Sunday, February 22, 2015

Fountainbridge Brewery: A Vital Link for Active Travel

This is a both a comment on Planning Application 14/05337/PAN and a wider comment on links between south Edinburgh and Haymarket. The developers consultation closes tomorrow, but there will be a council run consultation later.

I used to live next to Sciennes Primary and commute to Haymarket every morning. With a few changes, particularly in relation to planning application 14/05337/PAN, this could be an extremely direct, pleasant route for commuters to Haymarket from Sciennes, Marchmont, Bruntsfield and Fountainbridge. It's well used at the moment by cyclists and pedestrians, despite a total lack of signage and the defects that I'm going to outline below, and I really think this should become one of the nicest and well used routes for active travel in Edinburgh. Significantly, doing this route by car is difficult, and we have a chance to make something where cycling and walking are faster than going by car. Haymarket is booming, and if Edinburgh wants to achieve its ambitious active travel targets then improving and promoting this route is an absolute must. The bit of the route that I want to focus on is marked in blue on the map below.

The route starts at the top of Leamington Terrace, which is connected to Bruntsfield Links by a toucan crossing. Leamington Terrace is far from perfect, and I don't know what it's like at rush hour, but it does at least have lots of speedbumps and is set to become a 20mph road. We then pass on to Leamington road, which is the small link to the canal at the bottom of Leamington Terrace, before crossing the canal and continuing down Gilmore park. At the bottom, keep going pretty much straight on unnamed roads until you come on to Morrison Crescent, and then nip through the Dalry colonies to find yourself very close to Haymarket. Since the route has never been accessible by car, it's become quite nice by bike or on foot, and could become really superb. But there are lots of issues that need sorting out, for me the main ones are as follows:

1. Crossing from Leamington Terrace to Leamington road is difficult. It will hopefully get easier as the speed limit on Gilmore place comes down, but I see lots of school children walking this way, we could do with a pedestrian crossing.

2. Leamington Road is one way, so on my way home I have to walk it. It's only a ten metre section, could we make it two way for bikes, or even better stick a bollard at the junction of Gilmore Place and Leamington Road so that the only access for cars is from the other side. This part of the route is used by masses of pedestrians and cyclists, it's a shame to close it to cyclists in one direction. Without a bollard this road may become a huge problem road with parents dropping off kids once the school opens on the other side of the canal.

3. Gilmore Park is okay at the moment since there's no reason for cars to use it, but it needs protecting as the brewery site is redeveloped.

We now move on to points relevant to the current planning application. If our council is serious about active travel it must insist the developers address these problems in their plans.

4. Crossing Dundee Street when coming from Gilmore Park is a nightmare if you're on your bike. Something significant needs to be done here, my suggestion would be for the junction of Dundee Street/Gilmore Park to be raised and the toucan crossing moved to this junction.

5. The unnamed route between Dundee Street and W Approach Road is far too narrow. It's shared space that attracts very many people, and there's just not enough room at the moment. Bikes have no option but to use the shared space since if they went on the road (on the right of the picture) they'd be going the wrong way down a one-way street. The new development (14/05337/PAN) will contribute significant extra footfall to this shared space, and so needs to contribute land to widen the path. This should be in the form of a wide (MMW style) segregated space with the bikes on the south.

6. Approaching the Western Approach Road, the current slope forces bikes into conflict with pedestrians at every turn. It's also not passable by two bikes going in opposite directions. The new segregated bike path should be continued to the south of the steps with a direct slope down to the level of the Western Approach Road.

7.The lights at the Western Approach Road are an absolute disaster. If they have recently gone green for pedestrians then it will take about forty seconds after pushing the button for them to go green again. The car traffic on the Western Approach Road is only heading towards other traffic jams anyway, this certainly isn't a pinch point for motor traffic and the waiting times for pedestrians should be reduced.

8. Finally a word of warning as to what happens when we don't force developers to cater for active travel. The developers who built the care home at the top of the Dalry colonies were allowed to pretty much sever this link for bikes by making the path narrow with a sharp corner. There are no cycling signs there now. The bike route goes around three sides of the care home, significantly longer and much less convenient.

I should add that this is my perspective as a youngish, relatively fit cyclist, I don't know whether Spokes are going to comment on the proposals, but they may well have lots of points that I've not thought of. These were just my thoughts as a daily user of the path.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Bus Lane Retreat: Formal Objection

Following on from last night's post about why I'm opposed to the council's policy to reduce the hours of operation of bus lanes in the city centre, here is my formal objection.

Dear sir/madam,

I'm writing to object to ETRO 14/38B and ETRO14/38A regarding the scaling back of Edinburgh's bus lane network.

The council are pursuing a policy of standardisation of bus lane operation hours apparently in order to reduce driver confusion and increase the legal use of bus lanes outside of the hours of operation. I do not understand the assertion that this policy, which will standardise hours of operation for 90% of bus lanes, will achieve these effects. The hours of operation are still not standardised, ten percent of lanes will still be all day, and even if they were uniform it seems highly optimistic to imagine that drivers confused by bus lane hours of operation are likely to be affected by this policy. People know the hours of operation of bus lanes on routes they use regularly, the 'confused' most likely come from out of town, I don't think it's credible to believe that they'd hear about the partial standardisation or be any less confused after the it is implemented. The bus lanes that are currently all day don't cause any traffic problems during the day, a good look at how traffic flows can be seen on the google maps traffic tab.

This policy will make it less convenient for me to take the bus. It will make it less safe to ride my bike, less pleasant to walk to the shops, and less easy to cross the road. It is in direct contradiction to everything that this council has worked hard to do to make Edinburgh a nicer place to live. The council's policies are working, bus use is up, bike use is up, there are more people walking in our city and fewer people driving. This progress has not come easily, every small positive step has been a hard battle by campaigners and council leaders. That the council would imperil this progress with an ill thought through retreat on bus lanes mystifies me.

The only explanation that I can think of is that this is political and that the council is seeking to do something for drivers to 'balance' policies which are good for pedestrians (as if those two aims were in opposition). Of course anyone who has waited three minutes to cross the road in our city centre would entirely dispute that our city prioritises active travel over driving, but more significantly this policy doesn't actually do anything for car drivers. Even the most car mad of voters will not long remember a council policy that solves a problem that isn't there. This policy is bad politics and bad administration, it undermines all of the hard work that the council is doing to encourage active travel and it makes our city less pleasant,  I hope the council will reconsider it. 

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Please Don't Roll Back Our Bus Lanes

Just a quick post to join in with those arguing that Edinburgh's plans to convert all day bus lanes into peak time only bus lanes would be a regrettable step backwards. I'm focusing on Leith Walk as that's the stretch that I know best, but the council are planning to replace 25 miles of all day buslane with lanes that operate during peak hours only. So, the issues in brief:

Would this speed up car traffic?

Perhaps, slightly, but I'm really not convinced. Chiefly because there aren't significant traffic problems at these places. You can look at the excellent traffic tab on google maps to get an idea of what typical traffic speeds are like at different times of the day. There are four different levels and nearly all of Leith Walk is at the second best of these levels on weekday afternoons and evenings, just like Clerk street or Bruntsfield Place, traffic flowing normally. I'd guess that means it's going at about twenty miles per hour, which is what the speed limit will be soon anyway.

What about reducing confusion about bus lanes?

Sometimes drivers don't like to use bus lanes even when they're allowed to. I'm not sure why, but my guess is that either they're in a place that they don't drive very often and don't want to keep checking the signs for the hours of operation, or they just think it's less hassle to avoid the bus lanes in the same way that some people just sit in the middle lane of motorways. The new policy won't have any effect on the second group. Of the first group, only those who live in Edinburgh (and so learn about the standardisation of bus lanes) but are driving on main roads that are unfamiliar to them will start using the bus lanes out of peak hours. Surely that's a pretty small group of people that you're affecting.

Why Not?

This policy would go against the positive steps that the council are making to encourage active travel and be another hurdle that we put in the way of people walking, cycling or taking the bus. It would mean that people walking or cycling on Leith Walk would be right next to huge lorries. It would mean that crossing the road is almost impossible without using the traffic lights. It would make it that little bit more difficult for me to check out that interesting cheese shop on the other side of the road, businesses would surely suffer as passing through areas like Leith Walk is prioritised over walking around these areas.

I don't know quite what Edinburgh's active transport action plan means in practice. I don't know how one turns a list of priorities into a decision as to whether some particular policy is okay. But Edinburgh has made a commitment to prioritise walking, cycling and getting the bus over driving a car. At the very least, I think this means that a policy that has a significant negative effect on cyclists and pedestrians, and a minor negative effect on bus users, must have an absolutely transformative effect on car traffic to get anywhere near the discussion table. I just don't believe that it would, google maps says there aren't any traffic problems to fix, and the council hasn't presented any evidence in support of the policy.

I like our council, and I like what they're doing for active travel. More importantly, it's having an effect, there are more pedestrians, more cyclists, many more bus users and fewer people driving to work in our city. Please don't undo this progress with an ill thought through policy on bus lanes.

What Can You Do?
 Object! And quickly, you've got until Wednesday to register an objection, see the Spokes page for details.