Comment: Pavement cycling step in wrong direction

Pic: Ian Rutherford
Pic: Ian Rutherford
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There are more people walking in Edinburgh than anywhere else in Scotland. We have what could and should be world-class public spaces in the city centre. It’s therefore surprising and disappointing to see space for pedestrians needlessly compromised by the creation of a cycle “shortcut” lane across the Princes Street pavement at the foot of The Mound and recreation of a pavement cycle lane on North St Andrew Street. As the national charity that campaigns for pedestrians, we believe this is the wrong way to provide more space to accommodate the welcome increase in cycling in the city. So why shouldn’t cycling facilities be provided on the pavement in short sections?

Pavement cycling can create anxiety for pedestrians, especially amongst older people, those with a visual or mobility impairment or those walking with children. Serious crashes are thankfully infrequent between pedestrians and cyclists but the key point is that our busy pavements should be both safe and feel safe for all people to walk, talk or stop without having to look out for passing bikes.

National guidance on street design is clear. Cycling by Design states: “Many disabled people, particularly those who are visually impaired, find shared facilities intimidating and stress the importance of segregation by levels.”

Scottish Government policy 
Designing Streets states: “Street user hierarchy should consider pedestrians first . . . Street design should be inclusive, providing for all people regardless of age or ability.”

We also should not create a precedent whereby cycle facilities can be routed along pavements because it’s “too difficult” to incorporate cycle lanes into the road space. The Innocent Railway to Meadows cycle link proposes constantly hopping on and off the pavement. It is erroneous to assume that bikes can function as vehicles on the road and then as pedestrians on the pavements.

Finally, these two cycle facilities are, quite simply, impractical to use. I travel North St Andrew Street every day on foot or by bike – not on the pavement, obviously – and pedestrians have to walk in the cycle lane, because the “pedestrian lane” barely meets the legal standards. Princes Street is one of the busiest streets in Scotland and putting cycling facilities here will only lead to increased conflict between people on foot and bike.

Living Streets Scotland welcomes the ongoing increase in cycling journeys and strongly advocates a safer environment for cycling and pedestrians. Edinburgh City Council is doing good work on safety. However, providing safe space for one group of vulnerable road users should not be at the expense of another, offering a poor compromise to both. If the increase in cycling is to be accommodated, then that should be through the reallocation of road space, not redetermination of footways.

I welcome the support of the grassroots cycling organisations who don’t wish to see pavements converted into cycle paths. The council and others need to ensure that new cycling infrastructure enhances conditions for pedestrians, too, not inconveniences us all. We would encourage everyone to contact their councillor, highlight the importance of the walking environment to you and call for the policies and investment that would make Edinburgh the world-class city for walking it could and should be.

Keith Irving is head of Living Streets Scotland