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“Long lines” of cyclists arriving on cruise ships – including groups containing 50 riders – causing havoc for drivers on roads, locals claim

A Shetland Islands councillor said cyclists should be encouraged to explore the archipelago by bike, “but ensuring that this doesn’t unacceptably impact on other road users is important”

A few months after a councillor in Orkney urged the police to clamp down on tourists cycling “anti-socially” on the islands, 50 miles to the northeast, in Shetland, locals are up in arms over “long lines” of cyclists arriving on cruise ships, allegedly causing havoc and frustration on the archipelago’s roads.

On Monday, the AIDAdiva cruise ship docked in Lerwick, with many of its passengers choosing to explore Shetland, the northernmost point of the UK, lying over 100 miles north of mainland Scotland, by bike.

However, on the Shetland Road Conditions Facebook group, locals complained that the size of the groups disembarking the ship with bikes – described as “long lines” of cyclists – were making it difficult for motorists to overtake safely, with some also raising concerns about the safety of oncoming drivers.

One member of the group claimed that one group of cyclists they encountered on the roads contained around 50 of the cruise ship passengers.

> Cyclist slams “pure discrimination against people on bikes” after being refused entry to ferry and left stranded – despite paying for motorcycle ticket

Shetland Islands Council’s environment and transport committee chair Moraig Lyall responded to the complaints by arguing that it was positive that more passengers were pursuing active travel options and getting around by bike – “but ensuring that this doesn’t unacceptably impact on other road users is important”.

“I would encourage the LPA [Lerwick Port Authority] to ensure that cruise passengers are well briefed about cycling in Shetland, potentially encouraged to try different routes and the size of groups managed,” Lyall said, Shetland News reports.

“But equally drivers have to show courtesy and care when encountering these groups. They are only expected on around a dozen or so days this year as not all cruise ships carry cycles.”

Lerwick Port Authority also said that it is not directly involved in organising cycle tours, which it notes are managed by the relevant cruise lines, “only a few of which provide these activities on a limited number of days in the season”.

“The authority encourages participation in small groups following different routes in promoting green travel while following the Highway Code,” the spokesperson said.

> Councillor urges police to charge "tourist cyclists" coming on cruise liners and "running around unsafe”

The online backlash to cycle tourism in Shetland comes seven months after a councillor in neighbouring Orkney called on the police to deal more sternly with cyclists believed to be behaving in an “anti-social” manner while staying on the islands during cruises.

The Fair Warn campaign was introduced in Orkney last year to deal with inconsiderate driving and parking behaviour – but councillor Melissa Thompson argued that it should also apply to “people who are on push bikes who are running around unsafe at the moment and coming off cruises”.

Since then, Orkney Islands Council has worked together with Police Scotland to produce guidance and information packs, which are now being issued to cruise liners planning to carry out cycle tours on the islands this year.

The “helpful and easy to understand” guidance, allegedly aimed at promoting safer cycling, advises cyclists to “select appropriate routes”, travel in groups no larger than six (plus a qualified guide), and to cycle two abreast where possible.

The packs also advise cyclists to “pay heed to the Highway Code with consideration to other road users”, including pulling in and allowing traffic to pass when it is possible and safe to do so, and to wear hi-vis clothing.

“Cruise companies are increasingly looking to offer sustainable and green travel opportunities for their passengers to explore their cruise destinations, but we are mindful of the issues and concerns which have been raised locally around large cycling groups on Orkney’s roads when cruise liners are in – and the frustration that this can cause,” an Orkney Islands Council spokesperson said.

Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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42 comments

Avatar
bensynnock | 1 month ago
2 likes

Here in Southampton we just get long lines of cars queuing for cruise ships.

The local paper issues warnings when we have multiple ships in at once. Once there were 15 ships in and the roads were blocked for five miles in every direction. I had to get off my bike and push at some points because the roads were just blocked.

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Owd Big 'Ead | 1 month ago
1 like

Shetland Islanders must be a right bunch of Jessie's these days. The total population of the islands is less than 23,000 and Lerwick where the cruise ships dock is less than 7,000.
I can't envisage the carnage that these cyclist wreak when the roads at just about any time will be used by relatively little traffic servicing the local populace and a few hardy tourists in the height of summer.
I'd imagine the busiest the roads get in Lerwick is when the ferry from the mainland disgorges returning locals, commercial vehicles and holidaymakers a few times per week, but let's blame cyclists.

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polainm | 1 month ago
12 likes

“Long lines of drivers arriving on cruise ships – including groups containing 50 cars – causing havoc for everyone else on roads" would be more truthful in this car-centric world. 

Yet another part of the UK I'd love to cycle to but put off by narrow minded councillors, hostile locals, and arrogant drivers. 

I'll spend what little money I have left in Netherlands and Austria, while Broken Britain continues to slide into a right-wing gammon cesspit. 

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john_smith replied to polainm | 1 month ago
1 like

Cruise ship tourists aren't too popular in the Netherlands these days either. It'll have to be Austria. 

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chrisonabike replied to john_smith | 1 month ago
3 likes

I bet one would be even more unpopular if it turned up in Vienna or Linz - probably cause serious congestion on the Danube.

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OnYerBike replied to chrisonabike | 1 month ago
6 likes

Strictly speaking you do get cruise ships in Vienna and Linz - although they are much smaller river cruise ships (~200 passangers rather than the ~2,000+ you could get on a big ocean cruise ship).

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brooksby replied to OnYerBike | 1 month ago
2 likes

OnYerBike wrote:

Strictly speaking you do get cruise ships in Vienna and Linz - although they are much smaller river cruise ships (~200 passangers rather than the ~2,000+ you could get on a big ocean cruise ship).

I'm not sure that 2,000 passengers counts as a big cruise ship nowadays… 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_cruise_ships

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brooksby replied to john_smith | 1 month ago
1 like

IIRC cruise ships are being restricted in Venice, too (I appreciate that's hardly a cycling Mecca…).

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chrisonabike replied to brooksby | 1 month ago
5 likes

brooksby wrote:

IIRC cruise ships are being restricted in Venice, too (I appreciate that's hardly a cycling Mecca…).

At least one hotel has you covered apparently.  However I suspect you might get close passes from irate water-cabbies...

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Owd Big 'Ead | 1 month ago
3 likes

Didn't we have this startling news story thrust upon us mere months ago?
I know it must be difficult to find cycling related stories sometimes, but do we have to resort to (re)cycling the news all over again.

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OnYerBike replied to Owd Big 'Ead | 1 month ago
2 likes

I can understand the confusion.

This "new" story is about recent comments made by a Shetland Islands councillor.

There was a story a few months ago about very similar comments made by an Orkney Islands councillor.

The old (Orkney) story is referred to extensively in the report above. Whether you call this "adding context" or "padding" probably depends on how generous you are feeling... But there definitely is a "new" story too - it is not purely recycled.

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don simon fbpe | 1 month ago
10 likes

Shouldn't they be more concerned about the environmental damage caused by the cruise ships?

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the little onion | 1 month ago
8 likes

I can really sympathise with the islanders, and some of the negative comments here are from people who don't really have any experience of island life or island roads. Basically, these are narrow, single track roads with no verges, lots of cattle/sheep using them, and no alternative roads. They don't really have any comparison to roads in the southern 80% of the British isles. I can see how islanders life can be messed up by large groups who don't understand the local road etiquette. 
 

for what it is worth, locals absolutely hate camper vans because they are an absolute pain when not driven appropriately on these roads. 

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levestane replied to the little onion | 1 month ago
4 likes

Some places have started to build parallel cycle tracks, the Ross of Mull for example, but 'allow faster traffic to overtake' using the passing spaces is an alien concept to many visitors.

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chrisonabike replied to the little onion | 1 month ago
4 likes

Indeed, but I suspect someone - the harbourmaster if no-one else (but probably the local council / tourist board) has some influence over the ferry operator / tour companies. If not then indeed it is a tragedy.

Problem being I'm sure at least some folks are keen on the money from tourism - or publicity, if council. Managing that though - that's the trick.

For those poh-poohing the concern, imagine if you were living in a place and suddenly a large fraction of - or even several multiples of - the population turned up one morning. I suspect it would be startling!

Sounds like double or quits - if they feel this is "tour operator doesn't give one" perhaps they do need restrictions. Oherwise perhaps it's possible if they think this is a goer long-term to add in some cycle infra. Might even start a trend ... (probably limited there, I hear they really *do* have weather, winds particularly).

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Boopop | 1 month ago
13 likes

Big brain solution: "People love to cycle here for tourism, we should build some segregrated cycle tracks for them to use!"

Smooth brain solution: "People love to cycle here for tourism. We should send the police after them!"

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john_smith replied to Boopop | 1 month ago
3 likes

Just because people "love to cycle there for tourism", it doesn't mean the locals have to love their being there. Tourists arriving on cruise ships are not always popular at the places they visit, since they create congestion and make a mess but don't spend a lot of money, as they tend to eat and sleep on the ships.

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Boopop replied to john_smith | 1 month ago
5 likes

Oh please do tell me how cyclists on segregated cycle infrastructure would create congestion, I'll grab my popcorn.

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the little onion replied to Boopop | 1 month ago
5 likes

This is Shetland and Orkney. They have no segregated infrastructure for cyclists. They have virtually no roads that are not single track

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Boopop replied to the little onion | 1 month ago
2 likes

Obviously, but everyone seems to be ignoring my original point that if they don't like cyclists on their roads, they could build some tracks adjacent to the roads rather than send the police after them.

At least in the article HoarseMann linked us to, there doesn't appear to be any hedgerows or land being used for farming around the road they're on.

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the little onion replied to Boopop | 1 month ago
5 likes

i'd bet my mortgage you have never been to a small scottish island, or have any idea of what life is like, the physical conditions, or the infrastructure. Segregated cycle lanes are brilliant, but if you think that we are going to see these in Shetland and Orkney, you are deluded. We are talking about tiny single track roads that weave through bog, rocky outcrop, archeological sites, and especially in the western isles, machair and crofting land. 

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CarlosFerreiro replied to the little onion | 1 month ago
5 likes

There are plenty of roads like you describe in the remoter areas of Shetland, but for the cruise ship cyclists they are 80% on modern standard 2 lane roads with gravel hard shoulders built in the 1980s and 90s. I linked a Komoot route below, have a look about on streetview.
There are plans for road adjacent shared use paths, not least as they would link the main town with the areas within 5 miles of it where 50% of the population live, but progress is not fast. It's a shame as there is £1M+ of ringfenced Scottish Goverment money available each year at the moment.  https://www.shetnews.co.uk/2023/07/28/a-waste-of-money-differing-views-o...

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Backladder replied to the little onion | 1 month ago
9 likes

the little onion wrote:

i'd bet my mortgage you have never been to a small scottish island, or have any idea of what life is like, the physical conditions, or the infrastructure. Segregated cycle lanes are brilliant, but if you think that we are going to see these in Shetland and Orkney, you are deluded. We are talking about tiny single track roads that weave through bog, rocky outcrop, archeological sites, and especially in the western isles, machair and crofting land. 

I'm sorry but you seem to be living in the 1960's, almost all the main roads on Orkney and Shetland (especially around and between the main towns) are now good quality dual lane roads with long straights ideal for passing smaller groups of cyclists, a quick check on google street view can confirm this. The problem seems to be that the cyclists stick together in long single file groups and a bit of instruction from the cruise companies coupled with releasing them in smaller groups could probably eliminate most of the problem.

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Boopop replied to the little onion | 1 month ago
2 likes

Your mortgage was almost at risk there, I've cycled North Coast 500, but not ventured on to the islands.

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Eton Rifle replied to the little onion | 1 month ago
1 like

Then why do they all own cars, if the infrastructure to use them is not there?

I remember visiting Alderney years ago. It's all of three fricking miles long, with no hills, yet loads of cars, mostly ten or more years old with 5,000 miles on the clock. Bonkers.

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john_smith replied to Boopop | 1 month ago
2 likes

Contrary to what you might think, writing "I'll grab popcorn" doesn't make you look clever. No one suggested creating infrastructure would create congestion. Creating infrastructure involves costs, which someone has to pay for. 

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Boopop replied to john_smith | 1 month ago
1 like

I did, and you were replying to me 🤔

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KiwiMike | 1 month ago
1 like

Given the positive aspects of cycle tourism and that according to one comment here there's an A-road alternative, shouldn't the ships or council actually apply to close the road in question for a few hours on the handful of days a year these large groups are visiting? Bet some locals would enjoy that too. People pay £50+ to ride on closed roads during events, I'm sure the cruise operators could cough up and maybe the money go to a local charity?

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CarlosFerreiro replied to KiwiMike | 1 month ago
2 likes

To clarify, if the route is 3 legs of a triangle there is an A-road alternative to 1 leg, while the other 2 legs are A-roads, out one leg out of town and back into town on the other, so you could chose to not be on the wrong leg at the wrong time, but that would be more of a dynamic thing.

A full closure isn't possible at all. There is no non-A-road route out of town.
You could possible do advisory signs on the single track leg but there doesn't seem to be that level of cross-organisation work in mind.

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CarlosFerreiro replied to CarlosFerreiro | 1 month ago
2 likes

To try and fix that tortured description of the route, it's this one but anticlockwise, or similar.
https://www.komoot.com/smarttour/e964537674/scalloway-lerwick-loop-shetl...

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