IT’S the biggest project of its kind ever to be planned in Edinburgh.
Tomorrow marks D-Day for the council’s £5.5 million bid to build a “cycle superhighway” linking Roseburn in the west to Leith Walk in the east.
It’s a proposal that’s sparked a wave of protest from businesses and community figures – and powerful support from cyclists and green campaigners.
Earlier this year bosses backed the scheme but delayed any decision on whether the route will pass through a contentious 100m stretch at Roseburn Terrace, sparking accusations of a political “fudge”.
But tomorrow afternoon the debate will finally draw to a close – almost three years after the ambitious project was first revealed by the Evening News. Councillors must choose between “Option A” – which will bring the cycle path along Roseburn Terrace, as originally planned – or “Option B”, which aims to address business concerns and will divert cyclists via Roseburn Place and Roseburn Street.
The wider, 2.5-mile cycle route will continue from Roseburn Terrace, along past Haymarket, before cutting up Melville Street towards George Street and on to Leith Walk.
A planned section between St Andrew Square and Waterloo Place, via Princes Street, has been deferred amid fears over the impact on buses.
When complete, the scheme will be the longest protected cycle route in the Capital, bringing us into line with cities such as London, Bristol, Copenhagen and Amsterdam.
But rarely in Edinburgh’s recent history has so much controversy centred on such a small section of wider plans.
For cycling campaigner and resident Henry Whaley, the choice at Roseburn is a simple one.
He argues Option A presents a safer, more direct route – encouraging more people to get on their bikes and get active.
He said: “This is an important decision for the councillors to make. We all dislike the congestion and pollution in the west of the city that impacts on the health of our families. With growing populations this will only get worse unless we do something about it.
“We now have a chance to give a valid alternative to car-centric travel that also builds physical activity into our busy lives.
“To make it appealing for people to ditch the car and walk or cycle, they must feel safe to do so.
“The experience in London is a huge uptake since they built their cycle superhighways.
“Option A gives a safe direct cycle route connecting where people live and work and is the most appealing to those thinking of cycling for the first time or returning to cycling. Option B prioritises those in cars over those looking to travel actively.
“We shouldn’t miss this chance to make a difference to our city.”
Mr Whaley and his fellow campaigners argue Option A means cyclists will only have to cross one main road, instead of three.
Council officers also favour Option A. In a report drawn up for councillors, they stated it would deliver “a better cycle route and overall a more people-friendly street environment in Roseburn Terrace”.
And they insisted congestion on Roseburn Terrace would not be “significantly worse” under either option.
But they added: “However, Option B still delivers a workable cycle route and improved conditions for pedestrians in Roseburn, whilst addressing more fully local business concerns around loading and probably reducing the risk of additional congestion on the A8.
“Under either Option A or Option B there is scope to further review parking and loading serving Roseburn Terrace during the detailed design process in consultation with local businesses and residents.”
Both options will see resurfaced and widened footways along Roseburn Terrace, as well as extra pedestrian crossings.
Traffic will also be prevented from travelling from Roseburn Street to Corstorphine Road via Roseburn Gardens – thus shutting off a popular “rat run”.
Meanwhile, two slip-roads adjacent to the junction of Murrayfield Avenue with Corstorphine Road will be removed.
Elsewhere in the route, councillors will make a final decision tomorrow on where to relocate Haymarket station taxi rank to make way for the project.
Roseburn resident Peter Gregson is fronting the campaign against the east-west cycleway, and wants city leaders to throw out the entire scheme.
But he is particularly critical of the impact of Option A on Roseburn Terrace.
He claims the plans will narrow the road and have a devastating impact on local businesses along the busy A8 corridor – already one of Scotland’s most congested roads.
The former council employee estimated half the shops on Roseburn Terrace will be forced to close if the plans are given the go-ahead.
He said: “We think the council is embarking on a disaster that will throttle the city – and that few will ever use.
“We call on politicians to vote against it on Friday. At the very least they need to do a proper trial before making a decision, otherwise they’re taking a jump in the dark.
“We also want a proper cost-benefit analysis proving this is the most cost-efficient way to boost cycling in the city.”
He added: “There are better ways to boost cycling. The council has simply not evaluated the demand for this track on this route.
“We think this is a waste of money. I think there are many, many ways that I would like to see cycling helped in the city – but this is not it. It’s not that we are against cycling.
“We are just against this use of money for something that will not provide the benefits that are needed. I don’t think it’s been justified.”
Mr Gregson is planning to lead a protest against the cycleway outside the City Chambers from 1.15pm tomorrow.
Council leaders emphasised that whatever the result, work will start on the cycle route next year. They previously vowed construction would not be delayed by the ongoing arguments over the scheme’s detail.
A special meeting of the “future transport working group” will debate the issues tomorrow before a final decision is made by Paul Lawrence, the council’s director of place.
Richard Grant, of cycling campaign group Spokes, said the council should confirm Option A as their preferred choice. He said: “This gives a safe and direct route for cyclists where they want to travel.
“It will encourage more people to leave their cars behind and choose a healthier form of transport.
“Option A is innovatory and forward-looking and would help to ensure the new cycle route provides benefits for Edinburgh as a whole and the local community.”
Documents show the council would look to spend around £400,000 on a consultant to draw up final designs for the cycleway.
Funding is not currently in place for the whole route – meaning cash would have to be secured from outside sources.
But officials insist construction could take place on a phased basis, “to suit the levels of available funding”.
Meanwhile, £300,000 will be contributed by the developers behind the ongoing Edinburgh St James revamp.
The cycleway will be designed to integrate with “public realm improvements” along the route, including at St Andrew Square, Charlotte square and George Street.