Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A Golden Opportunity for Leith Street

Let's begin by congratulating London on the announcement that a fully segregated east-west cycle superhighway is to be built. This is a plea for Edinburgh to do the same. Great cities thrive because they bring people together, and when people come together new ideas are born. Famously, it was for the prospect of a morning walk to work with Gödel that Einstein agreed to move to Princeton. If Edinburgh is to continue to be a wonderful city as its population grows, we need to be able to move people around, to get them to interact with each other, and we need to have a serious think about how we do that.

We tried really really hard to make the car work. We tried to the extent of building sections of dual carriageway in the middle of our city, having enormous junctions, and making people wait six minutes to walk 100m. There can be no better testament to how much success our traffic engineers have had in cramming ever more cars onto our roads than our exceptionally dangerous levels of air pollution. But, despite dedicating 95% of our road space to the private motor car, cars are unable to cater to the transport needs of more than half of our population. The speed with which a transport system gets people through a town is governed by how efficiently it can get them through junctions, and space hungry, heavy cars which are slow to accelerate just don't cut it.

Fortunately, there is another way. Buses, bikes, and most of all pedestrians take up much less space on our roads and allow people to move smoothly. The compactness that makes our city so ill suited to the car should make it an ideal place to walk and cycle. And even better, our council understands this, and their Local Transport Strategy documents emphasise the bike and the pedestrian over the car. But if the current plans for Leith Street don't change, the council are set to make a historic and expensive mistake that will gridlock us for years to come. On the flip side, give us a safe segregated route through Leith Street, surely one of Edinburgh's most dangerous and intimidating places to cycle, and one of the most substantial barriers to a safe cycle network in Edinburgh will have been overcome. This will make travel faster for everyone, it will make Edinburgh healthier and happier.

I don't think that I'm unduly timid on my bike. I cycle on Nicolson street and the bridges every day, which I guess is pretty scary in anyone's book. But I just don't dare connect to Leith Walk down past John Lewis. Many aspects of the new plans for the St James Quarter are commendable, but in failing to provide any way for cyclists to get quickly and safely from through Leith Street, these plans miss a once in a generation opportunity to put safe cycle provision on a key route.

Spokes have written an excellent response to the plans for the St James' Quarter, with which I wholeheartedly agree. Please consider this as my response to the consultation on the plans.  

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