Q: When is a big budget for cycling a bad thing?

Leith Links cycle path

A: When the budget is wasted on bad facilities that deter the thing they were supposed to promote.

If you’ve been to Leith Links recently, you’ll have noticed that the path that runs along the north edge of the park is in the midst of being upgraded.

This work is being carried out to improve the surface, and make it wider. Whilst many of the paths in Leith Links need similar treatment, this path is important because it is now a key part of the city’s active travel network – and as a consequence this means it’s being used by a lot more cyclists.

But sadly it would seem that the important details of the upgrade work fails to meet national standards, with a design so poor, that questions must be asked about the specification and management of the whole project. So what’s wrong with it?

Well, first off, as the photo above shows, folk have already noticed that the “wrong” kind of tactile paving is being installed on the path. This tactile paving is largely to help visually impaired people navigate the paths, to indicate junctions and to try to make it clear which side of the path is for cyclists and which is for pedestrians.

In the case of Leith Links, where the path is, for the most part, not split along it’s whole length into a side for cyclists and a side for pedestrians like some of the paths are in the Meadows, whether it’s really beneficial to suggest that the path is to be used like this to visually impaired people is questionable.

Tactile Paving guidance

Furthermore, on paths which are designed as shared use paths, for the use of cyclists and pedestrians, the ridges on this tactile paving are supposed to be flat topped, not round, to reduce the chance of people on bikes falling off when they go over them. The diagram above taken from DETR guidance clearly shows this. In Leith Links they’re busy installing tactile paving with the more slippy, rounded profile.

tactile slabs

Remarkably, when the council chose to install this paving in the Meadows exactly the same mistake over the type of surface was made and it all had to be replaced at great expense to the council.

After what happened in the Meadows, it’s jaw droppingly hard to believe the same mistake has been made months later on Leith Links, but it has. The question is, will the council rectify their mistakes in Leith Links too?

However, that ain’t the only bizarre design decision that’s been taken.

Ever since the volume of cycle traffic on the Leith Links path began to increase, the chicane gates outside St Mary’s Primary School were looking more and more problematic.

The gates were so close together that virtually every cyclist simply took a detour onto the Links to avoid them, either because they were simply inconvenient, or for people with a trailer, a recumbent, or a tandem, they were impassible, because they were so close together these bikes wouldn’t fit through the gap.

Remarkably, as part of the path upgrade, someone took the decision to remove the old chicanes, and simply replace them with new ones which are still too close together.

The new gates prevent still people with child trailers from using the path without going on the grass.

Yet the path goes to a school, and there are two nursery schools just a few hundred metres from the same cycle route. Apparently no-one thought that making it easier for people to transport their children to school or nursery by bike might be a good thing to do, as part of the design process.

Instead the designers took the decision to install chicanes which fail to comply with Transport Scotland guidance.

Lesley Hinds, the city transport convenor and MSP candidate for the area has defended the current design on the basis that the chicanes are necessary, because the path passes a school at this point. However there are plenty of other ways to slow cyclists down – including speed bumps, signage, colouring the path, rumble strips and, of course, more widely spaced chicanes.

Best practice urban design this isn’t, because all that is going to happen as a consequence of these new gates is what happened before: people will cycle on the grass around the chicanes.

So to sum up, we seem to have a Leith Links path upgrade that does nothing to solve the existing design issues that afflict the path outside St Mary’s school whilst the poorly thought through tactile paving would seem, if anything, to increase the chances of visually impaired people coming into conflict with cyclists.

Not just Leith Links

Lest you think it’s only Leith Links, people have also been baffled by this map that’s recently appeared as part of attempts to revamp the Craigleith junction further west on the North Edinburgh path network.

There are so many mistakes in the map – see for example that the A90 appears in two places, and the place that Haymarket has been transplanted to – that it’s been dubbed the most confusing map ever by local cyclists.

If the council is going to spend 5% of its transport budget on cycling, surely it can do better than this?

  • Andy A

    You’ll find the incorrect tactile slabs were also installed on the Broomhouse Path over 2 years ago and they only just got round to replacing them. They’ve got prior on this and it took a lot of pestering to get it fixed. They’ve no excuse to not know they’re doing it wrong. Again.

    P.S. the chalkwork was me! had to borrow the chalk though…

  • @rantyhighwayman

    The round-top tactile paving is correct for a shared-use cycle track, but it is laid with the ridges across the line of travel which is not an issue for bike riders. It is used to warn blind and partially-sighted people that they are entering an area with a hazard.

    Perhaps the real question is if a shared-use cycle track is a proper solution to the location though?

  • Bracken Van Ryssen

    I presume that since the location is near a school, drivers have to get out and push their cars around bollards…

  • Lizzie

    So maybe the mistakes will get fixed (again) at additional cost to the cycle budget (again). Surely it is time CEC got things right the first time round and showed their (currently laughable) “commitment” to cycling.
    At the moment there’s this balls up, issues with signage around Inverlieth/Canonmills, the joke that is the map at Craigleith ( not to mention several other issues with the re-design of the junction), the obstructions in the path out past Broomhouse ( yes it was the trams folks who installed this obstruction, but why did the cooncil give it approval?). The list goes on and on.
    Far from looking commited to providing for cycling, CEC look commited to spending money on making things difficult.