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?
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.