Lighting the way: Fear and Squinting in Gabalfa

Lights. Or rather lighting. I wondered about the impact on potential users as I rode along a darkened cycle path, narrowly avoiding the occasional invisible walker and observing the endlessly changing shadows caused by foliage in my beam. Would better lighting improve uptake and safety on darker cycle paths?

Cycling along the section of Taff Trail between Blackweir and Western Avenue (Gabalfa) is a very dark affair; the tree canopy closes out much of the ambient light as users navigate their way to or from, one of Cardiff’s busiest roads. The trail is also busy with school children riding to Glantaf school and with pedestrian traffic from Cardiff Metropolitan university; the short route links students with accommodation and staff with the nearby suburb of Cathays. The savviest of walkers carry small lights or use their mobile phones to indicate their presence. The remainder appear late in your headlight beam and occasionally necessitate a swerve.

During the winter, the path is noticeably quieter as the evening light dissipates and occasional rumours of criminal activity – or the potential for it – do the rounds.  In the dark, it’s certainly a place that could cause you look over your shoulder. Sounds are muffled by foliage and the dark spaces can cause a mind to run riot. I know of several people – all of whom are female – who are rather less than comfortable using this stretch. My personal concerns focus on seeing people late and ensuring that I avoid them (and don’t run into someone behind them). I keep my speed and headlights low; nobody enjoys being dazzled by 800 lumens delivered straight to the eyeballs.

Given its role as a key corridor between places of cycling activity, this area is ripe for lighting, according neatly with Sustrans’ advice on lighting:

Lighting should generally be provided on all routes where cycling can be expected after dark. Lighting will be particularly important on commuter routes and routes forming part of a safe routes to school network, where usage is sustained throughout the longer periods of darkness associated with the winter months.

I very much doubt anyone using this stretch would argue.

The council has huge, competing demands on its financial resources and I have no doubt the costs would range from the cheap and prosaic (in the thousands) to the expensive and impressive (in the tens of thousands). I’ll leave someone else to do the maths and the costs/benefits analysis, but I’ll throw this into the ring: What is the cost of not encouraging kids, students and other users who are dissuaded from riding there? (health, congestion and lost opportunity cost). I’ve no doubt that stacking up the watts, will line up the cyclists; all in an area that employs and educates many and in a city with grander cycling aspirations.  To finish up, I’ll leave you with this glorious image of a Van Gogh inspired cycle path in Noord Barbant, Netherlands. It shows you what is possible when the happy collision of use, vision, aspiration and cash occurs. Me, I’ll just settle for a few street lamps and a busier, safer path.




Above image from inHabitat

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