Over the last few months I have been following the final stages of Edinburgh City Councils planning process to build a new cycle route from the west of the city, near Murrayfield stadium, through the centre of the capital to the east in Leith.
The bold scheme which includes plenty of segregated cycle lanes will provide a safe and direct route for those wanting to commute to the city by bike (as well as making improvements to pedestrian safety) and the desired outcome is more people on bikes, less in cars which leads to less pollution and a clearer, healthier, happier Edinburgh.
However, being bold and ambitious the planned route has inevitably been met with scepticism and objection. The reasons people give when they say they are against the route are the same ones which are echoed across the country every time new or improved cycling infrastructure is put on the agenda and they are born out of prejudices and misinformation either personal or fed by the media. Perhaps the biggest thing holding back progress though is the human follies of fear of change and comfort in the status quo.
I sent my investigator, the well known historian and cyclist Giles Ripwell, to report on the project. He found out about the various campaigns who are for and against the scheme and revealed the concerns people have which make them wary of something which may be of a benefit to them in the future. He also reports from a highly charged public meeting which showed the type of miss-information and stubbornness which campaigners for safer cycling constantly have to battle against.
Myself and Giles are not involved in any of the campaigns and our thoughts are purely personal. The comments made in the meeting are not satire.
Ripwell Reports. Roseburn to Leith Walk Cycle Route.
The Roseburn to Leith Walk cycle route has been a project which The City Of Edinburgh Council has been putting together since the initial feasibility study in early 2014. They are keen to fulfill their promise to “make Edinburgh’s transport system one of the most environmentally friendly, healthiest and most accessible in Northern Europe by 2030” and the route they have been planing would help them achieve that. Original public consultation was promising with 72% of respondents strongly supporting and only 15% strongly against it. There were some residents and businesses along the route who rightly had concerns about some aspects of the plan, it was going to impact their day to day lives after all, and most contentions centred around the Roseburn Terrace and West Coates parts of the plan. A local residents group going by the name of Roseburn Cycle Route was set up and started spending plenty of time gathering facts about this and other schemes to provide evidence based answers to peoples worries. They broadly support the councils plan and believe it will be a benefit to the area.
Everything seemed to be going along smashingly but as the saying goes “Turning roads into cycle paths turns people into psychopaths”. Along came a fellow calling himself campaigning force Mr Peter Greggsons and his organisation Suits Not Kids. He was very much against the proposed infrastructure. Rather than encouraging safe, pollution free transport which would benefit future generations he would rather be a thorn in the councils side so no money gets wasted on bureaucracy. Being “a cyclist himself” though he formulated an alternative route for the council to consider and called it the “Roseburn Vision” or the “NCN1”. The vision must have been something special because a petition in favour of it gained 3500 signatures before it was even released. It may be possible that the signatures were from folk who read alarmist posters titled ‘Save Our Shops’ which ignored evidence which Roseburn Cycle Route had already gathered and suggested businesses could lose customers and close down because of the route. One real fear that businesses had was the loss of loading bays. This was addressed by the council and their plans were revised. Roseburn Cycle Route were happy with these challenges to the council, and the changes, as it gave businesses a better deal than the original plan while keeping the scheme on track. Suits Not Kids weren’t finished however and pressed ahead with the vision. Loading bays weren’t their only gripe with segregated cycling.
Another group which had concerns about aspects of the project are Living Streets Edinburgh. They are a local group of a national charity which campaigns for everyday walking. In principle they support new cycling infrastructure as long as it doesn’t take space away from existing pedestrianised areas. They also want pedestrian safety to be a consideration in any new cycle schemes and had highlighted a few areas in the councils plans where cyclists and walkers could come into conflict. They seem to have been working with the council in a calm and constructive way to try and provide a better deal for those they serve. A few of their concerns have been addressed but they are still very unhappy with the part of the route which will cut through a heavily used pavement on Princes Street.
After further consultation the council drew up an alternative plan which would go before the transport committee as well as the original. The decision on whether Option A (the original) or Option B would get the go ahead would be made by the committee on the 30th of August. A further decision to delay the decision or reject both proposals could also be made but with plenty of research and fact gathering already done this was unlikely. However,
A public meeting was set up by those opposing the cycle route and was held on August 2nd. Some of Edinburgh’s councillors who are on the transport committee, and therefore responsible on deciding the outcome of the matter, were present. So the anti-routers were anxious to put their views across and were probably ready to listen to the other sides arguments too as they must have wanted what was best for Roseburn. With the final decision less than two months away this would be their final opportunity to have their say so they would have had plenty of information to share with their guests to try and bring them round to their way of thinking.
Here is a not so brief summary of a long and heated meeting (my notes are in brackets):
Phil Noble the senior cycling officer on the council kicked things off. He explained that the project was part of the councils plan to make Edinburgh a people friendly city. He said surveys showed that large numbers of people in the city wanted to cycle but they wanted safer and more direct routes so the plan was there to make that happen. He added that cycling routes converged at Roseburn hence the importance that it is designed properly to ensure it is a safe through route. He went on to say workshops were held with locals, cycle groups and businesses to help the design and there was a need for an alternative to the NCN1 as it was less direct and came into contact with trams. He finished by saying he had spoken to every business in the last two months and after listening to concerns changes were made to the plans so now loading bays were to be on both sides of the road at Roseburn Terrace.
Questions were then taken from the floor. There were some worries raised about businesses having to change delivery times and whether the design of a junction was right. When someone asked why a segregated lane was causing so much hostility when it would reduce risk things started getting animated then the anti-routers fired their first shot. “It’s not safe to load from the other side of the road” one of them cried. But, there’s loading on both sides he was told.
Next up was Peter Greggsons from Suits Not Kids. The leader of the anti-routers was bound to have some good points to make. He admited to being a cyclist and doesn’t think the proposal is right. He confessed that if he cycles 2 miles he gets sweaty so it’s unlikely that other people would cycle further. He then claimed that tram tracks weren’t as dangerous as made out before suggesting that better paint on cycle lanes was the way forward. He then explained that there’s 28 shops on Roseburn Terrace and loading would be cut by half, (or in real life, 22%).He said shoppers won’t be able to (illegally) use loading bays if lorries are there, (presumably the cycle lanes kerb also means they won’t be able to drive onto the pavement to park too). Mr Greggsons added that the NCN1 just needs better sign posting and suggested that more should be done to encourage the use of buses. Some might have thought he had completely missed the point of the council trying to improve conditions for cycling but he had one more trick up his sleeve to get them on side, the petitions. He pointed out that the petition in favour of the scheme had people living in areas away from the proposed route and therefore they shouldn’t carry as much weight. (For clarity from henseforth I will refer to these people as commuters). He then proudly mentioned the survey which showed 90% support for the vision.
Peter Greggsons then took some questions. Firstly he was asked: “Do you think it’s alright to fill in petitions with false addresses?” He said “yes” and “because it was for an anti-gun petition”. Next someone told him the point of scheme was to increase cycling and reduce car use which the vision wouldn’t do. Ah but “commuting cyclists would have different view from council and may not use their scheme.” (Presumably the commuters who agreed with the scheme in the original petition). He claimed the council didn’t use an economic case but improved health benefits as justification for the scheme. (Improved health is a benefit to economics) A respiratory physician, siding with Greggsons, said option A would be a disaster as it will increase congestion and pollution which is a cause of respiratory disease. (Apart from the fact that when recent roadworks which reduced some of the stretch down to two lanes showed there was no increase in congestion he may have a point).
A Gentleman from Donaldson’s Amenity Association was next to speak.
He said he was also a cyclist and sees the proposal as dangerous so current commuters won’t use the scheme. In his opinion filling in pot holes and better signage would be a better solution. In fairness to him he said he wants safer cycle routes. But still opposes the scheme. The fellow then mentioned Holland where good cycling infrastructure is common and explained it works there because it doesn’t get as dark so cyclists don’t need to worry about lights from oncoming traffic. He finished by saying the project would aggravate drivers because they will have space taken away from them and aggravating drivers doesn’t help cyclists and pedestrians. While he was talking someone in the audience asked hiw many people are killed along the stretch. “Typically one a year” was the answer. Someone was heard saying “All this for one cyclist a year?”
Next up was a trader from Roseburn Terrace, a chap called George Rendall. He would be the final member of the opposition to speak.
He was adamant that shops will close if the plans go ahead. He said that he had asked every commuting cyclist if they would use it and no one had said yes. Furthermore, in his opinion, pedestrians will be terrified to use the pavement. (Though I assume they’ll be able to get down the pavement without cars parked on it). He explained that 50% of customers come by car but cyclists wouldn’t use his service because they can’t collect shopping by bike. “It’s illegal to carry large objects by bike” he added. A point was raised from the floor that other bike lanes show trade goes up. “Roseburn is different” was his reponse.
Next up was Roseburn Cycle Route who would be putting the case for the project to the concerned public.
As soon as he started people began walking out. “We need to act on air pollution.” The reply from the floor was “I don’t want to hear this waffle” as more people got ready to leave. Roseburn Cycle Route were putting across the reasons for a safe cycle route into the city. Here are some of them: A healthier mode of transport was needed as increasing obesity costs NHS £600m pa. There is a need to tackle congestion as there’s not space for everyone to drive into the city. 43% of hoseholds don’t have cars but cars have on average only 1.2 people in them. (More walk out). Population is growing in Edinburgh and they can’t keep using cars. They stated that 50% of people live within a 15 min cycle to work but what’s stopping them? The answer is dangerous tram tracks, unsafe and busy roads meaning no safe route into city. So, they pointed out, the plan is for people who don’t currently cycle but want to because,after all, why should you be brave to take a mode of transport? To answer questions on design it was pointed out that the plan uses best practice from elsewhere. And as for the cost? Forcasts show that the route will deliver £13m in benefits. Throughout Roseburn Cycle Routes slot people had been trickling out.
There were then more questions and points raised from the floor.
There was a complaint about cyclists speeding in Roseburn park, at 30mph. (It’s not know whether the complaint came from one of the many drivers that nonchalantly speed through Roseburn Terrace).There was then a complaint about pavement cycling. (It’s not know whether the complaint came from one of the many drivers that illegally park on the pavement on Roseburn Terrace). Another concerned resident pointed out that London and Europe have different climates and people won’t cycle in Edinburgh. He certainly has a point as Amsterdam, with a similar annual temperature, has slightly more rainfall over a typical year. Another point was made that pollution was not going to fall. (An opinion, not fact).
It was now down to the final speaker, David Spaven from Living Streets Edinburgh
More people were leaving. He Welcomed the scheme as it would improve walking safety as well as that for cyclists. He had concerns about floating bus stop and speeding cyclists. His view was that they need to turn Roseburn into people friendly not vehicle friendly place. Option B was his preference as both pavements are widened in that plan. He said he was impressed with the councils willingness to listen to his concerns. He was not keen on the vision, which has segments which both cyclists have to use together. He believes shared use is no good and does nothing for pedestrians and infact makes things worse for them. Greggsons defended the vision by saying he hasn’t seen conflict on one of the shared use paths in Edinburgh.
And with that the meeting drew to a close.
I would like to thank Mr Ripwell for his report.
The decision on which option (A or B), if any, will get the go ahead is being made by the Transport Committee of the City of Edinburgh Council on Tuesday the 30th of August. I hope they honour their promise to “make Edinburgh’s transport system one of the most environmentally friendly, healthiest and most accessible in Northern Europe by 2030” and ignore the baseless reasons behind opposition to the scheme.