Argyle Place replacement crossing review

Revamp of key junction in Meadows park is a step in the right direction, but lamentably fails to address key safety concerns

Junction revamp almost really good

Video survey suggests more should have been done

The junction at the bottom of Middle Meadow Walk, Edinburgh’s flagship route through Edinburgh’s flagship park, has recently had a bit of a facelift.

Considering that the council themselves described this work as “relatively minor”, the improvements delivered are in some respects substantial. Nevertheless, the council has missed an opportunity to deliver a really significant improvement by pacifying the last 30mph crossing which poses a barrier to safe pedestrian and cycling journeys through the park.

This is doubly unfortunate as last year saw the closure of nearby Meadow Place – a grim rat run – with a cheap set of bollards, providing pedestrians and cyclists with a huge increase in safety at almost no cost (notably, no increase in congestion has been measured).

The failure to protect the crossing is particularly regrettable as the junction is so close to the Sick Kids hospital and on a route busy with school children. (I wrote recently about the sadly predictable lack of a temporary crossing when the works were put in place – and although doubtless just an unhappy coincidence, at least one ambulence was called for a child while the works were underway).

Situation

Six thoroughfares (Middle Meadow Walk, South Meadow Walk, Melville Drive, Argyle Place, Fingal Place and Argyle Park Terrace) meet at a junction around a complex set of islands which form a pedestrian/cycling refuge. Thanks, Streetview:

streetview_argyleMMW

Dominant traffic flow is along Melville Drive and the crossing from Argyle Place to Middle Meadow Walk (the main opposing flow) is protected by lights, phased to allow traffic from Argyle Place to turn right onto Melville Drive at the same time – right of image above.

At left, you can see the contentious high-speed slip road that allows vehicles turning left from Argyle Place to bomb past multiple crossing points.

Accessibility and Safety Issues

Traffic turning left from Argyle Place enjoys a dedicated slip road which is not light controlled – either to protect pedestrians/cyclists crossing from South Meadow Walk or in the interests of westbound traffic on Melville Drive. This is the crux of the problem with both old and new designs.

The junction has always been considered a bit of a joke, and was routinely circumvented, with many cyclists riding directly onto Argyle Place despite the green-signalled oncoming traffic, or cutting across pedestrians directly onto Melville Drive to avoid it.

Look at the tortuous attempt to link South Meadow Walk (centre, between the trees) with Middle Meadow Walk (right of image) and Argyle Place (left of image) using farcical gullies:

streetview_argyleMMW_side

The new layout significantly improves access between Middle Meadow Walk and South Meadow Walk in terms of physical layout. This is one of the two stand-out improvements to the revamp (this and following photos are were shot by Chris Hill during the works – I’ll update with pics of the finished article shortly):

desire line(?)

Unfortunately the revamp only slightly addresses long-standing safety concerns around the unsignalled left filter lane onto Middle Meadow Walk. If you want to get onto the island from South Meadow Walk on this side you still just have to cross the unsignalled traffic flow.

Under the new layout, a raised table has been added at the pedestrian crossing closest to Melville Drive. Video monitoring of the junction suggests this is having a significant moderating effect on vehicle speeds by the time they pass the give way line:

However, it leaves the obvious question – out of the two pedestrian crossings and one cycle crossing on the slip road, why is the speed table not extended to cover all three (or at least both the pedestrian crossings, leaving cyclists to ride over at ground level)?

It seems a significant investment has been made fitting drop kerbs and tactile paving to the South Meadow Walk pedestrian crossing when it could hardly have added significant cost to use the existing kerb line and pour a second tarmac table, thus moderating vehicle speeds on the approach.

The prominent “speed up to 30mph” signage right before the unsignalled crossings doesn’t exactly send out the best message either.

Not clear that more radical changes were adequately modelled

Video monitoring has taken place during the peak morning period (7:30am – 8:45am) to help understand patterns of use.

A total of 637 conflicting junction movements were observed, the proportion of users being as follows:

Type (%)
Pedestrian (all) 45.7
Cyclist (N-S) 26.1
Cyclist (other) 14.0
Slip road: private vehicle 10.6
Slip road: commercial vehicle 3.6

With fewer than one car per minute using the slip lane during rush hour, everyone is asking the obvious question: why wasn’t something more fundamental done about the slip to get around the whole problem of vehicles bombing down to Melville Drive across three pedestrian/cycle crossings?

This video still shows six cyclists, five pedestrians and no cars using the Argyle Place junction. Given that motor vehicles make up just 1/6th of junction movements, why doesn’t the slip road have to give way at the cycle path, instead of vice-versa? Too expensive?

argyle-feat

Why are a tiny proportion of motor vehicle movements being prioritised over pedestrian and cyclist safety?

The existing light phase for Argyle Place (which controls traffic turning right onto Melville Drive) could easily have been extended to cover the slip road for traffic turning left.

No timing changes would be required as the number of vehicles is small – just 68 private vehicles between 7:30 and 8:45am on a weekday, less than one per minute. The average period between green lights for Argyle Place was also monitored for the final 30 minutes of that period, and is 23.8 seconds (never more than 28 seconds), meaning that on average in rush hour there would be fewer than one extra car queueing at the lights if they were extended to cover the slip road.

How can we reconcile this with:

Consideration was also given to removal of the left-turn lane from Argyle Place onto Melville Drive, however this would have resulted in the need to reduce the crossing time for pedestrians and cyclists. As such, a decision was taken to retain the left-turn facility to ensure maximum crossing time for pedestrians and cyclists to/from Middle Meadow Walk.

Hmm. We’ve seen that fewer than one vehicle per minute (just over one vehicle per minute, including commercial vehicles) uses the slip road at peak time.

Even if the Argyle Place light phase had to be slightly longer (very doubtful, as fewer than one extra vehicle on average would be queuing there), is it credible that would significantly impact through traffic on Melville Drive anyway?

How it could have been

Regular readers will know that I like to turn my hand to random things, in this case hacking the council’s “Argyll Place at Melville Drive : General Arrangement” documentation.

There are text links below this image over which you can hover to view alternative plans including a second crossing table, and one including an extended light phase.

(Incidentally, my consulting rates are very reasonable).

none

Hover overlay: [as built] [double table] [new light]

If any real traffic planners read this, I hope you appreciate that I figured out how to wire up the new light in the third image. 🙂

Admittedly traffic management is a game anyone can play and a profession for fewer. But this really does leave a lot of people asking whether the cost of digging in a single new traffic light and painting a white line across the slip road, or building a second table instead of installing drop kerbs, could really have been so great?

What guidance was given when the replacement design was commissioned?

Ironically, rush hour looks to be one of the safest times to use the new junction, because traffic on Melville Drive is so heavy that cars can only exit the slip road when the pedestrian crossing phase goes on. In turn this allows pedestrians to cross from South Meadow Walk to the island without worrying about moving vehicles.

All-in-all this is a step in the right direction, but it’s unfortunate to see the leadership that was provided over nearby Meadow Place (by the previous administration) has not been continued.

If this was a school report, it would be “must try harder”.

Are you a user of Middle or South Meadow Walks? Got an opinion on the new junction layout? Drop me a comment below…

YesScotland: not for cyclists

Why the 7% of us getting about by bike must vote ‘no’ to the SNP and Scottish independence

The SNP has shown the 7% on bikes must vote ‘no’

In 2007 I voted SNP, hoping that they would offer an alternative to the ‘business as usual’ of Labour and the LibDems. I won’t say that Scottish independence was really on my agenda at the time – but it wasn’t a simple protest vote either.

I really hoped that a party purporting to have Scotland’s best interests at heart might be a successful choice.

While in some ways the SNP have distinguished themselves, often it hasn’t been in the way I would have liked (such as removing the tolls over the Forth Bridge then putting me on the hook for the best part of a billion pounds to subsidise a replacement crossing. Nice one guys!)

spending

More large infrastructure projects have followed, but the SNP have steadfastly refused to support active travel. Just look at the infogram above: frankly embarrassing.

Not only have they failed to flood this key area with investment, they actually tried to slash it (leading to much protest, largely led by Spokes). Their policies were even attacked as ‘perverse’.

Salmond: cyclists are “pushing on an open door”. Yes, and it leads us back to LibLab coalition, Alex.

The SNP have failed to show the leadership that I believe is required to build a pleasant Scotland where I want to live, work, and play, and raise my children. They sometimes make nice noises but there is still no major capital fund that can be bid for (unless you want to dual a road).

Ironically, the person showing up the SNP most badly is London Mayor Boris Johnson – the Conservative last week announced sweeping investment in improving the city for residents, businesses, cyclists and pedestrians with a massive investment in active travel.

Can it really be that I helped install a government that is worse at governing Scotland than a well-to-heel Tory would be running it from a London office? It seems so.

City of Edinburgh Council is leading the way (even against London) when it comes to active travel investment in the UK, making a 300% larger commitment than Boris (in relative terms). Unfortunately a significant proportion of a small pot of cash still doesn’t go far.

spending2

I wrote recently to highlight the plight of the Leith Walk redesign. We could have an international-standard boulevard here that is a pleasant place to be, or we could reinstate the existing seven lanes -worth of racing motors and nasty pavements lined with dying businesses.

The Council have already committed five times the annual cycling budget to Leith Walk (albiet paid for from the obscene trams budget, a drop in that ocean). Still not enough, so funding is needed from elsewhere.

We desperately need the SNP to get behind active travel with a massive investment of funds so that projects like this can be done properly. I’ve now come to the conclusion that it isn’t going to happen – SNP have demonstrated they are not fit to deliver the governance and urban change that Scotland requires.

7% of people heading to work in Edinburgh are going by bike. Numbers are growing elsewhere. We want 5% of Scotland’s transport budget, not a fraction of 1%.

We’re all voters. It’s long past time that we exercised the power that comes along with this vote to send a clear message that we will not accept the slow drip feed that the SNP is offering us.

A few people have made the point that independence (in theory) doesn’t necessarily mean a prolonged ride on the SNP bandwagon – we could all vote for their flagship policy then turn around and reject them at the ballot box at the following elections. This is true, but I feel very unlikely – how popular would the unionist vote be if it came with the caveat that Scotland would be ruled by Thatcher again (but maybe only for a while)?

Alex Salmond and John Swinney could convince us otherwise any time they like – but I know they won’t.

I’ll be voting no. Boris is showing us the way to go, and it doesn’t involve the SNP or an independent Scotland.

 

What do you think? Is there any real choice in Scottish politics at all? Drop me a comment with your thoughts…

Welcome to Leith Walk: video style

A few short videos to underline the complete failure of Leith Walk and the council’s proposed changes.

Welcome to Leith Walk: video style

If a picture paints a thousand words, hopefully a few short videos are worth a million to underline the complete failure of Leith Walk and the improvements that are needed viz. the council’s proposed changes.

Please also see my article “Leith Walk: Council must seize opportunity of a generation“.

“Cyclists can just use the bus lanes”

I wonder if someone at the Council imagines that the fact bus lanes are painted on Leith Walk somehow makes it a pleasant place to cycle. Nothing could be further from the truth, especially as even in rush hour, they are largely obstructed by parked vehicles:

The experience of cycling up the bottom part of Leith Walk is unpleasant enough to put 99% of the population off for good:

“A dab of paint on London Road roundabout, it will be safe and fun”

The current proposals feature no improvements at all north of London Road roundabout (the videos shown above). However, the multi-lane unsignalled London Road roundabout will be “vastly” improved by the addition of some painted white lines. Just imagine, if only there were a few dabs of paint here, your children could cycle to school unattended:

Yeah, whatever. If cyclists aren’t taken across (or around) this roundabout on a protected, segregated cycle track, it seems far-fetched to imagine that use of the street will increase at all, however pretty the rest of it may be.

“We’re going to let cyclists ride between roundabouts on a segregated track!”

The current design proposals do contain a bit of cycling infrastructure: a cycle track between London Road and Picardy Place roundabouts.

So, as long as you’re willing to take your life in your hands crossing the roundabout in the video above, you’ll be able to ride for a hundred meters or so in segregated comfort, before rejoining the road here:

Yes, you really will have to cycle across that (unless you want to risk going up Leith Street), even after the proposed redesign. Picardy Place for kids and grandmothers on bikes? Dream on!

“A dab of paint will fix Picardy Place anyway”

Here’s a video of me cycling home from work across Picardy Place. It’s extremely dangerous and it’s a flight of fancy to imagine anyone who was encouraged by a segregated cycle track on the rest of Leith Walk being able to use this at all:

This junction is horrendous for pedestrians too. It must be addressed by a complete redesign.

A fully segregated cycleway is needed for the whole length of Leith Walk. It’s one of the widest streets in Edinburgh and we’re digging it all up anyway – no excuses.

Do you live, work or play near Leith Walk? Got an opinion? Please feel free to drop me a comment either way.

Leith Walk consultation & redesign

Hinds, Orr and the rest of City of Edinburgh Council must seize “opportunity of a generation”

Hinds, Orr and the rest of City of Edinburgh Council must seize “opportunity of a generation”

I ought to apologise for being so quiet on the Leith Walk consultation / redesign front.

Having seen the preliminary designs published at the tail end of last year and having been to the meatspace consultation event, I was frankly so disheartened that I couldn’t bring myself to comment in any depth.

It looked like it was going to be another “Quality Bike Corridor” episode, with large amounts of money and goodwill squandered for a very marginal improvement, little more than a reinstatement, and it really did seem that officials and councillors were not the least bit interested in making any visionary steps at all.

leithwalk-pic1

Of the £5.5m allocated, £3.2m was earmarked to resurface the road and £1.5m to re-flagstone the pavements, leaving just £800,000 for other interventions (based on a second hand breakdown – I’d welcome any correction).

As Edinburgh’s transport budget is just £20m, Londoners reading this should perhaps scale up to £500m to empathise with this level of waste.

However, we heard recently that the Council is to seek Sustrans funding to make improvements to cycling/walking on Leith Walk above and beyond the dubious efforts indicated in the preliminary plans.

With that in mind, I decided to sit down and grind something out after all.

What is wrong with Leith Walk?

As a daily user of the street I think I can sum this up pretty succinctly: it’s unpleasant.

To see just how unpleasant, please check out my accompany video article: “Welcome to Leith Walk: video style“.

We’re not just talking about cycling here. Leith Walk is enormously wide (in parts, perhaps a candidate for the widest street in Edinburgh?) but it consists entirely of signs and bins (on the pavement), rows of parked cars, a bus lane which is inevitably full of double parked cars and delivery vehicles, then 30mph+ “fast lanes” before a wide central reservation.

leithwalk-pic4

The junction layouts are as unfriendly as the rest of the street. It takes a horrendous amount of time to negotiate the area as a pedestrian, especially at the southern end where the two multi-lane unsignalled roundabouts (London Road and Picardy Place) demand lengthy detours or Spartan disregard for personal safety.

Leith Walk could easily be a thriving boulevard – it’s just a question of changing its primary purpose from a distributor expressway to a street where people are prioritised.

There are immediate benefits to be realised from slowing traffic down and shifting the emphasis towards pedestrians and cyclists – drastic reductions in noise, air pollution, hugely increased footfall for local businesses, just for a start.

On that last point – when people can’t easily cross the road, if they come to Leith Walk at all they are going to be inclined to stick to the side they’re on and neglect all the businesses opposite. Who wants to spend time on a four lane expressway of a street anyway?

Local business needs to be reassured and given leadership by a Council that isn’t afraid to reduce the amount of parking available on a 7-lane expressway to accommodate a modest cycle track.

leithwalk-pic2

Over 50% of Leith households do not own a car. The question the council needs to answer is this: why does Leith “Walk” have such poor pavements and almost non-existent provision for cyclists, while a relatively small proportion of people in cars enjoy an eye-popping seven lanes-worth of space (two parking, two travel in each direction, plus central reservation) set aside for them?

The Council desperately needs to take this opportunity to learn from the disaster of the Quality Bike Corridor (and the contrasting success of infrastructure projects elsewhere, such as the amazing redesign of Poynton in England) to do the following things:

  • a 20mph limit to make the street more compatible with pleasant use by residents, shoppers, and passers-by (two wheeled or otherwise)
  • a fully segregated cycleway the whole length of the street, prioritised at side roads
  • segregated cycle infrastructure to include negotiation of London Road and Picardy Place roundabouts without having to ride, at all, amongst lethal traffic flows.

We’re now hearing that London is stepping up to the plate with massive investment in liveable, cycleable streets. They are going to focus on doing just a few things right rather than piecemeal and marginal improvements which have manifestly failed to turn Edinburgh into a model cycling city.

With over £4 returned from every £1 invested in cycling infrastructure to the NHS alone (forget about all the other benefits for residents, local business and pedestrians of a pleasant, liveable street) this really should be a no-brainer.

A fully segregated cycleway is needed for the whole length of Leith Walk. It’s one of the widest streets in Edinburgh and we’re digging it all up anyway – no excuses.

Do you live, work or play near Leith Walk? Got an opinion? Please feel free to drop me a comment either way.

Death of the LBS?

Is it any wonder that bike shops are suffering if they won’t trade in the areas where they don’t need to worry about online competition?

On my way into work on Monday my maintenance free commuter failed me for the first time.

The bike had developed a strange tendency to drop the chain over the last week. With horizontal dropouts and burly 1/8″ drivetrain, this is something that just shouldn’t happen – I had to put it down to a loose back wheel, despite tightening it carefully on three occasions.

Then, while heading downhill (of all things) onto Picardy Place roundabout, disaster struck! The chain came off, but wait… it was dragging on the ground… it was broken in half… 🙁

lbs_dead2

Packing away the world’s tiniest violin, the real point of this story is not this sad mechanical failure but the oddness that follows.

I’m fortunate to work not too far away from one of Edinburgh’s bike shops (I won’t name it). I’ve dropped in on my way home from work on numerous occasions, not including the time I coerced a colleague to buy a new saddle and tyres for his very reasonable 26 mile round-trip commute (he subsequently resigned – no, really).

When all’s said and done, I buy a fair amount of stuff from the big online stores, like Chain Reaction or Wiggle (regular readers probably notice that I often provide links to them from reviews). I’m not totally insensitive to the plight of the small business and the value of the local bike shop, however, and do like to patronise them when I can.

So, you may imagine my surprise when I was told that, although yes they did have a suitable SRAM chain to get me back on the road – they wouldn’t let me use their shop chain tool to fit it. Que?

Perhaps they were angling for me to pay some expensive labour charge to do a job that I can manage in two minutes flat with my eyes closed, but I didn’t hang about to find out.

I ordered a pair of chains from Chain Reaction Cycles instead (in fact, I bought them for a scandalous discount – over 50% at the time of writing). I did it while pushing the bike, so I saved a wad of cash while at least minimising the opportunity cost of the whole sorry saga.

lbs_dead_feat

Is it any wonder that the small local bike shop is suffering if they won’t even trade in the one area that they really shouldn’t need to worry about mail order competition?

Some shops charge what seems like a punitive rate for bit jobs like puncture fixes, and I can understand that if you want to reduce the amount of time your staff spend working on that type of repair and not, say, a full annual service for a heck of a lot more money.

But refusing to let people use a simple and cheap shop tool for a couple of minutes and losing a sale on something with at least a 100% markup? That, I do not understand.

What do you think? Am I being a bit harsh here, or is there an obvious answer that I’m just not seeing? Drop a comment with your thoughts…

Quality Bike Corridor : still not quality

After a winter to bed in, how does the Edinburgh Quality Bike Corridor fare? Is it just a long strip of cycle lane painted underneath de-facto parking bays?

It’s been several months since the Edinburgh’s £650,000 Quality Bike Corridor was launched to great fanfare.

I wrote in November that I considered City of Edinburgh Council to have “failed utterly” to have delivered any meaningful interpretation of the phrase “quality”, or indeed “corridor”, and this winter’s daily use has given me small reason to revise that harsh assessment.

It would be untrue to say that the Quality Bike Corridor is by any means a step backward for transport provision in Edinburgh; quite the reverse. It doesn’t make conditions appreciably worse for cycling than they were before, and in one or two respects has made a positive contribution.

However, that cannot excuse the sorry shambles that is the experience of trying to navigate the QBC. This video was shot today at 7pm, just as the evening rush is tailing off. It covers ~650m of the Quality Bike Corridor, and there are 55 (largely legally) parked vehicles: one obstruction forcing cyclists into traffic for every 12m. There are a large number of moving vehicles in the video – how many cyclists do you see?

Incidentally, if you’re interested in getting a camera yourself, I’m using (and can highly recommend) this compact HD video camera by Contour.

I will try to be fair: it’s nice that the surface is (generally) improved and I think the sections of cycle lane which have been built around parking are a significant improvement, especially heading north at the bottom of Ratcliffe Terrace (just before the illegally parked Bonaly Dairies delivery lorry I keep encountering on video). The short section of 20mph limit, hamstrung as it is, is punching well above its weight. I’d even go as far as to say that Summerhall, which saw a superfluous traffic lane removed northbound, feels dramatically safer.

However, the bottom line is that the Quality Bike Corridor has largely ended up as a very expensive resurfacing which benefits two groups of people: cyclists who were using the route anyway (I raise my hand here) and motorists who park (legally or otherwise) at cyclists’ expense, now without fear for their alloy rims.

Not that it needs reinforcing, but check out this video, shot during the hours of daylight:

Can you even spot the cycle provision here? What space has been set aside (in practice) for two-way cycle traffic on this section of the “Quality” Bike Corridor?

A true “Quality Corridor” would be very well used – this one has mainly seen growth on the “Quiet Route avoiding Quality Bike Corridor” (that is not a joke) which was created simply by sign-posting quiet neighbourhood roads a quarter mile to the west.

I wouldn’t suggest children cycle along it, I wouldn’t encourage the elderly or unfit try to cycle along it, and I certainly wouldn’t advise the inexperienced try to cycle along it – surely three things which are fundamental to sorting out the city’s transport (and “liveability”) issues.

The Quality Bike Corridor does not provide cyclists with any dedicated space to allow them to travel across town in confidence and safety. So long as it’s necessary to deal with speeding taxis, delivery lorries cutting in and out of illegal parking and private vehicles blocking up both sides of the road, cycling on this route will remain the province of the brave and the few.

We could be doing so much better.

Anyone on the Council who doesn’t understand why this is so frustrating is welcome to a free guided tour (I’ll even suppy a bike). I know there are people in the traffic department absolutely screaming out for this type of service…

Are you affected by the Quality Bike Corridor? Do you agree or disagree with me? Please feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts…

Edinburgh: “Model” Cycling City

This really begs the question: who in Edinburgh Council just doesn’t get it? If someone was knocked down trying to cross Melville Drive would they take responsibility?

Great post from Wilmington’s Cow over on Blipfoto just now about how depressingly far we are from being a “model” cycling city here in Edinburgh.

So, the junction is closed for redesign, so far so normal. Except, on this busy crossing, while they put in place big yellow ‘diversion’ signs for those in cars… Pedestrians and cyclists, the people for whom this is being redesigned, have the crossing switched off, and…. Nothing. No temporary crossing, just… Nothing. On one of the busiest roads in the city…. Nothing.

The fact that it took various people on a cycling forum to complain before even a temporary crossing was put in is frankly laughable. That they put it in then don’t provide any signs that it is in use (because it’s in a different location) is just ridiculous.

Wilmington’s Cow

To be fair, I suppose we might be an exemplary model of how to have a noisy, fume-filled, car-centric cycling city, but I somehow doubt that was the original intent!

It’s frankly rediculous that Middle Meadow Walk has been cut off with no provision for the crowds of cyclists and pedestrians to get over speeding Melville Road. For those not familiar with the area, Middle Meadow Walk is a major thoroughfare connecting central Edinburgh with Marchmont and the south side, including several schools and the Sick Kids hospital.

By chdot on flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/chdot/8465011188/
By chdot, on flickr

People are crossing anyway, of course, but dicing with death to do so. All for the want of a simple temporary crossing! The majestic irony of this whole situation is that the works are only in place to improve the junction for active travel, as it has a terrible layout for cyclists and pedestrians anyway.

Update: after councillors were badgered repeatedly by concerned citizens, a temporary crossing has finally been put in place… but further down the road with no diversion signs.

This really begs the question: who in Edinburgh Council just doesn’t get it? If someone was knocked down trying to cross Melville Drive would they take responsibility? After all, the alternatives are some distance away, and the park is big and dark. People aren’t just going to abort their journey because there’s a ‘crossing not in use’ sign up, especially if they’re trying to get to school or the Sick Kids.

For once you have to feel a bit of sympathy for the city’s councillors here. They can’t be expected to personally supervise every piece of works, yet they are ultimately responsible for the public’s wellbeing.

Hopefully some serious taking-to-task is going on behind the scenes, but…

This. Is. Edinburgh.

Lothian Buses and 20mph limits

The strange case of the slow bus company which foiled reduced speed limits for its competitors… to say nothing of road safety.

The strange case of the slow bus company which foiled reduced speed limits for its competitors

To say nothing of road safety…

When the 20mph Limit Pilot in South Central Edinburgh was up for consultation, at one point it looked like the streets people actually need to use and cross to get anywhere in this city (such as Marchmont Road or Grange Road) would be included as well as quiet residential backwaters.

lothian-bus-20mph-1
Lothian Buses 177 Y177 CFS by Ingy The Wingy, on Flickr

Lothian and Borders Police appear to bear much of the responsibility for undermining political leadership here by refusing to uphold the law [Kim Harding has some good backstory from nearer the time], but the other influential objector who managed to derail this important aspect of the pilot was our very own (publicly-owned) Lothian Buses.

Their argument didn’t really hinge around safety or liveability concerns, but simply the impact that a 20mph limit would allegedly have on their timetable and business. (The obvious point that a bus service becomes even more attractive when car traffic is slowed down seemed to escape notice).

However, as a semi-regular bus user, this attack confused me. The public’s experience of being on 90% of Lothian Buses is one of moving very slowly. Do their vehicles really travel so far above 20mph that there would be a serious impact on timetabling if the limit was brought down?

When I read that in some other parts of the UK, bus services are taking a leading role in road safety by voluntarily driving at less than the maximum legal limit, my suspicions grew stronger. Surely such a scheme would be stillborn if it put them heavily out of pocket?

Lothian Buses said:

“[Service 38] can only be operated with financial support from the council, therefore any increase in operating cost would have to be passed to the council for an increased subsidy.”

I decided to measure exactly what the impact of a 20mph zone would be on this bus service using GPS technology and computer analysis.

Continue reading “Lothian Buses and 20mph limits”

CEC: Quality Bike Corridor #1

Correspondence Nov 2012: Southside Councillors, re: Quality Bike Corridor

In relation to:

Southside/Newington Cllrs: Steve Burgess, Jim Orr, Ian Perry, Cameron Rose

22/11/12

Dear Councillors,

After a couple of delays it seems that the official launch of the QBC has suddenly arrived!

As you might expect since we live just off the route, I have plenty to say about it – but agreed it was only fair to wait until it was ‘finished’ before weighing in.

As someone who “plays well” with traffic I’ve personally found the QBC to be a minor improvement, mainly because of the build-outs around parking (especially the one heading north at the bottom of Ratcliffe Terrace) make it easier to force your way into the traffic stream, while removing a lane from Summerhall has also made it quite a lot easier to speed past queues. However, I honestly couldn’t recommend the QBC as a route for novice riders or those with kids, especially as the parking situation (which is laughable at peak times) just gets silly outside them. Consequently it’s hard to defend as good value.

I’ve put together a short video of my experience using the QBC which I hope you will find interesting (‘enjoy’ would be a bit perverse), on youtube:

I hope it’s obvious that this ties in directly with the general concern that Leith Walk is going to be rebuilt without segregated facilities for cyclists – despite all the support for them (and the fact that we haven’t had the “consultation” yet). At least two people in my team at the office have told me there’s no way they’d consider riding to work in Leith from the south side unless they were separated from traffic, and we can see how “well” these painted facilities work here, despite considerable cost.

Instead they sit in their cars stuck on Leith St and I wave on the way past.. but am seen as either heroic or just mad.

I understand that it might be difficult or discouraging for some councillors to see people reject these high-profile (and expensive) painted lane schemes, but I think it’s the perfect illustration that we need to aim for European-class facilities and not a poor imitation – buy cheap, buy twice.

Welcome your thoughts,

Sincerely,

Dave McCraw

Unusual silence on this one. So far only one response- from Cllr Perry, saying that he agrees segregation is ideal but “difficult to achieve unless we give priority to cyclists”… say no more 🙂

06/12/12 update

A well thought-out and interesting reply from Cllr Burgess (a member of the transport committee at the time the QBC was approved) came through today:

… I routinely cycle and have cycled the new QBC and completely agree with you – how can this be a quality bike corridor when the bike lane ends in a parked car every so often.

What the committee did agree is that the scheme would be put in and monitored and could be improved on in future.

I replied directly as follows (digression on Leith Walk removed):

Dear Steve,

Thanks for your reply.

I think on balance that the QBC is a small improvement overall – the red paint around the parking at the bottom of Ratcliffe Terrace and the removal of one car lane at Summerhall being the highlights. It’s just a shame that it was billed as a “Quality Corridor” as that underlines how much better it could have been (and how much it cost anyway!).

As you say, it’s relatively encouraging that the council are willing to spend this kind of money and at least pay lip-service to connecting destinations rather than provisioning isolated stretches (although with no cycle facilities at all for southbound cyclists for the middle section of the QBC I daresay lip service is still a bit too generous).

Perhaps we will have more success having the design corrected now that £650k has been spent providing a nicer surface for people to park on than could ever have been achieved at the design phase?

Your (and the other Green cllrs’) continuing support in pressing for improvements to these schemes is much appreciated.

Best wishes,

Dave

As a general observation, having made and publicised a ‘Quality Bike Corridor’ at considerable expense, there seems to be a strange reticence among some of those responsible to defend (or even discuss) it.

“Quality” Bike Corridor: council fails utterly

Concerned citizens despair as £650,000 scheme fills with parked vehicles… marginal improvements “no compensation for huge failure of ambition”.

Concerned citizens despair as £650,000 scheme fills with parked vehicles

Marginal improvements no compensation for huge failure of ambition

Edinburgh’s much-publicised “Quality Bike Corridor” launched to minor fanfare recently (although as both ends of the route are currently building sites, someone must have become bored with the wait).

95% of the route has been complete for the last few months, of course, giving cyclists and drivers alike plenty of time to acclimatise to “business as usual”, aka “cycle lanes have been painted underneath parked vehicles”.

I felt it would be unfair to lambaste the scheme before it even officially launched, so I went out after the ceremony to capture footage of my fellow cyclists and I attempting to use the QBC.

Incidentally, if you’re interested in getting a camera yourself, I’m using (and can highly recommend) this compact HD video camera by Contour.

If you don’t like seeing footage of cycle lanes full of stationary vehicles, look away now:

As ever, click on the cog for HD video quality.

I particularly like the near-dooring at 00:45 and the Bonaly Dairies Dangerous Deliveries section around 02:10 (the driver has never forgiven me for interrupting him screaming threats at a hapless traffic warden).

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