Lessons for Leith Walk from New York

A new report from the New York City Department of Transport reveals that redesigning streets to include dedicated cycle lanes can dramatically improve the way roads work for all users and provide a boost to local traders.

The report called “Measuring the Streets” evaluates the impact of a series of interventions that have been made in the city in recent years.

One outcome that some might find surprising is the impact of dedicated cycle lanes on the street. The report shows that adding protected bike lanes to the street helped to drive a huge increase in local retail sales – up to 49%- whilst also supporting a cut in shop vacancy rates.

The same street also saw injuries across all road users more than halve, as well as improvements to traffic flow which resulted in less speeding – but an increase in average speeds. This improved traffic flow also led to an estimated 9% reduction in carbon emission because traffic moves more efficiently.

Most interestingly, they have also experimented with parking and loading restrictions on streets, to deter longer term parking on arterial routes. By reducing the length of time cars are parked along the main roads the report found that 17% more unique visitors found parking on the street. The report explains:

“When curbs are congested, streets are congested….Reducing parking duration on the street by 10-20% can have the same effect of creating hundreds of new car parking spaces in a neighbourhood whilst improving traffic flow.”

You can read the whole report here:
2012 10 Measuring the Street

What does all this mean for Leith Walk?

There are a number of important lessons in this report. Firstly, it shows that some common perceptions in the UK about street design may not be true – and that if we measure the right things then we can start to manage streets better.

In the council led focus group we attended some weeks ago on the design of Leith Walk, it was suggested that it would be impossible to implement protected cycle lanes the length of Leith Walk as this would require a reductioni n the number of on street car parking spaces, or a reduction in the amount of road space allocated to cars.

Despite the fact that a series of local consultations all suggest that locals who don’t currently cycle identified improving conditions for cyclists as a priority improvement for the street. 

But this report shows that it isn’t just about cyclists, or even about residents who want to cycle but are too put off by the current design of the street. The report shows that a holistic approach to designing modern city streets with the right objectives – can lead to benefts for all users of Leith Walk as well as an economic boost for the area.

And alongside cycle lanes the report highlighs the importance of improving the way parking and street clutter is managed at the same time – with the aim of increasing the number of unique visitors using parking spaces – rather than providing parking for a small number of regular, long term users.

If the council adopts this aim then it could cut some parking on some of the narrower parts of Leith Walk to make space for a protected cycle lane – and still boost business to local traders.But the question is – do we even monitor the number of unique vistors using car parking on Leith Walk? Probably not.

As Pedal on Parliament campaigners wrote in their blog about this research:

When you look at evidence like this, the question isn’t ‘why should we put dedicated cycling infrastructure in place?’ but ‘why wouldn’t we?’ Bikes don’t just make the people who use them richer, fitter, healthier and happier – they make whole cities that way.”

What new design will the council come up with for Leith Walk? We don’t know yet, but the council is expected to release it’s draft re-design proposals for Leith Walk for consultation this month. 

Residents will be able to make their views known once again at a dedicated public consultation on the proposals planned for the 3rd of December in the Nelson Hall.

Video credit: theearthowned