Leith Walk to get £3.6m bike safety upgrade

Cyclists on Leith Walk. The street is to receive funding from the Scottish Government to improve bike safety. Picture: Jane Barlow
Cyclists on Leith Walk. The street is to receive funding from the Scottish Government to improve bike safety. Picture: Jane Barlow
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“LAGGARD” councils which are not spending enough to improve cycling must be chased up by transport minister Keith Brown, Green MSP Alison Johnstone demanded today.

The Lothian MSP’s call came as Mr Brown announced up to £3.6 million to upgrade Leith Walk in Edinburgh, which has been dubbed one of Britain’s worst streets for cyclists.

The Greens pointed to analysis by Spokes, the Lothian cycle campaign, which showed East Ayrshire and Inverclyde councils had among the lowest cycle spending in Scotland in 2011-12.

The party said neither had put their own money into cycle improvements and rarely bid for other funding.

Ms Johnstone, who also chairs Holyrood’s cross-party cycling group, said: “The minister must do more to close the gap between the leaders and laggards among our councils.

“There’s no doubt that Edinburgh leads the way, but all parts of Scotland need to be taking action and stand to gain huge economic and health benefits if cycling rates rise.”

She also praised revised plans for the “desperately” needed Leith Walk work.

The funding, announced at a cycle summit in the capital, is part of an extra £20m for cycling over the next two years allocated in the Scottish budget two weeks ago.

Mr Brown said: “The City of Edinburgh Council’s ambitious plans for improving Leith Walk aims to deliver an exemplar commuter corridor.

“Subject to finalising designs, the Scottish Government is pleased to be able to offer support for this project which has significant potential for promoting much enhanced levels of walking and cycling by across the city.”

Jim Orr, the city council’s SNP vice transport convener said: “Investing in cycling is a top priority in Edinburgh via our ongoing active travel action plan, and we have committed to spend 6 per cent of the entire transport budget for 2013-14 on promoting it.”

The project on the main route between Leith and the city centre follows the end of long-running underground pipe and cable diversion work for a tram line to Newhaven which has since been shelved because of cost.

Last year, cycling developers Sustrans described Leith Walk as in a “shocking” state and “potentially lethal” because of the volume of traffic.

It featured in a Sustrans table of shame along with three streets in London and others in Birmingham, Bristol, Coventry, Oxford and Warwickshire.

Spokes said the increased funding “contrasts markedly with the Scottish Government’s attempts to cut cycling investment in its early years in power”.

However, it said this was still nothing like what was required to meet ministers’ target of 10 per cent of journeys by bike by 2020.

Kevan Aitken, East Ayrshire Council’s acting head of roads and transportation, said: “It seems incredulous that East Ayrshire is ‘lagging behind’ in the promotion of cycling.

“The council has formed a cycle forum to bring together like-minded people to promote cycling locally, promotes Bike Week within local schools and participation in the Big Pedal events. Funding has been provided for bike and scooter storage areas within local schools.

“The council has been working closely with the Irvine Regeneration Partnership to create a cycle network in the Irvine Valley to rival the extremely well-utilised cycle paths in the Kilmarnock area.”

Edinburgh City Council said the Leith Walk plans would include cycle lanes the length of the street with “significant sections of uninterrupted cycle space” including “off-road” sections.

Mr Brown said: “The additional £20m provides all local authorities with the opportunity to look at developing local projects and also flagship schemes that will encourage more people to walk and cycle for everyday local journeys.

“I look forward to continued engagement with cycling stakeholders over the coming months and will meet with conveners and heads of transportation again at next year’s cycling summit to look at the progress across Scotland.”