This is an occasional commentary on cycling and unrelated issues - 'blog' if you must - and will be updated from time to time.
Posted 25 June 2014:
I recently went on holiday to Northern Ireland. No bike this time but I did get to see a lot of the public transport system.
I'd booked my trip by buying a 'Rail & Sail' ticket, which I'd had to book through another train operator's website since Scotrail doesn't sell them online. I could have phoned Scotrail or booked in person at a principal station, but that seemed like an unnecessary hassle. The journey entails catching a train to Ayr where a connecting coach is supplied for the trip to the ferry terminal at Cairnryan. I'd set out 15 minutes early to catch an earlier train into town, to avoid problems if there was a cancellation, so ended up catching an earlier train to Ayr. My plan was to kill time by having a look around the vicinity of Ayr station, but a sudden cloudburst put paid to that! Once the connecting train had arrived and everyone was on the coach the journey went smoothly and the coach pulled into Cairnryan Port on time, just as the ferry was manoeuvring into the port. Yes, the coach was timed to deposit its load well in advance of the ferry's departure time, and it seemed that this was so one coach could be used to connect with the ferry for both north and southbound passengers. So once through security, I went to wait in the waiting lounge while the ferry was unloaded. Whilst waiting, I managed to unwittingly attract the attention of a police officer, who was sure I wasn't going to Northern Ireland for the purposes of tourism, but must be meeting someone I knew there. Perhaps the tourist board should have a word!
On arrival in Belfast Port, I collected my bag from the carousel, and headed to find the bus into Belfast. Drivers of both Goldline coaches and a Metro bus all refused my 'Rail & Sail' ticket, even though I had booked through to Belfast Central, and the man at the information desk told me they'd been telling Scotrail for two years to stop telling people they had a connection. The itinerary for the journey clearly showed a transfer, but with "Unknown Service Provider". So I had to pay for my bus fare, since it would have been a rather lengthy walk. (On my return, the connecting Metro bus service left the city centre considerably earlier than the stated time for the transfer, something I only found out by going to the bus station and getting the timetable, and then having to find a map since it did not leave from the same street as the arrival terminus.)
On my first full day in Northern Ireland I had decided to go to Derry, so I headed off to the station nearest to where I was staying, which was the City Hospital station. I walked along the main road and could see the station from the road bridge, but couldn't find out how to get to it. I tried a side street but this was a dead-end, and since the departure time for the train was approaching (and the service runs once every two hours), I decided to abandon City Hospital station and head instead for Botanics station, for which I had seen a direction sign. I walked through to where the station was and ended up walking past the inconspicuous station entrance twice before seeing it! Having walked down a couple more side streets, I had now missed the train I was planning to catch, and instead opted to swap the days of my holiday about and head for Larne instead. The rest of the day passed off without further incident, and a highlight was walking along the Blackhead Path from Whitehead, which ends up as a path clinging to the rockface below the lighthouse.
So the next day I set off directly to Botanics station to buy a ticket to "Derry~Londonderry", but I was sold a smartcard instead, since it was a pound cheaper. I wasn't given any information about this smartcard, so on arrival at my destination, I enquired and was given a leaflet which showed that it actually gave me use of all of the public transport in Northern Ireland for the day. Which was somewhat useful. So I made full use of this card, and decided to go onto Portrush and the north coast in the afternoon.
Since the train service to Derry was only every two hours it didn't leave me much time in the city, since spending four hours there would leave little time for the rest of my plan. So I managed to look around a few of the sights, including the city walls, before heading back to the station via the Peace Bridge. My plan had been to walk back alongside the river, but once on the bridge I could see that there was no riverside path between the bridge and the station, only a railway track. This meant heading from the bridge to the local road network and navigating my way to the station. Luckily there were pedestrian signs, but one of them pointed down a road with a 'Footway Closed' sign. I crossed over the road only to find there was no footway on the other side. So, with the departure time for the next train getting close, I had no option but to head down this dual carriageway and hope for the best. As it turned out, I could still walk along most of the footway, but had to cross to the centre of a roundabout to get past the blocked section. But when I got to the station the train was late, and still hadn't arrived on its inward journey. There was a signalling fault and this was playing havoc with the timetable, and since the line from the outskirts of Belfast was single track, there was little chance of things getting back on time for the rest of the day.
My next destination was Portrush, where I planned to catch a bus to the next town, Bushmills, for the Giant's Causeway narrow gauge railway. The way to the town centre from Portrush station looked obvious, but there was a (single-sided) Tourist Information sign pointing the other way. Since there were no obvious bus stops around and not knowing my way around, I decided to follow the sign, but soon decided it was unlikely to lead to any tourist information office. I cut off through a car park and came across a collection of bus stops. The timetables displayed at these all looked rather unpromising, but a bus went past and stopped at another stop some distance away. Luckily some tourists boarded and held the bus sufficiently long for me to walk across and find out where it was going. It was going to Bushmills, so I boarded with my smartcard.
The journey went smoothly, apart from a problem with tourist coaches blocking the way at an unusual piece of roadway where the road splits into two one-way roads. Some of the coaches appeared to be going around in circles around this layout, but managing to block the road while waiting for their passengers to disembark. However, this didn't last long and soon my bus was on its way again. I found the railway on the edge of Bushmills easily enough, but since it was midweek, no trains were running, so I walked along the adjacent path. This still has some excellent views of the coastline and passes a beach. On my return from Giant's Causeway the first bus that arrived wasn't going to Portrush and instead headed directly to Coleraine. So I didn't get the chance to explore Portrush.
Back in Coleraine I noticed that, like my visit earlier in the day, the station's information system wasn't in use, and the trains were still running late. Intending passengers aren't allowed to wait on the platform at this station and instead are made to wait in a corridor until their train is the next to arrive. When my train did eventually arrive, it displayed 'Belfast Central' as its destination and not the expected Great Victoria Street. On arrival at Belfast Central, everyone got off the train as they were told to do by the automated announcements, but since the station information said 'Great Victoria Street' some of us then asked the guard who then went and set the train information system for the correct destination. Great Victoria Street is adjacent to the main bus station, so I had a look to see if I could find any evidence of the 'Rail & Sail' connecting bus, but the information office was shut. However, I did manage to pick up a timetable leaflet for the bus to the ferry terminal.
I intended to spend my last day in Northern Ireland in the Belfast area, before heading to the ferry terminal to start the journey home. My smartcard leaflet told me that Zone 1 would cover my requirements, so I headed to the station to top up my smartcard with travel in Zone 1 for the day. However, my smartcard had been bought for Zone 4 originally, and this was not possible. Since the cost of buying another smartcard brought the total cost to more than paying for my journeys separately, I opted to revert to unsmart paper tickets. The morning's journeys went smoothly but at lunchtime I went to check where about the bus to the ferry terminal left from, only to find it left from one end of the street, and I had headed off towards the other! None of the bus stops had any information about where other buses left from, only timetables for the ones that did stop there. In the end, I had wandered off through the city centre streets, only to notice the time for the bus was approaching, and I was across the other side of the central area. As luck would have it, I then found my way to one of the other bus stops on that bus route, so caught the bus from there. The wait at the ferry terminal was again lengthy.
Back in Scotland, there was another lengthy wait for the connecting coach, and once on the train at Ayr, the advertised Wi-Fi wasn't working. With hindsight I think it would have been better to book the journey between Glasgow and Belfast by coach, since the waiting times are somewhat less and the coach travels along the same road from Ayr to Cairnryan in any case. The ticket price is much the same and a proper connection is provided to and from Belfast, although I'd need to make my own way into Glasgow instead of buying a ticket from my local station. But the buses near me are a lot more frequent than the services to Belfast Port, so that is not difficult. The lack of well-timed connections makes the 'Rail & Sail' ticket unattractive, and the need to pay for the bus in Belfast should be stated in advance. There is no point in being able to buy a ticket to Belfast Central if Belfast Port is the actual place where it will cease to be of any use.
Posted 9 February 2014:
Oh, don't you love it when people try and meddle with things they don't understand! Councillor Audrey Doig is "trying to reduce congestion" by having buses lay over at a bus stop with an off-carriageway stopping area, claiming the previous terminus at Alford Place is unsuitable since "the increased bus traffic continually stopping is actually a danger to other vehicles and pedestrians". However, her proposed terminus is part of the way along the road from East Fulton into the centre of Linwood, meaning that anyone boarding a bus around the Gilmartin Road loop will now have to sit tight while the driver waits time, has a break, and readies the bus for its return journey to Glasgow.
The Alford Place bus stop is at the furthest extent of the route, so is most suitable for being the terminus. If the road needs altered due to an increase in bus traffic, car traffic (a large new school was built nearby not so long ago), or even pedestrian traffic, then her council should build an off-carriageway bus stop facility there. Has there been an increase in terminating bus traffic? Well, First Glasgow's service 9 has terminated there for at least 15 years, the McGill's (previously Arriva Scotland West) service 7 is newer, but the Riverside service 9 (previously 8A) has been withdrawn. There are fields on that side of the road and no footway (other than at the bus stop itself), so I doubt pedestrian traffic has increased. So I suspect that it is the car traffic that has increased, quite possibly due to the new school.
I wonder what the councillor will make of the complaints from her constituents about having to wait on the bus at the bus stop in Clippens Road.
Posted 8 February 2014:
I guess I can be forgiven for being amazed at this too. A report of a council stakeholder workshop about a proposed cycle route along the A81 between Milngavie and the Glasgow boundary that I was sent:
Item 5: "There is an acceptance that fast club/commuting cyclists will stay on the road." Is this not an admission that what they intend to do will be poor quality and the existing busy road will be a more attractive place for anyone cycling fast to cycle? I hope not, but I can't help fearing that if this scheme is being built on the basis that fast cyclists won't use it, then it will be built to low standards, suited only to cyclists who currently (illegally) cycle on the footway.
Posted 5 February 2014:
I've had a couple of reasons to be amazed of late.
Firstly, the fuss over the Advertising Standards Authority's decision to ban a road safety advert over the inclusion of a cyclist without a helmet in the advert. The ban was swiftly suspended, pending a review. The advert itself was promoting how motorists should overtake cyclists on the road - with plenty of space - but this seems to have got lost somewhere along the way. Instead the helmet debate has reared its head, although one or two people have also noticed that the ASA criticised the road position of the cyclist, saying she should be closer to the 'parking lane', whatever that is (there was no marked parking spaces on the road in the advert). However, the advert itself clearly showed some potholes in the road that the cyclist was sensibly passing on the outside. The road also had a cobbled gutter, making it harder to cycle closer to the kerb. In any case, the overtaking car barely crossed the centre line when being driven passed the cyclist. The cyclist herself was not going especially fast, and on a quiet road in Pollokshields is not really in need of any additional safety hat. In any case, I think the advertising campaign ended some time ago, so the ban was somewhat irrelevant!
The second item to amaze me was Glasgow City Council's proposed Fastlink busway. This scheme, on which construction has already started, has just been out to consultation for the Traffic Regulation Orders (the legal documents that specify what restrictions and prohibitions there will be when the road opens). Although Glasgow City Council didn't make the cycle provision details public as part of this public consultation, copies of the cycle plans did emerge and got distributed around the various cycle campaign groups. On seeing that the scheme would have a significant impact on road cycling (new pinch-points, single lane sections where previously there had been bus lanes, no cycling on the busway and instead having to share with all the other traffic) and the proposed compensatory measures of permitting cycling on various existing footways, including some convoluted multi-stage road crossings through pedestrian guard-rail cages, a number of objections went in to the council. The council has now replied saying that there will be an assessment of the objections. However, the council's cycling czar had already informed us that the Fastlink project has been in the pipeline for about 10 years, and this explained the lack of cycling provision. But other schemes such as the Clyde Gateway have also been in the pipeline for a long time and have had cycling incorporated into them (in the case of the Clyde Gateway at a later stage since the original proposed cycling provision of parallel routes on the roads the new road was to 'relieve' didn't happen and instead cycling provision was made on the new road itself). While the provision on the Clyde Gateway is not perfect, it is a world away from what has been proposed as part of Fastlink. Why was a similar exercise not conducted at a earlier stage, and copied the same style of provision onto the Fastlink route? Now construction is underway and in some areas partly complete, it will be rather expensive to alter the infrastructure.