As a crunch meeting of the full council looms in December, where councillors are expected to make a decision on whether to extend the tram further down Leith Walk, it would appear that all the draft designs for improving the southern end of the street have been ripped up.
Greener Leith readers with long memories will recall that extensive campaigning on the future of design of Leith Walk ultimately led to the Scottish Government agreeing to provide £3.6m extra towards the cost of repairing the street.
When the money was awarded, the Transport Minister, Keith Brown, said: “The City of Edinburgh Council’s ambitious plans for improving Leith Walk aims to deliver an exemplar commuter corridor. Subject to finalising designs, the Scottish Government is pleased to be able to offer support for this project which has significant potential for promoting much enhanced levels of walking and cycling by across the city.”
And fundamental to producing this “exemplar commuter corridor” were proposals to incorporate a dutch-style segregated lane running from Pilrig Street to Picardy Place, via a much-improved London Road junction where the ‘cyclist blender’ round-about had been removed.
You can see an extract from the draft design in the photo above.
This would take cyclists out of traffic altogether on the steepest, uphill part of the street.
But it would seem that councillors plan to extend the tram rather sooner than some may have thought down Leith Walk, and this means that the road engineers have been forced to rip up their draft plans and go back to the drawing board.
A lengthy email sent by Transport Convenor Lesley Hinds responding to concerns raised by local stakeholders explained the current council position. It’s worth reproducing extracts of this email at some length.
In the email, Cllr Hinds explains that no work has been undertaken at the southern end of Leith Walk so far because, “major changes to Picardy Place” with the beginning of work on the new St James Quarter, “would impact on the operation of the junction at London Road and therefore the redesign of London Road roundabout could also not be progressed.”
She then says: “It has become clear that there is a possibility of a tram extension on Leith Walk in the not too distant future and this would clearly affect the detailed design for the Leith Programme between Pilrig Street to Annandale Street.
“It was not considered prudent to progress the detailed design for this section, which would have involved consulting on and promoting various statutory orders, when there was a very real chance that the design might have to change significantly within a few months, were a decision were to be taken to extend the tram beyond Picardy Place.
“Instead, we have been working on trying to ensure any design for a tram extension incorporates as much as possible of the aspirations of the Leith Programme.
“A further consideration in scheduling construction for the Leith Programme would be the expected construction dates for road works at Picardy Place roundabout, which are likely to commence by summer 2015, and a need to avoid major road works sites operating concurrently, in close proximity.
“A layout design setting out the layout of the pavements and road for the section between Pilrig and Annandale Streets was developed, but this has not been developed to detailed design stage as discussed above.
“However I can confirm that until the outcome of the report in December is known, further design work on this section will not be taken forward. The reason behind this is that it may be that, based on what the Committee decides, the design will need to incorporate some physical features, and adapt aspects of the layout, to support tram operations. As discussed above, a separate, joint group involving representatives from the Leith Programme and tram teams has been exploring various design requirements and options that might be available if there is a decision to extend the tram line.”
The statement from Lesley Hinds would appear to lend some weight to unconfirmed rumours published in the Evening News earlier this month.
The paper suggested that if a decision to extend the tram to Leith is taken “in the not too distant future,” a revised design for the southern half of Leith Walk could include an ‘extra’ tram stop on Leith Walk, possibly at Elm Row or MacDonald Road.
Of course none of this answers the question – if the tram does come down Leith Walk and a new stop is built at MacDonald Road, what will happen to the proposed dedicated cycle lane from Pilrig Street?
And it may not mean that dedicated southbound lanes are lost entirely, at least if Sustrans have their way. They’ve already published an outline of how they see Picardy Place being redeveloped. Remember this?
Either way, we’ll know in a few months time by the looks of things.