Leading pedestrian charity backs Conservative plans to suspend building of ‘floating bus stops’

Floating bus stops, which have been implemented as part of the council’s controversial Spaces for People programme, require people to cross busy cycle lanes in order to board or depart a bus.
A floating bus stop on George IV Bridge. Image: Cllr Scott ArthurA floating bus stop on George IV Bridge. Image: Cllr Scott Arthur
A floating bus stop on George IV Bridge. Image: Cllr Scott Arthur

A leading charity advocating for pedestrians has backed calls for Edinburgh City Council to put walking first and suspend the implementation of ‘floating bus stops’.

As part of its controversial Spaces for People programme, a £5 million scheme to make “temporary” road changes that will “aid social distancing” in the Capital, the council are building more than 20 new cycle segregation lanes across the city.

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For some roads, including Comiston Road and George IV Bridge, new cycle lanes have led to bus stops being repositioned from the curb side to ‘floating’ in-between bike lanes and the road.

This means people using the bus stops are required to cross and step onto cycle lanes each time they board or depart a bus.

Floating bus stops are hazardous for disabled people, in particular those with blindness.

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) says the council’s floating bus stops create “an unacceptable level of risk” to those with impaired mobility.

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Now, the Edinburgh branch of a leading charity advocating for pedestrians has backed calls to temporarily suspend any more floating stops from being built.

Living Streets have emailed all Edinburgh councillors imploring them to back a council motion by Conservative transport spokesperson Susan Webber.

The motion calls for reconfirmation that “pedestrians are at the top of the urban transport hierarchy”, and “a moratorium on the introduction of any new floating bus stops” until a thorough consultation process has been undertaken.

In its email to councillors, Living Streets says: “We recognise the benefits that these bus stop designs bring to cyclists, and that many cycling advocates will disagree with our stance.

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“However, as an organisation championing ‘everyday walking’ we have to balance the benefits to cyclists against the risks posed to pedestrians, especially those more vulnerable.

“Now is not the time for a major, rushed roll-out of untested cycle infrastructure in Edinburgh which introduces those risks. We know that many disability groups share our concerns, including Edinburgh Access Panel, RNIB, and Guide Dogs for the Blind.”

Cllr Webber’s motion will be put to a vote at tomorrow’s full council meeting.

Cllr Webber said: “Across the city we are seeing new floating bus stops installed as part of the Spaces for People programme. We know already that these are proceeding without any meaningful consultation and concerns raised from organisations like Living Streets and RNIB have been ignored.

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“It also seems that comments from Lothian Buses are disregarded. This does all seem rather extraordinary as these comments point specifically to challenges these will pose to those with mobility issues getting off and on the buses.

“Further, with the SNP losing yet another councillor recently on grounds that their party has an ‘anti-disability culture’ I would have hoped they would be acutely aware of the challenges the floating bus stops and the impact of street clutter and pavement obstructions have on those with mobility and sensory impairments.

“What the SNP-Labour group do need to remember is that yes, it’s important to have safe spaces for people to cycle, but pedestrians need safe spaces to use and walk or wheel on too. We do after all walk (or wheel) at some point as we get about the city and this should be as safe as possible and should be our number one priority.”

Concerns from RNIB, Living Streets and Cllr Webber are also shared by Labour councillor Scott Arthur, who is a member of the council’s Labour-SNP administration.

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Cllr Arthur is an advocate of increasing cycling and pedestrian provisions in the city, however he has also been a strong critic of how his own party and the SNP have handled rolling out Spaces for People measures, including floating bus stops.

Cllr Arthur said: “The design of these bus stops mean that vulnerable people will be stepping off buses essentially into a cycle lane, and the council needs to accept the added risk that poses. In my Ward they are being proposed for steep sections of Buckstone Terrace where over 200 pupils, including my son, take the bus to Boroughmuir High School every day and where cyclists pick up speed easily.

"Residents are concerned about this, but the council has refused to enter a dialogue with them. I was therefore delighted to have Living Streets Edinburgh and RNIB Scotland contact me over the weekend making it clear that they are also seeking greater transparency from the Council. In my view, the Council should at least pause the implementation until the risks are fully understood, and I hope residents are involved in that process together with Living Streets Edinburgh, RNIB Scotland and Spokes.

"Ultimately, we have to put the safety of vulnerable people before politics.”

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Transport and Environment Convenor, Cllr Lesley Macinnes, said: “These temporary measures provide safe, convenient travel for all road users travelling around the city.

“Floating bus stop designs were introduced to Leith Walk some time ago and the proposed additional floating bus stops will comply with local and national design guidance. We appreciate that this is introducing a wider change for the city and that some users of the roads may initially feel uncomfortable. However, floating bus stops are a successful feature of many cities around the world and can help to provide more options for use of space on our streets.

“Advance warning signage and line markings are there to make sure cyclists give way to pedestrians alighting or boarding buses, which reflects some of the comments made by Living Streets as part of the engagement process. We will also introduce anti-skid surfacing and tactile paving at the zebra crossings to the areas surrounding the stops.

“As part of the design process a safety audit will be carried out and the project team will continue to monitor the measures and will make any necessary adjustments to the layout. We’ve worked with Lothian Buses as part of this scheme’s introduction and have adjusted aspects of the final design to make ensure it works for buses and other vehicles, alongside pedestrians and cyclists. We will continue wider discussions as we go forward.”

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