Last night I cycled from St Andrews to Leuchars using the cycle-path. This confirmed my strong aversion to using cycle-paths at night – they just don’t work. I cycle at night with more than adequate lights for unlit roads (see here for a list) and am a fairly experienced commuter-cyclist. I’m usually not afraid to take on any situation where it’s legal to cycle but this short trip was scary and inefficient. Here’s why:
For a start, joining the path involves using a roundabout properly to turn right and hence go past the university playing fields. If a cyclist can handle a roundabout, her or she can handle most other road conditions. (I am qualified to teach cycle-skills so I’m sure I know what I’m talking about here.) A cyclist without these skills is scuppered.
Next, the path hadn’t been gritted or cleared. Cars, for all their many faults, do a reasonable job of clearing roads. I skidded at least 3 times in the first quarter mile. I’m quite glad I had fairly heavy rear panniers because I believe their weight helped my bike push down through the snow and slush onto tarmac, thus preventing me from skimming over the snow, ice and slush and skidding more often and worse. Also the weight helped ensure I cycled much more slowly than usual, so I had time to control skids.
Lights from oncoming traffic were blinding, even through the hedge on my left. (For those that don’t know, the path is on the right of the road when traveling from St Andrews to Leuchars, so cyclists are next to oncoming traffic.) I believe the hedge prevented motorists from seeing my lights and hence dipping theirs. In any case I frequently couldn’t see either edge of the path due to being dazzled. From past experience, this would not have happened if I’d cycled on the road – most drivers would have dipped their headlights. Even if they did not, their lights would have illuminated the left edge of my carriageway and shown me where their carriageway was. Vehicles coming from behind me would also have helped illuminate where I was to go.
There was no visible sign for where the path moves away from the road to go through Guardbridge. I had to stop suddenly to avoid hitting a raised kerb. Had I done so and there had been oncoming traffic, I might well have fallen into its path. No thanks.
And all along I was conscious of a ridge down the middle of the path where a cable had been laid. As well as being an obstruction of itself, the ridge from the cable also trapped snow in areas that were otherwise clear.
So, Fife Council, this effort gets 2 out of 10 from me. It would have been much better if the space used for the path had instead been used to widen both carriageways, hence allowing cycle-lanes on both carriageways. In future I’ll use the road – I’ll be able to see oncoming traffic, it will be able to see me and both of us will be able to see potholes! And I’ll be able to cycle at greater than crawling speed and so not miss my train.
I should also mention here ScotRail’s lack of cycle-space information. The ticket-person at Leuchars couldn’t tell me whether there would be a cycle-space free on the trains and that I’d just have to ask the guard. Surely it’s not impossible for guards to note when cycle-spaces have been occupied and forward that information to stations. Bah!