Which is the right path to get people pedalling?
Cyclists see the redevelopment of Leith Walk as a test of the council’s commitment to making the Capital more bike-friendly. Kim Harding says creating a dedicated cycle lane would be the ideal way to celebrate Sir Chris Hoy’s Olympic success, but Grant Kavanagh is worried others will be squeezed out
It is time to build a “Cycle Super Hoyway” on Leith Walk. One of the most amazing things about Pedal on Parliament (Pop) this April was the number of children who participated – on child seats, tagalongs, balance bikes,
Spider-Man bikes and princess bikes, with or without stabilisers. It showed it was families with young children above all who wanted to see safer cycling for everyone. Pop has never been just about those of us who already cycle – it’s for everyone who wants to cycle but who doesn’t feel they can because the roads are just too hostile. It’s roads like Leith Walk – which should be the obvious cycle route into town, just as it is in a car – which form the greatest barrier of all.
Too much cycling provision in this country falls between two stools. Fast, fit cyclists are given the bare minimum of provision – bike lanes, which disappear under parked cars or at junctions, and advanced stop lines at traffic lights, while everyone else is expected to follow canal paths and parks taking the long way round, often sharing with pedestrians. This might be fine for someone out on a Sunday run, but it means that cycling isn’t a realistic transport option for most people.
Our politicians tell us they want us to cycle more, so why isn’t it made the easiest option? At Pop we want to see a single network for all cyclists, fast and slow, fit or not, taking the most direct routes in safety and comfort. Leith Walk forms an ideal opportunity for Scotland’s leading cycling city to show the country how it can be done.
People have said there isn’t room. There is – plenty of room. Spokes commissioned a report showing that even with trams there was room for a separate cycle way and, crucially, plenty of parking and delivery bays, too. The council has said it would cost too much and take too long to design, but it’s going to cost far less now with the whole road being revamped anyway. Well-designed
separated tracks are safer, not just for people on bikes but drivers and pedestrians, too. Given the numbers seriously injured on Leith Walk in the last decade, that alone should outweigh the slight increase in cost. The design needn’t be difficult or expensive to do. The Dutch have been redesigning roads like these for decades and have helped Chicago provide buffered bike lanes at a fraction of the cost of London’s cycle “superhighways”. We just have to provide the will to do it right and give people on bikes their own space.
Proper cycle tracks don’t just cater to existing cyclists, they create cyclists and the benefits – to everyone – cannot be overstated. As well as the safety aspects, Leith Walk is an important shopping street and shops need customers. Shopkeepers may not be aware that people who go into town by bicycle shop more often and spend more in total than those who come by car.
Bikes cut congestion, too. If just five per cent of car drivers opt to cycle or walk, traffic jams can fall by up to a fifth, air pollution falls and lives are saved. Perhaps more importantly, Leith Walk, even Edinburgh, will simply become a more pleasant place to be.
Leith Walk is just one road, but if politicians can’t – or won’t – get that right, what will do they have to put active travel first? If not now – with Britain’s cyclists on top of the world – then when?
Let’s make Scotland a cycle-friendly nation – for all.
• Kim Harding is spokesman for Pedal on Parliament
IF it was a case of increased parking or segregated cycle lanes then personally I would choose the parking. Parking on Leith Walk is a real problem for businesses at the moment and it’s really a case of motorists bringing a lot more business than cyclists.
Everyone who lives and works on Leith Walk wants it restored so that we can encourage people back into the area. If people cannot park then they will not come down to Leith Walk and that will not help us at all.
Everyone looks at Leith Walk and thinks that because it’s a wide road there is loads of room to put whatever people want in place, but space is still at a premium.
If a segregated cycle lane can be accommodated without cutting into parking space then I would have no problem. There is a vast difference between the number of vehicles that pass down Leith Walk in comparison with the number of bikes, so I don’t understand the need for dedicated lanes for minority road users.
As a business owner who has suffered five years of disruption due to the tram works I would like to see as much parking as possible.
• Grant Kavanagh is owner of Arkay Imaging, Leith Walk