Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Leith Walk Redevelopment

This post is a comment on the Leith Walk proposals

The Leith Walk redevelopment could and should be superb. Widened pavements, easier crossings for pedestrians and safe segregated cycle routes would transform the area, creating a much nicer environment for pedestrians away from motor vehicles while making journeys faster and safer both for cyclists and for other road users. Even a short sections such as are being done at the moment could bring outdoor seating to cafes and dramatically increase the number of children walking and cycling to school. 

The current design plans fall well short of this vision. There are very welcome improvements for pedestrians, and with a few simple changes as proposed by Spokes the southbound cycle lane could be great, but the proposals for the northbound cycle lane are a shambles that will give segregated cycle infrastructure a bad name. What is most frustrating is that fixing these issues doesn't involve spending more money or slowing down cars*, it just requires better design.

To name just three problems, the proposed lane starts too late leaving cyclists to fend for themselves across McDonald road, it forces cyclists to give way to every single side road that crosses the lane, and it asks cyclists to cross a lane of left turning traffic at the Pilrig St junction in designs that are reminiscent of the unpopular and underused right turning cycle lane on Bristo Place.

We suggested changes to priority at junctions here, and a redesign of the Pilrig St Junction here.

With these changes and those proposed by Spokes** something really amazing could be done to Leith Walk. I hope the planning team will make these vital improvements, I hope my councillors will put pressure on them to do so, and I really hope that in a year's time we'll all be celebrating a vibrant and rejuvenated streetscape on Leith Walk. 

(*) Although given that motor traffic on Leith Walk has fallen by 35% in the last decade I don't think that taking time away from cars to boost priority for pedestrians and bikes at junctions would be inappropriate.

(**) I'm particularly fond of Spokes suggestion that Brunswick Street should be closed at Leith Walk, ending the rat run for HGVs through to London Road and creating a much nicer atmosphere for the street and for the outdoor cafes nearby. It could even be the site of Edinburgh's next parklet! 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Side Road Priority on Leith Walk

This is a short blog about priority of cycle lanes over side roads on Leith walk. I wrote earlier about the junction with Pilrig Street, and will blog later on the scheme as a whole. For a summary, there is much to like in the plans but they are hugely let down by a number of fixable issues, but if these aren't fixed the bike lanes won't come close to achieving what they're capable of. Spokes has a great response to the scheme as a whole here.

In particular, a really major defect with the current plans is that they do not give priority to the bike lane over minor side roads. As such, cycling down the segregated lanes will be much slower than cycling on the road, even for people like myself who like to bimble along at 8-10mph. This significantly reduces the attractiveness of the cycle lanes and will lead to a lot of more confident cyclists ignoring them.

The side roads are very minor, and I'm sure the council doesn't want to give them priority over the cycle lane. Rather, the council officials that I spoke to at the consultation on Thursday were concerned that giving priority to the cycle lane could be dangerous if cars didn't understand, and would be incompatible with UK traffic laws. There are masses of examples from the UK and elsewhere which contradict these assertions.

Here are some examples of priority being given to cycle lanes over side roads. Many of these examples have issues, but I just wanted to make the point that it's quite possible to give priority for segregated bike lanes over side roads in the UK. The first is from Glasgow, I took it from Cycle Streets.

The second pair are in London, and I read about them on (and borrowed the google map images from) the excellent Alternative DFT blog about visual priority.

A different junction on Cable Street, this time the cycleway is unbroken by kerbs or painted lines, and priority is clear.
A junction on the Cable Street cycleway in London. The cycleway has priority, but everything suggests otherwise: the kerb and yellow lines cut across the cycleway, creating confusion.

Finally there is an example from our very own Buccleuch Street!

The colouring of the cycle lane could be much better, but segregated cycle lanes with priority over side roads already exist in Edinburgh.

The point is that giving priority to the cycle lane over side roads is certainly possible with UK traffic regulations. Indeed, a much better and more detailed discussion of this by a UK road traffic engineer can be found here.

There is of course a question about how these lanes can be best designed. And for that we turn again to the Alternative Department for Transport. In short, raised tables (which the LW plans already have), tight corners (which the LW plans already have), no kerbs across the cycle lane and extremely visible continuous colouring of the cycle lane.

Giving priority to cycle lanes is quite doable and is absolutely fundamental to securing the success of the Leith Walk scheme. I really hope the council officers will amend their plans to give cyclists this priority.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Leith Walk - Pilrig Street Junction

Recently the council updated its proposals for the revamp of Leith Walk between Mcdonal Road and Pilrig Street. There are some very welcome aspects, including much widened pavements, but the northbound cycle lane is a mess. In particular, the designers seem to have given up on taking the segregated cycle route safely through the Pilrig St junction and instead are asking cyclists to cross a lane of left turning traffic in order to be able to go straight on, it's dangerous and not dissimilar to the hugely unpopular and ill used cycle lane for right turning cyclists on Bristo Place. There is no real provision for cyclists turning right from Leith Walk southbound into Pilrig Street. If this project is done well it will be superb, so I just wanted to indicate that taking the cycle lanes safely across Pilrig street can be done easily without needing more space or slowing down the junction.

I'm not a road engineer, and what we've drawn probably falls well short of best practice, but it seems to me that the following back of an envelope sketch that Aspa and I came up with is a major improvement.

In particular, without causing any conflict with pedestrians, slowing down cyclists or requiring an extra phase of the lights, it eliminates the risk of northbound cyclists being taken out by a left hook or having to cross a lane of traffic. It also makes turning from Leith Walk into Pilrig St much safer and cycling southbound on Leith Walk considerably quicker as one only has to wait for pedestrians.

The traffic light phasing goes as follows:

Stage 1: all pedestrians cross. Right turning cyclists from Leith walk southbound cycle lane turn into Pilrig St but stop before the Pilrig St. pedestrian crossing.

Stage 2: Traffic on Pilrig St turns into Leith walk. Cars on Leith walk northbound turn left into Pilrig St. Cyclists on Leith walk northbound turn left onto Pilrig St. Cyclists on Leith Walk southbound go straight on.

Stage 3: Cars on Leith Walk northbound continue through the Pilrig St. Junction. Cyclists on Leith Walk northbound continue through the Pilrig St. Junction. Cars on Leith Walk southbound, including those turning right into Pilrig St, continue. Cyclists on Leith Walk southbound continue. Cyclists on Leith walk southbound who wish to turn into Pilrig St. proceed only as far as point marked A and wait for stage 1.

Anyway, as I said this might not be the perfect solution, but it's what we came up with in half an hour on the back of an envelope. The point is that cyclists can be taken safely across the Pilrig St junction, and that the council should make sure that this happens.

P.S. The only point of conflict that we can see is between traffic from LW southbound turning into Pilrig Street across the cycle lane, but this is a standard issue with cycle lanes including with the council's current plan (and indeed all on-road cycle lanes). Sight lines are clear since the left turning traffic from LW northbound to Pilrig has been made to wait long before the junction.