Cycling

Improving the Local Development Plan

Leith Harbour Image

Since Greener Leith first got established we’ve seen a lot of plans come and go for the neighbourhood. The graphic above shows a long abandoned plan for Leith Docks.

At the moment the council is currently consulting, for the second time, on the next Local Development Plan. For those that don’t know, the Local Development Plan, when it is finally agreed in 2016, is likely to become the document against which all new planning applications are assessed for years to come.

If a developer tries to get planning permission for something which goes against the grain of the Development Plan then they are more likely to have their proposals turned down.

For this reason, it’s important that local folk have a look at the proposed plan, and submit comments if there’s anything that you think needs to be changed.

Greener Leith has proposed a series of changes to the latest proposed plan and we outline the reasons why below. During the development of the plan, in  January 2012, during the “Main Issues” public consultation, we also put in a lengthier response which you can find here.

The drawn-out nature of the consultation process has allowed us to have a look at what other organisations are also lobbying for, and we noted in March 2013, that Forth Ports were still trying to persuade planners to put in place regulations which would make it easier for the firm to resurrect their deeply unpopular plans for a giant power plant on the docks, even though their original plans were officially scrapped a year earlier, in March 2012.

Our post highlighting this lobbying has recently been circulated around a number of the local community councils and so part of our latest Local Development Plan submission has been informed by the responses we’ve seen from other organisations, such as Forth Ports.

In our response we’ve tried to show that Greener Leith remains supportive of genuinely decentralised, efficient, biomass powered heat-networks in the city.

However, as we’ve maintained throughout our opposition to Forth Ports Leith Docks power plant proposals, there is a world of difference between this vision and Forth Ports historic ambitions to build an inefficient, giant power plant.

Sustainble Energy

Campaigning against poor development

Campaigning against poor development

On sustainable energy, we have therefore proposed that the any new “Major Development” in the city is required to incorporate district heating infrastructure, with a local CHP plant scaled to the needs of the development. We add that this requirement could be waived if all the buildings in a major development are built to Passivhaus standards.

We also call on the council to add a further clause to the Local Development Plan such that any new large biomass power plant proposals must be designed to operate with a minimum 70% efficiency from the outset, as demanded by EU Directives on biomass.

Lastly, we also point out that the poor air quality on Salamander Street, where legal limits on particulate emissions are already regularly breached, may make the Leith Docks an unsuitable site for any form of waste-to-energy incinerator, although there is a site safeguarded there in the proposed Local Development Plan.

Together these three clauses do not rule out the development of a large biomass plant on the docks entirely, but if they were accepted, they would mean that any proposal would at least deliver genuine environmental benefits, without negatively impacting the quality of life of local residents.

These proposals would also “tip the regulatory balance” toward smaller-scale district heating projects. Sustainable heating is important, but we’d far rather see a series of smaller CHP plants, such as those installed at Cables Wynd House, eventually linked up to form a “heat network,” than one giant inefficient plant built on the docks. Aberdeen has shown how this can be done. 

Greenspace

Following the recent census, it emerged that Leith is now one of the most densely populated places in the UK outside London. This means that green space is under pressure in Leith. Back in the days when Forth Ports were going to convert Leith Docks for residential uses, there were proposals to create a number of new parks on the docks. Now that those plans are long gone, so are the new parks proposals, even though Leith’s population is still likely to rise, with considerable new areas of housing planned for Western Harbour and around the margins of the docks.

An earlier Leith Links Seaward Extension Plan

LLSE plan

Given this, we think it’s important that new areas of green space are created. In our submission to the Local Development Plan, we call for the Leith Links Seaward Extension to be fully realised. The current LDP proposals would see it truncated and reduced to a “cycle path safe-guard” in its northward section and this seems a wasted opportunity.

Current Leith Links extension proposals

Reduced Leith Links Extension in LDP

We also argue that a new park should be created close to Ocean Terminal, where more high-density mixed-use development is proposed.

It’s clear that there’s a need for another event space in that area, and a public green space close to the water could help to attract more visitors to the area, prevent that waterfront from being entirely privatised, and act as a buffer zone between more residential/office uses and the proposed industrial zone over the water.

Sustainable Transport

When it comes to transport we propose a number of alterations to the policies on private parking provision in new developments, proposing that new developments, close to good public transport links, such as anything built around Ocean Terminal, should not include extensive private parking facilities as the potential traffic caused could have a negative impact on the existing areas where air pollution is already breaking – or nearly breaking – pollution laws.

And lastly, we also call for the Local Development Plan to safeguard the route of a potential cycle route linking the Water of Leith, Pilrig Park and Leith Academy.

See our detailed responses

If you would like to see the exact wording of our responses, you can see them all here. 

You have until the 3rd of October to put a submission into the Local Development Plan Consultation. You can find all the supporting documentation on-line on the City of Edinburgh Council website. 

Cycle path gates installed ‘incorrectly,’ admit officials

IMG_8660.JPG

Last week we highlighted frustrations that cycle path funding was apparently being used by the council to build a path on Leith Links that would be impossible for some cyclists to cycle on.

Now it’s come to light thanks to enquiries made by Leith councillor, Chas Booth, after our blog post, that officials have admitted that they’re going to need to reinstall the chicane gates and tactile paving that has recently been added to the Leith Links path close to St Mary’s Primary School.

Despite this acknowledgement, officials are still refusing to follow the official standards set-out in the Scottish Government, Cycle By Design, guidance document.

In a written response to Cllr Booth, a council “Strategic Planning Manager” said: “I can confirm that the barriers and tactile paving have not been installed correctly. The Council has raised these issues with the contractor and they will be returning within the next week to correct the work before the path is re-opened.

“This will include moving the barriers to provide a 2.5m gap between them and aligning the ends of the barriers with each other. Whilst Cycling by Design defines a ‘desirable minimum’ gap of 3m this is not an ‘absolute minimum’ and we have also taken into consideration the concerns raised about the speed of cyclists by parents of schoolchildren. A wider space (1.5m) between the wall and the ends of the barriers will also be provided.

“The incorrect tactile paving will be replaced with a ladder/tramline pattern to indicate to visually impaired people which side of the path is for pedestrians and which for cyclists.

“This applies for the section of path in front of the school (either side of the chicanes) which is to be segregated with a white line as per the plan shown to, and agreed by, the Leith Links Steering Group.

“Once the above works have been completed the path will be re-opened to the public.”

So there you have it. This decision begs the question: How much slower does this “undesirable minimum” 2.5m gap make a cyclist go, compared to a 3m gap? And do council officials know this? Or is this 17% reduction in space that was supposed to be between the gates just an arbitrary number officials plucked out of the air?

It remains to be seen whether a 2.5m gap between the gates is sufficient to allow people with tag-alongs, child bike trailers, wheelchairs, double buggies and tandems to move slowly through the gates, or whether officials are deliberately planning to force users of these wheeled objects to chew up the grass in the Links further.

Here’s hoping a 2.5m gap is sufficient for everyone.

Photo Credit: Chris Hill

Leith councillor calls for bike safety improvements after Pedal on Parliament

Adam McVey

Leith Councillor, and now vice-convenor of the Transport and Environment Committee, Adam McVey has called on officials to assess whether there is any scope to improve the design of the Meadowbank shopping centre junction to make it safer for cyclists.

He pledged to take action after joining Leithers to ride to the Pedal on Parliament protest this weekend.

The ride took the safest possible route from Leith Links to the Meadows, but as the council still has a long way to go before its “family network” of paths is fully joined up, to complete the journey people still needed to cycle on the road in places.

Indeed, if you look at the plans (click twice on the map below for a larger version) for the family network set out in the council’s Active Travel Action Plan, it could be at least 2020, before safe links are built in this area.

Family Network

The area outside the Meadowbank shopping centre is the most dangerous part, as cyclists travelling West from Marionville Road must negotiate a roundabout, and then cut across a lane of traffic in order to get into the right position on the junction so that they can continue westwards on London Road.

The cycle facilities that do exist around the junction are non-existent on the Westward arms of the junction, and whilst there is a segregated route provided for people travelling in the opposite direction, it is short, badly signposted, deeply inconvenient and ends in a bus stop on Marionville Road (really).

In short, there’s certainly room for improvement. And therefore most cyclists will welcome this pledge from Cllr McVey.

Just goes to show how helpful it is to have politicians actually come out on these rides to experience for themselves what it’s like to navigate through the city by bike, and perhaps discover at first hand how other, less confident, or more vulnerable cyclists (such as people with children in a bike seat), may experience “on-road” cycle facilities that officials may regard as ‘adequate.’

Greener Leith would like to thank Grant Mason once again for leading the Leith feeder ride to Pedal on Parliament this year.

Q: When is a big budget for cycling a bad thing?

Leith Links cycle path

A: When the budget is wasted on bad facilities that deter the thing they were supposed to promote.

If you’ve been to Leith Links recently, you’ll have noticed that the path that runs along the north edge of the park is in the midst of being upgraded.

This work is being carried out to improve the surface, and make it wider. Whilst many of the paths in Leith Links need similar treatment, this path is important because it is now a key part of the city’s active travel network – and as a consequence this means it’s being used by a lot more cyclists.

But sadly it would seem that the important details of the upgrade work fails to meet national standards, with a design so poor, that questions must be asked about the specification and management of the whole project. So what’s wrong with it?

Well, first off, as the photo above shows, folk have already noticed that the “wrong” kind of tactile paving is being installed on the path. This tactile paving is largely to help visually impaired people navigate the paths, to indicate junctions and to try to make it clear which side of the path is for cyclists and which is for pedestrians.

In the case of Leith Links, where the path is, for the most part, not split along it’s whole length into a side for cyclists and a side for pedestrians like some of the paths are in the Meadows, whether it’s really beneficial to suggest that the path is to be used like this to visually impaired people is questionable.

Tactile Paving guidance

Furthermore, on paths which are designed as shared use paths, for the use of cyclists and pedestrians, the ridges on this tactile paving are supposed to be flat topped, not round, to reduce the chance of people on bikes falling off when they go over them. The diagram above taken from DETR guidance clearly shows this. In Leith Links they’re busy installing tactile paving with the more slippy, rounded profile.

tactile slabs

Remarkably, when the council chose to install this paving in the Meadows exactly the same mistake over the type of surface was made and it all had to be replaced at great expense to the council.

After what happened in the Meadows, it’s jaw droppingly hard to believe the same mistake has been made months later on Leith Links, but it has. The question is, will the council rectify their mistakes in Leith Links too?

However, that ain’t the only bizarre design decision that’s been taken.

Ever since the volume of cycle traffic on the Leith Links path began to increase, the chicane gates outside St Mary’s Primary School were looking more and more problematic.

The gates were so close together that virtually every cyclist simply took a detour onto the Links to avoid them, either because they were simply inconvenient, or for people with a trailer, a recumbent, or a tandem, they were impassible, because they were so close together these bikes wouldn’t fit through the gap.

Remarkably, as part of the path upgrade, someone took the decision to remove the old chicanes, and simply replace them with new ones which are still too close together.

The new gates prevent still people with child trailers from using the path without going on the grass.

Yet the path goes to a school, and there are two nursery schools just a few hundred metres from the same cycle route. Apparently no-one thought that making it easier for people to transport their children to school or nursery by bike might be a good thing to do, as part of the design process.

Instead the designers took the decision to install chicanes which fail to comply with Transport Scotland guidance.

Lesley Hinds, the city transport convenor and MSP candidate for the area has defended the current design on the basis that the chicanes are necessary, because the path passes a school at this point. However there are plenty of other ways to slow cyclists down – including speed bumps, signage, colouring the path, rumble strips and, of course, more widely spaced chicanes.

Best practice urban design this isn’t, because all that is going to happen as a consequence of these new gates is what happened before: people will cycle on the grass around the chicanes.

So to sum up, we seem to have a Leith Links path upgrade that does nothing to solve the existing design issues that afflict the path outside St Mary’s school whilst the poorly thought through tactile paving would seem, if anything, to increase the chances of visually impaired people coming into conflict with cyclists.

Not just Leith Links

Lest you think it’s only Leith Links, people have also been baffled by this map that’s recently appeared as part of attempts to revamp the Craigleith junction further west on the North Edinburgh path network.

There are so many mistakes in the map – see for example that the A90 appears in two places, and the place that Haymarket has been transplanted to – that it’s been dubbed the most confusing map ever by local cyclists.

If the council is going to spend 5% of its transport budget on cycling, surely it can do better than this?

Pedal on Parliament 2014 Leith Feeder Ride

Pop feeder ride 2013

It’s time to Pedal on Parliament again.

If you’ve never heard of Pedal on Parliament, then you can find out more about it on their website.

Essentially, thousands of people from all over Scotland converge in the Meadows, and then ride together to Holyrood in the hope of to persuading politicians to do more to make cycling safer for everyone.

Every year since the first Pedal on Parliament protest took place, there has been an organised ‘feeder’ ride from Leith, to help local folk who might not be confident in cycling on their own to the Meadows get there more easily. This photo above shows the amazing turn-out we had for the 2013 Leith feeder ride.

Pedal on Parliament 2014 poster

As you can see we had a huge range of ages and abilities turn out on the day, and even the odd politician joined us, so if you would like to take part in Pedal on Parliament this year but aren’t sure how to get there with your bike then you’d be welcome to join the Leith Feeder ride this year.

Leither Grant Mason has kindly agreed to show everyone which way to go, but please bear in mind that he’s a volunteer, and that this is an informal ride. Therefore, please also remember you’re responsible for your own safety, the safety of any dependants you bring with you, and to bring your own puncture repair kits and so on.

Like last year, the plan is to meet outside the Cricket Club on Leith Links at 9.45am for a 10am departure on Saturday the 26th of April.

The ride will then take mostly traffic free paths to the Meadows. The route is quite scenic, taking in Lochend Park and Holyrood Park along the way. There’s also a bit of an uphill stretch around Holyrood Park to get the heart going, but don’t worry no-one will judge you if you get off an push that bit!

Sadly, it still isn’t possible to get there entirely on traffic free paths, so if you do plan to bring young ones, you should know that you will be responsible for them. As the Pedal on Parliament ride finishes at Holyrood, there’s also an assumption that you’ll be able to retrace your steps back to Leith in your own time on the return journey.

Any questions? Add them into the comments to this post and we’ll try to get back as soon as possible.