Edinburgh' Leith Walk: MSP calls for rethink of ban on turning left into London Road

Edinburgh council claims ban needed to avoid congestion holding up trams

An MSP is calling for transport bosses to think again over a controversial ban on turning left at a busy city-centre junction.

The new road layout at the top of Leith Walk includes no left turn into London Road, meaning motorists wanting to go that way have to drive up past the Playhouse, round the redesigned Picardy Place roundabout and back down to turn right along London Road.

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Lothian Tory MSP Miles Briggs says the ban is “absolutely ridiculous” and “makes no sense” – but council chiefs defend the arrangement, saying that keeping the left turn would lead to congestion and hold up trams once the new line opens next year.

Traffic wanting to turn left from Leith Walk into London Road is now banned from doing so. The alternative route is straight on up Leith Walk, past the Playhouse, round the roundabout and back down to turn right into London Road.

Mr Briggs has written to council chief executive Andrew Kerr, asking him to review the layout. He said: “It seems absolutely ridiculous that you’re going to have to drive all the way up past the Playhouse and then come back on yourself to go along London Road. I was standing there for about five minutes and every second car was illegally just turning left anyway, so no-one is following it. They need to think again and allow cars to go left.”

He argued that sending traffic on a longer journey at a busy part of the road network would only add to congestion. "If you’re going up past the Playhouse just to turn and come back down to go along London Road you’re building congestion around the Omni centre. It doesn’t take a transport specialist to work that out. Once the the tram is running it will inevitably slow traffic down, so the last thing we need is it being forced to go a place it doesn’t need or want to be.

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“It’s already congested there and that’s without the tram. When traffic has to stop for the trams it will just get worse and worse and build up. You want traffic to flow as effectively as possible. So to funnel people all the way up there when in fact they could be out of the way and going along London Road – which is where they want to be – doesn’t make sense. They need to rethink it. Common sense needs to prevail.”

Construction work on Leith Walk has been going on since the summer of 2020 to extend Edinburgh’s tram line from York Place to Newhaven. The project is nearing completion, with trials due to start early in the new year and the first passengers welcomed aboard in the spring. Two-way traffic is scheduled to be restored for the full length of Leith Walk the week before Christmas.

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The council says that traffic modelling made it clear that maintaining the left-hand turn into London Road when the tram was operational would increase congestion at the junction and affect the tram timetabling. And it says banning the left-hand turn is also better for pedestrians and cyclists. A single-stage crossing point is to be installed on London Road for pedestrians and a dedicated cycle lane will connect with Picardy Place and beyond. The council argues that going up to Picardy Place would add between one and three minutes’ journey time for drivers.

Transport convener Scott Arthur said: “The London Road junction is crucial to the successful operation of the trams and Lothian Buses, and priorities set at the junction are based on significant traffic modelling. Giving cars priority over public transport would likely increase congestion, and adversely impact tram and bus journey times. Furthermore, the new set-up has also allowed the team to deliver an improved environment for people travelling by foot or bike.

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“The change to road layout is clearly signed and anyone contravening the rules is breaking the law, as well as endangering the safety of themselves and other road users. I would encourage drivers to take heed of the changes and follow alternative routes. We will continue to monitor the situation on an ongoing basis.”