opposite carriageway. However, I was not happy to take my son on this road, particularly when there was a near enough traffic-free, albeit longer, alternative.
During lockdown Colinton Road changed completely. There was hardly any traffic on it at all. It was bliss for cyclists! I started to use it when taking my son on the bike.
When the nurseries opened again after lockdown I decided to keep using Colinton Road with my son and have been doing so ever since. The traffic volume has risen, but not to the same pre-Covid levels. There's not really a rush hour anymore because of homeworking. The only peak for traffic in the morning is for the school children getting dropped off at the various schools along the route, but I am able to avoid this time.
Being able to use Colinton Road has made my commute to the nursery much quicker than the Braid Burn route. I am glad to be able to use this road and hope that I will be able to into the future. I do fear that if there is a return to the way things were before with everyone trying to get to their office for the same time I will no longer be confident to take my son on this road. However, the signs are that companies will be offering more homeworking and flexibility so it should mean that not everyone is on the roads at the same time.
Three miles is a short commute and in a progressive society concerned with active travel and climate change it should and must be possible for me to make that journey by bicycle and not to be made to feel that I must own a car to cover such a short distance.
I do see other people cycling on Colinton Road during my morning commute, but I have yet to see another parent taking their child on the back of their bike. There are a lot less people cycling on this road compared to the days of lockdown. It makes it a bit lonely being the only one taking their kid on a bike on Colinton Road, so I would love to see more parents feeling confident enough to use this road with their kids. I know it doesn't have a painted cycle lane or the cycle wands that are getting installed on some roads, but it is a wide road and outside the start and end of the school day the traffic volume is not too bad.
I know it's not for everyone to cycle with their children on main roads, but I just wanted to share with you that the changes in the world have resulted in a positive cycling experience for me. In a difficult year I think it is important to share positive stories.
Is it possible to do your supermarket shopping using a bicycle? Supermarkets in Scotland tend to be visited mainly by people using cars. The entire concept- filling a trolley with bulk purchases, the location of the shop and the large car park- is based on car ownership. Supermarkets do provide cycle racks and people do use bicycles for their shopping. I have been doing supermarket shopping for 2 adults and a child using my bicycle and this blog shares my thoughts about the experience.
How I transport shopping on a bicycle
I have two rear panniers on my bike and a backpack and this is sufficient to carry what I buy in the supermarket. It does not have the same capacity as a car which means I don't do a weekly shop, but visit the shop once every 2 or 3 days. Personally, this works out well because with a weekly shop you really need a big fridge and I have a small one. I also find that some of the fresher items do not last that well if you do a weekly shop. And it means more frequent exercise for me if I am doing it once every couple of days instead of once a week. The reduced capacity of my bike helps to control my spending and forces me to only get what I need and not succumb to temptation!
How I get to the supermarket
This is the main thing I wanted to write about in this blog. Each time that I do a supermarket trip by bicycle it always makes me think about how urban planning has made us so dependent on cars for short journeys.
I live in Colinton in Edinburgh and my nearest supermarket, Tesco, is a 9 minute cycle ride . That's really not far, so this should be a journey that anybody with a bicycle should be able to do. Right?
The problem is that there is no cycling infrastructure, no separated bike lanes and no painted bike lanes. It means that a person using a bike has to travel on some busy roads and be confident cycling in traffic. Part of the route is through some quiet roads in a housing estate where there is no traffic. However, to get to the quiet section you have to go on a busier road first. And this is why whenever I arrive at the supermarket I am the only one using the cycle racks or there is sometimes one or two other bikes there, but never more than that. This Tesco is hemmed in by roads that see a significant volume of traffic, probably a similar situation to many supermarkets in urban areas.
For most people the prospect of cycling on these busy roads to get their shopping is frightening, so they will use a car. There will be people who would like to go to this supermarket by bike, but if they do not feel safe they are not going to do it.
Do you need a car to get a pint of milk?
Here is another observation about this situation. Walking to this supermarket takes 25 minutes, so if someone just needs one or two things, like a pint of milk, they probably are not going to walk. We already know that not many people use a bike to get to this supermarket, which means that there are lots and lots of short car journeys being taken to reach it. It's not the fault of the people using the cars, urban planning has left them with no choice. It's not practical to walk 25 minutes to the supermarket each time you need something and cycling, if you don't feel safe on the road, is not an option. Okay, there are small convenience shops that you can walk to for things like milk, but not every location has one within reasonable walking distance and they don't stock everything that you need, so the only alternative is to travel to the supermarket.
What about public transport? There is a bus that covers this route to Tesco and it takes about 9 minutes, so the same as the bike. However, it is a 30 minute service so you are going to have to plan out your shopping trip to make sure it starts and finishes for when the bus comes. For people who do not own a car this is what they do when they visit the supermarket, but for people who own a car they may not want the inconvenience of waiting for a bus, planning their supermarket trip to the bus timetable, and having to carry bags of shopping on and off the bus.
There is another supermarket very close to where I live. Aldi, on Oxgangs Road, is 12 minutes by bike and 6 minutes by car. Again, 12 minutes is such a short time to be on a bicycle, so this trip should be a normal, everyday thing. However, like the Tesco route, the Aldi route requires you to be confident cycling on a bike next to vehicle traffic. The most direct way to reach Aldi is on the B701 which has no painted cycle lanes and no segregated cycle lanes. I come off the B701 at Oxgangs Farm Drive and head onto Oxgangs Farm Avenue as these roads have virtually no traffic, but there is no way to completely avoid busy roads when travelling to this supermarket.
Aldi has 4 bicycle racks and when I visit I am usually the only person using them. I have seen no more than one other bicycle parked there. There must be other people with bicycles who would cycle to Aldi if they felt safe on the roads.
We know that cycling and walking are good for health and the government wants us to do more of it. We know that driving, particularly for frequent short journeys that could be done by walking or cycling, is not good for the environment. Why, then, should it be so challenging to cycle for 9 to 12 minutes to a supermarket? The absence of segregated cycling lanes means that for the vast majority of people the journey to the supermarket will continue to be done by car. It should be normal to cycle 9 to 12 minutes to pick up shopping, not extraordinary, but the design of our urban areas has made it unusual to see a person using a bicycle to visit a supermarket.
Something has to change if we want society to move away from dependency on the private car for short, everyday journeys. If we really want to tackle health and climate issues then creating an urban environment where people feel safe to cycle for these short distance shopping trips is a good place to start.
This great video from Cycling UK explains the benefits to society of cycling lanes:
How about you? Do you cycle to the supermarket? Would you like to cycle to the supermarket? Tell me about your experiences and thoughts in the comments.
Last month I began commuting by bike for the first time. I blogged about my experience and at the time I was not sure if I would make it a routine thing. Since then I have cycled to work about half a dozen times and have really enjoyed it. This piece is about how I have been getting on with my cycle commuting and to highlight the advantages.
I have noticed that when I finish work I feel excited about the journey home. It is like a mini adventure to jump on my bike and pedal home, whereas taking the bus or walking does not get me this excited.
My confidence in traffic is increasing. Although a large part of my route is off-road, through the Meadows, the green heart of Edinburgh, there is a section in Edinburgh's busy city centre. I feel much more relaxed when tackling this.
It is now dark in the evenings, so my lights have become an essential bit of kit. On my summer cycling trips I rarely make use of my lights, so they have never been used this much before.
Normally my bike is not used between September and March because of the generally poorer weather and shorter days, but cycle commuting has allowed me to extend my "season" into November. Even though my commute is only about 6 miles return it is giving me a regular opportunity to have a bike ride.
I used to be dead against city cycle commuting and was determined to only use my bike for countryside forays where the roads are quiet. I had been afraid of the traffic, but I have discovered that I can cope with it and I am glad that I took the plunge. There are many advantages to using your bike to get to work and I am now a convert.
Advantages of cycle commuting
It may surprise you to know that I don't cycle to work. Although it is the most obvious way to make regular use of my bike I only ever use it for adventures on days away and overnight trips. But today I tried cycle commuting for the first time.
Like many people the reason that I have not cycled to work until now is that I did not fancy being amongst Edinburgh's horrendous rush hour traffic. According to Autocar Edinburgh is the fifth most congested city in Europe. My love of cycling is about it being an enjoyable way to travel- grappling with high levels of traffic is not my idea of fun.
For the last few weeks I began to notice a potential low-traffic route to work. I cycled parts of it, walked it and rehearsed it in my mind. It is not the most direct route, but it avoids some of the busy roads and the majority of it is actually completely traffic-free. This is the cycle pathways in the Meadows, the green heart of Edinburgh. These pathways are wonderful- wide enough for bikes to travel in both directions and a separate section for pedestrians. I think this is easily the best cycling infrastructure in the city and the closest we have to the wonderful cycle networks they have in Copenhagen.
The other great thing about the Meadows is that you are cycling among trees, grass and birdsong. You could not ask for more in a morning commute.
This morning I gave it a go and it went very well. I really enjoyed it. I was travelling quite early in the morning, before the rush hour kicks off, so it was probably a lot easier than if I was cycling after 8am. The last section is on potentially busy roads, but earlier in the morning they are a lot simpler to tackle.
The Meadows path ends at Forrest Road where there is a cycle lane, but I then have to move out of this cycle lane in order to turn right onto Chambers Street. As a pedestrian I observed this section of my route in rush hour traffic and it made me nervous. I decided that if it was very busy there was no shame in getting off my bike and wheeling it along the pavement and crossing the road on foot, but I did not have to do that today- it was nice and quiet.
Would I do it again? If the weather is good tomorrow I probably will. I enjoyed it and would like to make it a regular thing. I am not too sure about tackling it at peak commuting time and may just stick to cycling on the days that I start work earlier. We shall see what tomorrow brings...
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle. Follow my blog on Facebook: