Backing Spaces for People bid in Inverness and the Highlands

By John Davidson, convenor, Highland Cycle Campaign

Coronavirus and the associated lockdown have had a devastating impact on so many areas of our lives. Yet the opportunity to get out to exercise on a daily basis, on top of essential journeys including for key workers and volunteers, means we have seen more people in our communities walking and cycling.

People who wouldn’t have considered cycling before because they were put off by the volume and speed of traffic are now pedalling around their neighbourhoods on a regular basis.

It highlights what I like to call the latent demand for better transport solutions and improved design around cycling and walking.

In this bold bid for the Spaces for People fund, Highland Council and NHS Highland have been quick to identify a number of ‘barriers’ which, if removed, could unlock the potential for a genuine shift in favour of active travel.

Our members have many reasons for desiring such a shift, from road safety and air pollution concerns, to improved opportunity for vitamin D intake as well as mental and physical health and wellbeing – all of which can help reduce the long-term burden on our NHS.

This pandemic has given rise to an opportunity to be bold, to test out new approaches.

The proposals outline many positive changes to improve the continuity of cycle routes across Inverness and give more space to those on foot and wheels, which are to be welcomed.

Segregation of cyclists and pedestrians is a vital aspect of bringing active travel into the wider transport conversation, and we particularly welcome the move to take space away from motor traffic to create two-way segregated cycle paths at Millburn Road, Ness Bridge and the Inshes overbridge.

The shared-use path at this latter location was recently narrowed (to less than recommended widths) in favour of adding an extra lane of traffic, despite years of evidence pointing to road building only ever adding to congestion, so it is particularly pleasing to see cycling given proper space at this key location near Inverness Campus.

The idea of closing streets in the Old Town in the evening is also a welcome one. Businesses will be understandably concerned about the future as we begin the recovery from lockdown, but studies have shown that creating more pleasant environments for people encourages them to spend more time – and therefore money – in those places.

The plans show a few options for Academy Street, which was recently found to be one of the most polluted streets in the whole of the country. During the lockdown those illegal levels of pollution have dropped by around 60 per cent, with a huge reduction in the number of cars and lorries taking over this valuable public space in our city centre.

We cannot afford to return this historic part of the town back to the damaging way it was, and the solution here should not involve a compromise in favour of continued domination by motor traffic.

We would welcome a temporarily pedestrianised Academy Street, as suggested in the proposals but not part of this funding bid, with two-way cycle facilities, which would allow residents, businesses and the wider public to assess how this could work in the longer term.

The 22 interventions outlined in the proposal offer some real solutions to get Inverness moving again. We believe many of them should stay for the longer term, and this approach of temporary or trial measures being tested out on the ground could also offer a blueprint for further improvements to the city’s active travel infrastructure in the future.

We will certainly be feeding into the consultation process to make further suggestions and would encourage others – whether they are regular cyclists or new to the bike – to let them know what improvements you’d like to see in your area.

This article was written for the Inverness Courier, published 19/05/2020

‘What we’re doing here is massive’

By Ian Tallach, an MS sufferer from Drumnadrochit

It’s Saturday the 20th of July. A few dozen cyclists have gathered in the B&Q car park in Inverness. We’re about to set off on a protest ride along the A82 Longman Road section. The route is identical to the one taken by Fiona Johnson (WheelNess, Inverness), Mick Heath (Cycling Without Age) and me, a month ago, at which time we noted multiple impediments, several risks to life and limb and not a few particular difficulties for disabled riders.

I know people who react to the word ‘protest’ with some dismissive caricature of people with laudable enough aims, but not a lot of humour, lying in front of lorries, chanting ‘Blowing in the Wind’ or handcuffing themselves to each other: people who wouldn’t know what to do with their sour faces if their wishes ever came to pass. We owe a lot, of course, to movements of that kind.

Poking fun at the stereotype is usually just a way to salve a guilty conscience, not to mention that the future of our planet may depend on their grit and bloody-mindedness. Let’s not forget that.

But what strikes me first about our group is how disparate we are. There’s no dress-code. BMI range – cachexic to obese. Age range low 20s to over 70. Not a stereotype in sight.

Perhaps a few generalisations can be made –
1 – their welcome has been warm and sincere.
2 – their eyes are bright and earnest.
3 – everyone seems just a little apprehensive. (Almost everyone – the one exception is Mick Heath (MBE-for-bomb-disposal), who seems to lack that particular emotion.
4 – they all have helmets. (Ach! My helmet. Where’s my helmet?!)

‘Purple Haze’, the Jorvick e-trike that first introduced to me the notion that cycling might, after all, be possible for someone no longer of-much-use-to-man-nor-beast, has just been delivered by Jan, Mick’s wife. She’s ridden it here from the cycling shop. Her smile is warm and reassuring. I look down at Purple Haze. It’s difficult not to attribute those same human qualities to this machine that seems to understand my deficiencies and compensate for them instinctively. As I’ve mentioned, all this has opened up a world of possibility for me. And with her (I mean the e-trike – it’s also difficult not to assign a gender of preference) is a helmet for my head! Very good.

It has always struck me that those places deemed most suitable to meet and talk with strangers or friends we haven’t met yet – parties, clubs or gigs, for example – can also be the most difficult places in which to hold a conversation. I suppose the loud music makes us lean unnaturally close together.

With all the obsequious nodding that goes on in the attempt not to disagree with them, there’s always a chance of physical contact. Maybe that’s the idea. But, still, I’d really like to know what those people are saying. Sometimes I’d like for them to hear me, too.

And here, in the B&Q carpark, I notice that same sort of nodding. The intense hum of city traffic along the A82 is loud enough to have a similar effect on us. But Mick, once again, is the exception – he calmly addresses us with tones that rise above the growl. His words are in equal parts encouragement and practical guidance – words that keep the drone at bay. I hope they have the same effect on traffic after we set out! The pep-talk is comprehensive – clearly a lot of thought has gone into this initiative.

Then we set out. It happens so fast, all I can do is grind to a clumsy start, praying that I don’t bring up the rear. Can’t have them waiting for me. Not again. I manage to slip into the line of cycles – mainly bicycles – near to the back. Good. Still some bikes behind me.

We exit the B&Q car park. Some up ahead are stopping at the junction with Henderson Road. A little opportunity to catch up. Everyone looks relaxed now – in their element. I feel exhausted and we’ve only just begun. Didn’t expect to feel like this. I dread the thought of breaking into sweat.

That word comes back to me again – inertia. MS can result in almost any combination of neurological symptoms. For me, though, the most challenging stage of an activity is usually the beginning. On Purple Haze, I struggle to engage the battery, for reasons not worth mentioning. (Alright – Beyonde, the e-mountain trike that WheelNess have very kindly made available to me, has a walk-assist function that contributes to overall speed. In contrast, the walk-assist function on Purple Haze allows you to get started, but only until you’ve used the pedals, however weakly, and the battery kicks in. This is a very minor difference, but enough to make me feel a little stupid – something about switching back to a standard e-trike has been very counter-intuitive.) And the result is what I dreaded; I can taste the sweat already and it’s trickling down my neck.

‘You alright, mate?’ Another kind face beside me.

‘Yeah. It’s this MS thing, bud.’ Gasp. ‘Flip side is, they’ve given me…’ Huff ‘… an e-trike – these guys.’

Puff. ‘WheelNess, I mean.’ Gasp. I always come out with less-than-concise information when I’m out of breath. Another ironic thing.

‘My name’s Dave.’ His smile is generous.

‘I’m Ian.’ We’re almost at a standstill, now. ‘Sorry about the speed.’

‘No worries. Take your time. Enjoy.’


We’ve crossed the A82 near the Longman Roundabout and are about to leave the joint pedestrian/cycle-path and join the flow of traffic. This is a hazardous place to make that transition. We’re always irritating someone – either pedestrians or drivers.

‘Hi, Fiona.’ (Fiona Johnson, secretary of WheelNess, Inverness, has drifted back to check that I’m OK.’) I’m swaying side-to side, just with the effort to keep moving. It shouldn’t be like this.

‘Dave, have you met Fiona?’

‘Yes, we know each other.’

‘Well, it’s her I have to thank … principally.’

‘Oh. WheelNess. Yes, of course.’

‘Salt of the earth. Well … like you … and ALL of you – the cycling fraternity!’

‘Like US!’ he corrects, without delay. We laugh together.

‘Everything OK?’ Fiona asks.

‘Yeah. Sorry to hold you up. Just a bit of a struggle today. Wouldn’t want to be anywhere else,
though.’ If my smile is weak, it’s only because I’m weak – I’m still delighted to be here. She gently points out what I’m doing wrong. At any speed above ambling I’ve been fighting against the battery.

‘Ah, stupido mio!’ (I always feel less brutalised if I self-deprecate in Spanish.) On Fiona’s timely advice, I disengage the walk-assist function. The battery kicks in. Much easier now. I sit bolt upright. Ah! This is better. We’re almost at the top of the rise near the Rose Street roundabout. It’s all downhill from there.

I look ahead at the rest of the group, now spread out over half a mile, between us and the river. It strikes me how important this thing is. It was always self-evident, of course, but there are moments when thoughts gel. Moments of insight, moments of clarity. Moments when we want to tell the world – ‘listen up – this is vital! Just hear me out before I lose my focus!’

This thing we’re doing – it’s not just a plea to build more cycle-paths. In a time when, more than ever, we desperately need community, togetherness, belonging – when virtual connectedness has become the shrivelled substitute for actual connectedness – THIS is precisely what we’re missing.

There are no barriers between us. Everyone is equal … even me. This way of getting about is an antidote – to social isolation, to exclusion, to the tyranny of metal fortresses! I look at the faces of drivers as they pass by. Every one of them looks disaffected in some way. I’m convinced they have much better sides to them, when they’re not sat behind a wheel. (That’s not to disparage motor vehicles – they’re needed, of course – it’s just, they never seem to bring about much wellbeing or contentment, the sense of arrival-in-life, the unconfined joy that car advertising seems all-too-intent to get across.)

Of course, the case for cycling is more robust than that. It has unparalleled benefits to both physical and mental health. In a country with a shocking (and rising) incidence of obesity, and its attendant demands on an overstretched NHS, the case is even clearer. I think of fellow-protesters around the world, especially those tree-huggers. I want to hug them. Cycling is not just one solution. It strikes me that for towns and cities, it is the solution.

For a greener, healthier, happier, safer future, some big changes are about to happen. They need to happen. There is already a groundswell of political will in Scotland. And cycle-friendly improvements to this section of the A82 absolutely must be part of that. Longman Road is an anomaly – a bypass that goes straight through the town. These changes will be challenging, of course. But, at the same time, it strikes me that the necessary work, on this particular section of the A82, has potential for changing the whole atmosphere of Inverness, and its perception in the public consciousness, into that of a city with new priorities – inclusiveness, accessibility, mobility for all, respect for age and disability.

It’s very clear that the Longman Road was not built with any will to accommodate cyclists. But it’s a barometer for change – vital change, if government targets are to be met – more than any other part of Inverness. This – what we’re doing right now – is massive.

Cycle campaign launches new website

The information panel alongside the cycle path approaching the Kessock Bridge in Inverness.

Highland Cycle Campaign is delighted to announce that its new website has been launched.

The site, at, will provide news and views from committee members and others, focusing on campaigning issues to improve facilities for people who choose to travel by bike in Inverness and the Highlands.

As well as background information about HCC, there is also an events calendar to highlight upcoming events for the group as well as other cycling and campaigning-related events in the area.

HCC convener John Davidson said: “The new website gives us a place to focus our campaigns and provide clear information about our aims and objectives. It also gives members an opportunity to keep up to date with what the committee is working on, all in a modern, easily accessible format.”

The launch comes after a new committee was elected at the group’s AGM in April. The existing committee members were re-elected plus two new members were added, Dr Katie Walter and Mick Heath. Mick is the new secretary while Duncan Tullis continues as treasurer. John Davidson replaced Brian Mackenzie as convener.

The long-running organisation is continuing to fight for better provision for cyclists in the area and is currently campaigning for an improved active travel corridor along the A82 through Inverness.

Earlier this year it also led a project to install an information and map panel on the National Cycle Network beside the Kessock Bridge. The panel gives cyclists using the route more information about the area, the national cycle routes that pass through Inverness and the Beauly Firth Loop – a 27-mile on-road circuit of the firth.

The project was funded by Sustrans’ ArtRoots fund and made possible with additional help from members of Cycling UK Highland group, Bear Scotland and Highland Council.

Cyclists urged to join A82 Polite Protest Pedal

The A82 slices through the heart of Inverness. It’s a terrifying road to ride a bike on. Bear and Transport Scotland are about to carry out some safety improvements – but the planned improvements utterly fail to provide the safe active travel path infrastructure needed by active travellers in Inverness.

Highland Cycle Campaign, Cycling Without Age Inverness, NHS Health Professionals and many other organisations have all complained about the inadequacy of the plans – all to little avail. We are faced with more of the same old priority for lorries over active travellers.

Come and join us on a polite protest ride aimed at highlighting the weaknesses of the current paths, and the shortcomings of proposed changes.

Meet us at B&Q car park in Inverness at 12.45pm, ready to ride at 1pm. We’ll have a mixture of bikes, trikes and adapted bikes. We’ll be riding on both shared use paths and on the main carriageway.

Here’s the route:

Here’s a tiny video showing the route and its current weaknesses:

Swapping eyes, shoes and wheels… towards Putting Inverness Streets Ahead?

By Dr Katie Walter, Highland Cycle Campaign

​When I think back to memorable days of 2019, May 18th already stands out. On an overcast Saturday morning, I made my way down to the Spectrum Centre for the first of a series of national events organised by Walk Cycle Vote around different people’s needs for safe streets and roads.

The idea is simple: get a bunch of people with different needs around a table, and then onto the streets, and help them to experience each other’s perspective and them get them to reflect on what makes a fair and safe streetscape. 

It was a cracking day: I was guided round Academy Street and the High Street area wearing a pair of goggles that simulate common visual impairments and got a pretty immediate sense of how vulnerable you can feel and what hazards abound. Crossing the road at Strothers Lane stood out as a particularly fearsome challenge, particularly for a wheelchair user, with narrow pavements and fast cars.

In a hierarchy of vulnerability, as a cyclist I am in the middle of the food chain, and the day made me realise how vital carriageway segregation is for safe moving around the city. It also made me highly aware of how vital controlled crossings can be.

As a cyclist, the day opened my mind to the need for designs that address the needs of all. This is a current Hot Topic – particularly with final designs for projects such as Accessing Inverness under scrutiny.

Nationally, there is work going on reviewing what is now out of date as best practice: the old framework of reference, particularly for cycling (Cycling by Design), which is still being referenced, is obsolete and recognised as no longer fit for purpose. A review has been commissioned but won’t report before projects such as Accessing Inverness are decided.

Locally, there is a more coordinated approach from different groups coming together under a single banner to campaign for safer better streets: Putting Inverness Streets Ahead is lobbying hard to get the needs of all addressed in local projects.

So what came out of the Walk Cycle Vote event in Inverness on the 18th?

A heightened awareness and a commitment to work better together across groups, with input from organisations as diverse as the RNIB, Sight Action, Spinal Injuries Scotland, Cycling without Age, Cycling UK and of course the Highland Cycle Campaign. Together, we were able to reflect on what we had learned from the day and came up with the following list that we could agree on:

  • We want fewer cars in urban centres.
  • We want an adequate number of button controlled crossings in busier traffic areas, and they should be accessible.
  • Give us a fast response to button pressing.
  • Tactile paving should be wider at crossings and extend from kerb edge to inside edge at buildings/walls.
  • Pavements should be better maintained.
  • We want level pavements.
  • We want wider pavements for pedestrians.
  • We want less cluttered pavements.
  • We want a raised kerb between footway and carriageway or cycletrack, except at crossings.
  • We want separation between cyclists and pedestrians in urban areas.
  • We want safe pedestrian access to bus stops.

Maybe the one or two things we didn’t add, but should have, are:

  • We want a separation between cyclists and cars in urban areas
  • We want better public transport provisions.

Quite some wishlist. A first great step – or spin – in the right direction! And a big thank you to Walk Cycle Vote for organising a great day…

It has firmed up a commitment that we should, as the Highland Cycle Campaign, work in close partnership with other local campaigners to give shared feedback on local issues.

The A82 – disability, ability and cycling

Drumnadrochit man Ian Tallach suffers from MS – but rediscovering the joy of cycling has given him renewed optimism and drive. He joined Mick Heath of Highland Cycle Campaign and Fiona Johnstone of WheelNess to look at proposed changes to active travel routes along the A82 through Inverness

Behind us there’s a revving-up, a rising-falling, growling sound. I recognise the man’s exasperation. It’s familiar to me now; these days I know the smell of it, the sickly breath of it.

I am inured. Neck-hairs don’t bristle anymore. How did it come to this? When did it happen? Frustration must have come in the back door – when I was sleeping, maybe. And the rhythm of it is the same – air passing through my lungs – in-out-in-out – the driver’s foot on the accelerator – down-up-down-up, the snarl of city traffic. Ha! You have to laugh.

As kids we’d do some stupid things. Counter-productive, self-defeating, wasteful things. Lunchtime at school, the older boys would make up football teams. I used to be the last one picked. The goalmouth often had scuff-marks from my shoes the day before. Jamie was the first one picked. Always. And when he passed the last defender, he would look up at the net behind me, like I wasn’t there at all. He’d practically scored already. At times like that, the urge was just to fall. Better if you hurt your knee. And better still if you had blood to show for it. Never mind being sidelined for the rest of the game. Never mind if your team lost because they had less players. Never mind the pointlessness of it. You’d taught them all a lesson. You’d communicated something – all the world’s injustices at once, impotent rage. The wretched of the earth had spoken. Ha! You have to laugh.

Impotent rage – I know that one as well. I wonder if that’s what the driver feels. I imagine him looking at us from the lofty cabin of his 18-wheeler, blowing out his cheeks, shaking his head. I feel a kinship with him. I want to say to him ‘I’m just like you. I feel your frustration – every day. Let’s talk about it over coffee.’

And I imagine, too, what’s going through his head right now. ‘That idiot in front! He thinks he owns the road. He’s with two others, yeah, but they can ride: he can’t. No effort to speed up or go along the curb. Swaying side-to-side, just like a parrot in a cage. Ridiculous! And that contraption – is it even legal?!’   

Of course, there’s more than one take on this situation. What if the lorry driver were to be informed of several facts? 

1 – That idiot in front is quite delirious with happiness right now. He’s on the road for the first time in seven years. 

2 – That-there eejit has only just discovered something life-changing – cycling is possible for someone with no power whatsoever in one leg. He’s grinning ear-to-ear. 

3 – Said contraption is a Jorvik 250 Odin electric trike, designed to give disabled people access to the wonderful world of getting-about. 

4. The ridiculous man in question has M.S. 

5. There’s actually no need to rush; the delivery’s been cancelled.

I love these guys! They’ve opened up a whole new range of possibilities for me. Fiona Johnson (Cycling Development officer for ‘WheelNess’, a Cycling UK – funded initiative) is up front on her gravel bike. She sets a steady pace; she’s very understanding. And right behind me is Mick Heath MBE (Co-founder of Cycling Without Age, Inverness, and secretary of the Highland Cycle Campaign). He’s riding ‘the Beast’, a sort of glorified rickshaw, four feet wide, with two seats at the back.

It seemed very counter-intuitive to me, how the pavement/cycle track would stop exactly where most needed

Ian Tallach

I’m very safe indeed, so long as he stays in the saddle. We’re riding along the A82, from B&Q car park, almost as far as Longman roundabout, then doubling back, via the Harbour Road roundabout, to Friar’s Bridge. From there we make our way, a bit more leisurely this time, along Shore Street, stopping at Café V8 on Henderson Road. We sit and talk over coffee and what’s just happened. (Mick, who’s MBE was awarded in 1980 for bomb-disposal, is a bundle of charisma. His metabolic rate demands a fry-up, in addition.) 

‘Did you manage to sort the problem with your leg?’ Fiona’s asking me.

‘Yeah. My foot kept falling off the pedal. But I upped the gears and it stayed on,’ I tell her.

‘I took some decent video footage,’ Mick is saying.

‘Oh, great! Thank you both so much for this, by the way.’ I’m sounding like a stuck record. 

Truth is, I can’t stop thanking them. They’ve become important to me – much more than their modesty allows them to believe. I try to articulate why I’m so grateful. But after a while, hyperbole just sound too much like sycophancy, so I stop. (Those hyperbole are true, though – every one of them.) 

Afterwards, Mick sent us the video record of our adventure. In it, several hazards are clearly shown. There evidently can’t be any real intention for this section of the A82 to be used by any cyclist, never mind a newbie with a disability.

Although our jaunt was at midday on Monday – one of the least busy times – I was aware of jeopardy, throughout. I wouldn’t have dared to ride a yard without the other two. Mick eloquently shows the dangers on his video, so I won’t list them here. My all-consuming anxiety was around not knowing when to use the road and when it was acceptable to use the pavement.

It seemed very counter-intuitive to me, how the pavement/cycle track would stop exactly where most needed, from a cyclist’s point of view. Riding the section from the mouth of Seafield Road to the BP garage felt like running the gauntlet. It must be said that drivers were considerate, for the most part, particularly on the roundabout. It only takes one, though.

I met those two on May 14th. Someone at the Oxygen Works, where I go for hyperbarric-oxygen treatment, had told me about WheelNess, a project led by Cycling UK ‘to improve health and wellbeing by getting people cycling in Inverness’.

It has a particular focus on people unable to access cycling, under normal circumstances, whether due to financial constraints or disability. There is an emphasis on benefits to mental health. And they were holding an open day (the first of several) at Inverness Campus. 

Did I say I love those people?! They’ve given me a new lease of life. Even before I rode the e-trike, I already felt much happier to be around so many ‘can-do’, pro-active, energetic folk (and unpretentious with it.) They were, for me, an antidote to the drudgery – the fatigue and down-drag that so often make the task of getting through each day seem insurmountable.

I have quite severe physical limitations, but this was not a case of me having to change – it was a matter of finding an adapted cycle, tailored to my needs. What I’d long-since consigned to childhood memories became reality again! With a slight push, I was off. I turned the little turbo-booster up and found that it kicked in to compensate for the dead-weight of my right leg.

I went around the miniature loch at the back of UHI campus twice. Others passed me on hand-powered cycles, some on rickshaws. Those who could rode bicycles. The sky was smiling down, ducks in the water, children giggling. And I was thinking to myself – ‘this really is something beautiful.’

Mick gave me a lift to the bus-stop, on ‘the Beast’. He cycled up-front and I faced backwards, watching the picture recede – a scene already redolent of new beginnings. I promised I’d be back. Mick, as mentioned earlier, is co-founder of Cycling Without Age, Inverness. He tells me that the charity was started by one Ole Kassow, from Denmark, with the motto ‘everyone has the right to wind in their hair’.

‘Yes! You’re speaking my language!’ I turned my neck and shouted. ‘That’s what this IS – wind in my hair, for the first time in years!’

I cannot overstate the importance of what people like Mick and Fiona do, along with like-minded individuals from the Velocity Café and Blazing saddles. For me, they overcome inertia – physical and mental. The turbo on the trike helps with that too!

I still have down-days, but they’re not as down. ‘I’m here to steal your energy!’ I say to them. They laugh, because they think it’s just a joke. And I laugh too because it’s hard not to join in. We laugh together; it feels good. I wasn’t joking, though.