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Cycling in Nottingham: Cycle Paths

9 September 14 words: Mark Patterson
illustrations: Christopher Paul Bradshaw

We go for a ride along the cycle paths and lanes of Nottingham - and it ain’t all pretty...

I’m freewheeling down Maid Marian Way towards the city centre with a big grin and the wind in my face. If you cycle in Nottingham you probably understand why this is a nice little run: one lane of the road here is reserved for buses and bikes, which means you can coast from the bottom of Derby Road to the Broadmarsh Centre in relative safety, since the other traffic is corralled into their own two lanes. But what’s this at the bottom of the hill? A little curved arrow painted on the road which directs you and your bike onto the pavement.

Is the arrow telling you that the bike lane continues on the pavement? Is it telling you to dismount and walk? This may seem like a minor issue, but the bike lane system enclosed by Nottingham’s road network is full of inscrutable signs and strange directions just like this. Yes, improvements have been made to the city’s cycle network in recent years but hapless cyclists are still riding in cycle lanes that suddenly peter out and deliver them into the unloving arms of city traffic that’s blocked by trucks and taxis, or that direct them onto pavements where no cycle lane exists. Worse, there are still long stretches of main pothole-pitted commuting roads where no cycle lane exists at all, or highways where lanes have faded, leaving only a ghost of their existence.

It all adds up to a city where the daily problems and dangers of getting from A to B safely on two wheels can fall behind Nottingham’s official hype of being a major ‘green’ cycle-friendly city. Yet, on paper at least, Nottingham has an extensive and growing network of safe cycling routes. And, in the city which gave birth to Raleigh, the demand for this has never been greater. Figures provided by the city council suggest that there has been a 23% increase in cycle journeys since 2010/11; in the year up to April, more than one million journeys were made by bicycle in Nottingham. How does anyone know this? The authority has electronic counters at thirteen locations which count the bikes as they go past. These devices counted 1,071,601 bikes in the last financial year. And these figures do not take into account bike journeys in other parts of the greater conurbation such as Beeston; where 10% of work trips are done on bikes, and West Bridgford; which is swarming with office commuters, shoppers-with-panniers and trendy fixie riders.

Focused schemes such as Ucycle, supported by national cycling campaigners Sustrans, also reported a 110% increase in cycling uptake at the University of Nottingham since 2009. These stats support an argument that cycling for work and leisure in Nottingham is enjoying a renaissance, with a visible rise in the number of people on bikes whose motivations can include concerns about pollution and climate change, personal health, cutting transport costs and in some cases an ideological disapproval of the car. Trying to keep up with this is a street infrastructure – cycle lanes, crossings, signs, barriers – designed for safer cycling but which can sometimes feel like it’s been shoehorned in to tick a box on a government ‘sustainable transport’ checklist or designed by people who don’t ride bikes in cities. The result is that there are still many nervous people who are put off urban cycling, or are scared to let their children cycle, because they fear the traffic. As many UK cycle campaigners believe, the strategic solution is separation of bikes and car traffic into completely segregated lanes. Such are being built in Bristol and London, and can already be found in cities such as Copenhagen, Toronto and Portland.

Yet even when it comes to painted lanes on roads, Nottingham’s cycle routes are patchy. Nottingham City Council likes to boast that there are now 400km of cycle lanes in the conurbation, but a quick look at the network map shows that relatively few of these are dedicated lanes on roads. Most are simply ‘quiet roads’ or ‘shared paths’ which usually means painting a line down the middle of the pavement. A glimpse into other system shortfalls was seen at the recent Cycle Live event in The Meadows when visitors were invited to make recommendations about the city’s cycle network. These included “Thorneywood Mount: road is awful – potholes, uneven surfaces, forced to cycle almost in middle of the road” and “Could we please have a crossing near the Nottingham Knight roundabout so my children can cycle/walk to school without risking their lives?” The figures do indeed show that relatively few children cycle to school. According to a government survey, less than 0.5% of Nottingham primary school children were using their bikes to get to school in 2009. And this is while there’s an outcry about childhood obesity.

But you’ve got to have some sympathy for the highway planners, who are basically being asked to retrofit a city that prioritised the car in the decades after the Second World War. And credit should be given where it’s due. You can ride a bike from Beeston to the city centre using on and off-road cycle paths and there are well-marked cycle lanes on routes such as Hucknall Road, Woodborough Road and Trowell Road. A new ‘River Leen Greenway’ route is also being opened between Bulwell and Basford, and paths are being built beside new tram lines. Against these, there are also many gaps in the network – to cycle along London Road in either direction requires a sobering calculation of risk – as well as faded lanes, blocked lanes, awkward junctions and unfathomable directions such as the one at the bottom of Maid Marian Way. Until these issues are sorted out, Nottingham won’t have a network fit for the hype, or the pollution-free mass transport system it needs.

The Good
The Beeston-city centre route via the University of Nottingham is one of the busiest cycle ‘corridors’ in Nottingham and uses a mixture of quiet roads, shared paths and cycle lanes. The latter are found on Castle Boulevard, which used to be a joke since the cycle lanes wound around trees and other obstacles in ways that must have tested the skills of the council’s white-line painters. These lanes have gone, replaced by bright (if narrow) markings in the road. That said, there are some reservations about the Castle Boulevard section: delivery vans often block the lanes, forcing a swerve into the road, and opening car doors can knock you off. The inbound cycle lane also suddenly vanishes completely near Castle Wharf, leaving you at the mercy of the traffic which roars past the Broadmarsh Centre.

The Bad
These days, there are narrow cycle lanes along Gregory Boulevard in Hyson Green, and a car-free bus lane along one side of Mansfield Road past the cemetery, so it’s a shame that the bike-friendly measures run out at the Sherwood Rise roundabout which connect the two. This is especially so as the roundabout is almost a traffic free-for-all which requires nerves of steel.

The Indifferent
Bread-and-Lard Island aka West Bridgford, merits a mention here because it has become a local centre of bikeyness despite, not because of, the cycle lane network – which is notable because of its near absence. Indeed, some of the cycle lanes appear to have been deliberately left to fade away. Strangely, West Bridgford now has three bike shops and lots of places to lock your bike up while you drink a cappuccino, but still no lanes for the kids to cycle safely to school.

What are your best and worst cycling experiences in Nottingham? Got any other local cycling news you’d like to see here? Email [email protected]


Issue #60 was dedicated to friend of our Community Editor, and uber-babe, Louise Wright, who was tragically killed in a road accident when cycling to work in July.

Louise was a genuine star. She achieved so much in her personal, professional and skating life as a jammer for Nottingham Roller Girls.

She had the gift of lighting up a room and was always warm, witty and inspiring. She committed herself to everything she turned her hand to, and often swept others along for the ride with her infectious enthusiasm and zest for new experiences.

Everyone who met Lou was bowled over by her amazing spirit, beauty and ability to make everyone around her smile. Louise was one of those inspirational people who you met once and she felt like a friend already, she took genuine interest in everyone she met.

She will be missed terribly by family, partner James, friends, colleagues and her team.

We can only hope that our tragic loss will be the driving force behind getting Nottingham City Council to confront the often dangerous cycling conditions around the city, in order to prevent future heartache.

You will never be forgotten, Lou. Shine on, you crazy diamond.

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