Edinburgh council elections 2022: Hustings hears what the parties have to say on transport and cycling controversies

The "obstacle course" on Leith Walk, disappointments with Spaces for People and the potential and drawbacks of the Workplace Parking Levy were among the issues aired at an election hustings on cycling and transport.

By Ian Swanson
Wednesday, 30th March 2022, 4:55 am

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Candidates from the five main parties also discussed residents' parking permits, cycle lanes and visions for the future at the online event organised by cycling group Spokes ahead of the council elections on May 5.

Labour’s Scott Arthur said the quality of some of the infrastructure in the city needed a second look and he cited the cycle and pedestrian provision accompanying the tram extension works on Leith Walk.

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“All of us have seen what is unfolding on Leith Walk,” he said. "This is what comes of trying to please everybody and we end up pleasing nobody. It looks like an obstacle curse for both pedestrians and cyclists and goodness know what’s going to unfold in Picardy Place where again I don’t think anybody is going to be happy.

"These are projects that have been in the pipeline for a long time and serious money has been spent.

"Edinburgh is proud to be a European city, but I’ve never seen anything like this in any other European capital.”

But SNP transport convener Lesley Macinnes defended the works.

Cyclists on Lanark Road

She said: “There have been a lot of public comments about lampposts being left in the middle of cycle lanes and so on. Those are all scheduled to be removed but can’t be removed at this point because of the need to have lighting along that area.”

And she said the route and the quality of the cycle path were currently being reviewed after she intervened.

“We need to give it space to be finished before people start commenting too negatively about it.”

Liberal Democrat candidate Sanne Dijkstra-Downie acknowledged some parts of the project were still to be completed.

The council is considering bringing in a Workplace Parking Levy

But she said: “There are also some parts that look finished and are very clearly bringing pedestrians into complete conflict with cyclists, particularly at the top as you’re moving to Leith Street. I’m delighted if some of that may be changed because I think it's wrong at the moment, but it looks pretty finished to me.”

Ms Dijkstra-Downie, who moved to Edinburgh from the Netherlands, said she had enjoyed seeing more people cycling at the start of the pandemic and had been optimistic about Spaces for People.

“I was really keen that it would make a difference and allow first-time cyclists to continue cycling when traffic returned. And for cyclists like me, who are experienced but perhaps needed a confidence boost, having more protection has been really helpful, especially on uphill sections.

"But at the same time, the scheme has also been somewhat of a missed opportunity, not because it was too ambitious but because it didn’t provide enough safe connected routes.”

Transport convener Lesley Macinnes of the SNP

She spoke of cycling along a protected lane with two children and coming out at the Crewe Toll roundabout "with cars right, left and centre and literally nowhere to go, not even onto the pavement where there is a big railing”.

"And perhaps understandably, but still disappointingly, Spaces for People went for the easy straight stretches of road and didn’t deal with the junctions, the roundabouts, the difficult bits that really needed to be sorted out.”

Green Claire Miller underlined the need to overhaul dangerous junctions and highlighted Portobello High Street. “I've spent a lot of time pushing for changes at that junction. We absolutely cannot have junctions like that where cyclists are signposted to travel through them but they're so risky.”

She said the Greens wanted to make cycling safe and appealing. “We want to build a fully-connected 500km segregated cycle network for the whole city on main direct routes.”

Tory Cameron Rose said his party supported some Spaces for People schemes, particularly around schools, but overall they had created congestion and slowed traffic flow.

He said the state of our roads was a huge concern and cited the Quality Bike Corridor from King's Buildings to George Street.

“The road surface at junction of Causewayside and Salisbury Road is a disgrace. There's a 250-metre stretch of lane just north of there which is really like a ploughed field that's been made into concrete.

"So money spent on cycling should really be spent on improving the roads for all and that would benefit cyclists as well.”

Lesley Macinnes, for the SNP, said she was “very keen” on the Workplace Parking Levy (WPL) despite the controversy it has provoked.

"It has driven enormous change in Nottingham. I think it's something Edinburgh would welcome once we're past the concerns about who pays it and so on. If we can invest in helping people to understand why it's necessary, what it does and how much it can deliver then I think that's a very wise investment.”

But Labour’s Scott Arthur was not convinced. He said: “Nottingham has shown it does raise income and that’s a good thing, but what it's not doing is reducing the number of people commuting into Nottingham by car. Nottingham worked with the surrounding local authorities to implement it. Edinburgh hasn’t done that yet.”

He said he had spoken to employers and staff at the Gyle and feared there would be “displacement parking” there.

"I work near a park-and-ride and there's concern about people simply parking there instead. So we can see around the periphery of the city there would be lots of issues.

“We focused on the city centre to see if we could get it to work there and that raised further concerns.”

He said the WPL was “quite a blunt tool” which meant even people with legitimate reasons for using their car still had to pay. Research suggested road pricing was a more effective approach, allowing charges to be varied.

Green Claire Miller argued the WPL should be used as a lever so businesses invested in greener ways to travel to work.

She also backed a year-on-year rise in residents’ parking charges, saying the Greens were absolutely committed to “demand management” policies. She said: “We believe we should reallocate space in the city away from cars that are being driven or parked to other uses.”

Ms Dijkstra-Downie, for the Lib Dems, said many residents where new controlled parking zones were proposed had told her the measures would not solve their parking problems or they had no problems anyway. She said the results of a council survey, which closed in September had not yet been published. “I gather it's not going to be made public until after the council election which I think is unfortunate because I think residents should see the results of that survey to make up their own minds.”

She said she was keen to cut car use, but added: “I don't feel asking people to pay for parking where you live is the way to reduce journeys.”

Claire Miller said other European countries often provided examples for what should happen here. “Big cycling nations where getting around by bike is part of daily life show us what kind of infrastructure we need, like ensuring we've got car-free streets, so it's possible to get around without any vehicles on the roads at all. And when it's not car-free streets its fully-segregated cycle lanes next to, but off, the road so it’s possible to get from A to B on main routes.”

The SNP’s Lesley Macinnes said the test was always the priority of putting pedestrians first and then cyclists ahead of cars. “We have to bite the bullet as a city and say to ourselves: do we effectively apply the transport hierarchy or not?”

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