If you read the recent council announcement about a public meeting to be held next Tuesday on the latest design proposals for Leith Walk, you could be forgiven for thinking that Greener Leith – along with other community groups – had fully endorsed the council plans.
The release breezily states: ” The event follows a positive meeting in June where local people and organisations gave strong support for an enhanced design for Leith Walk as part of the Leith Programme to make the thoroughfare more pedestrian and cycle friendly.”
But this release, in a somewhat disingenuous omission from officials, fails to mention that since that June meeting the designs for Leith Walk have changed again – and that despite further feedback from Greener Leith that could have improved safety for cyclists – the current version of the plans have instead become significantly more dangerous for cyclists in some sections.
Whilst the designs proposed by the council will still be safer than what we currently have on Leith Walk – they remain far from satisfactory for cyclists.
As a consequence of this official “bait and switch” tactic it seems remarkable to the cyclists we have spoken to about the new, worse designs, that active travel body SUSTRANS are still considering funding the plan in its current form.
What must change: Elm Row
The latest proposed design for Leith Walk has not been made available online, but this photograph of part of it shows the latest proposals for the London Road Junction.
On the face of things there remains a lot to like about this design. Cyclists travelling southbound are able to take advantage of a segregated cycle lane that runs on the pavement all the way from Pilrig Street to Picardy Place. And the cyclist blender roundabout has gone completely.
Similarly, people cycling from London Road will be able to bypass the junction and travel toward Leith Street on a section of segregated lane.
So what has got worse?
Well, have a look at what cyclists travelling northbound on Leith Walk are now expected to do.
In the previous design that segregated cycle lane on Elm Row was a two-way affair as far as the Annandale Street Junction. This meant that less confident cyclists travelling in both directions – including those turning down Leith Walk from London Road – had the option to bypass one of the busiest bus interchanges in the city in relative safety.
In our feedback to the June design – which was supported by cycle campaign group SPOKES – we suggested that the council extend this segregated lane all the way to the Pilrig Street junction, as this would avoid the need for cyclists travelling north to have to share the road with buses at all between Leith Street and Pilrig Street.
Officials acknowledge that this top section of Leith Walk is busier – largely on account of the volume of bus traffic associated with the Annandale Street bus depot.
But instead of extending the length of two-way segregated cycle lane to Pilrig Street, the latest plans have seen the two-way lane shortened so much as to make it virtually pointless for cyclists travelling north down Leith Walk.
In the new, unpublished plans, cyclists travelling north are now expected to navigate that ridiculously busy bus interchange with virtually no cycle facility at all, save for the odd bit of “advisory lane” between the bus lanes – all the way down Elm Row as far as Pilrig Street.
As the photo below shows, busy bus lanes that fizzle out at the complex junctions don’t provide any protection whatsoever to cyclists – regardless of how wide they are.
It’s simply not credible that the council will meet it’s own stated policy aims to boost cycle use significantly if transport engineers continue to believe that it is “safe” for cyclists to navigate streets packed with buses like this one without any protection.
Elm Row is easily wide enough to accommodate that two-way cycle lane, and as the previous plans included one – it is difficult to understand the logic for its removal. Indeed, given the accident record of the street – it’s hard not to view this latest “design” decision as anything other reckless on the part of the council.
When questioned about the new plan at a stakeholder meeting held a few weeks ago, officials suggested that this was because the planned pedestrian crossing opposite the Playhouse was a more suitable crossing point for cyclists – even though there is a similar single phase one proposed just north of the Montgomery Street crossing in the plans.
What must change: The Foot of the Walk
Elsewhere, the design has been weakened too – to favour traffic capacity over clean forms of transport.
Notably, the computers have said no to a pedestrian and bike friendly junction at the Foot of the Walk.
Instead the latest design we saw brought back the multi-stage pedestrian crossings and filter lanes – ostensibly on the basis that the traffic congestion caused by a safe junction design would increase air pollution.
We did send a request to council officials to share the Foot of the Walk traffic modelling report in full, but rather than just email it out, they chose to designate the request as an Freedom of Information request.
This is a tactic that will ensure that the report will not make it into the public domain until after the next public consultation meeting on Tuesday the 23rd of July. Indeed it is possible that the design will have been finalised and put out to tender by the time we receive it.
Therefore, only council officials know the assumptions – and indeed the results – associated with the computer model that enabled them to reach the conclusion that the traffic congestion “caused” by the safer design (as opposed to the vehicles themselves) is “unacceptable.”
Did the model take account of the impact of the traffic restrictions that will be imposed if the council is forced to introduce a Low Emissions Zone in the area for example? Did the model factor in a modal shift towards cycling? How much did the model account for people choosing other routes when faced with traffic congestion? Nobody knows except a handful of public servants.
What is clear already by the weight given to the computer model by officials however, is that when it comes to motoring, the polluter pays principle evidently doesn’t apply.
Needless to say, we’ve already pointed out to council officials that perhaps the answer to tackling air pollution in Leith might not be “more dangerous polluting traffic,” but making it safer and more convenient for people to switch to more cleaner modes of travel like cycling and walking.
Afterall, we have already provided council officials with evidence which shows that 49% of Leithers would cycle more if there was better cycle infrastructure.
Take Action: What you can do now.
There have been so many consultations on Leith Walk that most people could be forgiven for succumbing to consultation fatigue by this point.
However, the meeting next week is likely to be the last significant chance for people to influence the final design. It is vitally important that officials are persuaded to make the design as safe as possible as the number of cycle deaths on Scotland’s roads seems to be increasing.
Just days ago, 79 year old Leither, Douglas Brown was hit by a lorry in West Lothian and died from his injuries. Last year there were 167 cyclists seriously injured on Scotland’s roads.
Therefore, if you can go to the drop-in public consultation meeting on Tuesday 23 July at the Nelson Hall in the McDonald Road Library, from 2-8pm, and you are concerned about cycle safety on Elm Row, please raise this important issue with the council officials that are there.
Try to be as specific as possible. For example, if you want to see Elm Row made safer by extending the two-way lane to Pilrig Street, tell officials that explicitly.
If you cannot go to the meeting, but you share our concerns over cycle safety please send your local councillors an email explaining your concerns, as they will be responsible for signing off the final design in the coming weeks.
You could also send your email to the Transport Convenor Cllr Lesley Hinds. Her email address is [email protected]
Photo credit: Couch Boy