Sara Dorman: Make most of cycling funding

It has taken time, but Edinburgh is getting the cycling habit. Picture: Jane Barlow
It has taken time, but Edinburgh is getting the cycling habit. Picture: Jane Barlow
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Cycling around Edinburgh with my kids, we can go from wide, well-maintained paths into the melee of intersections, U-turning cabbies, and cars parked on top of the cycle lanes in a few seconds.

Not surprisingly, most families stick to the off-road paths, or drive out of town to cycle.

The council’s proposed funding has the potential to join up our infrastructure and make it possible for families to cycle to the city centre, across town, or to the beach.

This is good news – and not just for cyclists. The taxpayers and residents of Edinburgh would be the real beneficiaries of better infrastructure.

We’d get a healthier population, less congestion and lower levels of air pollution. Evidence from New York and elsewhere also shows shop takings increase, which means more jobs and fewer empty shop fronts.

We already have pretty good rates of cycling – if you’ve wandered down Middle Meadow Walk recently, you’ll have seen the new cycle counter which has already clocked up more than 100,000 cyclists since the end of April. It’s clear evidence of the number of cyclists out and about in Edinburgh.

Indeed, at commuting times, nearly 25 per cent of all traffic on some of our streets is cycles. Edinburgh’s unusual in this. In most of Scotland and England, cycling rates have either stood still, or dropped in the past decade. There are a lot of reasons for Edinburgh bucking the trend, but one of them is the commitment from the council to invest in cycling.

So, the intention is good and should be welcomed. Not everyone can or wants to cycle, but if we increase the numbers on bikes, it frees up space on the roads and makes our streets more pleasant.

But despite these good intentions, we’ve seen a lot of bad implementation – especially short-sighted proposals that push pedestrians and cyclists into conflict.

If we’re going to make cycling feasible for those of us who want to pootle to the shops, then we’ve got to get it right – from the original plans, to the design, and the implementation. We can’t afford more half-measures or compromises like the “quality” bike corridor. Nor should we be footing the bill for tram works that ignored the need for bicycles to get to Haymarket (despite it playing a key role in Transport Scotland’s plans for “integrated travel”). Nor should citizen cyclists need to constantly report substandard or flawed work done by contractors.

I’ve become an unintentional expert in cycle and pedestrian infrastructure – I’ve learned to spot badly-installed chicanes (bike gates), or wrongly laid tactile paving, along with signs pointing the wrong direction, missing dropped kerbs, and much more. If we’re going to be spending big bucks on cycle infrastructure, let’s get it right first time.

Edinburgh’s new cycle-funding is a win-win scenario, not just for “cyclists”, but it needs to be well-implemented to bring real benefits for all.

Sara Dorman is an organiser of Pedal on Parliament, writing in a personal capacity.