On Hands, Bites and Feeding.

I work two jobs. One is out at the Gyle on the outskirts of Edinburgh, the other is in Morningside, a largely suburban district south of the centre.

There are a fair number of pieces of cycle infrastructure on the way to the Gyle, some of which are good, some of which are utter arse.

First and famously: the Union Canal. I no longer use the canal as my commuting  route, although I do credit it as being among the four most significant factors in transforming me from a bus user to a cyclist. Since this is only post two, I might as well do that, the origin story bit, here:

1996-1999: I used my old rigid MTB from1990 to transport me from my flat to lectures. I was a competitive powerlifter at the time and would usually be too sore to climb hills, although the knobbly tyres couldn’t have helped, so other than that I rarely used it. I sold that bike for a tenner after I’d abused the ungodly hell out of it. At the time I was amazed I got anything for it, but on reflection, I was well robbed, which was entirely my fault for not knowing it had some nice kit on it and a burly lugged Reynolds frame that may still be getting used today.

1999-2011: The bus, car share or walking. I used to walk from Harrison Park to London Road every morning, hitch a lift with a colleague to Morningside and walk back. If it was an ‘orrible day, I’d get the bus.

2011: My then girlfriend gave me a withering look when I suggested the roads were a bit scarypants out towards the Gyle. She rode her bike everywhere and was not in any way impressed with my lack of lantern-chested masculinity. I offered to open a jar made entirely out of spiders and shelving as recompense, but nope: I was to cowboy up, and not waste time about it. This is the first of the significant factors.

The second is the Union Canal, which allows an almost completely roadless route from Harrison Park to the Gyle. The fourth is the fact both my knees are arthritic thanks to the aforementioned powerlifting and I had to find something else to keep in shape. The third is the 1988 Raleigh Record Sprint which belonged to my sister and had barely seen the outside of our parent’s garage since she learned to drive.

The Union Canal. It’s got one completely vital thing going for it: you are guaranteed a carless route. I’m yet to encounter a painted cycle lane which can boast this, and to the novice cyclocommuter, it outweighs all other considerations. It’s well surfaced from Millenium Quay to Hermiston Gait(possibly further, I’ve not been along it from there) and also rather pretty in places. Everything else, I’m afraid to say, goes against it. The bridges and aqueduct are unpleasant to negotiate and unless you ride very early, it’s got too many dogs on it.

What I do use are the cycle lanes along Slateford Road and Gorgie Road. Except I don’t. What is actually happening, when I am observed to be in the orange area with diagrams of bikes along it, is that the surface in the secondary position zone is unbroken and sufficiently free of parked motor vehicles that I can ride in it. I’d be there anyway without the lanes and I don’t stick to them when they’re potholed or parked in. Waste of paint.

Once I’m past Slateford/Gorgie I find myself on the Broomhouse Path. It’s not a shared use path – it’s segregated from the road by a raised kerb and sometimes grass verge, and has paint markings to split it into a cyclist half and a pedestrian half. The niggling detail is that in reality it is a shared use path. The majority of dog walkers stick to the cycle half, the people waiting for buses on the been-there-for-18-months temporary stops stand in the cycle half, and from the fact that roughly half the rest wander along the cycle half, it seems no-one else cares.

The Broomhouse path also contains what is to my mind a near-perfect example of bad design. It’s the sort of thing I could imagine Saint Jobs would have used as an example of Things Apple Would Never Do because it’s taken no account of human nature. There are concrete ridged slabs installed before most of the junctions along the path. On the cycle half they are parallel to travel, on the pedestrian half they are perpendicular. If you ride on the cycle half they catch tyres less than 50mm wide and disrupt your steering to an uncomfortable extent. If you ride over the pedestrian half, they make an oddly pleasant bzzrrrrp sound/feeling and don’t affect handling in any way. I’m not completely sure if they are intended to give visually impaired folk a tactile reminder of which half is theirs, or if they are intended to fix the problem of cyclists being in the pedestrian side – I’ve read both and not been diligent in chasing up either.

What I can tell you is that I did initially try to be a good little Boy Scout and stick to the cycle half, but since their installation they’ve either been worn smooth by hundreds of wheels or I’ve become less able to handle a juddery bike, and the result is that I’ve given up and now nip over to the pedestrian side if it’s clear and then steer back. Plainly cyclists who aren’t interested in being good little Boy Scouts are going to do what is most safe and convenient for them, world be damned, while the real martyrs who try to be good citizens are effectively being punished.

I’ve been keeping a close eye on them for cracks that could let in enough water for the freeze-thaw effect to ruin them and they haven’t lasted. I hope I’m wrong, but when we cyclists go back onto the path after a winter of holding up traffic(even with studded tyres like mine, you’re better on the salted roads than the unsalted path) I reckon they’re going to look like a professional brickchewer’s teeth.

The tramworks have made that path a bit of an obstacle course. There isn’t much point in talking more about it since there is no mode of transport aside from flying that hasn’t been horsed by that.

There is also a cycle path around the roundabout at South Gyle Access. It’s the kill zone, Tony. It’s where you go to die.

This all sounds a bit ungrateful (and I do exclude the Union from this criticism since it’s my preference for fast riding that’s taken me off it – it remains a good facility for gentle cycling) but these things haven’t been presents. I pay road tax(or as people who like truth call it: tax) but I’m not getting my money’s worth, nor are people who would like cycle provision to stop making interaction with us cogjockeys stressful or frustrating. The hand is not feeding; it’s giving us a tin of rat faeces with ‘FOOD’ written on the side.

I’m also reminded of the trick beloved by lazy children where you pretend to be enthusiastic about a job but make such a pig’s ear of it that you’re never asked again. I can taste the tinfoil from the hat on that one, though; it’s depressingly more likely that they didn’t bring any cyclists in during the design process. Or anyone that knew what bikes are. Or had even looked at a sketch of one.


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