The headline sounds impressive: £3.6 million to be spent on ‘bicycle safety’ on Leith Walk – but it’s misleading. It isn’t just cyclists who will benefit and it isn’t just about safety.
Where bikes have their own space away from buses, cars and pedestrians – as is proposed for the top end of Leith Walk – everyone wins. In New York, bike tracks like these reduced injuries for all road users – drivers, pedestrians and cyclists.
Not only that, but shop takings increased dramatically. More bikes mean more people passing by shops who can stop on impulse – after all, they’ve no worries about where to park. And while you can’t easily get the whole weekly shop on a bike, that actually benefits the smaller local shops, with cyclists shopping more frequently, spending more overall, and being more likely to visit local independent shops rather than large national chains.
There’s good news on congestion too. Not only will the buses benefit, as they’re much less likely to be held up by a bike sharing the bus lane, but cars might too. Separate cycle tracks don’t just make life safer for existing cyclists, they actually create more cyclists, encouraging those who’ve been put off by the traffic to take to two wheels. More bikes can mean fewer cars, and more room for those who can’t practically cycle, with traffic speeds actually going up slightly in some areas where cycle tracks are put in. Even those who never go near Leith Walk will win. Each new regular cyclist benefits the city overall: they’re healthier, take less time off work, and have more money to spend than if they drove.
The only drawback to the plan is that it’s not ambitious enough. At the moment only half of Leith Walk will see the sort of high-quality cycle tracks that new cyclists need, with the rest of the street only getting on-road bike lanes. That will more than halve the benefit. Now that it has the funding, we hope the council will have the vision to do the whole of Leith Walk and do it right first time.
Because nobody wants them to have to dig it all up again a few years down the line.
Sara Dorman is speaking on behalf of Pedal on Parliament