As cities around the world are implementing high quality bicycle infrastructure, Edinburgh seems to have stalled for the last couple of decades. Anyway, before we get started, first an intro to this series of posts.
This summers vacation included varying amounts of time in Edinburgh, Copenhagen and Malmo, with the purpose of visiting my parents and a few friends back in Scotland, visiting Copenhagen as its frequently considered the number one cycling city in the world, and Malmo because its just a short train ride over the water from Copenhagen, and also well regarded with respect to cycling infrastructure. Read on for Part 1, my thoughts on transportation in Edinburgh and a few other places around Scotland. Other two cities to follow in due course.
Starting with Edinburgh, near to where I grew up, where I worked for around 8 years prior to moving to Canada, and where I haven’t been back to in six years. Nothing much has changed, and that’s not always a good thing. Working in transportation planning, it seems like every week another city is improving their cycling infrastructure, almost to the point of trying to outdo each other, it seems Edinburgh isn't competing. Maybe I missed the good stuff, I generally don't go looking for specific things, I visit places I want to visit, and take pictures along the way. But I barely came across any bike lanes, and when I did they were disappointing, short, ended abruptly, ended in parking or loading spaces. The example below is a perfect example and a waste of paint. Really, whats the point?
I recall the bike lanes and bike boxes being introduced many years ago… or was it decades ago… Today it seems, those old lanes appear occasionally and are generally worn out. The bike boxes appear frequently, and also are very worn out. But what good are bike boxes with no safe way to get from one to another?
We'll get onto bus lanes a little later, but these are intended for use by cyclists too. Great a 4m wide bike lane! However, having a ten ton bus bearing down on a you isn't fun, nor is it likely to attract those interested in cycling but concerned about such things as safety. Even if you don't mind sharing with buses and taxis, the lanes are often peak times only, good luck the rest of the day!
The presence of any dedicated on-street infrastructure, never mind separated infrastructure are few and far between. On our last day I finally caught a glimpse of a very short section of two way cycle track whilst driving by, its shown below courtesy of google maps.
I'm not sure what you do once you've travelled the few hundred metres to the other end (yes you can see the other end in the above pic), clearly, they guy above doesn't either, and has opted to stay on the road. The other end...
In comparison to Copenhagen, where one of the primary purposes of our visit was to explore the city by bike, I have zero desire to do the same in Edinburgh. Having said all that, the city has a reasonable bike culture, perhaps it is the many students that live in the city, it’s certainly not the weather, the topography, or the smooth riding surfaces. But cyclists are a frequent sight, bike parking seems well utilized, and cycle delivery services are a frequent sight. I’m left thinking that there is huge potential if safer bike infrastructure could be provided along main routes.
I understand that there are some off-road routes through the city, but there are issues with such routes, such as personal safety through lack of eyes on the path. Such routes also struggle to connect to central destinations. It's all well having safe routes for 80% of your journey, but if 10% at either end is a horrible experience, most will be discouraged.
And if you want to ride from out of the City into the City, well good luck to you, picture taken from the bus on what I believe is a 60 mph limit road...
We'll end the bike discussion with some alternative cycling from the Fringe Festival street performers.
The City is taking a positive step forward in reducing collision severity by rolling out 20 mph (32 km/h) zones, something frequently cited as a key to achieving Vision Zero.
I’d love to see the City take a more progressive approach to bike infrastructure. As the capital city, it should be setting the standard for the rest of the country to follow. Right now, it seems like its not even on the radar!
Now having said all that about cycling, Edinburgh is doing transit right for the most part. The reason it may be hard to take away traffic lanes to replace with bike lanes is that they already took traffic lanes away to make the bus lanes. A major four lane street often features one general traffic lane and one bus lane in each direction. That's a very good thing for transit and transit arguably can play a greater role in getting people out of cars, especially where poor weather and hills are factored in. 1 bus = 75 fewer cars on the road, I like the advertising Lothian Buses...
Edinburgh has recently added one tram line since I was last home, from the City centre west to the airport. It has been plagued with controversy due to costs, schedule and more recently cyclist injuries due to wheels getting stuck in the tracks, but it helps bring Edinburgh inline with transit in other top European cities. Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to ride it.
Transit technology is also way ahead of where we are, in Vancouver at least. Real time bus information on my phone showing the nearest stop to get me home (or wherever), walking time to the stop, the ability to buy tickets on my phone. It all seems so advanced, but they've had that ability for at least three years. Real time information at stops has been a round longer than that I think. Turns out this is pretty common in Europe.
So biking not good, transit good, cars down to 20 good, pedestrian provision, about the same as the last few hundred years. One interesting thing that occurred to me that hadn't previously. There are many pedestrian islands in the middle of the road, which you could consider a designated crossing location, a safe haven in the middle, an optimal jaywalking location (albeit jaywalking isn't a thing in the UK), but don't expect drivers to stop for you, even if they are crawling in traffic. I think i've been in Canada too long!
As of the last few days, the third forth bridge and second road bridge opened to traffic, connecting Edinburgh and Fife. Looking very similar to the new Port Mann Bridge in Metro Vancouver, it will take the load off the aging Forth Road Bridge, which has had maintenance concerns for many years due to the increasing loads. Interestingly, the old bridge is being kept open for buses, pedestrians and cyclists, while the new bridge has no such provision. Interesting to see what happens when the old bridge eventually reaches the end of the life. I'm sure it will be possible to retrofit such facilities to the new bridge.
The above photo was taken from South Queensferry, which has a traditional old town with narrow streets, narrowed to one-way at points to slow traffic, I guess reduce through traffic, and provide sidewalk space. This isn't a bad idea for many low volume streets.
Other random transportation things I came across on my travels. Average speed cameras on the way up to Aviemore seemed effective in enforcing the posted speed on a long stretch of road.
Three varying successes of pedestrianization. Pedestrianization is often cited as a very good thing, progressive, people oriented, rather than car orientated. Some places it works, some it doesn't. Three examples below include the very busy temporary pedestrianization of Edinburgh High Street during the fringe festival, the somewhat busy Fort William High Street (Outdoor Capital of Scotland), and the eerily quiet Penicuik pedestrian precinct, my home town and its somewhat failing main street. Is it the lack of population, the pub culture, rather than cafe culture, i'm not sure. In my eyes, it needs uses that spill out onto the street to add a bit of life, but with the weather and established pubs, i'm not sure thats possible.
While we're on the subject of my home town, the main road into Penicuik from Edinburgh features some interesting bike lane provision. Without measuring i'd say the car lanes have been reduced to about 2.5m, just wide enough for a car in order to add a bike lane. Its a dashed bike lane, but still it something that encourages cars to give cyclists room.
And here's a great example of car culture, sidewalk car parking!
Finally, we'll label these under way finding...
October 2017 Update: Perhaps I was too harsh with the City of Edinburgh, or didn't walk in the right places, anyway, this video popped up on my twitter feed a few days ago and looks like Edinburgh is getting some progressive best practice bike infrastructure.
Looking at this next video, I'd say its badly needed, looking at the abuse of the bike lanes which appear to be on approach to the new section at the end of this short video.
Keep it up City of Edinburgh, this is one small step in building safe cycling facilities for all, but it can't be left at one small section. To build cycling culture, a connected network across the city is necessary. Hopefully more is to come!