John McLellan: Saddle up for the city transport revolution

The new bikes are fine for the likes of the Grassmarket, but Victoria Street could be a slog
The new bikes are fine for the likes of the Grassmarket, but Victoria Street could be a slog
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Cycling along Princes Street this week the wind was at my back, my legs were going like the clappers yet the rate of progress was, unlike me, sedate because I was out for a spin on one of the city’s new “Just Eat” hire bikes officially launched this week.

The three-speed Pashley cycles are hefty bits of kit to withstand the kind of bashing they will inevitably take and have been rigged up specifically with the occasional cyclist mind, the gearing deliberately set low to be easy to pedal. It is also, I kid you not, to ensure no-one can break the city council’s new 20mph speed limit.

So even going down Johnston Terrace, where a fair lick is usually gathered by the Castle Terrace roundabout even with a headwind, the pace is far from break-neck. But while the flat can feel a bit of a dawdle, by contrast going uphill is anything but a doddle because first gear is not quite so low to make slopes a stroll. Going up The Mound was therefore a bit of a slog.

READ MORE: Evening News reporter in exclusive preview of Just Eat Cycles in Edinburgh

Maybe part of the idea is to give people a taste for it and an incentive to invest in a better bike, and with 1000 of them due to be in circulation by the end of the year there should be plenty of information on which to base further research.

Will it be the start of a transport revolution which turns Edinburgh into a city of cyclists? Who knows, but they are at least a visible sign that Transport for Edinburgh is giving things a go which don’t need to cost taxpayers millions.

There is agreement across the political spectrum that traffic and infrastructure problems can’t be brushed aside and although it wasn’t apparent from this week’s coverage, the Conservative Group has actually been campaigning for just such a sponsored bike scheme for the past 13 years.

No-one disagrees transport solutions are needed if Edinburgh’s growth is to be sustained and as the bikes were being rolled out, so too was the council’s “Connecting Our City, Transforming Our Places” survey of public attitudes towards transport across the city.

The two-month exercise is ostensibly to measure public appetite for change, but most of the questions are so loaded the aim appears to be an endorsement for the SNP-Labour administration’s most radical suggestions, particularly the banning of private motorists from the city centre, possibly with the reluctant exception of the 19,000 people who live there.

READ MORE: Air pollution prevents asthmatic woman from entering Edinburgh city centre

You are asked to agree or disagree with a series of statements, such as: “The amount of general traffic in the city centre and town centres should be reduced to improve the experience for people who live, work and visit.” As a statement of predictable behaviour, it’s difficult to quibble with the claim that “By creating a safe, attractive, accessible and connected network of walking routes and cycling routes, more people would choose to walk or cycle for short journeys rather than use a car”.

But that’s a world away from asking people if they agree that “The council should spend a large proportion of its roads budget on new cycleways at a time when most carriageways have deteriorated to such an extent that vehicles are being damaged”.

Nor is there much likelihood of anything other than full agreement with “The city’s public transport system should be extended and serve more people and employment areas across the city and the city region”. Well, d’uh? It’s hard to see the point in asking this question at all.

But at least they are asking, and possibly the most important section is 13 which gives a range of options for the city centre, and is a chance for people to make sure Lothian Buses profitability isn’t destroyed by a ban on services through the middle of town.