An interesting northern online discussion has been taking place this month about shopping by bicycle. Kim Harding in Edinburgh has been arguing for better cycle access to shops, a tax on car parking space, and more convenient secure cycle parking. Tom Bailey in Newcastle argues:
"You take places where the majority of shoppers are already walking, you make them a bit more bike friendly, you put in a few cycle routes covering the last mile or two in each direction and then you do a bit of advertising. These places are called High Streets".
So how does this apply to Darlington? Back in 2007, as part of our ultimately successful campaign for cyclist access to the newly pedestrianized town centre, we blogged an article about the economic benefits to retailers of cyclist shoppers, something that Kim echoes in his article. But just how convenient is it to shop in Darlington?
Well, once you are in the pedestrian area, and the comfort of access to it is pretty variable, shopping right in the centre is pretty convenient. There is good quality bike parking at a number of key points around the main shopping streets, from Northgate at the north end to Blackwellgate to the south. But try almost anything else, and you soon discover that the design of the pedestrian heart was carried out without cycling in mind.
Kim quotes Jan Gehl telling us to invite people to walk and bike in cities by developing quality streetscapes. He might have added that we should actually think about what it is like getting from A to B in these landscapes on a bicycle. Three examples spring to mind in Darlington:
1. Travelling from the town centre to the railway station, a major route for cycling in Darlington. Starting from the Pease Monument in the centre of town, you would hope to be able to cycle down the direct route towards the station, Priestgate. But no, this is one way for motorised traffic in the opposite direction, with no contraflow for cyclists. So there are two alternative options. One is to cycle round a large detour, taking in Crown Street, to arrive at the foot of Priestgate, and then on to the officially signed route to the station via Borough Road. The second is to use the cycle path below the Town Hall, but this delivers you to the wrong side of Parkgate, one of the busiest roads in Darlington. Many cyclists opt here for the obvious and use the pavement.
2. Travelling along Skinnergate and on to Duke Street. This is part of the pedestrianised zone between 10am and 5pm, so is relatively pleasant during these hours. But before and after it is used, one way, by motorised traffic. The fact that cyclists use the street in both directions appears to have confused motorists and police alike, judging from the reactions I have received whilst cycling along. A year ago, as previously reported, one motorist felt it necessary to stop me and tell me off.
3. Cycling to and from the town centre to the nearby Sainsburys on Victoria Road. This supermarket is just a few minutes' cycle from the town centre, yet there is simply no provision been made available for cycling access. Given that it lies on the dual carriageway that is the inner ring road, most cyclists choose to use pavements to access the store. Moreover, returning towards town via the obvious route (S. Arden Street), cyclists are confronted with two short one way streets going the wrong way.
A market town like Darlington still has enough small shops to make shopping by bicycle a pleasant experience. But the devil is in the detail. Planners have clearly not thought through properly what shopping on a bicycle means. These three examples do not require large sums of money to resolve. rather, as Jan Gehl says, they need planners to be thinking more seriously about how to invite cyclists to shop.