Aberdeen Cycle Forum – fighting for the heart of a city

Three teenage children sit in a cargo bike next to a man standing with his bicycle. A young boy stands in the foreground with a segway and a young lady stands to his left holding a mountain bike.
It’s more fun travelling by bike – especially if it’s something a bit different
The Aberdeen Cycle Forum was formed almost 20 years ago in 2003 after a joint meeting with people from Cycling UK local member group CTC Grampian, Friends of the Earth, and Aberdeen City Council. Campaigns secretary Rachel Martin spoke to Cycling UK’s Jim Densham about the work

What’s important to Aberdeen Cycle Forum right now?

As a group our current focus is a cycle path for Union Street. Union Street is the heart of our city, it’s a major shopping street; fairly flat, and very long. We are campaigning for a segregated cycle track that is separated from motorised traffic by a physical barrier.

The council is planning to spend vast sums to deliver its City Centre Master Plan (CCMP) and we feel it’s essential to ensure cycling is prioritised. If we prioritise cycling in the city centre it sets the tone elsewhere and we can start building a network of tracks that radiate out from the city to destinations like the beach, the parks and the universities.

How long have you been campaigning about Union Street?

We first launched this campaign in 2018 with the release of Cycling UK’s visualisation showing Union Street with a segregated cycle path. We submitted a petition to the council which was discussed in committee and they agreed to request a report on the feasibility of a potential dedicated cycle lane.

Fast-forward four years and the council has released plans for the central section of Union Street that includes no cycling facilities at all. Indeed, it has put cyclists in a bus lane which goes against Transport Scotland’s Cycling by Design guidance which states: “New cycle facilities should not be planned to share space with buses”.

What was your personal reaction to the council’s plans?

I don’t have words to describe just how gutted I felt when I saw the council’s plans for our city centre.

If the council now spends vast sums of tax-payer money on Union Street and deliberately puts cyclists in a bus lane it will be delivering something that is not fit for purpose, does not meet the Scottish Government’s National Transport Strategy, goes against the advice in Cycling by Design, and doesn’t meet the terms in the council’s own working partnership agreement.

The Scottish Government’s Sustainable Transport Hierarchy puts cycling second only to walking and wheeling in priority, followed by public transport. Aberdeen City Council’s working partnership agreement also emphasises the need for cycling infrastructure.

What is Aberdeen Cycle Forum doing in response?

Out of desperation we launched another petition for Union Street, this time on change.org because the council rejected it through official channels citing that the decision had already been made. At the time of writing we have 570 signatures and counting. We won’t give up.

There’s reason to hope. The cycling community in Aberdeen is more united than ever and with lots of voices from different organisations all arguing for the same thing

Rachel Martin, campaigns secretary, Aberdeen Cycle Forum

What would you say to others who are wanting to start a campaign?

When I look at Aberdeen and see how little there is in terms of infrastructure for cyclists, I wonder what we have achieved. A lot of our ongoing work involves responding to Aberdeen City Council’s consultations about their various plans. It’s fair to say that, over the years, the council has requested and accepted our feedback but largely ignored it.

For instance, in 2007 we wrote to the council objecting to the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route (AWPR) and specifically to the building of new roads at a time when society should be discouraging car use. We also objected to the absence of cycling infrastructure in the plans and the much-touted benefits of less traffic in the city centre were not followed up.

The AWPR was subsequently built and opened in 2019, but cyclists are banned from the road, and there has been no locking-in of benefits for cyclists in the city centre.

But I recognise this is a marathon not a race, and if we chip away at the edges persistently and for long enough, then the hope is we’ll eventually succeed.

Aberdeen Cycle Forum has certainly had some successes along the way. Tell us about some of them

We have had some very successful campaigns, but only ones that don’t require action on the part of the council. This year we commissioned some artwork for Deeside Way that celebrates active travel. We’ve also run cycling lessons for adults who have never ridden a bike before.

We hosted a design competition for King Street because we felt that if the council wasn’t going to design any fit-for-purpose cycling infrastructure then we’d take matters into our own hands. We received some amazing designs. We also commissioned a visualisation for Market Street which we submitted to the city council.

How do you see things progressing in the future?

There’s reason to hope. The cycling community in Aberdeen is more united than ever, and with lots of voices from different organisations all arguing for the same thing we are surely a louder and more powerful force than we were in the past.

In September the city held its first Critical Mass bike ride this century and it has now turned into a monthly event. This month (November 2022) an electric bike hire scheme was launched in the city. The council will meet on 14 December to discuss Union Street so it’s critical that we continue to speak out.

How can people get involved with Aberdeen Cycle Forum?

If you live nearby, please get involved: see the Aberdeen Cycle Forum website for our latest actions and petitions, and join one of our regular Critical Mass rides.

Thanks to Aberdeen Cycle Forum for agreeing to be interviewed.

We’d love your group to partner with Cycling UK through the Cycle Advocacy Network and access support for your local campaigns, please get in touch with us. And if you’re already partnered with us, please do share your own story.