John McLellan: We must head in one direction

Congestion is a major problem on the A8 through Corstorphine. Picture: Joey Kelly

Congestion is a major problem on the A8 through Corstorphine. Picture: Joey Kelly

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How unfortunate that details of the city council’s plans for cycle and pedestrian-friendly street design emerged on the same day as a report which named the A8 through Corstorphine as Scotland’s most congested road.

You don’t need to have lived here long to know that driving on the trunk roads from the west around 5pm will almost certainly mean you will still be driving by 6pm. There is no escape; Bypass, Gyle, Calders, Queensferry Road, all chocker.

The new street design guidance, now out for consultation, has been met by predictable howls of derision and the bike-haters will point to roads such as the A8 as evidence that those responsible for our roads have buttons up the back of their necks.

Widened pavements to make things easier for pedestrians and bus lanes to make sure public transport runs to timetable are both blamed for making drivers’ lives intolerable – and we’ve still to see the full roll-out of 20mph zones across the city.

The core of the new design rules, actually following Scottish Government policy, is that the sense of place and environment should be a higher priority than motorists driving from A to B more quickly. I don’t think that is unreasonable.

Lack of tolerance is at the heart of so many road disputes, and I’m no better than most. In fact, my problem is I seem live in an entirely unjustifiable transport bubble in which my attitude changes according to how I’m getting about.

Walking down the street, the cars are going too fast and it takes far too long to cross the road. On the bus, there are far too many cars for it to make good time and the cyclists hold things up.

In the car, cyclists nearly wipe themselves out beneath the wheels with stupid manoeuvres and, of course, parking is a costly nightmare. Out on the bike, I get cut up by cars doing sharp left turns, pulling out without looking and then I nearly come a cropper because of a pothole.

I suspect I’m not alone, and given I’m a rubbish driver anyway I choose to avoid the car whenever possible. Not because I think I can save the planet but because the stress levels are significantly lower and you can do other things on the bus or train.

Edinburgh has a very high level of carless households – 89,000 of them, some 40 per cent of the population, and it stands at the highest level since the 1970s, according to the 2011 census. Only Glasgow (51 per cent) and Dundee (42 per cent) have more.

But confusingly, the number of privately owned cars has doubled in 30 years to reach 181,000 two years ago. The apparent contradiction can partly be accounted for by a rising population, but also the growth in people living on their own; young people unable to afford the running costs or elderly people no longer willing or able to drive.

What this illustrates is the increasing competition between the two camps for use of the roads; more cars but more people without a car. Something has to give.

Countless studies have shown that making it easier to drive just means more cars, and any benefit a driver would gain in the short term would soon be lost. A free-for-all would quickly turn the city into Central London, where it’s gridlock all day every day even though more than half the people don’t have a car.

Our problem at rush hour is that on key routes there is barely enough room for the buses, and I challenge any cyclist to say that using Princes Street at peak time is a pleasurable experience even though there is not a car in sight.

So much is riding on the tram to tackle the problem of bus congestion, but with only one line going through lightly-populated places the chance of it making a significant impact is remote.

Seeing one ding-ding its way through Haymarket this week made me wish it was going to go on a route I would use, and in fact the old network did go down our street.

So despite all its woes, I still believe the tram remains the key to Edinburgh’s transport future as the population continues to grow.

So, too, does heavy rail. And if there is one way to lift pressure from the A8 it is to expand the number of commuter services to the west beyond the Waverley-Queen Street route.

In another new report this week, from the Transform Scotland transport pressure group, it urged the Scottish Government to do more to develop rail infrastructure.

Its key point, that the Edinburgh-Perth route takes longer now than in Victorian times, was well made and it does seem bizarre that the route between two such important places is usually along the Fife coast.

According to Transform Scotland, upgrading the route beyond Perth to Inverness could result in cutting 35 minutes off the Inverness-Edinburgh service and that must surely be part of the strategy to tackle the killer that is the A9.

Unfortunately, Transport Scotland could not resist stooping into needless politics by saying it would take time to deal with “decades of neglect”.

This is coming from the same administration which scrapped both the Edinburgh and Glasgow airport rail links and refused to have anything to do with the tram project until it was too late.

Sure, Transport Scotland is delivering the Borders Railway, but the bill to go ahead was given royal assent back in 2006.

Similarly, the splendid but under-used Airdrie to Bathgate line, the longest new passenger rail line laid in Scotland for 100 years, was opened in 2010. But the plans were first instigated in 2003 and royal assent granted in May 2007.

So let’s have less talk about neglect when the track record for a number of years has been one of investment. I suspect that a few Transport Scotland professionals will be quietly embarrassed by such a cack-handed attempt by some press officer to curry favour with her political masters.

Instead, the next phase of Scotland’s rail revival needs to be plotted out both locally and nationally if we are ever to see breathing space on our main roads.

THE WORLD’S OUR OYSTER WITH MUSEUM ACCESS

I DEFY anyone of a certain age not to go into the Museum of Childhood and be lost in the memories of their own past, so the announcement

of a £2.4 million improvement programme sounds like good news.

How many parents have shown their kids the taws on display? I still can’t quite believe I accepted without question being whacked with a leather strap by grown men and women because in essence they weren’t very good at their jobs. Funny how good teachers rarely had to hit the children.

So making the Museum of Childhood bigger and better is very welcome, but the question is whether or not the running and development

cost should all come out of our taxes.

It’s the same with the Museum of Edinburgh and the People’s Story Museum. Tourists love these places and I doubt if they would mind stumping up a couple of quid to get in, given our weather.

So without creating unwanted bureaucracy and administration costs, is there not some way in this day and age for Edinburgh people to have free access while visitors pay? What about an Edinburgh version of the Oyster card, where citizens can have free access to all the pearls the city has to offer? There is an Edinburgh Leisure card after all.

HAVE MERCI

BRACE yourselves, the French are in town. Of all the rugby visitors to Edinburgh, the French bring something extra special and with about 14,000 of them flying in for tomorrow’s match the bars are going to be heaving.

Like the travelling Scots, the French seem to add so much more colour to the Six Nations and they love coming here. It illustrates how narrow is the viewpoint that continued poor performance on the field should result in Scotland being ejected from the tournament.

Anyone fancy a weekend in Tbilisi if we, or any of the other teams, were to be replaced by up-and-coming Georgia? And how many Georgians would pack Rose Street on a game weekend?

There is a fair chance Scotland will win tomorrow and then I suspect the hand-wringing over the future of the game after the humiliation against England last month will diminish. Lose heavily or meekly and the knives will be out.