Last week a mixed bunch of 56 cyclists and car drivers from Arran and Glasgow watched Bikes vs Cars (2015) directed by Fredrik Gertten on Vimeo. The film was jointly hosted by Arran Eco Savvy and Bike for Good in Glasgow and featured a lively ‘zoom’ discussion after the showing.
Cars vs Bikes
The movie, with its intentionally provocative title, delved into the history of cycling and car driving in Europe, North America and South America and looked at where this has led to in each region. Did you know, for instance, that Los Angeles, the ultimate car city, once had a well-organised public transport system that included trams, trains and purpose built wooden cycle ways? Or that Copenhagen and Amsterdam purposefully design cycle ways into every stretch of road? Did you know that it was car manufacturers who bought up the railways in Los Angeles and then dismantled them to promote cars as the only means of transport to the suburbs? Or that, not so long ago, Beijing residents all cycled and traffic jams were pretty much a bikes-only affair?
Cyclist vs Driver
At various stages in our lives and often at the same time most of us will ride a bike, own a car, take the train, or the ferry, or use a mobility scooter. We just need to look at how many families bring their bikes and cars to Arran to realise this is not a ‘them and us’ debate. Bikes vs Cars was not all about car bashing. It featured interviews with classic car owners and frustrated taxi drivers dodging cyclists in Copenhagen. It explored the fun of owning a vintage car and pointed out that drivers want to see change too, to have less pollution and make the move to electric cars. Most of us enjoy the convenience of cars and also the thrill of cycling or just taking a walk.
That said, we can’t get away from the fact that cars dominate our cities and our rural roads. Cars don’t mix well with bikes and bikes don’t mix well with pedestrians. Cars have ruled our cities for so long that it’s hard, but not impossible, to imagine our cities without them, or indeed, our rural roads. It’s now an act of faith to walk the road from Brodick to Lamlash or Lamlash to Whiting Bay. Why would you risk being injured or worse? But our roads are, and always have been, multi-use thoroughfares and we all have a right to use them and travel safely.
It’s true on Arran the relationship between cars and cyclists is uncomfortable at times and may get worse, not just due to increased volumes of cars following the introduction of RET, but also there being more cyclists on the road. There are more people coming to Arran to cycle and more residents buying e-bikes. Over 22 people bought ebikes that Eco Savvy is aware of following our on-going e-bike trials. The electric revolution is opening up new fun ways to get about.
The film set the scene for a healthy debate about transport on Arran. Ferry issues aside, Arran is in a good place to start thinking about the best way forward. We need to be imaginative and forward thinking. Do we, for instance, need to rethink our speed limits? Would more kids cycle to school if the speed limit between Whiting Bay and Brodick, for example, was 30mph for the whole distance? Do we need smaller, more frequent buses or even minibuses with bike trailers for the West of Arran? Should we encourage drivers to leave their cars on the mainland or offer them inducements to ride not drive? Could we move to smaller, electric vehicles like electric bikes and cars which have a smaller carbon footprint and have less impact on our roads? Should we ask lorry drivers to try cycling and cyclists to become more aware of the difficulties driving lorries? There is a lot we can do to improve mutual awareness between road users and, where possible, separate different users through cycle tracks and walking paths. These were just some of the questions that came up during the discussion.
What’s certain is that we need to actively think about what will work for Arran and start to take steps in that direction. The travel experience on an island is a big part of its attraction to visitors but it must also work for us locals.
In recent surveys conducted with 26% of the island’s population, travel and transport comes up as a main concern for the community and programmes and actions to address the issues would be welcomed. Leading among solutions would be a more frequent and affordable bus service, followed by improved active travel infrastructure. Many organisations have travel priorities and deliver activities to improve travel on the island, from the Arran Access Trust to the Locality Partnership. There is more to be done and we must work together to effect the change we would like to see.
Take a look at Eco Savvy’s Active Travel Map promoting and encouraging walking and cycling on the island.