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Structural safety concerns have led to the closure of the Lindsay Road bridge which was closed to traffic and pedestrianised decades ago. It has since become the main through route for locals heading from North Fort Street to Lindsay Road, who must now make a detour via a notorious walkway to reach local shops and bus services.
The bridge, which also features in the landmark 1975 BBC One Play For Today, Just Another Saturday, also became famous as a piece of community art earlier this year when its panels were painted in the 'rainbow' colours of the Pride flags.
Leading the campaign is Roisin Therese who, with partner Toby Saltonstall, manages the nearby Dreadnought Pub, which also uses the bridge as its beer garden.
Ms Therese says, “I was informed by the council last week they would be closing the pedestrian bridge at the top of North Fort Street due to the poor condition of the section between the middle piers. They said they would be installing a fence to close off the bridge on grounds of public safety ‘until a better solution is found’.”
“As of last week, some barriers were erected. Unfortunately, the pedestrian detour takes people down the old railway line which is just not safe, particularly during the dark winter months. It also is considerably more hassle for wheelchair users/people with buggies. It is very poorly lit and often the site of a lot of antisocial behaviour.”
Ms Therese believes the detour poses an unacceptable risk to those forced to use it.
She explains, “The council have not been clear about what the plan is regarding repairs or when they are likely to be undertaken. Meanwhile, I feel there is a serious risk to public safety for as long as they are expected to take this route. Already, I have seen several people opting to squeeze past the barriers to take the better lit route.”
Such actions have already led to one accident in which an elderly person was left hurt after a fall and had to be helped home, she claims.
"I have also seen people climbing up on the side of the bridge to get past the barriers and last week saw an elderly gentleman fall and hit his head on the road while attempting to pass the barrier rather than use the underpass. Obviously the situation is very unsatisfactory, when both options are very unsafe.”
The situation has caused Ms Therese to email the Structures Department of the City of Edinburgh Council, emphasising the importance of the bridge to the community and her business ‘particularly in the context where we are restricting numbers inside the premises to prevent the spread of Covid’.
In the email, Ms Therese, who is also the artist responsible for the bridge's vibrant colour scheme, writes: ‘The Pride Bridge is a community art piece that means a great deal to a lot of people in the locality. It was created by a team of volunteers that consisted of representatives from a number of local and national LGBT+ organisations as well as local community groups, neighbours, and schoolchildren.
‘It has won an award from a nationwide LGBT+ magazine and has been submitted for the Queer Art Prize. The Pride Bridge is a beacon of inclusivity that makes everyone who crosses it as they come into Leith know that they are welcome. This bridge has significance that goes far beyond being just a pedestrian thoroughfare.’
Addressing the safety of the current detour, she writes: ‘There is antisocial activity there on an almost nightly basis. I myself have encountered open drug use, drug dealing, abandoned needles... groups of rowdy drinkers, teenagers throwing glass bottles at people... intimidation and sexual harassment.’
She adds: ‘One of our neighbours recently had to give CPR to someone who had overdosed on heroin which they had been openly injecting alongside the path. I am also aware of muggings, physical assaults, and intimidating behaviour.
’The closure of the bridge means that this is now the only way for people to get from the residential area around North Fort Street to Lindsay Road.’
In response, the Council have confirmed that the diversion route will be changed to the old Lindsay Road once tram works allow pedestrians and that there plans are in place to increase the brightness of the lighting at the current detour.
A Council spokesperson said: “We appreciate the importance of this bridge to the local community and the Dreadnought Pub but unfortunately we had no choice but to close it following significant deterioration. The closure is a last resort, to protect public safety.
“As we have previously advised the management of the Dreadnought Pub, this bridge would eventually face closure due to its age. We are working to find a solution as quickly as possible, but this is a significant, costly project and must be prioritised against several other projects of this scale across the city.
“We have worked to retain as much of the pub’s outside seating area as possible by limiting the closure over the central span of the bridge and have had correspondence with management since before the closure.
“The current diversion route is in place to avoid tram works though it will be amended as soon as these are finished early next year. In the meantime we’ve arranged to increase lighting on the diversion route, which is the only alternative, to ensure people feel safer.”