£1 billion for the construction site express still slower than the bus - John McLellan
Discovering my inner eco-warrior, I decided on a grand lap of North Edinburgh by nipping down to Haymarket on my folding bike, stowing it away in the luggage space so as not to inconvenience other passengers and then cycling back along the old railways from Newhaven through Craigleith and Roseburn.
With my codger card I went free, once I found a tap-in point which worked. It was a midweek afternoon, so it wasn’t busy ─ a few American tourists on their way from the airport to the city centre and the rest mainly retired folk, student types and mums with little kids ─ but serving Scotland’s most densely populated district I’d still have expected more passengers. Maybe locals haven’t got used to it and it will pick up during the peak season.
You can tell by the bump when the original stretch meets the new track at York Place, the start of three miles lined by red and white building site barriers and fencing, from Picardy Place right to the Newhaven terminus. Not all of it is unfinished public realm, and once past the Foot of the Walk it is largely housing or commercial construction projects, and the contrast with the stunning Castle and gardens on a beautiful day was stark.
Ugly temporary road signs warning drivers not to U-turn stand sentry down Leith Walk, but the madness of the cycle ways has to be seen to be believed; it takes a special kind of urban street designer to produce pedestrian pavements barely a yard across on such a wide boulevard. As a growing number of cyclists regard the pavement as a cycleway anyway, they needn’t have bothered.
For a service which has priority over other traffic, the journey is a sedate crawl down the Walk to Constitution Street before snaking round the port, the journey from Haymarket taking around 35 minutes, compared to the 36 minutes the Number 10 bus should take to get from the end of Lothian Road to Western Harbour. Quicker yes, but not that much, given the lights are almost always favourable.
By Newhaven there were only a handful of passengers left, and even fewer waiting for the return, but I unfolded the bike and scooted back along the old Caledonian Railway’s Leith branch line, coming off at Wester Coates Terrace to pick up the half-built East-West cycleway back to Haymarket.
And even though I had to push the bike after Magdala Crescent (unlike the plonker on one of those fat-tyred electric things who not only rode on the pavement but through people standing on the narrow tram platform), and at 61 on a contraption with 20” wheels I’m certainly no Chris Hoy, it took just 27 minutes to get back where I started.
By the time this article appears, Lord Hardie’s tram report might be released, having been with the printers since April 26, but no matter his conclusions, the jury is still out on value for money. At over £1 billion for a swish service which is little faster, but in many cases slower, than the bus, and which most citizens won’t use, the jurors’ task isn’t that difficult.