What does Edinburgh's election result mean for Spaces for People, cycle routes and active travel?

As coalition talks continue, what do we know about what’s likely to happen on these issues?

By Ian Swanson
Monday, 9th May 2022, 6:34 pm

Let us know what you think and join the conversation at the bottom of this article.

The SNP went into last week’s council elections with a bold programme of green proposals, including an expanded network of cycleways and other active travel projects, while the Conservatives promised to rip out cycle lanes and other measures introduced under the Spaces for People programme unless there was clear evidence of community support for them.

Now the SNP has been returned as the biggest party and the Tories have seen their contingent halved, while Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens have significant numbers. A coalition or some kind of cross-party co-operation will be needed to get any measures through. So what can the result of the elections tell us about what will happen on Spaces for People, cycle routes and active travel initiatives?

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Spaces for People

Many cycle lanes and other measures traffic are set to stay in place despite the large number of objections – and voices of support – which some of them have prompted since they were installed.

While it’s not yet clear exactly what shape the new council administration will take, many of the decisions on the future of the Spaces for People schemes across the city were made last year. Most of the pavement-widening schemes in places like Stockbridge, Gorgie and Portobello, designed to create more space for pedestrians physically distancing during the pandemic, have already been removed. But others, including many cycle lanes and some road closures, will be kept, at least for a while longer. Having been created under Temporary Traffic Regulation Orders, they are now being continued using Experimental Traffic Regulation Orders, which can remain in force for up to 18 months.

Spaces for People did not specifically feature in the party manifestos at the election, apart from the pledge from the Tories to scrap unpopular schemes and a promise by the Lib Dems to review the most controversial ones, although the SNP did say it would “review all temporary Covid-related infrastructure as quickly as possible and remove temporary road furniture thereafter”.

Some road closures and cycle lanes introduced under Spaces for People will remain in place. Picture: Lisa Ferguson.

It seems unlikely anything will happen now to change the plans for the life of many of the schemes to be extended.

Cycle routes

A big expansion of cycle routes in the city is on the cards with the SNP, Greens and Labour all signalling their support for the move.

The SNP manifesto promised £118 million of active travel projects over the next five years, creating a network of cycle routes, particularly on arterial routes, offering cyclists physical separation from other traffic, including at junctions. And the Greens want a fully-connected, city-wide 500km segregated cycle network to allow safe travel by bike on main, direct routes. So if these two parties are involved in the new administration, an expanded cycle network is likely to feature among the priorities. Labour too promised to extend a network ofsafe and protected cycle routes.

These markings on Queensferry Road were criticised as confusing.

Work has already started on the City Centre West to East Link, connecting Leith Walk and Roseburn with a direct cycle route.

What about pedestrians?

Pedestrians are likely to get their own measures, often as part of the same schemes being introduced for cyclists.

The £118m of active travel projects promised by the SNP also includes “improved infrastructure for pedestrians”, according to the party’s manifesto. The Greens said they would invest in transport infrastructure that would prioritise walking, wheeling and cycling, “to create a city for people rather than cars”. And Labour proposed increasing spending on active travel to 15 per cent of the council’s transport budget.

Just Eat bikes disappeared from the city's streets in September Picture: Greg Macvean

If the Greens are part of the administration they will undoubtedly be pressing to shift the balance away from cars and towards pedestrians and cyclists. How far they can get may depend on what specific measures they can persuade others to agree to.

Will the bike hire scheme come back?

Concerns about cost may prove a stumbling block in efforts to introduce a new cycle hire scheme after the last one came to an end.

Edinburgh’s bike hire initiative, which saw almost half a million trips in its three-year term, ended in September when operator Serco said it would not agree to an extension of the original contract. The scheme had been plagued by vandalism and councillors were warned in November that any new scheme would have to be subsidised. The SNP manifesto promised to find a provider for a new bike hire scheme, while the Greens went further, committing to a “new and affordable” bike hire scheme, with a range of options including e-bikes and adaptive bikes, alongside support for bike ownership and even bike skills training. Labour said it would restore a cycle hire scheme “if sponsorship can be found”.

There is clearly interest in reviving a bike hire scheme, but it’s less clear how much of a priority it would be when the council is expecting to have to make spending cuts.

And while you’re waiting….

There’s a good chance the timings at pedestrian crossings will be changed to help everyone get across safely.

The SNP, Greens and Labour all say they will help you cross the road. The SNP manifesto promised to add at least two seconds of “green man” time to every pedestrian crossing in the city, longer in some busy locations. The Greens’ document talked about creating longer pedestrian crossing times and reduced waiting times. Labour said it would “review timings to cut waiting time” to ensure the less mobile have time to cross.

As a policy without an obvious big bill attached, it might have a better prospect than some of attracting all-party support.

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