AMBITIOUS blueprints have been unveiled for a new £9 million cycle route linking the east and west of the city.
Plans to go before councillors next week could see a “family-friendly” cycleway put in place between Roseburn and Leith Walk – plugging a crucial gap in the Capital’s cycle network.
The proposed “missing link” route would run through the city centre via George Street and include sections of segregated lanes on main roads, making cycling from one side of the Capital to the other “safer, more direct and convenient”.
Council officers say the scheme – which could take up to four years to fully implement – will tie in with several other major projects, including Leith Walk improvement works and the remodelling of Picardy Place, as well as ongoing efforts to “enhance” George Street.
Cycling campaigners and community leaders have backed the move, insisting it marks a key step in the city’s bicycle investment programme.
But Ian Maxwell, chairman of Spokes, said the roll-out of new cycleways should be combined with “a reduction in traffic flows”.
He welcomed the plans, but added: “Edinburgh has got lots of really good off-road routes, but we have always had these links that needed to be created.
“The problem with putting any routes through the city centre at the moment is that unless there is associated traffic control, it’s going to be good but not ideal.
“It sounds like we’re looking for the impossible, but we’re not. We feel that priority should be changed to be more in favour of pedestrians, cyclists and public transport users.”
He added: “We have already seen a very significant growth in cycling in Edinburgh and if we’re going to continue that we need to make these changes. We have seen them elsewhere.”
A report examining the viability of the Roseburn to Leith Walk route predicts a boom in cycle use of 90 per cent along the corridor served by the scheme – amounting to a 16 per cent increase in overall use across the city if it goes ahead. The council aims to encourage 15 per cent of all commuters to cycle to work by 2020. The detailed proposals come after a poll of 1,136 people published by sustainable transport charity Sustrans and the council earlier this week found three quarters – 74 per cent – of Edinburgh residents want more money spent on cycling.
The pioneering survey also discovered perceptions of cyclists are overwhelmingly positive, with 72 per cent of respondents agreeing they like to see people on bikes. Two-thirds said more people riding bikes would make the Capital a better place to live and work.
Kate Campbell, Sustrans Scotland’s deputy director, said Edinburgh was “leading the way” among other local authorities through its commitment to spending eight per cent of its transport budget on cycling this year alone.
And she said “big strides” were being made to boost cycling – but insisted there was still much to do.
City officials argue the £9m route slicing through the city centre will “dramatically improve” the experience of those cycling into the heart of the Capital from areas such as Carrick Knowe, Corstorphine and Murrayfield on one side, and Leith Walk, Pilrig and Leith on the other.
But the major upgrade would lead to some upheaval through the removal of a westbound bus lane from West Coates and both bus lanes on Haymarket Terrace.
Central parking would also need to be removed from Melville Street – resulting in a “significant reduction in parking spaces on the street” – while the taxi rank at Haymarket Station will also need to be shifted. Three options for this move are currently being discussed with taxi operators and stakeholders.
Officials hope to offset the impact on Melville Street’s parking by introducing shared-use parking bays and converting “lengths of yellow line” into extra spaces. This shake-up would lead to additional parking becoming available on surrounding streets such as Walker Street, Manor Place and Chester Street.
But Gordon Renton, secretary of the West End Community Council, said the changes would be worth it to improve road safety – and encourage more commuters to get on their bikes. He said residents would back the plans, adding: “As far as I’m concerned, I’m very supportive of any kind of cycle route. The problem is the cycle route as it is at the moment – the way it interacts with the trams – is really not safe at all. As winter comes there’s a high chance of a fatality.
“Anything that separates out the traffic is going to make it a lot safer. We need to encourage more people to use bicycles.”
Members of the council’s transport and environment committee will decide whether to put the plans out to public consultation on Tuesday.
Councillor Lesley Hinds, the city’s transport leader, said: “This route is key to our commitment to ensure safe and easy cycling across the city, and will provide an essential link to our extensive network of routes.
“I look forward to hearing what the public think of our proposals.”