New draft plans for Leith Walk have been given a cautious welcome by Greener Leith, as well as other local community groups after they were released this week.
Although for many the devil is in the detail, several of the key failings of the earlier draft that we identified have been at least partially addressed.
The new plans have heeded Scottish Government policy far more, with pedestrians given top priority. The pavements are to be widened, and instead of staggered crossings that force people to wait for several minutes to ‘island hop’ across the street – the new plans include around five zebra crossings.
In addition, where there are signalised crossings, the traffic islands have been removed – so people will be able to cross at junctions like the Foot of the Walk and Pilrig Street in one go.
Below you can see how the new proposals for the Foot of the Walk would look:
This narrowing of the carriageway, combined with the additional pedestrian crossings is likely to have the effect of slowing traffic down, and deterring double parking.
As with the redesigned Shore, the wider pavements will be particularly beneficial to businesses on the sunny side of the street as it will allow more room for tables and chairs.
From Pilrig Street, southbound, space has been found for a dedicated cycle lane running all the way up to Picardy Place. This section of the street is the part that carries the most buses and has the steepest gradient. Therefore, this piece of cycle infrastructure will go a long way to making the street feel far safer for people contemplating cycling into town.
However, the most significant change is the plan to remove the roundabout at the London Road junction entirely.
As you can see from the diagram below, it could be replaced with a signalised T-junction. As well as this – a dedicated crossing for a two-way bike track has been designed in, with priority to cyclists approaching from London Road into the city centre too.
Plus there is more space for pedestrians – who will not have to detour all the way down London Road past the Blenheim place junction just to cross the road as they do at present.
The clock and pigeons that were removed when tram works started, will also be returned – most probably to the top of Elm Row.
Sadly, to make this happen, the council insists it must apply for further funding to the Scottish Government and there’s no guarantee yet that the cash will be forthcoming.
There are remaining aspects of the design that could still be improved.
Why for example, are the bike lanes not mandatory – rather than advisory?
If it has proven impractical to put the bike lanes on the pavements side of the parked cars as we had previously argued, there must surely be a good case for painting a solid line between the moving traffic and the bike lane. This would make it mandatory – rather than advisory. Where possible hatchings could be used to provide a “buffer” to help cut “dooring” accidents too.
We believe designers should at the very least consider something like the lanes in this photo below:
How will people travelling north on the two-way cycle lane that stops at Annandale Street cross to the other side of the road? Why can’t the two-way lane be extended all the way to Pilrig Street?
There are still some parts of the street where cyclists must share in the bus lanes. Can more be done to avoid this?
Whatever the answers to these questions are, there can be little doubt that the council has now shown that it is at least taking on board feedback that it has received, and that this new design will be far safer.
The new design will also see a reduction in the number of car parking spaces on the street, something that may concern some traders. However, we have always believed that with better enforcement of the existing 1 hour regulations that this is a problem that can be overcome. This was certainly the case in New York when similar measures were put in place, and it is a point we reiterated to officials last week.
In addition, council officials have suggested that the former tram depot could be opened up to provide free public parking to offset this loss, were these plans to get the go ahead.
Leith Central Community Council have been critical of the time it has taken the council to repair Leith Walk. In addition to finding the cash to put these plans into action, council officers warned that they will need to go through the legal process of gaining a Traffic Regulation Order.
This could take a couple of months extra, but as it would mean that around £1m extra would be spent on improving the north end of Leith Walk, our first impressions were that this time penalty would be worth it in the long run. However, others may take a different view.
At the outset of the process, the council were only intending on spending around £3.4m on the street – barely enough to resurface the road and replace the pavement like for like. If the Scottish Government cash does come through, it’s been suggested that around £8m could end up being spent revitalising the street.
Is it worth the wait to put in place these more people friendly designs? Are the designs bike and pedestrian friendly enough? We’re keen to hear your thoughts. Please add them into the comments below.
For anyone wishing to view the designs in detail and speak to the project team about any aspect of the programme, a drop in session will be held at McDonald Road Library on Tuesday 23 July, from 2pm and 8pm.
What they said:
Sustrans Scotland have been working with the council to draw up the new plans. Director, John Lauder, said: “Sustrans Scotland wants to see Leith Walk reach its full potential as a busy, vibrant shopping and residential street. In order to achieve this aim, the City of Edinburgh Council, in partnership with ourselves, has put forward an ambitious proposal to Transport Scotland for the full 2.2km length of the street.
“Sustrans strongly backs the features of this ‘enhanced design’ for Leith Walk, including the addition of new crossing points, wider pavements and better cycle lane provision. We now call on the Scottish Government to carefully consider the Council’s ‘enhanced design’ proposal and fully back its implementation.”
Keith Hales, Vice Chairman of the Leith Business Association, who attended the meeting, said: “This is a massive improvement on what we thought the designs were going to be and we will be commending the designs to the membership.”
Charlotte Encombe, Chair of Greener Leith, said: “Greener Leith welcomes the improvements shown in these exciting new draft designs for Leith Walk, which will give pedestrians and cyclists a vastly improved public realm and help to revitalise the economy of the area. We are also delighted that officers and councillors have included local people’s priorities for the street and have made real changes to the design. We look forward to collaborating on the detail of the designs as the project moves forwards.”
Photo credit: Manzinare