CITY council chiefs have defended their gritting strategy after a rush-hour white-out caused traffic misery for thousands across the region.
Key arterial routes including the City Bypass, Queensferry Road and the M8 ground to a halt yesterday on the back of heavy snowfalls as motorists complained of ungritted roads and reported delays of more than an hour.
A morning breakdown on the M8 eastbound at Hermiston Gait contributed to the chaos, which saw traffic trying to get into the Capital tailing back as far as Harthill. The westbound carriageway was little better after being partially blocked by an accident at Livingston.
The delays came as one of Edinburgh’s top councillors, economy convener Frank Ross, used social media to blast the response to Arctic conditions in the city centre.
Cllr Ross took to Twitter to question the lack of planning, summing up the mood shortly before 8am yesterday by tweeting: “Traffic chaos as main bus routes remain uncleared. Where is the planning and where are the gritters?” He later added: “Princes Street remains ungritted. #chaos.”
Despite the widespread problems, Edinburgh City Council chiefs insisted they had not been caught on the hop. They said 21 gritters and 20 mini-tractors had been working round the clock since 6am on Sunday to treat main roads and pavements.
Police are understood to have attended many incidents caused by skidding vehicles unable to stop on snowy and icy roads.
Traffic slowed to a stop-start crawl along parts of the A720 City Bypass, with tailbacks on to the A7, A701 and A6094 through Midlothian.
Speed restrictions of 30mph on the Forth Road Bridge to prevent the risk of skidding led to southbound delays of at least 30 minutes.
In East Lothian, lengthy hold-ups were reported on the A199 from Tranent to Dolphingstone flyover, and the A198 from Longniddry to Bankton Junction.
Architect John Lancaster said traffic slowed to a crawl along one uncleared lane during morning rush hour.
He warned other motorists on Twitter: “Do not attempt A1 to Edinburgh today, taken girlfriend 1hr to get from Haddington to Tranent. Severe congestion!”
Ballingry resident Cameron Bruce resorted to relieving himself into a bottle while stuck in heavy traffic in Edinburgh, saying it was “not my finest moment”.
Leith retiree George Smith watched a lorry get stuck in snow halfway the hill next to Inverleith Park, bound for Comely Bank.
He said there had been no signs of Commercial Street and Lower Granton Road having been gritted, adding: “As usual, that council’s been caught on the hop. It’s an absolute joke.”
Councillor Gavin Corbett rode to work and said streets such as Fountainbridge were dangerously slippy.
He said: “It seemed to me that on other snowy occasions during the last couple of winters the council’s been better at responding. Whether it’s the fact this is late on in the season, I don’t know.”
One city-based office worker – who took four hours to drive from Glasgow to Edinburgh – said roads in the Capital clearly had not been gritted.
“Edinburgh’s treacherous roads caused a huge swathe of the eastern central belt to snarl to a halt. The West Approach Road was like a skating rink. It was impossible in a car to get traction on it.”
Chaos on the roads came as the Met Office advised commuters to remain cautious today with yellow “be aware” warnings issued for snow and ice.
Scattered wintry showers were still forecast for today, mainly over East Lothian, but snowfalls were expected to halt.
Met Office spokesman Dan Williams said the level of snow was not unusual for March in Scotland. Recent good weather has simply lulled people into the mistaken belief winter was over and spring was here, Met Office forecasters believe.
An Edinburgh Airport spokesman said only one cancellation out of London Heathrow had been reported yesterday, with flights otherwise largely unaffected by the weather.
He said: “A lot of passengers are missing flights, but that’s because of traffic and issues with getting to the airport.”
Transport convener Councillor Lesley Hinds said: “The council receives detailed updates three times a day from the Met Office and we plan our road treatment schedule according to this information. This meant we were fully aware of the expected snowfall and we have had ploughing and gritting vehicles out round the clock since early Sunday morning.
“Some of the disruption faced by commuters on Monday morning was as a result of new snow showers continuing to fall on top of salted roads, but with little traffic to mix it up, thereby reducing its effectiveness.”
Cllr Hinds said staff would continue working overnight to keep the city moving, but added: “I’d encourage residents to keep up to date with any developments through the winter weather pages on our website.”
A full night shift was due to take over from 7.30pm yesterday and continue treating all priority one carriageway routes across Edinburgh before moving on to priority two roads if conditions allowed.
West Lothian Council said primary routes had been treated on a dozen occasions in the 24 hours from 7am on Sunday due to repeated snow showers.
East and Midlothian councils said they had not been caught out by the snowfalls, pointing out contractor Bear Scotland was responsible for gritting trunk roads where the worst delays occurred.
A Transport Scotland spokeswoman said 130 gritters had been out on trunk roads since Saturday morning.
The spokesman said: “The sporadic heavy snowfall, combined with morning peak traffic volumes, a number of incidents and breakdowns at critical locations, has caused more delays than we would normally anticipate for this type of weather event.”
CHILL HITS KEY SERVICES
MOTORISTS were not the only ones to be caught out by persistent snowfalls.
Bin collection services were affected in several parts of Edinburgh, with delays reported in Baberton Mains, Newhaven and Cramond.
The city council said any missed collections would take place either later in the week or during a double collection next week.
Two points failures at East Calder caused by snow and ice led to delays for rail travellers on the rail route servicing Livingston and Kirknewton.
The snow’s all white for panda pair’s frolics
HEAVY snowfall may have proven a headache for most, but not everyone was cursing the winter weather.
Oblivious to the traffic chaos around them, Edinburgh Zoo’s giant panda pair Tian Tian and Yang Guang took time out to frolic in the white sheet that covered their separate enclosures.
The animals sniffed around, enjoying their time in the icy conditions.
Zoo keepers pointed out that giant pandas typically enjoy playing in the snow in their native habitat, with falls regularly occurring in the Chinese mountains and forests.
It marked a change from Yang Guang’s recent behaviour as the pair prepare to enter mating season.
The male bear has been doing handstands against trees, walls and rocks to scent mark as high up as possible in an open display of virility.
Yesterday’s Twitter exchange between the city’s councillors . . .
Councillor Frank Ross [@FrankRoss06]: “Traffic chaos as main bus routes remain uncleared. Where is the planning and where are the gritters?”
Edinburgh City Council [@Edinburgh_CC]: “21 #edincouncil gritters and 20 mini-tractors have been working round the clock since 6am yesterday to treat main roads and pavements.”
Edinburgh City Council: “#edincouncil Gritting will continue throughout today and overnight to deal with snow showers. Please take extra care when out and about.”
Councillor Maureen Child [@MaureenChild1]: “@Edinburgh_CC @FrankRoss06 lots of work going on all night long! Thanks guys!!”
Frank Ross: “@MaureenChild1 @edinburgh_cc not in the West of the city. Some main roads at a standstill this morning.”
Maureen Child: “@FrankRoss06 @edinburgh_cc Go East young man!”
Frank Ross: “@MaureenChild1 I’m trying but the bus is stuck in traffic ;-).”
Frank Ross: “Where are the gritters? Princes Street remains ungritted. #chaos.”