Tavish Scott: An urgent need for political movement
Many challenges face Scotland’s new civic leaders when they take office next week. Above all is a desperate need to get the nation moving. Wherever you live I suspect this is a problem, but allow me to speak from experience: no matter whether your journey to work is by bus, bike or car, Edinburgh is a nightmare.
This is not just about the “T” word. Many people travel across the city without impinging on the chaos of the city centre. People do travel in circuitous routes to avoid Haymarket and the west end and that filters out to other areas to create new bottlenecks.
But the greater challenge is what we used to call the Gas Board. I recall a Flanders & Swan song of my youth that poked fun at the constant digging of the nations highways by the then nationalised British Gas. Today it is a privatised utility but along with every other electricity, phone and water company, they have city roads across Scotland under constant attack.
Some years back a Commissioner was appointed to arbitrate over these issues. The task was simple. Minimise travel disruption while allowing utilities to undertake essential repairs and improvements. The idea was to stop three different companies digging up the same road in three separate weeks.
Maybe this is happening. But it doesn’t feel like it going into work some mornings as another obstruction stops the 23 bus. The tailback is around the block within a blink of an eye. So why not cycle? Holes and patching of tarmac makes cycling extremely hazardous.
Cycling friends say the pothole is the most dangerous man-made obstacle to getting around. It is the equivalent of the tank trap. Try running your front wheel into a hole at 20mph. The results are unpleasant for the bike and raise the potential of ending up over the handlebars with a mouthful of tar and gravel. So improving local road surfaces would be good for all users.
Traffic design also needs a rethink. There used to be a free-flowing roundabout in the Longstone area of Edinburgh. Now there is a traffic light system which snarls up at rush hour. The argument when the roundabout was replaced was the need for pedestrians to safety cross the road.
Quite true, I have never seen someone using the pedestrian crossing. I have no doubt people do. But whether a working roundabout which kept traffic moving needed to be ripped up is questionable. Traffic planners claim to know best. Not in this case.
Topping that is the experience north of the Forth Road Bridge. Five or so miles of average speed cameras and narrow lanes has been in place for months. No doubt the work is essential. But last Sunday, three southbound lanes were pushed into one with half hour delays. Yet when we passed there was no sign of any work going on.
I am sure this happens across Scotland, so whatever the political colour of your new local administration ask them to get things moving.
l Tavish Scott is Liberal Democrat MSP for Shetland