Minister – What’s stopping you?

Roseburn_002Humza Yousef has set up an Active Travel Task Force to work out what are the barriers to getting Cycling and Walking improvements built. So far, they have had one meeting and have now asked for public evidence.

http://www.transport.gov.scot/environment/active-travel-task-force

So here are my views gained from the experience of the proposed East-West City Centre route in Edinburgh, which was met with strong opposition in the Roseburn section. I was part of a group that supported the route and witnessed how the opposition had been mustered around misinformation and stoking fears of any change to the status quo, although nobody was satisfied with the status quo and the local community council had once put out its own wish list for changes to the infrastructure.

From that experience I would say that the very real barriers to implementing high quality walking and cycling projects are:

– Insufficient funding from central government

– Insufficient political buy in to changing the status quo

– Insufficient linkages to the wider benefits to health and quality of life

– Information void which can be filled by those fighting against the schemes

Insufficient Funding from central government

Funding for Active Travel at less than 2% of the Transport budget will not create a modal shift any time soon. To get people out of their cars, we need a network of routes going where people want to travel. A route is only as good as its weakest link and the key is a network rather than singular routes. It’s also hard to show the model shift a network can generate by only building one route, which makes winning over doubters very difficult.

Edinburgh Council has committed 10% of its transport budget to active travel, which is excellent, and starting to show rewards but deeper pockets are needed to make real change.

The Community Links Plus scheme does encourage high quality bids, but with only 1 scheme winning each year progress will be very slow and many councils will not want to spend the effort to develop a bid without certainty of success.

It’s an additional hurdle for active travel that doesn’t exist for other transport infrastructure, which indicates its poor position in the Government’s pecking order for investment. Where’s the competition for the next bridge, bypass or dual carriageway?

A more significant and guaranteed investment level would encourage local authorities to plan networks and build up the expertise to deliver high quality infrastructure. It would also send a clear message that the Government was taking Active Travel seriously.

Insufficient Political Buy-In

Whilst there are some supporters on Active Travel schemes within the political parties, it is far from widespread. There is a wide disconnect between national party policies, which all support more active travel, and on the ground support by local councillors. I understand local councillors fearing making an unpopular decision, however the vast majority (72%) think things would be better if people cycled more. What is less understood by many, is how you do this.

The politicians need to understand what works for increasing active travel and what doesn’t and be confident in taking a position for positive change. More information would help them, but they have to want to read and understand it. More importantly there has to be an acceptance that real change won’t be made by attempting to satisfy everyone by compromising designs too far.  There are people who won’t be happy unless they can drive/park everywhere regardless of the impacts on others but thankfully these are a minority.  For years we have had poor infrastructure built for fear of upsetting people through roadspace reallocation.

By the final decision for Roseburn, all parties supported Option A, which shows that political consensus can be found but that was a hard fought battle and took a lot of efforts both inside and outside of the Council to ensure the implications were fully understood and the right decision made.

Insufficient linkages to wider benefits

There are great societal benefits to having a more active population, but this isn’t at the forefront of the debate on Active Travel schemes. The costs to the Health Service from Obesity, Inactivity and Pollution related illnesses is huge, not to mention premature deaths and poor quality of life from sufferers. The Health Service should be putting money & support into active travel, like it has done with schemes for stopping smoking.

Lessening the impacts that motor vehicles have on our streets can make a big differences to our communities. For instance, the streets should be a natural playing and hanging out space for youngsters. Too many children spend their life indoors before being ferried to school or friends or activity by car.

The debate needs to be widened out into how much we can all benefit from more people taking active travel and away for cycle infrastructure just being for current cyclists.

Information Void

What Roseburn has shown us is how easy it is for individuals opposed to the scheme to whip up a furore on an Active Travel Scheme based on misinformation. Reallocating roadspace away from the status quo will be a shock to some people who have been used to our car-centric society, but with solid information the issues can be fully understood and doubters convinced. It was apparent in Roseburn that whilst everyone was concerned with the current high levels of pollution and the viability of the local shops, there wasn’t a clear view on the future for Roseburn. At the heated public meeting, we had arguments against the scheme coming from people who wanted wider pavements, more loading, more parking, bus priority and faster car traffic flows. Clearly these couldn’t all succeed at the same time and an informed debate on what we do with our roadspace is needed. The best way to achieve this is to base the discussions on evidence rather than misinformation or unsubstantiated opinions.

There should be more done centrally to set out the arguments for active travel so the debate is had once rather than on every scheme across the country, with evidence of the experience from other European cities eg Munich, Copenhagen, Seville.

With Roseburn, Council Officers and supporters were having to break new ground to convince the doubters of the benefits and even then most positive examples were dismissed by opponents in the belief that Roseburn is too different for valid comparisons.

Roseburn Cycle Group

Minister – What’s stopping you?

Ride the Route – 29th Aug 8am

Roseburn%20Bikes

 

The Edinburgh East-West City Centre Cycle route goes to the Transport & Environment Committee (TEC) on Tuesday 30th August.

The proposals would give a safe route through the City and encourage many to switch to a healthy, pollution free method of transport.

To ensure that the importance of these proposals is understood, we are inviting members of the TEC, local Cllrs and press to join us in ‘Riding the Route’ on Monday 29th August.

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We’ll gather on the West side of Charlotte Square at 7.45am and ride (walking is allowed & bikes can be provided) to Roseburn.

If you want to show your support for the scheme, please ‘Ride the Route’ on Monday as well and tweet/blog/Facebook your experience – please use #OptionA. Here’s our Facebook Event if you want to tell us you’re coming or want to invite your friends.

A group will be setting off from Charlotte Square at 8am and following the route to Roseburn. Please join this if you can or make your own way in your own time.

If you see the front group (including my stripey tandem) give us a wave and a ding ding as you pass.

Please make sure you show your support for the best Option in Roseburn, Option A which gives a safe, direct route.

In the mean time please contact your Councillors and make sure they know your views.

 

More information about the proposals and their importance can be found on the Roseburn Cycle Route Website

The council’s paper to the Transport & Environment Committee is here

Ride the Route – 29th Aug 8am

Conviction needed…

It’s crunch time in Edinburgh…

The proposed East-West city centre cycling route is coming to the City’s Transport & Environment Committee at the end of the month and our councillors will be answering key questions for the future of our city.

What options are we giving our residents to make healthy transport choices and what legacy are we leaving for the next generation?

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Corstorphine / Roseburn feeder ride to Pedal on Parliament 2016

The proposed cycle route through the heart of our city from East to West would link places where people live to where they work. The dormitory suburbs and business parks in the West are already served by Quiet routes and work okay for most people, but they stop at Roseburn and then you’re on your own as my friend who wanted to get back to cycle commuting found out…

Edinburgh needs people like her to cycle and it needs people not to have to be ‘brave’ to get on their bikes if there is any hope of us making inroads into the growing issues of pollution, congestion and inactivity.

And these issues really do matter. Both to us and future generations.

Air pollution is growing as a cause of premature death, with an estimated 2,000 people across Scotland dying every year. That’s over 200 in Edinburgh, which has the most polluted street in Scotland – not something we should be proud of. The kicker is that those lower to the ground get it worse as ITV news found out, impacting children the most.

Congestion is already bad in Edinburgh despite 43% of households not having access to a car and our population is set to increase.

We simply don’t have space for everybody’s private car to drive and park in our city centre at rush hour. With an average of 1.2 people on board it is a hugely inefficient use of space.

 

Inactivity has serious health consequences affecting quality of life and causing a further 2,500 premature deaths in Scotland each year.  And dealing with this inactivity is costing us a massive amount.

 

Active Travel could make a significant impact on these issues. It’s pollution free, healthy and space efficient. It’s working in London and it could work here. 50% of journeys to work or study are less than 3 miles or 15 minutes by bike so it could easily be fitted into busy lives but people will only do it if it is safe and convenient. The more people see others riding a bike the more likely they are to try it themselves.

Edinburgh Council have recognised the issues and solutions and developed a Transport 2030 Vision :- “By 2030, Edinburgh’s transport system will be one of the greenest, healthiest and most accessible in northern Europe” which included 15% of commutes by bike in 2020. The Council have backed up these words with an escalating investment in cycling, rising 1% a year to 9% of the Transport budget in 2016/2017.

The City Centre East-West route is a critical step in this vision to improve walking and cycling, but this is where it starts to get tough. The scheme received overwhelming support (66%) at its consultation but a vociferous campaign was lauched against the scheme, especially its impact on the shops in Roseburn. This campaign is now testing the mettle of our elected councillors.

The opponents to the scheme held a public meeting last week which 9 councillors  and around 175 members of the public attended. The council officer tried to explain the scheme and its benefits to the meeting, and what they had done to alleviate the concerns raised in the consultation earlier this year.

The atmosphere was hostile from the start, with the council officer being heckled and any failing to recall minute details taken as incompetence by the council. The audience raised a full house of Cycling fallacies.

What followed was an attack on the plans and a counter presentation of the ‘Roseburn Vision’ by the chief protagonist.

His pitch was filled with speculation and very light on actual evidence. I could write at length on the untruths and exaggerations put forward but they are almost too many to mention. The highlight was his admission that he was encouraging consultation fraud through using false addresses on another of his campaigns, whilst challenging this schemes consultation’s validity based on addresses and expecting credibility for a consultation on his Roseburn Vision.

There are legitimate concerns about the impact on the local shops and it is only right to address them. A group of local residents aghast at the hysteria and misrepresentations of the opposition have looked to address them with evidence on their website they set up in May.

These supporters of the Roseburn Cycle Route called for the debate to move to evidence based discussions. We cited multiple studies where cycle paths have been a positive change for local shops and called for any evidence for or against that we have missed.  We haven’t been sent any that show a new cycle route harming local businesses and couldn’t find any ourselves.

Yes, every set up is different, but not that different. Edinburgh is tackling the same issues as other cities and there are other cities that have colder, wetter, hillier and narrower streets than Edinburgh. There are shops that thrive in pedestrian areas with difficult loading arrangements, but that’s not what we’re talking about in Roseburn. The revised plans still has peak and off-peak loading with less than a quarter of spaces being removed on Roseburn Terrace, but it should be stressed that these are intended for the loading and unloading of heavy or bulky items.  That’s not always what they are currently being used for though with the bays often blocked by parked cars as this series of tweets shows

Are we really prioritising illegal parking over sustainable travel?

There were also concerns about floating bus stops and the potential for harm to elderly pedestrians from people passing on bikes, which we were told could result in ‘doing their hip in and being the end of them’.

The biggest risk at a bus stop comes from the passing motor traffic. Two Edinburgh bus-stop have been demolished by buses in the last year, fortunately without injury.

There are plenty more considered responses to concerns on the Roseburn website.

The opposition does not want rational arguments. They want the scheme stopped and the money spent on fixing potholes. Fixing potholes is probably the one thing we all agree on, but it’s a short term fix and does nothing to change transport habits.

There are now two options for the councillors to decide between, Option A and Option B. For investment that will make a fundamental difference to Edinburgh the councillors have to choose Option A with the straightforward route along the shops and only 1 road crossing. There is a danger that they bow to pressure and go for the Option B compromise, which has many shortcomings compared to Option A. Using it by bike will be convoluted & slow as you wait for 3 separate road crossings. The likely outcome is that many may never be attracted to cycling and of those that do a significant number will ignore the route and stick to the road, something that they are perfectly entitled to do but which will wind up other road users and send mixed messages to potential new cyclists. Option B also narrows the key junction of Russell Road with Roseburn Terrace and Roseburn Street which won’t go down well with those wanting throughput of cars to be top priority.

It is all going to come down to the Transport & Environment Committee meeting on the 30th August.  Will they have the conviction to see through the building of a safe, direct and compelling cycle route, take a compromise option the suits nobody or even kick the can down the road?

Let’s learn from London, who took the less controversial options and have now had to go back and put in high quality segregated cycle routes. These are  now reaping the rewards. When Boris Johnson left the Mayor’s office he said “Exactly three years ago, I unveiled my vision to make cycling in London safer, more popular and more normal. My single biggest regret as Mayor is that I did not do it sooner.”

I can’t see how anyone watching the above video or reading the Human Streets statements by Boris Johnson and Andrew Gilligan cannot see that it is doing it right that gets the benefit.

Human streets document available here.

My recommendation to our councillors is to study the evidence and recommendations from the cycling officers and  build Option A and watch the positive changes it will bring to our city and its residents.

If you want to help Edinburgh take the right choice, please do contact your local councillors and let them know your thoughts.

Conviction needed…

Will the car always win?

My first foray into campaigning was getting a narrow country road near my work resurfaced and have cycle lanes added and innovatively no centre line.  This has made a huge improvement to the many colleagues who regularly use that route and we’re now seeing much greater number choosing to cycle to work.

BUT, the victory looks to be short lived as the Council are scheduled to give planning permission in principle to build 1,300 houses with the only access point being onto ‘our’ road.

The Bicycle User Group at work submitted a strongly argued case that this access arrangement was unsuitable in it’s current form.  Full Details

They also made a deputation at the planning Sub-Committee last week where it approved the plans but decided against putting any conditions on the developer to sort out the transport issues associated with the site despite the Council Officers noting “The transport mitigation measures proposed by the developer fall significantly short of the measures identified in the Council’s East of Millburn Tower Transport Appraisal of January 2015“.

So here’s the BUG’s final plea to all Councillors to add planning conditions in the approval

I write on behalf of the Gogarburn Bicycle Users’ Group, which represents nearly 600 people who ride their bikes to RBS Gogarburn. We are concerned about the impact of the proposed development at Milburn Tower on the safety of cyclists on Gogar Station Road, and ask that during your deliberations on this development on 2 June, you impose planning conditions to maintain a safe commuting route for cyclists.

What’s so special about Gogar Station Road?
It’s a narrow country lane linking the A8 at RBS Gogarburn and the A71 at Hermiston Park & Ride. It’s vital for active travel and cycle commuters because it has a connection to the Union Canal tow-path and a link (via underpass) to Edinburgh Park. This makes it a popular route for people commuting by bicycle. During resurfacing in 2015, an innovative solution of removing the centre line and creating on-road cycle lanes vastly improved conditions for cyclists on this route.

However, Gogar Station Road is still very narrow. In some places it is barely 5m wide. There is one single-lane bridge over the Gogar Burn that has no pavements at all, and a single-lane railway bridge that has pavements that are too narrow for a buggy or wheelchair. Even at current levels of traffic, it is not a pleasant place for pedestrians and cyclists.

What are the Bicycle Users’ Group concerned about?
We are worried about two aspects of this development:

  1. Construction Traffic. Heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) present a particular danger for cyclists: over 20% of cyclist fatalities in 2014 involved an HGV. About one quarter of accidents resulting in serious injury to a cyclist in 2014 involved an HGV passing too close to the rider. A tipper truck is over 3m wide: some parts of Gogar Station Road are too narrow for two such trucks to pass, and if a truck tried to overtake a cyclist on a narrow part of the road there would only be 50cm space between the cyclist and the truck. We are, frankly, terrified about the prospect of sharing this narrow country road with construction traffic, but there are no alternative routes for cyclists from the canal (National Cycle Route 75) to RBS Gogarburn. The attached picture shows a truck on Gogar Station Road.
  2. ATT00001Residential Traffic. When the development is occupied, traffic volumes will increase considerably. At peak times there will be a vehicle passing every four seconds. This will make Gogar Station Road unpleasant for cyclists, and will reduce its current effectiveness as a key north-south cycle route. As traffic volumes increase, the opportunities to overtake slow-moving cyclists decrease, increasing the risk that frustrated drivers make poor overtaking decisions on a narrow road with poor sight lines and blind bends. That will put vulnerable cyclists at risk.

What do the Bicycle Users’ Group want done?
We would urge you to impose two planning conditions on this development, to mitigate the risk to cyclists and maintain the levels of active travel that the current infrastructure on Gogar Station Road has done so much to promote.

  • Planning condition 1: minimise construction traffic using Gogar Station Road. To protect cyclists and pedestrians using Gogar Station Road (and particularly its narrow bridges towards the south), all construction traffic must enter and leave the development at its north end (near RBS), and must take the shortest route to the A8. No construction traffic should be allowed to travel along Gogar Station Road to or from the A71.
  • Planning condition 2: creation of a direct ‘commuter’ cycle route through the development. The developer must consult with Sustrans and Spokes to design a direct, segregated, cycle route through the development for commuter cyclists. The route will go from the canal (National Cycle Route 75), past the underpass to Edinburgh Park and then on to RBS Gogarburn where it will link to the existing traffic-free cycle paths to the Airport. This will provide an attractive alternative to Gogar Station Road.

We would be very grateful for your support in imposing these conditions on the development.

RBS Gogarburn Bicycle Users’ Group

(Gogarburn Bicycle Users’ Group is independent of RBS)

 

 

And it’s not just us arguing that the Council are giving the developers too easy a ride on transport issues.

Here’s Spokes & Living Streets adding their concerns.

 

 

 

 

 

Will the car always win?

All Politics is Local

I’ve been engaging with my local Holyrood Candidates to understand (& hopefully influence) their views on Active Travel.  A subject very close to my heart as a father of 2 & fearing the future we are leaving them, with pollution, congestion & obesity only getting worse in our car-centric society.

To be honest, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by them.  They get that our constituency (Edinburgh Western) has the most polluted street in Scotland, St John’s Road (& Queensferry Road as 7th worse).

I’ll apologise to my Labour Candidate, Cat Headley for omitting her from the rest of this blog on the basis of brevity for readers, and concentrate on Alex-Cole Hamilton, LibDem & Toni Giugliano, SNP who are locked in a tight battle to be our Consitituency MSP.

They have both put out some good plans to tackle our transport issues

Alex (Libdem) & Toni (SNP)

They also joined me on a tour of local Infrastructure

And came to Pedal on Parliament

They also fully signed up to WalkCycleVote’s 3 asks

  • Investment: Provide sustained, long term investment in both cycling and walking, reaching 10% of the transport budget.
  • Infrastructure: Build and maintain dedicated cycling infrastructure, enabling people aged 8-80 to cycle.
  • Safety: Promote and deliver safer roads for both walking and cycling.

 

So, how to choose between them?

We could look at their Party’s manifestos as studied by Spokes, which has the LibDems as more positive on Active Travel. But as the title of the Blog indicates, politics are local…

For us it’s all about the proposed Roseburn to Leith Walk cycle path proposed by our Labour/SNP coalition led council to revolutionise crossing Edinburgh from East to West by bike, which I’ve previously blogged about.  If built as designed, will give a compelling alternative to polluting transport options and help residents of West Edinburgh to fit exercise into busy lives by starting cycle commuting.

Unfortunately, there has been some negativity to the scheme, with local shopkeepers worried it will impact their trade and a local resident stoking up concern amongst the community based on misinformation. I recognise their concern, and think it can be eased by looking at the evidence of other bike lanes that have been installed. There is significany support in the community for cycle infrastructure – This is the local Pedal on Parliament feeder ride, where locals have up their Saturday to protest for better cycle facilities.

 

And there was the recent Edinburgh BikeLife survey which found 74% wanted my spent on cycle infrastructure & 23% not currently cycling would start cycle with safety quoted as the biggest barrier.

 

Making it more interesting is the fact that the Cyclepath is outside our Constituency in Edinburgh Central and will ultimately be approved or not, by the local Councillors & not our Holyrood candidates.

Whilst we desperately need central government funding to make a modal shift toward cycling, this route is our chance to get a huge step up in cycling in Edinburgh Western as whilst we have some safe quiet routes (which can be convoluted) to get us to Roseburn, we then have no safe route into or across the city centre.  If this proposal doesn’t happen or is compromised into worthlessness, then we will have missed our chance and we’ll be stuck with the same issues we currently have. It’s that important to us.

You would have hoped that we would have consistency within the parties, so we know what we are voting for.

Starting with the Lib Dems

Alex signed a supporting petition I set up for the scheme – good start.

Unfortunately, it starts to go wrong with the local campaigning litrature

The LibDem Edin Central Candidate, recently sent this out

and clarified it with

 

This minor route diversion was one put forward by local LibDem Cllr Paul Edie, which would see the route sent round the back of the shopping street, across a couple of streets and then down an alley behind Tesco before appearing back on the main road, between high walls as you cross the pavement. How is building in pedestrian/cycle conflict and being sent on a convoluted route, going to be compelling to get new people on their bike?

 

Cllr Edie also fed into the consultation that the proposed 2.5m wide bi-directional cycle lane would be ‘very wide’, which is just ridiculous.

 

And so to the SNP.

Toni, declined to sign the pro petition saying it wasn’t in his constituency, although he was able to opine on dualling the A9

and the Edinburgh Central candidate, Alison Dickie very much sat on the fence with it, recommending further consideration

“My initial thoughts on the Roseburn to Leith Walk cycle route are that, although I very much welcome safer routes to encourage more cyclists, there are some genuine concerns from others to be considered. And, of course, the ideal would be to find a solution that is fair to all.”

But slightly more concerning is the views of Frank Ross, who is the local Councillor & leader of the SNP party in Edinburgh Council. Frank was one of the early signatories to the petition against scheme, so not a good start.

Since then, to give him credit, he has continued to engage with those supporting the scheme on twitter, and whilst he says he isn’t anti-cycling, some of his exchanges generalising about ‘cyclists’ have led to some people doubting this and turning away from the SNP.

“I have recently lent my vote to the SNP but that’s it, he’s done it for me. I’ll be finding other homes for my votes in May. “

“After 4 years of road building and Cllr Ross’s inability to see past his bonnet I think the SNP group can forget any vote from me this time round.”

Coming back to Labour for a moment, the support has been more universal, and they seem rightly pr1oud of the 10% of local transport budget they & the SNP have committed which is bringing about local improvements  such as the Roseburn-Leith proposal.

& of course the Green party is head and shoulders above the other parties when it comes to commitment to national funding for active travel with 10%, vs 2-3% for the others.

So in summary, whilst the Active Travel vote in Edinburgh Western could sway the election result, it’s hard to know whether the candidates’ support will ultimately bring us the change we want to see as the Parties are in at odds within themselves.

I’d love for either of them to be clear on what a vote for them & their party will mean for Roseburn-Leith, so we can be clear that they are worthy of it.

So Toni & Alex can you give us that clarity?

 

Here are my tweets asking for it. Do watch for their replies or join in the debate.

 

 

 

UPDATE:

Toni has responded but I don’t think he got the point…

 

 

All Politics is Local

#Schoolrunstories

There’s a pop up campaign looking at how families commute to school by Active Travel. More detail are available be searching the #Schoolrunstories or on this Blog.

I thought we’d join in so here’s what our School Run is lik via a few tweets

 

 

#Schoolrunstories

Starting out on Cycle Commuting

What’s it like to start cycle commuting…

Today, I guided a friend on a weekend trial run of her route to & from work from Corstorphine in West Edinburgh to Waterloo Place at the East End of Princes St – a journey of 5 miles.

For me as an experienced cyclists a straightforward route down the Bus lanes on the A8 and then either Princes St or George St across the centre depending on my mood for battling buses.

On the way to meet her, I tried to think of the key pieces of advice I would give her. I came up with 3:

 

1. You are traffic.  Don’t ride in the gutter / door zone and don’t be afraid of holding your ground in the traffic flow to make it absolutely clear that there isn’t space to pass.

2. Don’t ride up the inside of Lorries, Buses or Coaches.

3. Just because there is cycle infrastructure doesn’t mean you should use it. Badly designed cycle infrastructure can put you into more danger than none at all (e.g. lanes in door zones or getting caught midway to an Advanced Stop Line (ASL) at the front of a traffic queue). Meanwhile good infrastructure makes all the difference.

(we came up with another one whilst out on the road, shown further down)

 

We started out on the quiet back streets of Corstorphine and could put rule 1 into practice by staring down some oncoming traffic who were deterred from squeezing us as they overtook parked cars. So far so good.

We were following Quiet Route 9, which takes in the Pinkhill Railway and whilst a bit wiggly is ideal for a beginner. The thing that is unnerving is not knowing the streets and so the potential to feel a bit lost.

 

 

We got to Roseburn fairly straightforwardly with my friend in good spirits.  Rather than battling traffic on the main road we decided to take the infamous NCR1 which heads along Russell Road before tackling the ZigZags – a bit of hard work for my friend.

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Russell Road Zig Zags

The route then heads along Balbirnie Place and down a narrow path to one of the trickiest parts of the route – Haymarket Yards, with tram tracks that are impossible to cross anywhere near a 90degree angle.  The only solution is to take the very narrow edge of the road without crossing any tramtrack, breaking rule number 1.

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Haymarket Yards Tram Tracks

It is on National Cycle Route 1, but that name doesn’t imply quality. Think of it like the A Roads round the very North of Scotland. They appear on a map to show you it is possible to travel there and encourage you to visit but when you get there you find that they are single track, with sharp bends / inclines and limited capacity.

 

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To go for the ASL or not?

 

Leaving Haymarket Yards we took a left onto the A8 and then an unpleasant right turn where we were left stranded in the lane while we waited for a gap. The cobbles of Coates Garden weren’t very good to cycle on and Eglinton Crescent was fairly benign on the weekend but I fear will be problematic on a weekday.

The rest of the route through the West End gave us chance to practice rule 3 and not try to get to the Advanced Stop Line and instead waiting in line.

 

 

 

 

 

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George Street

 

 

More cobbles getting round West Register House and we were soon onto George Street, which is currently in a state of flux having had a trial with segregated cycle paths and now is back to the old road set up whilst we await the permanent solution.The wide cycle path outside the kerbside parking wasn’t too bad but I could tell my friend was tensing up at the increased complexity and multiple vehicle movements to be aware of.

 

 

 

 

 

Heading on to St Andrews Square we got our first (& only) piece of aggressive driving. Turning left we were tailgated by a taxi. We headed for the right hand lane and the red traffic light shortly ahead to continue round SAS. The taxi driver decided to undertake in the left hand lane and then drift into the right hand lane where we were. As politely as I could manage, I asked him what he was doing as we were already in the right hand lane. We don’t pay road tax apparently…

 

More cobbles again as we skirt round Cafe Royale with more practising of taking the lane to keep a different taxi behind us.  The Balmoral junction is our last mincemeat junction to cross.  This time I stressed the need to take the ASL and get ourselves visible. Not very pleasant but we made it.

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Balmoral Junction

We paused for breath and started to head for home. Facing the Balmoral junction heading West and struggling to think of a safe route we settled on a new rule. Here is rule 4:

4. If in doubt, get off and walk.

We took our own advice and walked down James Craigs Walk round the side of the St James Centre and then through Multrees Walk rather than attempting Princes St.

A telling failure of infrastructure.

Retracing our route West we faced similar challenges as before, although Haymarket Yards is even more tricky as you have cross the tracks at the top and again at the bottom. In between you have a very narrow lane to follow while trying not to hit the kerb or go into the tram tracks and its hard to manage any traffic if you are constrained in a narrow path.

It is no surprise that cyclists have come off their bikes here.  The problem is that nothing will put others off cycling more than hearing that it isn’t safe and nothing says it isn’t safe like a broken bone or road rash.

Cycling isn’t unsafe; it’s very safe. Interacting with motor vehicles on poorly planned infrastructure is what introduces the risks.

That’s why the Roseburn to Leith Walk cyclepath is so important. It gives a clear safe path for people to travel on bikes across the city. Edinburgh residents want more people to travel by bike around their city [62% per BikeLife survey] . A proper path will be welcoming to new cyclists, by limiting interactions with motor vehicles, by avoiding tramtracks- or at least enabling them to be crossed at a safe angle, and – crucially – it will signpost a direct route, that is easy to follow and that doesn’t need a practice run with an experienced friend.

 

[A more detailed review of the problems with current NCR1 Roseburn-Haymarket can be found here]

 

 

And here are the views of my friend:

 

 

The route is very complicated – I own a spokes map and used to commute on the north edinburgh paths in the past – and before today I had tried and failed to work out on paper how this route all connected up – particularly at Roseburn and Haymarket. There are signs up but it was still pretty confusing in places. I might have been tempted to give up just past Murrayfield if I had been trying it on my own. I suspect I might have lost the route altogether at Haymarket and ended up terrified in a bus lane on Princes Street! It makes a lot more sense now I’ve done it – thanks.

With a guide, it turned out to be much more enjoyable than I expected – but I’m still not sure I’ll be brave enough to do it on my own in rush hour. If we’re serious about promoting green travel then commuting a few miles by bike shouldn’t really require bravery!

It was slower than I expected – some of that will have been me – but the route from Roseburn to George St is far from direct. I suspect that’s why a lot of faster cyclists just stick to the main road – whether or not that is also a more dangerous route.

It was nice to discover that most of the route is on quieter roads and not in bus lanes. As a driver, I know how pushy the airport buses can be and don’t relish the idea of sharing space with them on a bike. 

There were a lot of parked cars and no marked bike lane on most of the roads. I’ve not done much cycling on city roads and riding down the middle of the lane wouldn’t have been my instinctive reaction. It turned out to be fine – although not that relaxing with a van or a taxi stuck behind you. When designing bike routes it is perhaps worth remembering that most novice cyclists won’t have a guide to remind them to watch out for car doors and not to give into the temptation to ride in the gutter!

There are a lot of places where the route crosses busier roads – Corstorphine High  St, Balgreen, Roseburn etc. That’s probably unavoidable and they were fine on a Saturday afternoon. Not sure how easy they would be to cross in rush hour though and I wouldn’t want to take a wobbly child on a bike across them.

I didn’t like the unprotected right turns off main roads – particularly at Haymarket. Suspect you could be stuck in the middle of the road, feeling a bit vulnerable and waiting for a gap in the traffic for quite a long time at busier periods.

The gap between the tram tracks and the pavement on the way up and down from Haymarket yards is far too narrow. I wondered what would happen if there was a tram behind me on the way up or down the hill. Would it wait or try to sneak past?

I was concerned in advance about the need to cross tram tracks  (having heard all the stories about injured cyclists). Crossing them at right angles was fine but the road markings don’t make it clear that that’s the only safe way to do it and there isn’t always enough room – particularly when turning back down at Haymarket.

The cobbled stretches are uncomfortable to ride on. Some of them looked quite uneven and I would be more concerned about falling off in rush hour traffic.

George Street was quite pleasant – nice wide cycle lanes, no cobbles and not too much traffic. Getting in and out of George St at Charlotte and St Andrews squares was a faff (no bike lanes and not much signage). St Andrews square was particularly confusing to navigate.

Most of the junctions in town were fine but I felt quite vulnerable at the Balmoral/North Bridge junction.

If there were a more direct route into town with protected bike lanes then cycling would be the obvious way for me to commute to work. As it is, I know I need to get more exercise and I don’t enjoy the bus but I need to balance the risks and work out if I’m brave enough before I start commuting by the existing route.

 

More information on starting to cycling in Edinburgh (or elsewhere) can be found at https://cyclefridays.wordpress.com/

Starting out on Cycle Commuting