CYclists have labelled a newly-opened stretch of road “lethal” thanks to the way tram tracks snag riders’ wheels forcing them to tumble from their bikes in busy traffic.
With horror video already emerging of one rider being thrown from his saddle, there are now urgent pleas for the council to intervene before a rider is killed at Haymarket.
The newly-opened road is lined with tram tracks that, literally, rail road cyclists once their wheels fall into a groove that allows the metal tram track to sit flush in the road.
Concerned cyclists are calling on the council to ape other cities that have experienced similar problems and fill in the “groove gap” with special rubber plugs that prevent cyclists from being under passing traffic.
Key critics include cycling pressure group Spokes – who have described the road layout as far from “ideal” – while green councillor Gavin Corbett has said: “I believe we need to look again at how this section is laid out.”
Video captured at the intersection yesterday, and posted on YouTube, shows a rider crashing to the ground. The scene was captured by avid cyclist Chris Hill, who runs the popular CityCyclingEdinburgh.info forum.
He said: “I wasn’t going ‘looking for crashes’, but I got one on video in the few minutes I was there. The video shows there is a need to make sure drivers keep well back.”
Edinburgh Council is planning to launch a series of short videos, including a clip on how to safely cross tram tracks by bike, in December.
The release of the safety campaign will coincide with the roll-out of tram testing along the entire eight-mile route.
However, that has done little to stop worried cyclists slamming what they perceive to be a fundamental design flaw, and one that was predicted back in April following a spate of tram line bike spills..
Mother-of-two and active cyclist Sara Dorman, 43, said: “I was at a safety briefing about trams and they were telling us it’s important to cross the lines at as close to a 90 degree angle as possible. But the actual engineering that went into the road design (at Haymarket) and the planning makes that impossible.
“You have to cross the tracks. It looks ridiculous to me. None of us want any more tearing up of the tram tracks at that intersection, but it’s extremely frustrating that these things weren’t thought through before.”
Fellow cyclist Sara Reed had a terrifying experience in October last year, suffering a broken collarbone and bruising when her bike wheel became trapped between tram lines during rush hour on Princes Street.
She said of the Haymarket crossing: “What if there’s a driver error or it’s really bad weather? Or it’s really busy and they don’t see someone? It’s an accident waiting to happen. I just couldn’t believe it when I saw it. I’m not anti-tram at all, but what I am against is no strategic planning to keep other road users safe.”
Using embedded rubber on parts of track cyclists regularly cross is seen as the key way of safeguarding lives – one that will be complemented by extensive tram driver training.
The practice has already been adopted in the Netherlands.
Councillor Corbett, who commutes into work by bike most days, believes the simple rubber plug idea needs to be explored.
He said: “Both trams and bikes are a big part of how Edinburgh’s future transport system is organised so making sure they are good neighbours is essential.
“I understand that the city of Zurich is also trialling rubber fittings which make it easier for bikes to cross tram lines.
“I trust Edinburgh will be keeping a very close eye on these trials. As someone who cracked a rib coming off a bike on tram-lines in Denmark 12 years ago I can assure fellow-cyclists it’s no laughing matter.
Ian Maxwell, from Spokes, said there was another potential blackspot on the corner of Princes Street and South St Andrew Street where the angles were “not ideal” for cyclists crossing tram tracks.
He said: “There’s going to be a lot of learning going on over the next few months as people get to grips with the new traffic layout and the tram tracks.
“We hope eventually that experience will build up. At the moment there are these particular places where you’ve got to be very careful because the design isn’t ideal.”
Transport Convener Lesley Hinds has not ruled making further safety enhancements to the network, which is due to go live next May. “We’re keen to take on the views of cyclists and other road users about how they feel the new arrangements on the road are working,” she said. “When the system was designed some years back the designs were consulted on.
“However, now work is nearing completion and later when trams are in operation, we understand that we may need to adapt signage, road markings and other elements of road layout.
“Once the project is complete we’ll be in a position to make changes if required and I’ve asked the Head of Transport to consider ways of gathering this feedback so we can act if required. It’s important that people get ready for the trams and that they know what to expect which is why we continue to push our safety message.”
Traders to celebrate
WEST End traders are organising a special weekend of celebrations for next month to mark the long-awaited end of tramworks and the fast-approaching Christmas period.
An extended party centred around Shandwick Place will be launched with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on November 9.
The celebrations will be timed to coincide with the Christmas lights display going up outside Ryan’s Bar.
An unnamed Edinburgh celebrity will be hired to carry out the ribbon cutting.
The “Christmas in the West End” theme will be designed to draw shoppers and diners back into the area after an end to prolonged tram-related roadworks. Traffic barriers have been up on Shandwick Place for 21 months, but the route will finally fully reopen this Saturday.
Michael Apter, chairman of the West End Association, said the message was the busy district was “back in business”, adding: “Shops will be doing mince pies and mulled wine that weekend to welcome people back in and say ‘come take a look’. I genuinely think people do want to come back.”
Mr Apter pointed out the celebrations did not mean those who had mismanaged the £776 million trams project, causing cost and time blowouts, should not still be brought to account. He said: “There will be a time for public inquiries, but that’s not now. We just want to get on with the next chapter.”
Businesses in the West End are banking on an influx in trade following five years of disruption. Traders in Queensferry Street have already reported increased takings compared to last year.