Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Pedestrian Guardrail

In this article I'm asking for Edinburgh City Council's 'South Team' to commit a small amount of money and an afternoon of a council officer's time to ordering the removal of some guardrail in Southside.

In most situations pedestrian guardrail (metal barriers between the pavement and the road) is a very bad thing. It causes pedestrian congestion, narrows pavements, makes drivers drive faster, forces pedestrians off their desire lines and kills cyclists by trapping them against it every time they get taken out by a left turning driver who didn't check their mirrors. Most of all it gives the impression that our streets are not places for people to walk, meet or shop, but places for cars to drive quickly. There's a good document on guardrail by Transport for London.

Fortunately Edinburgh City Council has excellent policy on pedestrian guardrail, recognising that it is only appropriate in certain limited situations and that it should be removed unless there are compelling safety reasons for keeping it (and these reasons should be real, contrary to popular belief guardrail provides very little protection against out of control vehicles - it's simply not strong enough to slow them down significantly). 

Removing guardrail is cheap, the guardrail on Princes street used to be routinely removed for five days during the Hogmanay celebrations and then reinstated, and this FOI request shows the cost of removing a section in London to be 136 pounds. Even better, Edinburgh City Council has gone out of its way to make sure that their process for removing guardrail is quick and easy to implement by council officials, basing the form on best practice from Hackney. The form even has an option on the first page, 'is the guardrail obviously redundant without further investigation', which makes ordering the guardrail removal a ten minute affair and which should apply to some of the examples below.

However, removal of guardrail has been left up to neighbourhood teams whenever they have the time, money and inclination to deal with it. There have been a few examples of guardrail removed in Edinburgh in the three years since the policy was put in to place, but for the most part guardrail remains untouched and continues to blight Edinburgh's urban landscape.

I live in Newington, and I've listed below a few pieces of guardrail that make my neighbourhood much less pleasant. I've chosen locations where removing guardrail would not be controversial, they're not close to schools and are all on roads which will be 20mph under Edinburgh's great new policy. I know that time and money are always short for the council, but this will cost very little and, thanks to the council's well designed forms, be very quick. Allowing for half an hour to assess each site, this could be done in an afternoon. 

1. At the junction of Pleasance and East Crosscauseway there are three pieces of guardrail. 

2. Further down on the Pleasance at the junction with Gilmore Street.

3. Outside Summerhall there's a long strip of unsightly guardrail making it hard to cross the road. This is sometimes used for bike parking, so as outlined in the ATAP some alternative cycle parking should be sighted nearby in a way that doesn't get in the way of pedestrians.

4. By the passageway between Buccleuch Street and St Patrick's Square

5. The junction of Nicolson Street and West Nicolson Street has very heavy pedestrian footfall. Narrow pavements have their width reduced further by the guardrail, there is inadequate space at the narrow openings for the crossing, and diagonal crossing is made very difficult by the guardrail, forcing people to wait two cycles of the lights to make this crossing.

6. Further on down Nicolson Street opposite Nicolson Square Gardens, this guardrail joins forces with the three bus stops immediately after it to make crossing the road impossible between Hill Place and West Nicolson Street, an area of very heavy demand.

7. Surely a contender for the most unnecessarily difficult crossing in southside, at the junction of Chambers Street and Nicolson Street pedestrians are forced a long way off their desire lines, pavements are very congested and lots of people want to make the diagonal crossing but can't because of guardrail.

Finally a good picture showing that just because a junction is large, it doesn't mean that guardrail is necessary (or that it would improve safety). This is a large crossing at the junction of Salisbury Place and Minto Street, there are lots of shops nearby and lots of pedestrians, the B&Bs nearby ensure there are lots of confused tourists, there is no guardrail and there have been no accidents in the last five years involving pedestrians. There was a hit and run at this location in an Ian Rankin novel, but that was right on the junction when a car went through a red light so pedestrian guardrail wouldn't have helped...

Lots of great things are being done to regenerate southside, such as the Causey project and Gifford Park Mural, removing guardrail would give this regeneration an easy, quick and cheap boost. I really hope south team will take a look at each of these sites.


  1. The one at the passageway St Patrick Square makes it really difficult to get a bicycle through the passage, you have to push is around a 90 degree corner and then along a really narrow pavement that's often packed with students before you can get on the road. This passageway is an important and busy connection between the university and the shops around St Patrick Square and this connection should be as wide as possible, not artificially narrowed. There isn't that much traffic in Buccleuch Street, and drivers generally expect people on the road as so many are crossing there, so removing the guardrails should not lead to any issues at all.

  2. Email me and I'll make some enquiries for an up to date picture - jim.orr@edinburgh.gov.uk. But check out item 9 below from 2012 and the foot of Cockburn Street which has been transformed. http://www.edinburgh.gov.uk/meetings/meeting/2718/transport_infrastructure_and_environment_committee

  3. Stephan, I completely agree, this really should be a nice convenient link but the guardrail makes everything more difficult.

    Jim, thanks very much, I'll drop you an email tonight. Thanks for your links, I recognise that Cockburn street and Princes street have been completely transformed, but there's a lot of our city that still needs transforming! This isn't an attack on the council though, the council policy is really great, it just needs implementing at ground level...

  4. Well said - these things are almost always a nuisance at best and, as at the top of Infirmary Street, downright dangerous at worst.

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