CITY chiefs could face a compensation bill of up to £1 million from cyclists injured in falls on Edinburgh’s tram lines.
A report from Thompsons Solicitors has revealed 74 cyclists suffered spills on Princes Street alone after their wheels became trapped in the rim of the track – and experts claim that figure is set to soar.
The data, collected since 2009, noted there were six reports of falls in the first week work began and now legal experts predict the council could be swamped with personal injury claims.
Calls have already been made for transport chiefs to implement greater safety measures to increase cycle safety in the city centre.
Patrick McGuire, a partner with Thompsons Solicitors, which represents several cyclists set to sue the council after suffering injury on the tram lines, condemned the council for continuing to “bury its head in the sand” over installing “simple safety” checks.
“The situation in and around Princes Street is a fatality waiting to happen,” he said.
“In all the cases we are dealing with if the cyclist had been subsequently hit by a vehicle after falling from their bike then it’s possible they wouldn’t be here today.
“It’s a disgrace that the council is continuing to bury its head in the sand and is refusing to implement simple safety measures to ensure the city centre is a safe place for all who use it.
“The number of accidents in Edinburgh city centre is already worryingly high and that is before the trams are even introduced. Many of the accidents have been caused by cyclists feeling under pressure from heavy bus and taxi traffic. Once you add trams into the equation it will be a recipe for disaster and unless drastic action is taken I’m in no doubt the number of accidents will increase.”
Mr McGuire said recommendations that the council had failed to act on included improved signage, better lighting to alert cyclists to hazards, and bi-directional cycle lanes running the entire length of Princes Street.
Figures were compiled after cycling safety consultant John Franklin submitted Freedom of Information requests to Lothian and Borders Police and the city council.
It is understood his calculations provided the very fewest number of accidents occurring in that time frame, with a likelihood the actual figure would be far higher.
But transport chiefs insist their active travel plan – that sees five per cent of their budget invested in cycling – will improve safety and conditions across the cycle network.
An Edinburgh legal source claimed the cost of cyclist injuries resulting from the tram line could run into millions.
He said: “There are a number of factors at play but, potentially, this could be a very damaging area for the council. If the cycling lobby can prove they’ve been injured by tram works without adequate safety measures having been put in place, then it’s costly.
“The average claim for injuries like whiplash at our firm recently has ranged between £6000 and £12,000.
“Facial injuries, serious bruising and broken bones are not uncommon. As a form of commuting it also falls into a higher income demographic and tends to be applicable to middle-class workers.
“With all these factors in play you could easily be looking at an average, ballpark claim of around £8000 per cyclist – a figure that would cover them for loss of earnings and so on.
“The tram works have been going on for a long period of time so it’s easy to imagine there could be as many as 200 claimants.
“That framework would potentially expose the council to a £1.6m pay-out. No win, no fee companies will be watching this with interest, certainly. And I can imagine there will be some frantic questions being asked at the City Chambers.”
UK charity Cyclists Defence Fund is working alongside Thompsons to put pressure on the council to improve safety in the city.
Chris Field, chair of the Cyclists Defence Fund, said: “Local cycle campaigners had repeatedly voiced concerns about the hazards of Edinburgh’s tram scheme. It is now all too clear that they were right – over 80 cyclists have been injured on Edinburgh’s main street and the trams haven’t even started running yet.
“But this legal challenge isn’t just about cyclists and tram lines. It is about the duties of highway authorities to take proper account of cyclists’ safety, whatever they are designing. Given the media focus on cyclists’ deaths at King’s Cross or the Bow roundabout in London, this case clearly has a much wider significance.”
The charity will be co-hosting a public meeting with Thompsons later this month to launch a safety campaign calling for action to be taken to drastically improve safety before trams start running on the lines.
As well as the recommendations yet to be implemented, the campaign group will also call for the removal of shared tram and bicycle lanes; all tram line crossings to be marked; appropriate lighting; contrasting road surfaces; improved signage; removal of all motor traffic from the thoroughfare other than trams and the addition of bi-directional cycle lanes.
Ian Maxwell, a member of campaign group Spokes, said it had repeatedly called for the introduction of segregated bike lanes and said safety on Princes Street could be improved by reducing traffic.
He said: “There will be places along the tram route where cyclists will be prohibited but there are times when you will be unable to avoid going across the lines.
“If complete segregation from trams isn’t offered then it will be possible for people to cycle in the same space as the trams. Given the schedule, there will be large gaps between approaching trams and it should be fairly obvious when a tram is around because of the bells they carry.
“Having a specific cycle lane was one of the ideas we have putting forward time and again. Even if it was one way, possibly on the gardens side, that would have been really good and avoided some of the problems we will have with mixing.
“We have seen it’s possible to move the buses off Princes Street and it would be really good to have far less flow of buses and motorised traffic.”
New figures released this week show the number of cyclists seriously injured on Scotland’s roads has risen by 13 per cent since last year. A total of 156 serious cyclist injuries were reported to the police last year.
This week, Shane Sutton, head coach of the Great Britain cycling team, warned that roads leading to Manchester Velodrome were a “death trap” for cyclists because of tram lines.
Mr Sutton spoke out days after he was left with bleeding on the brain and a fractured cheekbone on the A6 in Levenshulme.
In Blackpool, pedestrians and cyclists are barred from entering any route reserved for trams because “it’s very dangerous particularly for those cycling within the so-called road line”.
A city council spokeswoman said: “Experience of other European cities shows that trams and cyclists can exist safely together. It’s a priority to improve safety right across the city and the council’s coalition agreement commitment to invest 5 per cent of the transport budget on provision for cyclists will help achieve this.
“We lead a cycle forum where we discuss the safe development of cycling the city with cyclists themselves but we’re always happy to listen to new suggestions and ideas.”
‘EDINBURGH IS NO LONGER A SAFE PLACE TO BE ON A BIKE’
EXPERIENCED cyclist Sara Reed, 40, has been pedalling throughout Edinburgh for the last 20 years and was one of those who suffered a nasty fall on Princes Street.
Ms Reed sustained a broken collarbone and bruising when her bike wheel became trapped between tram lines on October 23.
She had been cycling in rush hour and was forced to overtake stationary buses in the left-hand lane. When she then moved back to the inside lane her front wheel became trapped in the tram tracks and she was thrown from her bike.
“I was lucky a taxi didn’t hit me when I fell, but the force of the crash meant that I broke my collarbone and sustained a head injury, despite wearing a helmet.
“It was incredibly painful. While I appreciate there are signs warning people about the tram line, you could put 100 flashing lights on Princes Street warning of that danger but it doesn’t take it away. When you put trams in there the danger is going to increase ten-fold.”
Cyclists are advised to cross tracks at 90 degrees to avoid a wheel becoming trapped but this isn’t always practical. Other cities have introduced crossing points for cyclists or segregated routes that avoid sharing road space with buses, taxis and trams.
“It is staggering that Edinburgh City Council knows that many cyclists are having accidents as a direct result of the tram tracks and have taken no action,” Ms Reed said. “Edinburgh is no longer safe for cyclists – people are getting seriously injured and the council needs to resolve the situation before someone is killed.”