When using my bike to get around Edinburgh it is sometimes necessary to pass parked vehicles. You might be thinking 'so what?', well, a parked vehicle can make cycling feel a bit more dangerous because you have to pull out to pass that vehicle and that means going further out into the road where the moving vehicles are. This can be a frightening prospect and can be another potential barrier to people taking up cycling for everyday journeys.
And why is this important? The Scottish Government had a target of 10% of everyday journeys being made by bike by 2020. This target was not met. Parked vehicles, of course, is not the only reason that the target was not met, but it is one of several barriers to people using bicycles for everyday journeys. And whilst there continues to be low levels of investment in segregated cycle routes it means that you have to be confident to cycle on roads, where parked vehicles are a hazard.
This is my story of why parked vehicles can be a challenge to people cycling and why they are a contributing factor to the 10% target not being met.
My main cycling route for everyday journeys is along Colinton Road in Edinburgh. In a previous blog I wrote about my use of Colinton Road to take my son to nursery. Most of this road is nice and wide and allows for vehicles to safely pass bicycles. The only occasions where a person in a vehicle has passed me unsafely, a close pass, is when I have to pull out to negotiate a parked vehicle.
A person driving behind me when I pull out to overtake a parked vehicle is faced with two choices:
1. Slow down until the person cycling has cleared the parked vehicle and moved back towards the side of the road; then overtake the person cycling.
2. Overtake the person cycling at the point the person cycling has pulled out to avoid the parked vehicle.
The hope is that the driver will choose option 1 as this is safest for everyone, but sometimes people are in a rush or maybe it is not safe for them to slow down because of vehicles behind them, so they will choose option 2.
Option 2 requires the driver to give both enough space to clear the person cycling and not to stray too far onto the opposite side of the road that it puts their vehicle into the path of any potential vehicles coming in the opposite direction. The person driving is having to balance up these two factors. The driver may judge that it is more likely for a collision to occur with a vehicle travelling in the opposite direction and will wish to avoid this happening at all costs, so this may cause them to pass closer to the person cycling. Anything less than 1.5m is a close pass, as highlighted in this Police Scotland campaign video:
A close pass is a terrifying experience for a person cycling and can be enough to put them off using a bicycle ever again. There is a very real fear of being hit by the vehicle.
On the otherhand if the driver choses option 1, to slow down and wait for the person cycling to clear the parked vehicles there is the potential to cause a temporary queue of vehicles behind them. This should not be considered an issue when the goal is safety, but some people, whether driving or cycling will feel self-conscious about holding up vehicles behind them. And some road users can become impatient and aggressive in these circumstances.
What is the answer?
Looking at Colinton Road there are large parts of the road that are wide enough to have parked vehicles and I feel safe passing them and know that I will not experience a close pass. However, there are some parts of the road that are much narrower or have a blind spot where the parked vehicles make it a hazard and increase the risk of a close pass. If parking could be restricted on these sections it would improve safety for those using a bicycle and make this road more appealing for new cyclists.
These are the parts of Colinton Road that are the most challenging when there are parked vehicles:
1. The section near the Tesco and the Kilted Pig pub
This is probably the narrowest part of Colinton Road and there is always a line of parked vehicles here, no matter the time of day. When you cycle past these vehicles it is almost impossible for any drivers behind you to overtake you because the opposite side of the road is also narrow. It feels like you are holding up traffic and I cannot help but fear that one of the drivers behind me is going to try a dangerous overtake. I don't know why there are always parked vehicles here. I assume that there is no space for them to be parked in driveways, perhaps the older properties do not have driveways.
2. Opposite Tesco, parked on the double yellow, hazards on.
The Tesco has very few parking spaces, so it is inevitable that some drivers stopping for shopping will put their hazard lights on and park half-on the pavement, despite the double yellow line. I think you are allowed to park on a double yellow to load and unload, so perhaps shopping is within the law. However, it is another narrow part of the road, so it is a challenge for anyone using a bike to have to pull out to clear any vehicles parked here. It is also inconsiderate for pedestrians using the pavement as the parked vehicle can make it impossible for someone using a wheelchair, for example, to get by.
3. Outside Edinburgh Napier University.
These vehicles are only parked here on weekdays, so assume they belong to people working or studying at Napier. The issue is that there is a blind corner, meaning that if a person cycling pulls out to clear these parked cars it will be challenging for people following in vehicles to see if there are approaching vehicles on the opposite side of the carriageway. This is where a driver may decide to pass too closely to the person cycling in order to minimise risk from collision of any vehicles coming in the opposite direction.
The ideal solution is to have both segregated cycling infrastructure and places for vehicles to park. In an already congested city with tight budgets this may not be possible, so what other options are there?
Parking restrictions could be put in place, but if that means there is nowhere for people to park their vehicles it would be incredibly unpopular. Lets not blame people who own cars because our city has been designed in a way that makes car ownership the most convenient mode of transport. I wrote a previous blog post about how urban planning and supermarket locations make it unlikely for the majority of people to do their supermarket shopping by bike. Parking restrictions could be one measure to use, but it would need to be as part of a combination of measures that require a total rethink of urban planning so that car ownership becomes less of a necessity.
Another option could be to stop people using bicycles on roads that have parked vehicles and direct people to use traffic-free options. The Union Canal path is a traffic-free option that avoids Colinton Road, but it is not the quickest and most direct route and there are other issues with the canal path that I will explore in a future blog post. Using bicycles on convoluted and slower traffic-free routes is fine for leisure cycling trips where time is not important, but for the purpose of everyday journeys where you want to get there in the quickest and most efficient way (the same as people using other modes of transport) it is not as practical. For people to consider the bicycle as a viable option for everyday journeys the speed and efficiency of the route is going to be a major consideration.
I will continue to use Colinton Road as it is the most direct and quickest route for me. I don't like having to pass the parked vehicles on this road, but accept it as a risk of choosing to travel this way. However, for anybody new to cycling who is trying to change how they get about and do more of their everyday journeys on a bike I can appreciate that they may not be happy to accept that risk. In conclusion if we want to get more people using bicycles instead of motor vehicles for everyday journeys then the risk from passing parked vehicles is something that needs to be considered when planning the urban environment.
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle.