Greener Leith has welcomed news that the council intends to implement better pedestrian and cycle facililites on Leith Walk and Constitution Street.
Council officials have announced that they plan to seek extra funding so that Leith Walk can be redesigned to meet local aspirations and tackle the safety problems that currently blight the street and damage the local business environment.
In a council statement released last week it was acknowledged that the £5.5 million pounds currently allocated to repairing the damage to the street caused by the now aborted tram works is simply not enough to put in place the vital pedestrian and cyclist safety measures that locals – and their own safety research – demands.
It is now hoped that sustainable travel body SUSTRANS may be persuaded to provide the extra funding needed.
Also last week, neighbourhood managers invited members of local community organisations, including Greener Leith, to take a sneak peak at a draft Transport and Environment Committee report which sets out the next steps the council proposes to take to improve Constitution Street and Leith Walk.
The report follows an extensive consultation exercise, which saw more than 600 people give their views on the council proposals for the streets.
And, to some extent it looks like all that hard work from volunteers has paid off.
The council has apparently recognised that the original proposals for the street that went out to consultation can be improved and that without further changes they would have left Leith Walk as a dangerous and unwelcoming place for both pedestrians and cyclists.
In a statement Councillor Lesley Hinds, Transport and Environment Convener, said: “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.
“We recognise the Scottish Government’s commitment to sustainable and active travel and our aim is to work with the Government to deliver the best possible improvements that we can to Leith Walk while we have this unique opportunity to do so.”
If funding is found, the enhancements would be the first step in delivering a longer term, more strategic vision for sustainable transport along the entire route from Leith to the city centre.
However, somewhat inexplicably, the council is yet to commit to other, far lower cost measures that should also be part of a “more strategic vision for sustainable transport,” on Leith Walk and Constitution Street.
Despite local support for the measure, and the research evidence which explicitly identifies Leith Walk as an accident black spot, Greener Leith has learnt that a decision on the introduction of a 20mph speed limit on the street is to be delayed until a further consultation on a city-wide transport strategy has been completed.
Similarly, it is not clear why the council cannot commit now to improving the way parking is regulated on the street to prevent double parking and increase turnover on the street, whilst keeping parking for short periods free.
Greener Leith Chair Charlotte Encombe said: “We are very happy that our joint comments are recognised for what they are; coming from all sides of the community. We are delighted that they are being taken into account for the improvements on Leith Walk and Constitution Street.
“There is overwhelming support for a better pedestrian experience on Leith Walk as well as safe cycle paths and Greener Leith welcomes the Council’s efforts to secure funding for proposals to integrate active travel modes with tram stops, Waverley station and connections to the south.
“But we would also like to see the 20 mile-per-hour speed limit introduced as soon as possible. It has a clear local mandate and will cost almost nothing to implement.
Furthermore, it will bring huge benefits to the community in terms of reduction in local air pollution, which is known to be unacceptably high in Leith Walk, road safety and, last but not least, the local economy.
“Recent research from New York has shown that a pedestrian and cycle friendly environment is good for local business and it is high time that ‘twenty-is-plenty’ is introduced on the street.”
The draft report on the Leith Programme that councillors are to consider later this month is likely only to contain detailed proposals for the Constitution Street section of the Leith Programme.
Residents are likely to welcome the proposals as the draft seen by Greener Leith included wider pavements, especially at the northern end of the street, extra pedestrian crossings and additional advanced stop lines for cyclists at key junctions. These changes are likely to promote slower traffic speeds too as the overall width of the road will be reduced.
Officials also confirmed that the design of the Foot of the Walk and the Kirkgate shopping centre are to be considered as part of a separate “place-making exercise” that is planned for later this year.
Returning to Leith Walk public realm, Greener Leith are calling for more specific commitments for the City of Edinburgh Council, on issues such as the better regulation of parking.
Charlotte added: “We would also keen to see a fair, ideally free short parking system introduced that helps to optimise the footfall for local shops, prevents people hogging parking spaces for hours and offenders fined.
“We would like to see the pavements clear of clutter and litter, and where possible some greenery, public art and seating. Many of these improvements are relatively low cost and so now is the time to commit. And please can we have the Elm Row pigeons back!”
It is understood that if no funding is forthcoming from SUSTRANS by the end of the year then the “enhanced design” of Leith Walk will not go ahead.