Following our Vision for Leith Walk consultation, the debate over cycle lanes continues to rumble on in public, in the city chambers – and no doubt behind the closed doors of the council offices.
Fortunately, one of our local councillors has shared a briefing by local council officers outlining their current thinking on cycle lanes on Leith Walk. It makes interesting reading:
A cynic with memories of Yes, Minister (hence the video clip above) might say that the document reads more like a list of reasons why cycle lanes cannot be built on the street, rather than a genuine attempt to come up with affordable options that might work for everyone – and the Cycle Campaign Pedal on Parliament have written a response to the figures in the council briefing in this blog post:
“The building up of costs in this way seems ‘questionable’ at best. Questions arise more than answers, such as why do utilities need to be relocated for a segregated cycle lane? Why are there more crossing points? What water drainage issues are there that are different from the normal road?
“The Council may have considered some plans that have a Copenhagen-style segregation – raised bike lanes separated from the road by a low kerb (just like a pavement); traffic lights for bikes, etc. This is the sort of infrastructure that an aspiring ‘model cycling city’ would look to as a perfect solution (but even the Danes haven’t spent this much to build their cycle infrastructure), and if it proved too expensive would consider alternatives and tweaks that might bring the same benefits to one of the most cycle-unfriendly streets in the country. Instead there is a danger that the £2.8m plans (wherever they may have come from) will be dismissed as ‘too expensive’, and any alternative simply not considered.
“To ignore any possibility because the ideal is seen as unachievable brings to mind the proverbial cut off nose spiting the face. If the entire road was to be resurfaced would we be looking at the utilities being moved? Why then for a segregated cycle lane? Can a cycle lane be put nowhere else on one of the widest streets in the city other than a position that requires moving lampposts (sorry, lighting columns)? Four lanes of traffic, parking on both sides of the street, a central reservation, and some wide pavements, and yet there is no ‘space’ for cyclists?
“Cities like Vancouver, New York and Chicago show how cheaply and easily such transformations can be made, without costly requirements to build in concrete. A much simpler system is to use two solid white lines with either rubber kerbs or plastic bollards at intervals of a couple of meters. These solutions are cheap, quick to implement and flexible.”
So that’s what the cycle lobby have to say.
But we’ve also had comment from a small number of urbanists and architects via Twitter that cycle lanes somehow lead to a “poor quality built environment” – even though the rather woolly indications we’ve received from them suggests that the orthodox view of a “good quality public realm” would either put cyclists in danger with traffic on the street which few people seem to want – as per the status quo – or exacerbate conflict with pedestrians on mixed use, unmarked pavements.
Fortunately, one urbanist in the city has come forwards with a constructive example to think about. He (we’ll not name names to protect the innocent) suggested that middle meadow walk could be used as a bit of an inspiration for a Leith Walk route.
The Middle Meadow Walk option
We’ve already posted Youtube clips from US city’s that are implementing protected cycle ways on their streets for far less than the Edinburgh estimates outlined by council officers.
But the Middle Meadow walk option got us thinking.
Could an extra wide, mixed use, pavement with a white line painted down the middle be added to the West side of the street, from the Picardy Place tram stop all the way to the Foot of the Walk?
To our thinking this is another option that could provide a safe place for cyclists, whilst avoiding many of the costs outlined in the above council briefing. Here are some early advantages we can see for this approach:
- Avoid costly re-engineering of the London Road and Picardy Place junctions.
- It would cut costs because only half the amount of street furniture/lighting columns/utilities need to be moved – the east side of the street would be largely unaffected.
- A two-way cycle lane would serve to modify cycle speeds, whilst minimising conflict between pedestrians and cyclists because cyclists would need to negotiate with each other – rather than with pedestrians.
- The large brownfield sites adjacent to the Western side of the street, such as at Shrubhill allow for extra pedestrian space to be added when these sites are developed.
- It would minimise any reduction in on-street parking/loading car parking spaces on the street – again because the east side of the street would be unaffected.
- It would integrate nicely with the tram stop at Picardy place, the MacDonald Road on street cycle links and The Shore area/North Edinburgh Cycle Network via the Kirkgate shopping centre at the Foot of the Walk.
- It maintains a safe space for cyclists travelling in both directions on the walk.
One things for certain. creative solutions for Leith Walk will be needed in order to strike the right balance for all the street users without breaking the bank.
No-one we know is calling for a gold plated option that prioritises the needs of cyclists over the needs of other people.
But we do need to consider any option that could be safer – and responds to what people say they would like to see on the street. Even if they’ve never been done anywhere else before.