Yesterday, Aberdeen City Council met to determine and hopefully decide upon, among other things, the next steps of the City Centre Masterplan Programme.
Full details of the meeting can be found here; https://committees.aberdeencity.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=122&MId=8190
The recording of the meeting can be found here; https://aberdeen.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/721270 (*go to 59 minutes in).
Jon Barron, as Chair of Grampian Cycle Partnership, sought to make a Deputation to Council in which he implored Council to:-
- finally, follow Scotland’s National Transport Strategy by truly embedding the
Sustainable Travel Hierarchy in its decision making by promoting walking, wheeling
and cycling first, then public transport before all other transport options
- finally, work towards the Scottish Government’s 2030 Vision for Active Travel by
shaping Aberdeen’s communities around people so that walking or cycling can
become the most popular choice for shorter everyday journeys
- finally, deliver high quality walking, cycling and wheeling networked infrastructure
that is safe and available to everyone.
It is a stark reality that our wonderful city has fallen far behind other places in
Scotland in relation to what it provides for those travelling on foot or by bike. For
example, Aberdeen’s streets still do not have any permanent on-road segregation for
cycling, neither is there any road space reallocation for our most vulnerable modes.
All the resulting benefits that active travel brings to our physical and psychological
wellbeing, to our local and wider environment and to our economy are wellevidenced. Promoting, supporting and enabling active travel has always been
important but, for a variety of reasons, the times we are in the midst of make it
increasingly so. Let’s begin to lock in these benefits now.
**UPDATE – We are still digesting the formal decision and await formal posting of the decisions. We will post the link outlining these here once it has been published, however we think we can say that, for once, common sense prevailed in the Council Chamber and segregated cycle tracks for Union Street are back as part of the project moving forward. Clearly and obviously, they always should have been**.
Jon’s deputation (including a short section which he couldn’t deliver due to time limitations) was as follows;
“Good morning everyone. Thanks for the opportunity to address you. I wrote to you all recently with a plea for things to change. I thank those who have met with me.
There’s much to like with what is being touted in the reports in front of you. There should be. It’s even more important for a host of reasons that we act now, this has all taken too long and cost far too much already.
I do, however, take issue with the suggestion that the reports truly ‘prioritise walking, wheeling and cycling’ though.
Allow me to focus the next few minutes on one aspect that you have for consideration – the recommended interaction between buses and bikes on Union Street and explain why it is so important to, at long last, get this right now.
Before going on, I’m not anti-bus and this is not an anti-bus message. Bus needs to have its rightful place in the sustainable travel hierarchy. For avoidance of doubt, that place is after walking, wheeling and cycling. Not before it. Bikes and buses should not be ‘forced together’ into the same road space. To do so, would be a recipe for disaster and inherently dangerous.
The revamped City Centre Masterplan has the vision to ‘create a world class city centre and beach that respects and enhances Aberdeen’s unique qualities and characteristics and puts people at its heart’.
I applaud the vision. I love Aberdeen. It means everything to me. I was born here. It’s my home.
However, the proposal to have bikes together in very close proximity with buses on our main thoroughfare can hardly be described as world class?
What if Union Street were in Paris? When Mayor Anne Hidalgo took office in 2014. The Mayor realised that it wasn’t the hills, the weather or the culture that was preventing Parisians from cycling, it was a lack of safe infrastructure. With that, she unleashed a cycling revolution. She challenged car dominance and was ridiculed, threatened, even sued for doing so. But, she prevailed, with the measures now working and proving incredibly popular. So much so that she was comfortably re-elected in 2020. Paris is investing 250M Euros adding another 130km of dedicated cycle lanes. Since 2020, 211 schools across Paris have piloted ‘school streets’ temporary closures to motor traffic during drop-off and pick-up times. Paris has the single biggest bike-share system in place outside China. Paris is implementing a world class plan.
What if Union Street were in Pontevedra, Northern Spain? In 1999, within a month of becoming Mayor, Miguel Lores had removed motor vehicle traffic from the central 300,000 square metres of the city. His manifesto was, still is, that motor vehicles don’t have any more right to public space than people – he’s been re-elected four times since then. Pontevedra has a population of around 80,000, yet this central section alone it now has12,000 more residents since the changes were brought in. The changes have not only improved the local environment, with C02 emissions having fallen by 70% and nearly three-quarters of all journeys being made on foot or by bicycle, but they’ve made it safer. Between 1996 and 2006 there were 30 road deaths in Pontevedra. Since 2009, there have been none. Pontevedra is implementing a world class plan.
You may scoff at me contrasting Aberdeen to these cities but I’m not the one that came up with the vision to be world class. I’ve actually been kind to you and not given Danish, Dutch or Flemish comparison as to what world class means in terms of active travel provision. If Aberdeen wants to join them, let’s hope it genuinely does, and there is no reason why we can’t, then we have to aim much higher than we’ve done to date and are still doing now.
What about close to home? What have other Scottish towns and cities already done and what have they already committed to? Glasgow already has many examples of prioritised and segregated cycling infrastructure while also plenty success with providing safe, secure cycle storage to residents living in flats, tenements and multi-storeys. It has committed to adding another 270km of safe, segregated cycling routes as part of a comprehensive and connected active travel network. Edinburgh also has much segregation and road space reallocation and has committed to a walkable city centre with a pedestrian priority zone and a network of connected, high-quality, car-free streets and public spaces,. Dundee too has installed segregated infrastructure and has published plans to build more active travel freeways. These cities, and others, are implementing world class plans.
In recent years, Scotland has seen a massive increase in the level of funding for active travel projects. This is, of course, very welcome. Have we seen much of that money being put to good use for permanency in Aberdeen? An emphatic no — 1.03% of the £85M, that’s £873,000 has been awarded through the flagship infrastructure funding stream, Places for Everyone, to Aberdeen City Council, over the last three fiscal years. Yes, you’ll tell me that there has been a pandemic, and all the other demands and pressures on local authority finances and resources. I don’t doubt these pressures, in fact, as a lifelong public servant, I entirely understand them.
However, in the same period, other local authorities, operating under similar pressures, have applied for and been awarded much greater slices of the Places for Everyone cake – these include Dundee (over £5.1M – 6%), Highland (£4.7M – 5.5%), Clackmannanshire (£2.1M – 2.5%), Scottish Borders (£9.5M – 11.2%) and not forgetting, of course, Glasgow (£12.3M – 14.5%) and Edinburgh (£33.9M – 39.97%).
However you want to dress this up, Aberdeen is clearly not getting anything like what any of us could describe as its fair share of the single biggest funding streams for active travel.
When I see images on infrastructure projects in other cities, when I ride my bike on them, when I hear the impactive stories of how they have changed peoples lives and communities for the better, it makes me sad that I still can’t showcase anything locally. It is like we are stuck in our own alternate universe with its own deeply flawed travel hierarchy.
Induced Demand is a phrase that is often referred to around road-based projects. Many forget that it can work both ways: if you choose to build more car lanes, evidence shows that you will get more traffic. If you were to build more bike lanes, evidence shows that you will get more cycling. Cities are a collection of choices. We/You need to choose better.
In June 2015, Councillors in this very room voted unanimously to implement the city centre masterplan. What has happened since then to encourage, promote and support cycling in the city?
Has there been any permanent on-road segregation put in place for cycling? No.
Has there been any road space reallocation put in place for cycling? No.
Are there any safe, coherent, connected links for an active travel network across our city? No.
How many school streets have we had in Aberdeen? None.
Have we built or even designed any active travel freeways? No.
Has Aberdeen applied to Cycling Scotland’s Local Authority Secure Cycle Storage and Parking Fund? No, but it desperately needs to.
While in Aberdeen we speak of aspirations of being a world class destination and to supposedly prioritising cycling, Aberdeen City Council isn’t present to launch the new venture from Big Issue ebikes, yet is happy to have its logo on the bikes.
What about the Scottish Government’s draftCycling Framework and Delivery Plan for Active Travel in Scotland, out for consultation now, which in support of the Government’s vision that – ‘Scotland’s communities are shaped around people, with walking and cycling the most popular choice for everyday short journeys’ states that the top priority for the achievement of that vision is for the delivery of more dedicated, high quality, safe cycling infrastructure’.
The actions in this plan are aimed to, ‘drive forward work across National and Local Government, Business and the Third Sector, which will support the building and maintenance of a dense network of connected cycling infrastructure in every village, town and city, segregated from motor traffic’.
Cycling by Design says that – ‘we must plan and design for mass cycling by all kinds of people on different types of bike. Cycling infrastructure should no longer be something that we provide to be used by those already cycling, instead it needs to be something that can be used by everyone’.
These are the Scottish Government’s words, not mine. I haven’t yet mentioned the Climate Change Plan, the assortment of Public Health reports and the stated commitment to reduce car kilometres by 20% by 2030.
Would everyone be happy to ride a bike, without any segregation, and share a street with around 50 buses every hour, in addition to all the others that will still perfectly legitimately be using much of Union Street?
There has been lots of consultation – why do it if you are effectively going to ignore much of the findings?
Look at Sustrans’ fabulous Walking and Cycling Index, launched after much delay, which stated, following a survey of local residents, that every year, walking, wheeling, and cycling in Aberdeen prevented 603 serious long-term health conditions, created £162.9 million in economic benefit for individuals and the area and takes up to 59,000 cars off the road.
Cities that truly invest in walking and cycling can rightly describe themselves as world class. Ask yourself this, what’s world class on about what’s in front of you in relation to the traffic management proposals – what’s world class about forcing cyclists, particularly those less experienced or confident, into a space that is not segregated, not separated from other modes? If this isn’t done on our main street, what chance is there for this to happen on the routes to take pedestrians and cyclists to and from the city centre and all across the city? It’s just as important on all these roads too. So, while we’re here specifically to talk about our city centre and beach areas, the decision you take today could send out a very clear message about what you intend to do for the rest of our city. How can families, kids, those less confident or experienced get to the city centre or beach safely by bike and home again? As things stand, what’s there for them? Some poorly painted advisory cycle lanes …….
A work colleague shared a YouTube video of Union Street the other day. It had been filmed in 1992. While it showed some radically different shop fronts, some very different car models and very different fashion sense among the pedestrians on view – the main thing that struck me was that the road space hadn’t really changed much from what it is still like today. But, as the reports in front of you attest to, it desperately needs to.
So, in closing, although we’re clearly starting from the lowest possible platform, that must not allow us to settle for half-measures. Let’s begin to create that walking and cycling city in earnest from now, firmly supported by bus (and ART when it comes along). If, there are to be losers, it must not be the pedestrian or cyclist – as is currently the case. We’re in various crises; our climate and environment, our economy, the cost of living, our physical activity levels, our psychological wellbeing – cycling has been proven across the globe to play a part in helping all these factors. It’s not for everyone, but it needs to be for far more than it currently is. Segregation from traffic is crucial to that.
Please aim high, be bold, be creative, be imaginative, be decisive so that our city centre and our city can begin to reclaim its rightful place and status. Let’s aim for world class.
Thank you for listening”.
Footnote: Jon wishes to publicly applaud the tremendous deputations confidently and eloquently presented by Lily and Lara, pupils from Bridge of Don Academy and Oldmachar Academy and by Tibeche, a pupil at Dyce Academy and by Rachel Martin, of Aberdeen Cycle Forum. These all made a very convincing case for the Councillors. Please go to around 28 minutes on the link for the first presentation from Lily and Laura, Tibeche follows on from them. Rachel follows Jon’s deputation.