Monday, 12 January 2015

Running along the Busway

Take one disused and over grown railway track, add some investment with a lengthy period of planning and construction, the finished result is an efficient guided Busway connecting Luton and Dunstable.

As good as the Busway is, that is not the end of the story.  Running alongside the length of the Busway is a cycle track which is well used by cyclists, dog walkers and runners alike.  When the Busway was first constructed and opened, there was a fair amount of controversy for one reason or another but this has all settled down during the first year or two.

Since the construction of the Busway, an additional path has been constructed connecting Halfmoon Lane with the Busway, which is undoubtedly helpful for local people in that area.  Having run along this, it is well-placed and in-keeping with the sensitivities of the chalky Blows Downs, which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Having a traffic-free track which is largely flat is ideal for commuters, recreational and sporty types alike.  At all times in the day, you'll see quite a mixture of local people using the Busway cycle track and it's well used on the whole.  There's quite a bit of variety from the urban area in Luton through to the quieter and more scenic stretch alongside Blows Downs which is on the edge of Dunstable.

While I have used the cycle track for cycling to work many times, I have also come to appreciate it as a runner.  The gritty, gravel surface is ideal as a running surface at any time of year but in the winter it's brilliant - no slippery frozen ice rinks!  In most parts it is wide enough for two runners to be side by side and still get passed by a cyclist.

Strava is a smart phone App which tracks where you've been on a run or a bike ride, some people use it for walking.   You can even set up "segments" which are stretches of road, paths etc with a start and finish and then your time will be logged on these segments.  You can compare your performance with other people who also use Strava and this adds some interest.  I set one of these up a while ago, starting at the Great Northern Road entrance to the Jeans Way entrance which is about 0.6 mile away, as shown on the map below.

Strava screenshot of a "segment" where runners can compare themselves with others

Almost immediately I was out performed by some other local runners until one day in December 2014 when I ran well, thus beating the others and becoming the Course Record holder.  At the time of writing, 22 runners have tried this on 68 occasions.

Cleverly Strava segments don't work for cyclists on the Busway, although it works in every other way.  This is because of an agreement with Strava and local authorities to avoid certain routes becoming a cyclist's race track.  For runners, there's no problem, Strava works just fine.

One of the lovely things about the Busway is seeing it through the different seasons.  In summer there is a blaze of brightly coloured flowers, in autumn the colours are mellow and warm.  Winter can be wonderful with those mists and frosty days leading to the hope of spring.  Each run seems to be different, never the same twice.

The serious bit
The Busway is a significant, far sighted transport corridor connecting Dunstable and Luton together.  It is true to say it was expensive, but surely this must be seen as an investment for the future?  Besides replacing the many bridges along the entire length must have been hugely expensive on their own.

Aside from the buses, the real success must be in the numbers of local people using the cycle track, especially towards Dunstable.  Cyclists, dog walkers, runners etc all benefit from the traffic free route and it's common to see many people out there getting some exercise on the track.  It is so easy to get onto the Cycle track for a run, this is our equivalent to being at the seaside with a promenade.

I find it so encouraging to see other runners using it.  Although we don't necessarily know each other, it's great to know other people are out using it, especially when we can compare segment times with each other!

The public health benefits are undoubtedly there for the taking but it must be difficult to assess the real value in this sense - it contributes to our well being, the place where we can breathe some fresh air and get some exercise.  As the cycle track is a spin-off from the Busway itself, I wonder if this is where the REAL benefit will come in years to come in terms of our health, fitness and general well being?

Related: My other blog contains more cycling-related posts about the Busway, including quite a few comments: please click here.  For all of my other cycle related Busway articles, click here.

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