IT’S the £9 million plan that has shopkeepers and cyclists at loggerheads.
Controversial blueprints for a new cycle route linking the east and west of the city have provoked heated debate since they were first unveiled in October – coming to a head last week as the council’s public consultation closed.
Supporters say the proposals would plug a key gap in the Capital’s cycle network, slicing through the heart of the city and connecting Roseburn and Leith Walk.
But opponents argue the cash would be better spent on potholes and improving dangerous junctions, and insist the half-mile stretch of route between Murrayfield and Haymarket could destroy local businesses.
Shopkeepers along Roseburn Terrace argue plans to axe parking and loading bays along the main road will strip them of passing trade and see their takings plummet by up to 65 per cent.
Kadir Kavak, owner of the Roseburn Cafe, insisted he risked losing his business “within a year” – and others have voiced similar warnings.
If you are serious about making Edinburgh a living city for the 21st century, you have got to make changes. I think the end result is a more pleasant environment for pedestrians and cyclists.Ian Maxwell
But cyclists dismiss these fears and point to studies suggesting cycle paths actually benefit traders.
Whether or not such concerns are justified, the changes outlined for the area are certainly ambitious.
Detailed blueprints show the introduction of a two-way segregated cycle path along the northern side of the A8, with pavements widened and some existing traffic lanes removed.
Junctions would be upgraded to better prioritise cyclists and pedestrians, while “floating bus stops” would see shelters placed on a widened pavement between the cycle path and the road.
On West Coates, the existing staggered crossing at Devon Place would be replaced with a single stage pedestrian crossing, while the westbound peak-hour bus lane and off-peak parking facilities would be consigned to history. In their place, 24-hour waiting restrictions would further crack down on idling vehicles.
Meanwhile – and much to the chagrin of some taxi drivers – the existing lead taxi rank on Haymarket Terrace would need to be moved elsewhere to make way for the scheme. The road’s current staggered crossing would also be replaced with “a safer zebra crossing”.
Leading the charge against the sweeping plans is Peter Gregson, a former council employee who helped deliver the Kings Haugh to Innocent Railway cycle link. Mr Gregson’s petition opposing the plans racked up almost 2600 signatures before it was handed in to the council last week – substantially more than the 817 signatures gained by a rival petition supporting the route.
As well as sharing shop owners’ fears around the removal of parking and loading bays, he argued the introduction of a segregated cycle path along the northern side of Roseburn Terrace would lead to increased congestion.
Traffic, he said, would be forced into a dangerous bottleneck as roads are narrowed to make way for the cycle route and the nearby westbound bus lane is removed.
And he points to the existence of National Cycle Route 1, along Balbirnie Place, as a cash-saving alternative that would avoid the inevitable upheaval of constructing a new path.
Route 1 – which continues alongside the train tracks and Haymarket Yards, before exiting on to Haymarket Terrace – is part of a much larger, 1695-mile cycleway connecting Dover and the Shetland Islands.
It’s a well-established route, but cyclists argue it falls far short of what is needed.
Ian Maxwell, of cycling campaign group Spokes – which has championed the Roseburn to Leith Walk route along with sustainable transport charity Sustrans – said: “It’s a pleasant route and it’s a good link to the off-road network, but it’s not a direct main route for coming into the centre.
“Edinburgh has had some good growth in cycling, but in order to go up to the next level we need to get these main routes covered.
“If you are serious about making Edinburgh a living city for the 21st century, you have got to make changes. I think the end result is a more pleasant environment for pedestrians and cyclists.”
Mr Gregson and the local shopkeepers, however, are not the only ones to raise concerns about the Roseburn Terrace section of the proposed route.
Responding to the council’s consultation, pedestrian campaign group Living Streets said it had “big concerns” over plans for floating bus stops in the area.
While welcoming the “large majority” of the route, the pressure group said Roseburn Terrace would “not be able to accommodate a well-designed cycle bypass/floating bus stop which minimises conflicts with pedestrians queuing, alighting from or getting on buses. It added: “We are especially concerned at the effect on elderly and disabled bus passengers who will not be expecting to encounter cyclists on alighting.”
To solve these issues, Living Streets suggests an alternative route for this section that would direct cyclists via Roseburn Place.
Edinburgh chairman David Spaven said: “We support the principle of the whole cycle route, and we back sustainable transport in all its forms. We support 95 per cent of the route that’s being proposed.
“But we think potentially there’s a sensible alteration to be made which would actually link in better to the family-friendly cycle route through Roseburn Park.”
The ambitious plans for the Roseburn to Leith Walk cycleway are still a long way off. It will be months before they go before councillors, and construction isn’t expected until 2017-20. With the consultation period over, officials will now seek to draw up their final vision. It remains to be seen what this will look like.
But with £9m of public money resting on the route at a time when budgets are being slashed, the stakes are high.