At the beginning of this year I thought my days of cycle campaigning were coming to an end. Not because I didn’t still fully support the need for cycling infrastructure but because the designs the council were showing us were all good and aside from minor details I felt confident and positive about the future of cycling in Aberdeen.
That all changed after the local council elections in May this year. A new administration took over and ditched the plans that had so warmed my heart and their new plans have taken us right back to square one.
For those who don’t know Aberdeen politics the council administration early this year was made up of a coalition between Labour and the Conservatives. They lost in May and the new administration consists of a coalition between the SNP (Scottish National Party) and the Liberal Democrats.
I’m surprised the outlook for cycling in Aberdeen has changing so diabolically under the SNP. They are, after all, in power at Scottish government level in Scotland and the Scottish government’s sustainable transport hierarchy puts cycling second only to walking and wheeling. Public transport is below cycling.
As an aside, I must apologise for this infographic produced by the Scottish government. It is not accessible and fails web accessibility standards for colour contrast but it is not mine and I downloaded it straight from their website. What I find particularly ironic about this is one of the reasons given for *not* putting a segregated cycle path on Union Street is the need for bus priority for people with disabilities. Given they don’t even bother making their own website accessible to people with disabilities makes me question how much they really care about this group.
When the artwork we commissioned for Deeside Way was being painted I got to talking to a gentleman on a mobility scooter who stopped to admire it. He was the inspiration behind adding someone in a wheelchair to the art. I asked him what he thought of Union Street when it was closed to traffic. He told me he loved it. His mobility scooter gives him independence and the part of Union Street that was closed to traffic allowed him to tear about unimpeded by motor vehicles. Did the council talk to people with disabilities like this?
When we lived in York there was a paraplegic man who rode an adaptive bicycle with hand pedals. It gave him an enormous amount of independence and we used to see him cycling all the time.
In 2021 the Scottish government produced an update to their Cycling by Design guidance. The point of the document is to provide guidance for cycling infrastructure on roads, streets, and paths in Scotland. The first two principles are:
- We must plan and design for mass cycling by all kinds of people on different types of bikes.
- Cycle users must be protected from motor traffic by physical separation or by significantly reducing the volume and speed of motor traffic on local neighbourhood streets. (This does not apply to Union Street as it’s a main thoroughfare rather than a local neighbourhood street.)
Instead the latest plans for Union Street include a shared space for cyclists and buses – no segregated cycling provision whatsoever. Putting cyclists in a bus lane will not encourage new people to cycling and does not make it accessible to all kinds of people on all kinds of bikes. Road users with large differences in mass should have their own segregated space.
I am intimidated when I cycle on Union Street when a bus pulls up right behind or next to me. It is extremely unpleasant to have a large vehicle behind you especially, as bus drivers are inclined to do, when they pull up very close. Shared spaces take away the rights of people who are less confident.
In 2018 I submitted a petition to then Labour/Conservative council for a cycle path on Union Street. It was a formal petition submitted through the council website. It got the required number of signatures and I got to present my argument at the operational delivery committee in April 2018.
The decision made during that committee was as follows:
to request that a report be brought back to Committee in regards to the feasibility of cycle paths on Union Street, subject to consultation from the City Centre Masterplan, and to include information on a potential dedicated segregated cycle lane.
When the new council released their plans without a segregated cycle path in September this year I emailed my local councillor to followup on the petition. This was September 18th. I received a reply to say he would look into it. I have not heard anything since.
On September 21st I decided to submit a new petition to the council website for the same thing. I never heard back. I emailed the council many times and was ignored. I finally emailed someone else I had been in touch with on a completely different matter who looked into it and found that my latest petition was rejected. This was more than a month later. They never told me and had not updated the petition online – I could still see it there as submitted and awaiting a response.
The reason I was given for rejecting my petition was because they had already made their decision about Union Street in June and you cannot petition on a decision made in the last 12 months. The odd thing is that in October they had a public consultation to get feedback on their latest plans for Union Street. If they made the decision in June then why have a consultation in October? Either the consultation was a farce or they haven’t made the decision and my new petition stands. Of course they still haven’t addressed the original petition from 2018 which I have again followed up on this weekend. I’m not expecting a response.
Out of desperation I started a Change.org petition – Build a cycle track on Union Street in Aberdeen – but it’s not the same and they can just ignore it. But then perhaps they would have just ignored an official petition anyway as they have ignored my 2018 one. Am I feeling jaded and cynical? Why yes, yes I am.