Jim Orr: Shared cycling spaces needn’t be disaster

Hamburg has shared spaces. Picture: comp
Hamburg has shared spaces. Picture: comp
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With the tram works coming to a conclusion, two new “shared spaces” in the city centre for pedestrians and cyclists have been causing particular comment in recent weeks.

One was at the foot of The Mound, turning left into Princes Street, and the other between St Andrew Square and York Place. These were created in accordance with the original plans for the trams but concern from agencies such as Living Streets has been expressed and this is understandable and valuable.

Shared spaces are quite common on pathways in the Capital but less so on city centre footways. As a council we are monitoring these areas to make sure that everyone uses them with consideration.

At a full council debate on Thursday we even celebrated the fact that in Edinburgh 35 per cent of all journeys are on foot, far more than anywhere else in Scotland. We also committed ourselves to assessing “the need for further support for walking as a travel mode such that it is encouraged and supported in the way that cycling is”.

Edinburgh has always been a city of walkers and we want to support that. As always, it is simply a matter of getting the balance right.

On a recent trip to Hamburg I checked out their cycling facilities and compared them with ours. I found that shared spaces are common and seemed to work well on the unusually wide pavements of that city. On one of the main thoroughfares, the Jungfernstieg, cyclists were reasonably slow and pedestrians walked across the cycle space unconcerned.

Cycling is also encouraged in Malmo but there are fewer dedicated lanes or spaces than Hamburg. The city centre is traffic-calmed and the shared space paths have the same round blue “man and bike” signs that we use here.

Again, few lycra-clad racing cyclists use such paths. It’s for the ordinary students or commuters to get to where they want to go in safety.

In Copenhagen it is a different story, with cyclists separated from pedestrians on special wide kerbs between the pavement and the road. This is necessary simply because of the greater numbers of cyclists 

Closer to home, Rye Lane in Peckham, south London, also has cycle lanes merged with the pavement. Like in Hamburg, the pedestrians seem to know their rights and cyclists are expected to be patient. One lane I photographed was really a contraflow lane for cyclists. The fact that it is on a busy shopping street sends a strong signal to the cyclist to make his or her way with patience.

In the light of the apparent ease with which cyclists and pedestrians mix in neighbouring European cities, I’m optimistic about similar shared spaces in Edinburgh.

We are looking into a few more, particularly between the canal and the Innocent Railway, but these will only be implemented where absolutely necessary and in order to connect other key cycle facilities.

We will continue to monitor these spaces and hope and expect that the vast majority of cyclists will slow down and act courteously, while pedestrians will politely accept a reasonable amount of authorised “transgression” on to their space from cyclists, especially if it helps reduce traffic and air pollution.

Councillor Jim Orr is cycling spokesman for Edinburgh City Council.