Draft plans setting out the next phase of path works that will be undertaken as part of the Leith-Portobello path have been published by the City of Edinburgh Council.
As part of this work, officials are to make a further attempt at ‘fixing’ the design of the section of the path that runs past the gates of St Mary’s Primary School.
The plans still include two sets of “chicanes” which are there to address the perceived risk of a cyclist running over a child leaving the school.
Greener Leith readers will recall that when they were first installed around seven months ago, the gates were 1.3m apart.
Then, when cyclists pointed out that this was so close together that no-one on any type of wheeled transport could get through them, officials then ordered the gap to be made wider.
But at the second attempt, whomever decided to specify the works only made the gap between the gates 2.5m wide.
When it was pointed out that the national guidance for these sorts of chicanes specifies a gap of 3m as best practice, officials responded to the further criticism: “Whilst Cycling by Design defines a ‘desirable minimum’ gap of 3m this is not an ‘absolute minimum’ and we have also taken into consideration the concerns raised about the speed of cyclists by parents of schoolchildren. A wider space (1.5m) between the wall and the ends of the barriers will also be provided.”
Now, several months, and some senior staff changes later, the latest draft designs bow to the inevitable and proposes widening the gap to 3m, and acknowledges that the current 2.5m gap is still too ‘restrictive.’ Which is some sort of progress.
Of course, it should be acknowledged that there are some who argued from the outset that the use of chicanes at any width was a somewhat pointless placemaking device whilst people using wheeled means of transport – and indeed pedestrians – can simply bypass the gates by going around them on the adjacent grass.
And it’s easy to point to plenty of examples of busier paths – both in terms of pedestrian and cyclist numbers – which somehow manage to function safely without barriers of any kind – the bottom of Middle Meadow Walk is perhaps the most obvious.
In any event, in a bid to keep people on the path, and force them through the gates, the third version of the plans also suggest that extra trees should be planted along the path – presumably to deter people from veering off – and back onto – the path.
There is sadly no official consultation option to do away with one – or both – of the chicanes – and not plant any more trees. Even though some may regard this as the cheapest, and possibly the most obvious, way to stop people cycling on the grass, whilst signage, alternative surface treatments and even the odd bollard, could be used to produce a safe and accessible shared space.
Greener Leith has previously proposed other means of reducing the speed of cyclists – indeed the foot of Middle Meadow Walk provides a good case study – and it’s regrettable that no further consideration of these options forms part of the consultation.
The rest of the proposals
First off, the consultation outlines two options (shown above) for a path link alongside Links Gardens. One option involves a 4m wide path, and the other a 3m wide path. The construction of the wider path would see one, relatively rare variety of Willow tree chopped down.
Once the path is over the road, it’s proposed to install a widened, segregated path alongside Links Place, until it can cut across Leith Links on a widened, segregated path towards Duncan Place.
From Duncan place, the design assumes that cyclists will cut through to Constitution Street, via Wellington Place or Laurie Street, on resurfaced paths that will be widened to 3m.
The work will therefore see a significant length of the key pathways in Leith Link given an overhaul, which most people would surely welcome.
But then what?
It’s not clear from these proposals how cyclists wishing to connect with other existing parts of the Edinburgh path network are to proceed.
These proposals miss the opportunity to forge a safe, sign-posted connection with The Shore and the Water of Leith path at the Sandport Place bridge, and given that this is purportedly the ‘last’ of the work that will be undertaken as part of the Leith – Portobello path improvements, this must be a significant strategic miss-step.
It is surprising that the proposals veer into Leith Links as they do, and suggests that SUSTRANS cash is being used to subsidise the parks maintenance budget, rather than focussed on building a coherent active travel network.
As things stand, the much vaunted “family network” will remain truncated, with cyclists dumped onto busy streets such as Constitution Street or Queen Charlotte Street, after riding on a far safer segregated path all the way from Portobello.
Given this, we’ve come up with a couple of alternative options, which aren’t an official part of the consultation. However, if you like one of them you may wish to write to your councillors to ask them to consider them:
Alternative Option 1
It might have been preferable not to go into Leith Links at all during this phase of works and instead prioritise the construction of a widened, segregated pavement path along a route running along Links Gardens, and then along Queen Charlotte Street and Tollbooth Wynd.
All of those streets are wide-enough to accommodate a segregated cycle path, and it would provide a safe, direct connection to the wider active travel network. It would make it possible to cycle from Haymarket, or even South Queensferry to Portobello with barely any on-road riding, and it would support the wider policy objectives of providing a quality coastal promenade, and a joined up ‘family network.’
The map of the proposed city Family Network in the councils own Active Travel Action Plan on page 23, suggests that this link should have been completed by 2014, yet the current council proposals don’t complete that link in a coherent, safe way.
Although the original council documentation supplied with this consultation described the work as the ‘final phase’ of work it subsequently transpired that SUSTRANS still plan to build this vital connection at some point, but so far we don’t have a date for it.
@greenerleith Currently in phase 3 of the project to improve Leith-Porty route, phase 4 will look at section from Leith Links-Water of Leith
— Sustrans Scotland (@SustransScot) December 19, 2014
Alternative Option 2
There is a spur of the Edinburgh path network that ends beside Leith Academy on Easter road at Thorntreeside.
If any path is to be upgraded in Leith Links to connect with Links Gardens, it might be more useful to upgrade the section that runs from that Thorntreeside path exit on Easter Road via Vanburgh Place and along the existing path through Leith Links to Links Gardens. A spur from that path to Leith Links Primary School could be also be added.
Again, Easter Road is plenty wide-enough at that section to accommodate a wider pavement with a segregated cycle path, and such a proposal would join up three schools and form a safe ‘cycle loop’ around much of those schools catchment areas.
Even if the current phase three budget is not sufficient to achieve either of these alternative options, it would seems sensible to consider them as long term options and build something that works toward them.
Give your views
The consultation on these proposals is set to run until the 31st of December.
The council contact running the consultation is Paul Mathews. You can email him at [email protected]
Additionally, it’s recommended that you share your views with your local councillors. You can use www.writetothem.com to easily send them all the same message.
And lastly, if you do submit a response to the consultation, please let us know too.
This post was updated on 14/12/2014 after more information came to light about SUSTRANS plans to complete the link between Leith Links and The Shore as part of a later phase of works.