Edinburgh's Spaces for People scheme: Council can't just lazily blame 'misinformation' for Lanark Road opposition – John McLellan

Councillors’ inboxes have been swelled this week by supporters of the Lanark Road Spaces for People project, the temporary cycle lane separating the pavement from residents’ parking and reducing the carriageway to two lanes.

By John McLellan
Thursday, 24th June 2021, 4:55 am
Changes to the layout of Lanark Road under the Spaces for People scheme have proved controversial
Changes to the layout of Lanark Road under the Spaces for People scheme have proved controversial

In the face of strong local opposition and officers’ recognition that the downhill cycleway has created a significant safety risk, removal was set to be confirmed at today’s full council meeting after a transport committee decision last week.

There was a timely illustration a couple of weekends ago when a cyclist collided with a little girl as she got out a car and the picture of the distressed child being carried by her mum as the cyclist sat on the kerbside said as much as any official report.

The argument against removal is it will revert to a “60mph racetrack”, but most residents are adamant the new hazard is a greater danger and 68 per cent opposed it in the recent consultation.

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Hastily introduced as a temporary restriction to deal with the pandemic, that justification is disappearing along with the need for extreme outdoor social distancing, but for its supporters Spaces for People was a means to by-pass normal traffic laws and experiment with a so-called “try and modify” approach, which essentially accepts that temporarily introducing new dangers is a price worth paying if it means old ones are reduced.

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For over a year, the council administration has worked hand-in-glove with cycling and active travel campaigners to pilot these schemes, mixed them in with other projects like low-traffic zones, mobility plans and low-emission zones, to send a clear signal that the private car is so last century and the electric cargo bike is the new King of the Road.

But the problem is that having wheeled them to the top of Lanark Road, it is attempting to wheel them back down again because of local opinion and revised expert advice.

So, having inconvenienced thousands of people on Lanark Road, Comiston Road and elsewhere, but earned the praise of active travel lobbyists, the administration is now under fire from anti-car campaigners at what they see as a loss of nerve.

Ah, but they were only ever temporary and we always said they would be reviewed, the administration will say. However, the tone has repeatedly been set by claims this was an opportunity to change the way we live that it would be wrong not to grasp.

Now we have the third wave of backlash as residents seek to counter the angered cycle lobby, cyclists from across the city were gathering on Lanark Road last night to show residents what was good for them, with hints the administration was about to perform a U-turn.

It’s all very well for the administration to lazily blame “misinformation” for its woes, but the council has an extensive communications and marketing function to promote its ideas and residents have resisted because the actual experience has trumped the message and messengers.

The only other explanation is that residents are too stupid to realise they are being misinformed or what’s in their best interests, but you won’t hear SNP or Labour councillors making that argument.

It is all an astonishing schemozzle and as the governor in Cool Hand Luke said, what we have here is a failure to communicate. And whose fault is that?

John McLellan is a Conservative councillor for Craigentinny/Duddingston

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