Council officials from the “co-operative council” don’t seem to be cooperating.
It’s been several weeks since the council announced its draft proposals for improving Leith Walk, following an extensive public consultation process which hundreds of people took part in.
At the time, council officials highlighted how much they valued the feedback they received, saying: “The Council has been delighted with the quality of feedback received through consultation, which highlighted a range of design concepts that could improve the scheme.”
And in the same statement, Councillor Lesley Hinds, Transport and Environment Convener, added: “We had some very useful feedback in our consultation and one of the main things people are keen to see in the final design is for pedestrians and cyclists to be better accommodated. The most challenging section for us in terms of delivering this is at the southern end, around London Road.”
And so councillors waved through a report with a draft design for the northern half of Leith Walk, and pledged to seek extra funding for the “difficult” southern half.
But many people who looked at the detail of the draft design for the northern half of Leith Walk have been disappointed.
Even though everyone – even the council officials – had apparently accepted that there is real public support, and indeed a policy imperative, to improve the whole street for pedestrians and cyclists, the proposed design for the northern half of the street differs very little from the old pre-tram design – a design that we know is dangerous and unpleasant for both pedestrians and cyclists.
Despite officer pledges that they’d publish all the consultation response in full, we ended up having to put in an FOI request to try to get hold of all the consultation responses – thinking that perhaps that council officials knew something we didn’t.
Afterall, in public meetings, officials were often keen to talk up the difficulty they had balancing “competing” uses on the street, even though it seemed to almost everyone else that there was far more consensus than disagreement about what people would like to see.
Were there other voices in this discussion that we weren’t aware of, that council officers were too discreet to reveal?
And after a bit of FOI too-ing and fro-ing, and the threat of a legal review to their first response, officials have indeed published all the consultation responses they received on their website.
They make interesting reading. Primarily because there are is virtually no-one opposing cycle lanes, or arguing that the design of the street should be changed to reduce traffic congestion.
And on the other hand the vast majority of people and organisations that responded to the consultation support big changes to the design of the street to make it safer.
Despite this, the draft design for the northern half of Leith Walk still includes a remarkable number of poor design choices, including these blatant fails…
Fail 1 – The staggered pedestrian crossing nobody asked for…
As part of the draft proposals, a new staggered pedestrian crossing could be added to the street, just south of the Jane Street junction, even though there was an almost universal consensus supporting direct, single stage pedestrian crossings, on the basis that pedestrians should not be inconvenienced by waiting to cross the road any more than necessary.
Did the traffic engineers designing this street read the consultation outcomes at all? Have they even read the Scottish Government “Designing Streets” policy, which clearly says pedestrians should come first?
There are already four single stage crossings on Leith Walk – and gridlock does not result. So why propose a two-stage crossing here? The only possible reason would be to try to increase the traffic throughput on the road – something that no-one wants.
Interestingly, in order to do this, the proposals have found road space to insert a 1.2m wide traffic island in the middle of the road by taking road space from cyclists – and several pavement build outs have been added too. And to add insult to the increased likelyhood of injury – the designers haven’t even bothered to include an Advanced Stop Line for cyclists at the crossings.
And despite the fact that there is room – and budget for this sort of infrastructure – officials laughably insist that there is no room, or budget for a protected, segregated cycle lane on the southbound side of the street running on the inside of the loading/parking bays.
Fail 2 – The Foot of the Walk
Here’s the proposed new design for the junction at the Foot of the Walk.
It IS a marginal improvement on what we have at present because the designers have got rid of one of the traffic islands on the Leith Walk arm of the junction.
But this design still requires pedestrians crossing from the Kirkgate, to Leith Walk, and people crossing Leith Walk to island hop in two stages – just to give greater priority to motor vehicles.
Notably, even though Leith Walk is wide enough to accommodate about six lanes of traffic, at this point, designers have found no room for any dedicated cycle lane.
Instead they have chosen a design which involves three northbound lanes on the Leith bound approach and retains the dangerous southbound “advisory” cycle lane that bends out into the traffic flow around parked cars.
And again, rather than retain space for a dedicated cycle lane moving south from the junction, the proposals would extend the width of the pavement on the west side of the street with further superfluous pavement build outs.
It’s hard to reconcile how this design, in any way, reflects the priorities identified in the public consultation, or that, in an area which is beset by illegal air pollution, no serious attempt has been made to make it safer for people to use cleaner forms of transport.
If we lived in Holland, it would be designed in along the lines described in the video clip below – to give priority to people and cyclists – and make the road safer for these users.
How much more attractive would the Foot of the Walk be if it were designed like this?
Fail 3 – So where are the cycle facilities?
We’ve already seen how the council designers have chosen to prioritise traffic capacity over pedestrian and cycle facilities in two sections on the north part of Leith Walk.
One refrain we’ve heard over and over again, is that there is no space, and no budget, to install dedicated cycle lanes on Leith Walk. But look at the new designs. Designers are proposing to add a series of 1.8m “d-islands’ in the middle of the road – even in the narrowest sections – and they are also adding new pavement build-outs throughout the street, making it narrower.
If there is room and budget to narrow the street – and room to add in 1.2 – 1.8m traffic islands in the centre of the street – why has it proven so hard for the council to build facilities to make cycling safer?
At their simplest, dedicated cycle lanes can be added to the street simply using paint. What is the psychological barrier that council officials must cross to convert those dashed “advisory” bike lanes that run along the pavement in the section above into solid lines at the very least? And why is it so hard to put them on the inside of the parked cars?
In Glasgow, where the photo above was taken, the city is building cycle facilities like the on some of their arterial roads.
Somehow, in Glasgow they can see something that is not obvious to Edinburgh council traffic engineers – that the relative risk of a cyclist riding into a lorry driver delivering something to a bar as he crosses the cycle lane, or the risk of a cyclist being side-swiped by a car turning across a cycle lane is still far lower than the risk of forcing all cyclists to run the gauntlet of cycling in busy shared traffic and bus lanes all the time.
In Edinburgh, we know that the majority of serious cycle accidents are caused by motorists and occur on busy main roads like Leith Walk. when cyclists are simply “driving straight on” in the carriageway.
That glaswegian cycle lane in the photo above is part-funded by SUSTRANS, the same body that the council is hoping to gain funding from in order to make the “more difficult” southern half of Leith Walk safer for pedestrians and cyclists.
However, Glasgow has shown a commitment to building an on street network (even if it too leaves a lot to be desired at present) of safe, on street, active travel routes.
Why on earth do Edinburgh council officials think any third party body should give them extra cash for one part of the street if they can’t even commit to getting the design of the “easy” part of the street right by linking it safely to the wider cycle network?
We’ve been advised by more than one local councillor, from more than one political party, to stay engaged with the Leith Walk design process. And so even though any reasonable person would probably have already concluded that there’s little point in trying any more, we, once again are urging you to contact your local politicians once again.
Tell them the designs don’t reflect the consultation feedback at all, and tell them to demand a coherent rethink from their road engineers, and please do send us the response you get.
Cllr Hinds has pledged that there will be further public consultation when the designs for the northern half of Leith Walk are ready. Let’s hope that they’re a lot better than what’s currently proposed.
What they said…
SUSTRANS on the Foot of the Walk: “We propose the removal of the left turn lane at Kirk Street. This movement can be combined with lane ahead and shortens the
pedestrian crossing length. Extend pavement on the west side to fill this area. Connect end of bus lane to ASL with red surface treatment.
Realign Duke St pedestrian crossing to street corner with Constitution St. Create new crossing from precinct to old station building.”
Leith Business Association on the Foot of the Walk: “Remove unnecessary pavement build-outs. New trees this area – 6 illuminated. All new intersection at the Kirkgate. New traffic lights incorporating cycle lights, sequencing and timing. Four way pedestrian crossings – Leith Walk, Great Junction Street, Duke Street and Constitution Street…Disabled parking bay, electric charging bay.”
Police Scotland on Leith Walk cycle lanes: “Consideration given to whether a separate cycle lane is appropriate throughout these sections, where there is sufficient space to accommodate it and this could be beneficial in terms of modal shift.”
Photo credit: Old Leither