Page last updated at 12:41 GMT, Friday, 5 August 2005 13:41 UK

Are cyclists on the right path?

By Steve Brocklehurst
BBC Scotland news website

We're being encouraged to take more exercise and getting on our bikes is one way of doing that. But do the facilities encourage us to do that? We tested national cycle route 75, which runs between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Route 75 is a leisure route designed to provide a pleasant, safe route which a cyclist can enjoy without the constant intimidating presence of the motorist.

My 60-mile trek across the breadth of central Scotland was, on the whole, a very enjoyable and rewarding journey.

The route passes over the M8 between Bathgate and Livingston
The route passes over the M8 between Bathgate and Livingston

However, problems with signposts came close to blighting my day and broken bottles and graffiti made some sections of the route less than inviting.

The first part of the journey threw up most of the problems.

Michael Addiscott, events officer for Cycling Scotland, joined me as we set out from the centre of Glasgow.

Cycling Scotland is an organisation funded by the Scottish Executive to promote cycling and meet national targets for cycle use and good practice.

'Chicken and egg'

The first part of our route was along the Clyde Walkway.

I noted the number of broken bottles and people hanging around in the shadows under the bridges.

Michael said that it was a "chicken and egg situation".

People would not use paths if they were full of "undesirables", he said, but the more that people used them, the less likely it was that there would be groups hanging around drinking Buckfast.

The other end of my journey provided a good example of this.

Route 75 runs from Currie, on the outskirts of Edinburgh, to within a mile of Edinburgh Castle using paths beside the Water of Leith and the Union Canal. It was the busiest section of the entire route.

A concrete block bars the way on the route

Cyclists, dog-walkers and joggers constantly passed each other and there was very little graffiti or debris. This was in stark contrast to the beginning of our journey.

The cycle path through Glasgow Green was a good track which travelled about six miles from the city centre to Cambuslang.

Michael and I had the entire path to ourselves but there were signs that the area was no stranger to anti-social behaviour.

We came across graffiti, broken bottles, and the burned out remains of something now unidentifiable. Exiting Glasgow Green, we came across our first - but not last - signpost problem.

Urban setting

We had left a pleasant, wide, easily understood path to be confronted by an industrial estate and no sign of where to go.

Eagle-eyed Michael spied a tiny red 75 sticker on a lamp-post in the distance.

He said: "Unfortunately, because we have come out of one very peaceful, quiet rural setting and instantly come up to this very urban setting it means that you have almost lost your bearings before you have started.

"There is nothing that gives you any continuity to the route and that kind of thing can be quite an issue for people especially as quite often the bit of the route they remember is the bit that shook their confidence."

One hundred yards further on and we're stuck again.

After we worked out the route, Michael said: "We have had to stop and fish around here along several roads just to see which is the correct route and it is really more down to our observation rather than any decent signing that we now know where to go."

Some times the signs were no more than tiny badges on distant lampposts
Some times the signs were no more than tiny badges on distant lampposts

We agreed that coming across a massive concrete block in the middle of the path did not inspire confidence in the route either. Escape from the industrial estate was becoming increasingly difficult.

We spotted the entrance to quite a nice cycle path but it was heading in the wrong direction. It could have been the path we were meant to have been on, we were never sure.

Once we were on the right path we moved on quickly up to Newton, where we encountered our first section of country road. Michael was a big fan.

He only pedalled with me for the first third of the route.

So he missed out on the country road section between East Calder and Balerno, south of Edinburgh, which he would have loved.

And I can see his point.

Unclassified roads

Most cyclists can reach decent speeds on good stretches of road and they are free from concerns about pedestrians or dogs or the cycle path coming to an abrupt stop round the next corner.

Michael said: "Unfortunately, most people do not realise that the vast majority of the road network in Scotland is C and unclassified roads.

"Many of them are absolutely perfect for cycling. We are very keen that people are not blind to the fact that you don't have to be on a dedicated cycle network to go out and use your bike."

The National Cycle Network has been developed by Sustrans, the UK's leading sustainable development charity.

Katharine Taylor, who works with Sustrans in Edinburgh, said that its ideal scenario was to have off-road cycle paths but this was not always practical.

She said: "If you are trying to encourage people with children to cycle they would not be happy even on a quiet country road.

"All you need is one boy racer coming too fast round a bend.

"If you had off-road cycle tracks all over then a lot more people would cycle."

Road near Newton in South Lanarkshire
Parts of the route was along quiet country roads

Cycling Scotland has arranged an event called Pedal for Scotland on Sunday 28 August.

Between 2,000 and 3,000 people will ride from Edinburgh to Glasgow, many of them raising money for charity.

Michael said: "We specifically chose a route which focused primarily on the quiet country roads between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

"What we hope to do with Pedal for Scotland is to enjoy a day's cycling in the Scottish countryside joining together two famous and beautiful cities and reinforce the idea that it is very easy to make short journeys by bike.

"If you can complete the trip from Edinburgh to Glasgow by bike what is to stop you riding four or five miles to work and back on a daily basis, even if it is just through the summer."

The directness of the route combined with ease of use and a pleasant environment are all key factors for Michael.

He also likes to have rest stops and said it was a shame that there were not any attractions or tea rooms close to the national cycle route we were taking.

'Wasted opportunity'

There really was very little in the form of respite or refreshment along route 75.

One rare oasis was a tiny fishing lodge on the excellent Airdrie to Bathgate Railway path section next to Hillend Reservoir. The owner told me that he gets lots of people stopping for refreshments.

The lack of facilities along the route was a wasted opportunity, he said.

He was also scathing about the state of the track as it passed through Coatbridge and Airdrie.

One of the pieces of public art on the Airdrie to Bathgate section
One of the pieces of public art on the Airdrie to Bathgate section

It had been described to him as the worst in the country. Certainly, it was not a totally pleasant experience.

Smashed glass was a constant feature. Shopping trolleys were strewn at the side of the path and graffiti and litter was everywhere.

This was also the only section of route 75 where I lost the cycle path completely.

I was sent into a park by route markers but then the paths split and there was no assistance. I took the straightest route, but to no avail.

There was nobody around to ask the way so I went for the closest main road and eventually found my way to Whifflet train station where I picked up the route.

On numerous other occasions, as I sat on my bike looking confused about where to go next, I was approached by friendly locals who knew exactly where the path went.

They were proud to have the national cycle network running through their estate and wanted to assist anybody who was prepared to use it to see parts of Scotland that were very rarely on the tourist map.

Local users

Katharine Taylor told me there was a national strategy to quadruple cycling by 2012, but most of the National Cycle Network was left to a charity with 10 staff in Scotland.

"We are very much dependent on how bothered local authorities are about maintaining and promoting cycle routes," she said.

She also agreed that signage was a major issue.

Ms Taylor said: "People who don't know an area come onto a route and they don't know which way to go, so we are trying to put destinations on, and distances.

"This will let people orientate themselves and encourage local users who maybe don't know where the path goes.

"One thing we are going to start doing is putting some signage on the ground."

Small sections of the route seemed to attract undesirable elements
Small sections of the route seemed to attract undesirable elements

North Lanarkshire Council's cycling officer Craig Herriott said he was "well aware" of the vandalism problems around Coatbridge and Airdrie.

He said that the council worked in partnership with Sustrans to tackle the problems on the route.

However, voluntary rangers who helped Sustrans to maintain sections of the path were in short supply on this part of the route, he said.

Mr Herriott said that the council had taken measures such as extra lighting and more open visibility to discourage under-age drinkers from congregating on the route.

"It is an ongoing problem. I understand that there are a couple of teenage gangs within that area that are constantly bickering on the route and causing problems such as smashing glass.

"We can send the guys out to clear the route but within an hour there could be smashed glass again."

Social issues

Mr Herriott said that signage also suffered from vandalism.

"About a year-and-a-half ago we blitzed the whole thing with signs. They have either been removed, vandalised, torn down or defaced.

"Last year we cleared the graffiti off the path itself and we tagged it with cycle signs."

However, even these become targets for vandals, he said.

He said: "The issue is bigger than just maintenance. It is addressing social issues as well as trying to encourage people to take pride in that route through their community."

You sent us your opinions and experiences of the National Cycle Network in Scotland.

Here is a cross section of your comments.

It's not surprising that this route was better in Edinburgh than in Glasgow. Cycling in Glasgow is horrible, and it's almost entirely down to the council. Glasgow City Council don't seem to be bothered to make the roads itself, or the cycle routes that run along them, at all usable for cyclists. And that's speaking as someone who cycled everywhere in London for over six years!
Lindsay, Glasgow

Nearly all cycle paths are dreadful. They don't get swept or salted in winter, they usually expire just where nervous riders need them most, the cyclist loses priority at all side roads (and faces death from people reversing out of drives) and they're usually shared with dogs and pedestrians. Route 45 in Wiltshire even has gates every 100 yards requiring riders to dismount.

Sustrans paths are the worst. Mostly with a gravel surface, they have nothing whatsoever to do with sustainable "transport". People just use them as soft leisure routes for mountain bikes, usually taking the car to get there! Come on, who has actually cycled to the start of the C2C or Camel Trail?
Roger, Swindon, UK

Cycle lanes in Glasgow are a disgrace and usually have cars parked in them making it dangerous. Combined with the aggressive driving of your average taxi or bus driver, the apathy of the police and the incompetence of Glasgow city council I can understand why people are put off cycling
Tim Egan, Glasgow

The roads in Glasgow are a nightmare, but in some places the cycle paths are worse! I call them 'glass carpets' due to the amount of broken glass. If you cycle in the evening during the summer you are at risk of attack by the young buckfast crew. I've not been bottled for a while on the city centre section along the Clyde so I would say that is an improvement, however, I'm back on the pavements as it's the safest option through the town and no punctures!
Mark Riddoch, Glasgow

It's not just parts of the cycle paths in the West of Scotland that aren't good. Edinburgh has its bad areas.

Going along the cycle path through Drylaw in Edinburgh is a lottery. Some days the local children throw things at you from a bridge. Some days there is broken glass and obstacles on the path. Sometimes there are motor cyclists. Sometimes the lights have been smashed. The council never grits the path. I've been going along there for five years or so and have yet to see any sort of police presence.

It's still a lot better than sitting in a car, or waiting for the bus.
Richard, Edinburgh, Scotland

I live in Sweden and in our town we have a fantastic network of dedicated cycle paths. All of my family cycle to and from work and school on the safety of these paths. Almost everybody cycles a lot because it is safe and enjoyable, so it's not surprising that the average Swede is a lot fitter than the average Scot!! (or maybe that's just the lack of fish n' chip shops?) This is one of the things that I love about living in Sweden, but I do miss the heather-clad hills!
Fiona, a Scot who has been living in Sweden for 19 years.

If councils spent a fraction of the huge amount of money (and manpower) they make from parking fines to maintain and police cycle routes then maybe people could use them without fear.
Brian Watters, Glasgow

I use the cycle routes everyday commuting from one end of the city to the other. I find the idea of these paths good but the amount of broken glass and rubbish strewn around and the general lack of maintenance by Glasgow City Council is appalling. Get it together Glasgow Council.
Ronnie Skimming, Glasgow

I have stopped using the cycle path between Coatbridge and Airdrie due to amount of broken buckfast bottles, pot holes and other debris. I have started to use the main roads. If the Scottish Executive really want more people to enjoy cycling in Scotland, they need to upgrade the main roads from pot holes, and have more cycle lanes
Brian Dewar, Coatbridge

We already have a massive network of cycle routes in this country, they are called roads. What really needs to be done is to educate motorists into behaving in a less intimidating way so that all can use them.
David Martin, Dundee

As a transplanted Glaswegian and rabid cyclist I am appalled and embarrassed that this great concept of cycle paths is subject to vandalism and outright criminality. Where I live we have to manage high traffic on the roads but there are over 100 miles of cycle paths in our area of Las Vegas and for mountain biking we have over twenty trails dedicated to horses, bikes and hikers in the desert. I have no solution but Scotland surely deserves better than to be held back by Criminals
Brendan Roberts, Las Vegas, Nevada USA

Took up cycling at the age of 43 and feel very fortunate at the maze of cycle routes round this area but it appears the closer you get to urban sprawl the more problems you encounter.
David Robertson, Dalry, Ayrshire

Yes I use it mostly for running, and yes I would like to see more investment in cycle paths. The path in Glen Ogle from Loch Earnhead to Killin is very impressive, as is the tortuous accent through the Drummochter Pass. I confess I haven't cycled from Glasgow to Edinburgh. More bicycles less cars.
George Parks, Livingston, West Lothian

As someone who lives beside a cycle path, I can say that it is mostly used by people walking their dog (and letting the dog do its business anywhere and everywhere), and youths with nowhere else to go hanging about throwing stones or drinking. It is extremely rare to see a someone on a bike use it, especially the people who live near one, and have to deal with the trouble they cause on a daily basis. Get them properly patrolled and maintained (like a park) or close them down!
Phil, Glasgow

Cycle paths are not for everyone. Cycle paths are lovely for novice cyclists, children and people who are understandably intimidated by traffic. To be effective they need to be kept clear of debris and to have sensible arrangements where they cross roads. Don't forget there is a breed of battle-hardened commuting cyclists who choose to share the road with cars and other traffic and ask only that fellow road users treat us with the same respect they do other vehicles! I combine both on-road riding and parts of NCN 56 on my daily commute.
Dr. George Fairbairn, Liverpool but originally Edinburgh

The only way that you can really expect more people to make good use of cycle routes is if they are safe to use i.e. no cars, no broken glass and well maintained routes that are signposted better. As it is routes that make use of roads are a waste of time simply because roads are such an intimidating place for cyclists.
Neil, Cumbernauld

The secret to avoiding the neds is to get up early and cycle. You don't see them before midday. The broken glass around Glasgow is a worse problem I think, and you have to be prepared to fix a flat tyre (or two). I also think sometimes the National Cycle Route tries too hard to keep you off the road. There's a section south of Inverbervie where you're expected to cycle over rocks for a mile or so, before dragging your bike up a steep grassy bank, and then through someone's garden at the top. However, in other places the NCN is excellent, with well-signed routes on quiet roads.
Jim Speakman, Glasgow, Scotland

I don't like them. I certainly pity the poor tourists who arrive in Bonnie Scotland, and wind up in lost in Airdrie with punctures from broken Buckie bottles. Glasgow City allowed contractors to arbitrarily dig up a section of the cycle path to Loch Lomond the other day. Most of the councillors would have a coronary if they indulged in more than five minutes on a bike, so no surprise there then!
Jim, Glasgow, UK

I've used the cycle path between Balloch and central Glasgow and have had bottles thrown at me in Renton, been shot at with an air rifle in Old Kilpatrick and had stones thrown at me in Yoker. On the plus side, it didn't happen every time I went out. Could probably do with sending a few cops along there now and again. Chances are they'd be able to pick up most of the people on their wanted posters.
Barry Greig, Bowling, Scotland

I use route 75 regularly to commute to work from Uddingston to Glasgow. Best way to travel by far. Vandals, hooligans etc are a problem but things have greatly improved over the past two years. Burnt out cars were a major problem on the cycle route. I recall counting eight one day between Cambuslang and Shawfield!! I have only seen one in the last 18 months largely due to the council's efforts to prevent vehicular access at various points along the route.
Harry Armitage, Uddingston

I find the varying state of the cycle paths to be rather irritating. Some have very good well finished and edged tar surfaces, others have breaking tar with un secured edges but worst of all for those on road tyres are the gravel lined sections. I attempted to cycle from Lix Toll to Balqhidder on the route along the old Glen Ogle railway. Unfortunately this was not long after the landslides and the route was shut but appeared tarred, however there was a section which was loose gravel near Kinghouse, which I found very difficult on 700Cx23 tyres as I was digging my own tram lines! This section however wasn't obvious as it started out on tar (maybe its going to be tarred soon). What really, really irritated however was that once I got home I looked for info on when this section would be repaired and found the website of the persons responsible for this section of the Sustrans network. Their attitude to other road users is exactly what cycling/walking does not want to promote, it was worse than what you get from car, bus and lorry drivers moaning about cyclists holding them up.
Niall Wallace, Dundee, Scotland

The cycle path in West Dunbartonshire, between Renton and Dumbarton and at Clydebank, is a disgrace. It is overrun with weeds and other intruding foliage and covered in broken glass which makes it a nightmare for cyclists. There appears to be no commitment to maintenance of the cycle path. As someone who enjoys cycling on a daily basis I am disgusted at the council's failure to maintain and upkeep the cycle path.
Gerard Carey, Dumbarton

I cycle from Wishaw to Glasgow a couple of times a month, to get to my work, weather permitting. I use route 75 from Uddingston to the city centre, and generally it's well maintained. I've also just signed up to become a Sustrans Ranger, so hopefully I can help make any improvements that are needed.
John Paul O'Kane, Wishaw, Scotland

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