Monday, October 15, 2007

from the edinbrugh evening news, today

issues facing cyclists not in iowa
Bumpy road for the city's cyclists
CONGESTION on the Capital's roads can garner opinions in much the same way rock star Pete Doherty attracts sniffer dogs.
Everyone has got something to say and, given the botched congestion charging and traffic management schemes in recent years, they have had no shortage of talking points. But a perennial favourite for all ranting road users is when two wheels come up against four.
Cyclists and motorists have traditionally enjoyed a love/hate relationship and, with a foot in both camps, I fully understand the frustrations.
The view from the steering-wheel side of the windscreen
is often not too favourable: cyclists are the pavement riding idiots
who laugh in the face of the highway code.
While perceptions from the lycra-clad side of the fence
are often not much better. Parking in cycle lanes,
not looking before pulling out of junctions
and riding so close to the back tyre
they could count the spokes are all common complaints.
Shoddy behaviour from both groups,
and let's not leave bus and lorry drivers out of the equation,
has created age-old frustrations that have been compounded
by the way our city's ancient streets creek under growing levels of traffic.
But is it not entirely the fault of drivers or cyclists;
Edinburgh's layout thrusts them into conflict.
The design of the city's roads, often little changed from
the days of
the penny-farthing, means cyclists are continually forced
to rub elbows with wing mirrors.
Moving away from this situation,
giving proper segregated lanes for cyclists and motorists,
is the direction that we have and should be moving in.
In London segregated cycling lanes were introduced
as part of the congestion charge scheme and have proved very popular.
Keeping the on-road tribes apart, where space permits obviously,
would speed up journeys and cut down
on accidents and frustrations for both parties.
But plans revealed last week mean we may be turning the clock back.
Cycling lobby groups were left disappointed on Saturday
when it emerged the £545 million tram project could lose them
their segregated lanes on two of the city's busiest streets.
TIE - the council-backed firm building the tram line - is proposing
to keep a one metre-wide lane for bikes on
Leith Walk but has still to make its mind up
in terms of what to do for Princes Street.
The Leith Walk plans are better than nothing
but leave the door wide open,
well, for a door being opened and knocking a cyclist over.
While on Princes Street, one of the widest spaces in the city centre,
we could see dedicated cycle lanes disappear altogether.
Where Edinburgh has made great strides is
in its off-road cycle path network,
particularly the former railway lines in the north of the city
which were converted to cycling in the 1980s.
Elsewhere the Innocent Path follows a scenic route between St Leonard's
and Portobello again on a former railway line but it's the connections
beyond these off-road links where conflict with motorists is found.
In all, Edinburgh has 46 miles of on-road cycle paths,
which include
Princes Street and The Mound and around the same in off-road paths.
This is something that needs to be built on,
with a greater network of paths.
There is also still scope for opening up some
of the city's abandoned tunnels for cycling use.
An obvious choice would be the mile-long Scotland Street tunnel.
Though they would have to make a better job of any work here
than the stalled efforts to put a new cycle path and walkway
in the Rodney Street tunnel in Canonmills.
The route, being re-opened after 40 years to let cyclists and walkers
avoid a busy road on their way between
the city centre and the city's foreshore,
has hit the buffers because of the council's cash crisis.
It is a classic example of the sort of 'missing link' that would make people
think twice about whether they could in fact cycle to work
while moving cyclists away from what is a busy junction.
Further consideration also needs to be given
so that the city's cycle network grows in the same places
where we expect major development in Edinburgh.
This includes the Waterfront but also out to the south-east of Edinburgh.
Plans for up to seven bike lanes to improve access
the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and
the neighbouring new biomedical research park were announced
by the council early last year but there has been little movement since.
Edinburgh is a fairly compact city, which, despite a few steep hills,
does lend itself to being relatively cyclist-friendly.
It is, of course, ridiculous to think you can keep cyclists and drivers
entirely separated from each other but overall there are
clear hotspots and key routes
- such as the wide-open boulevard that is Princes Street -
where segregated routes would benefit all road users.
A balance has to be struck of course, for example cyclists now make up
a fifth of all rush-hour traffic on Lothian Road.
This is high but still clearly a minority
but it does need to be reflected in the make-up of our city's roads.
just an interesting perspective, eh? --the reverend

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