15 August 2013

When improving facilities for cyclists isn't worth it.

Don't get me wrong, I'm keen on any schemes that improve the infrastructure for cyclists.  But I don't want this to be at the expense of pedestrian space.  It's hard enough already to walk along many of our pavements pushing a buggy with an older child alongside.  And we don't need any more excuses for pedestrians to complain about cyclists.

If pavements are to be made shared use, the space needs to be adequate for all users - not simply cutting into pedestrians' space and throwing users into conflict.  Shared use paths like the NEPN and the paths in the meadows and the links do this well, although not always without conflict (the canal in particular highlights these tensions).  There are a few other shared used paths dotted around the city.  The only one I use at all frequently is a new path under the train/tram bridge at Russell road - not an area with many pedestrians.  It is nice and wide and seems to work fine (except that it then drops cyclists onto a fast-moving road  alongside parked cars). 

What I have learned, however, is that the link from Russell Rd to the canal, the link from the canal to the Meadows, and the one from the Meadows to the Innocent railway are all budgeted for as 'shared use footways'.

These are three of the biggest 'missing links' in Edinburgh's Family Network, a key component of the Active Travel Action Plan (ATAP). If these links are well-designed, there is real potential for cyclists in the south-west of the city to be able to cycle off-road all the way to Musselburgh in the East, Cramond in the west (and beyond to Fife), and Leith in the north and vice-versa.  The possibilities are limitless. (I blogged about it here a few months ago).

But I have yet to see any plans beyond the ones in ATAP (page 23). Not for want of asking.    But today I found out that this year's budget is already made out for 'shared use pavements, crossings and signage' (not widened pavements, mind, just 'shared ones'). 

Maybe this will all turn out to be brilliantly designed infrastructure - it's surely in everyone's interest to do so as it would massively improve mobility all over the city. 

But, if it is to be done via shared use pavements in really busy parts of the city, then there's the issue of adequate space, but also familiarity. Edinburgh has very few shared space pavements. The ones that do exist tend to be not along carriageways, but on off-road paths like in the Meadows.  So, a couple of months ago, I participated in this little exchange on twitter: 

  1. We have videos from cyclists showing how bad drivers of are - here is a video, of a cyclist, on a pavement

  2. On the dual use path from Seafield to Portobello unless I'm mistaken. If so that's where he's supposed to be!
  3. thanks for confirming. that's what i thought, but hadn't been there myself
  4. is there any info on this? Never heard of a dual use path before - doesn't sound very safe to me :-(

  5. It's quicker to list the ones that aren't shared use: Leamington, MMW, Broomhouse, West Granton.
  6. This Streetview shot shows the path marked as 'shared use' on the lamppost:
As this suggests, someone with a dedication to revealing bad driving in Edinburgh not only doesn't know about shared use pavements, but doesn't recognize the signs for one either.  Which suggests to me that any expansion of shared use pavements is likely to lead to a lot of shouts of 'get off the pavement and onto the road' (especially if they've seen those #nicewaycode adverts). 

My optimism is not reinforced by the few existing examples that I know of.  Brandfield Street is a good one.  There's a better picture here.  Or Seafield St - described here at Barney's Bike Blog.  If there are other bits of shared use pavement around town, I don't know of them, but certainly neither Seafield St nor Brandfield St mentioned here are wide enough for cyclists and pedestrians to negotiate comfortably (unlike the main Seafield Path).  The Seafield St one at least has some tactile paving on it to alert visually impaired pedestrians, but I'm not sure how they would interpret it, given that those bubbles are supposed to alert them to hazards, not to the start of shared use facilities (if I'm wrong here, please let me know).

If we've learned one thing from the fiasco of painting lines on roads and calling them cyclepaths, it should be not to engineer road users into conflict with each other.  Sadly, the current schemes, whether through a desire to do them on the cheap, a lack of vision, or a lack of political commitment, seem destined to just that.

I'm just hoping I'm proved wrong, and that these examples above are just teething troubles.  But these links are too important to get wrong.

[Thurs 15th - please note that I have edited third last para slightly to remove potential confusion regarding which roads I was talking about]


Barney Dellar said...

Most of the shared-use path from Porty Prom to Leith Links is fine. The bridge over the old railway line is a bit too narrow, and I have seen conflict there, but mostly it's very wide. It's also not that busy.

If only they hadn't messed up the junction with Seafield Street, it would be much better...

Mike Quinn said...

Yeah that was my video on the shared path at seafield.

I was dismayed when they made that comment about cycling on pavement