COMMUTERS are turning to cycling and walking at record rates according to new figures – with levels of both booming as people become disillusioned with high car costs and traffic congestion.
Statistics released under the council’s Active Travel Action Plan show the number of people cycling into the city centre grew by a quarter between 2009 and last year.
This culminated in almost 1600 cyclists entering the inner city limits by bike between 8am and 9am last November, in a sign that commuters are increasingly turning away from cars and public transport to travel to work under their own steam.
The number of people walking into the city centre has also climbed seven per cent since 2009.
Tram works, the escalating cost of living, record petrol prices and a growing eco awareness, along with people’s awareness of the need to keep fit, have all been cited as prime catalysts for the change.
The growing rates have also coincided with the council increasing its spending on cycling from its transport budget – cycling accounted for five per cent of the budget in 2012-13, or £957,400.
That allocation is set to grow even further – to six per cent of the budget this financial year. An ambitious target of 15 per cent of all commuter journeys being made by bicycle by 2020 in Edinburgh is the over-arching goal.
Ian Maxwell, spokesman for cycling campaign group Spokes, said he believed the trend was not just a passing fad.
He said: “We’re aware that if the politicians don’t see more bikes as a result of more money, then that’s not going to help. But there’s a direct relationship between the spend on cycling and the proportion of cyclists. Also, the safety arguments are that the more cyclists there are on the road, the lower the rate of accidents.
“The hills, the weather, the poor road surfaces are deterrents and if you ask people questions, that’s some of the reasons they give for not cycling, but we’re gradually working away at them.”
The planned roll-out of 20mph speed limits on all residential streets in the Capital is expected to encourage even more people on to bikes.
However, the council is crediting cycling and walking projects it has instigated over the past two years for the results. A total of 34 pedestrian crossings have been upgraded under the city’s road safety and traffic signals maintenance programme.
Other projects include upgrading the route from Craigleith on the North Edinburgh cycle network to the Botanic Garden, creating on-road cycle lanes between George IV Bridge and King’s Buildings, and gritting key cycling routes during the winter for the first time.
A network of family cycling trails spreading out across the city is also being developed, with the goal of a 12-year-old being able to use the routes safely.
City transport vice-convener Councillor Jim Orr said the increased rates proved the council’s sustainable transport plans were “paying off”.
He said: “We’re trying to make Edinburgh permeable for cyclists so that you can get from one part of the city to another part and usually find a route that’s quiet.
“It’s not a case of making every road quiet – it’s more a question of targeting our resources.”
Mr Maxwell said the next priority had to be improving cycling access on Princes Street and other key city centre roads.
He said: “We would hope they have the courage to do something that is really bold and is going to make the difference to the whole centre of town.
“Our answers would involve less traffic. It’s about pedestrians, cyclists and public transport getting priority.”
A two-way dedicated cycle lane has been proposed for George Street, but is among plans still being investigated by council leaders.
Green transport spokesman Councillor Nigel Bagshaw said: “The number of people using bikes as daily transport in the city has visibly increased at a time when the city centre is still a pretty forbidding place. I believe this shows huge potential for cycling to rise further, reducing congestion, air pollution and improving road safety and neighbourhood quality.
“The council is still running to catch up with that rising demand. We need a firm commitment now that the budget for cycling will go up to at least seven per cent next year, that prestige projects like Princes Street and Leith Walk will deliver for cyclists, and that thinking about cycling will be part of the DNA of transport planning for the future.”
Neil Greig, spokesman for the Institute of Advanced Motorists, said people’s frustration with trying to drive around a city centre clogged by tram works for years had probably contributed towards rising cycling numbers as much as health or financial reasons.
But he said: “We need more cyclists out there so that drivers expect to see them. There’s safety in numbers. A lot of the cycling issues we have are because drivers just haven’t been used to seeing cyclists on our roads.”
‘IT’S FREE AND YOU DON’T HAVE TO PAY ROAD TAX’
FESTIVAL Fringe worker Eddie Naper, 27, spends about 15 minutes each day cycling from Polwarth Gardens, Merchiston, to Pleasance. On the benefits, he said: “You don’t have to look for parking spaces. You can just hook your bike up anywhere. It’s free and you don’t have to pay road tax. It’s a lot quicker than driving. Edinburgh is quite small. It’s really quick to just take your bike from A to B. I’ve got a motorbike as well.
“I actually can’t get faster on that.”
The downside can be tackling Edinburgh’s newly- laid tram tracks.
Mr Naper added: “The tram lines on Princes Street have been hell for cyclists. Making that safer would be good. My girlfriend’s lost two of her front teeth on them already.”
Neil Cox, 46, cycles daily from Portobello to Corstorphine.
He said: “Bikes are much quicker. There’s a bus route but since the tram works started that takes so much longer.”
‘Drivers and cyclists share responsibility’
A WOMAN who lost her brother in a tragic cycling accident is taking to a bike herself – to encourage rider safety.
Fleur Hoole, pictured, from Musselburgh, has signed up to take part in this month’s Bike Visibility Challenge – a two-week event asking contestants to send in photos and video of funny and interesting scenes captured while out cycling.
Ms Poole made the commitment after being left devastated by the death of her 39-year-old brother, Trelawney Burgoyne. He died after being hit by two cars as he rode home from a party about at about 9.45pm last June.
Mr Burgoyne did not have lights on his bicycle, was not wearing a helmet or high- visibility clothing and had been drinking.
The tragedy – which happened in Norfolk – prompted the local coroner, William Armstrong, to use the case to urge cyclists to think about their own safety before setting out.
He said: “There are two messages – the first one is the importance of having lights on your bicycle when riding at night. People have to be able to see ahead and people have to be able to see the bicycle. It’s important that cyclists wear reflective clothing so they can be seen.
“The second issue is alcohol. It’s unwise for people to ride bicycles when they have had a substantial amount of alcohol.”
Ms Hoole said of her brother: “He had a great sense of humour and was very loyal to people. He would always go out of his way to help others.”
The 42-year-old is joining her two sons, aged seven and ten, in getting back on a bike. They will don high-visibility clothing to encourage others not to repeat the mistakes of their lost loved one. The East Lothian campaigner added: “We chose to enter the Bike Visibility Challenge to celebrate our love of cycling and to raise awareness for the responsibility both drivers and cyclists share when it comes to road safety.”
The UK-wide Bike Visibility Challenge runs until Sunday. Cycle mileage is logged on to an online leaderboard, with contestants able to regularly view their status.
Compelling photo stories will be short-listed down to 20 entries.
Two nominees will be selected from that pool, with the rider with the highest mileage of the pair to be declared the winner.
Challenge organiser Antony Allen said: “Fleur’s story is exactly why we wanted to organise Bike Visibility.”
Their participation comes as a young road accident victim surprised doctors by recovering from a coma to start high school in just 11 weeks.
East Lothian cyclist Harry Davies suffered the worst brain injuries medics had ever seen when he was involved in a crash with a van near his home. The 11-year-old suffered a six-inch skull fracture and was put in a coma to help save his life following the June 3 accident.
He has since been able to start his high school career at Knox Academy, Haddington. Dad Nick, 46, said: “He’s doing remarkably well. We’re just happy to get him home. He wants to play football but he can’t do that in case he bumps his head.”