FEW issues more divide citizens and planners than subways. In the case of the Telfer Subway beneath the busy West Approach Road, the division is now sharp.
Edinburgh City Council is considering closing it for a new cycle and walking route between the Roseburn Path and Union Canal, replacing the subway with a toucan crossing.
A clear case of civic improvement, it must surely seem. Many do not like using subways in any form. They are unwelcome, dark, dirty, smelly, inaccessible for many people – and dangerous. Elderly people think twice about entering them alone at night.
And this particular subway has attracted more than its fair share of criticism. It became notorious for assaults and serious crimes. MSP Sarah Boyack led a campaign for CCTV cameras – a demand over which the council stalled. Cameras were finally installed last year.
But the underpass also has its defenders. For all its faults, the subway, dating from the 19th century, is a convenient and well-kept footpath, seen as part of the area’s history.
Some residents say demolishing it is a step too far. Local resident Sandy Gemmill, writing in the Evening News today, says he was outraged to learn the council was considering closure.
The objections are threefold: the continuing public popularity of the subway; the expense of demolition and replacement; and the way in which the council appears to have sprung the closure option as a surprise.
Times change, and with them standards of public access and safety. In a modern city famed the world over for its walks and amenities, no-one should feel apprehensive about using a passageway intended for pedestrian use. The council should certainly not have delayed so long in installing CCTV cameras.
A toucan crossing is an attractive proposal. However, the demolition option is extreme – and costly – particularly for a city as cash-strapped as Edinburgh.
An interim compromise solution would be to ensure that the local consultation process is genuine, extensive and thorough. While this is done, the subway should be well-lit, the security cameras regularly tested and best efforts made to keep the passageway clean and litter-free.
Given the strength of feeling aroused, doing nothing is not an option.