Thoughts on the Spokes Hustings

Thoughts on the Spokes Hustings

I was at the Spokes Hustings the other night and since then I have had a number of thoughts about it churning through my mind, and so have decided to write them down here. It was good to hear that all parties support the commitment of 5% of the transport budget to cycling, which was a good start. Generally there was a positive attitude to cycle friendly policies, which is hardly surprising as these councillors were trying to capture the cycling vote.

However, there were other things which stuck in my mind, such as Cllr Gordon Mackenzie (Lib Dem) saying that the Council couldn’t remove on street parking from bus lanes or the “Quality Cycle Corridor” because people depend on their cars to drive to the local shops. What? The reason we have so many local shops is because Edinburgh still has people living in the city centre, and they shop in places within walking distance. If the on street parking was removed from Causewayside, the antiques shops would still be there, it is just the residents of the Grange and Newington would have to walk 5-10 minutes to get there. The reason those shops are there is because the customers live nearby and not because there is on street parking. Come on, Cllr Mackenzie, have you actually gone and looked at other cities which are pedestrian and cycle friendly? One thing you will find is that they have lots of local shops, because people can walk and cycle to them. It is the places where people are car dependent that don’t have local shops, which is the result of failed transport policies making people car dependent and causing the death of the High Street in clone towns across the UK. Also, Cllr Mackenzie, when you say people have to be able to drive to their local Health Centre, have you talked to the doctors about this? Increasingly the medical profession is waking up to the benefits of active travel, and encourage people to be more active in their daily lives. This includes walking to their local Health Centre. It should be noted though that Cllr Mackenzie is a regular cyclist and the current Transport Convener of the City of Edinburgh Council, who has done much to support cycling in Edinburgh.

Then there was Cllr Lesley Hinds (Lab), who said that she thought cycling was a good idea, but doesn’t cycle herself because she doesn’t feel safe. The interesting thing here was the reaction of avid cyclists, who all told her that cycling was safe and completely ignored what she was trying to tell them. This is important, as it has a dramatic effect on policies to increase cycling: we are constantly being told that it is safe to cycle, and that we just have to share the roads. We are told that we just need to train more people to cycle with the motor traffic, and cycling will become even safer. Then, once a critical mass of cyclists on the roads has been achieved, we can have more infrastructure to accommodate cycling on the roads. Well, we have had cycle training for children for 60 years, and yet we haven’t seen this increase in safety, just a decline in the numbers cycling and walking as transport on a regular basis. We need to learn to listen to people like Cllr Hinds who say they would cycle as transport, if they felt it was safe. It is the provision of infrastructure to make cycling feel safer and more convenient that increases cycling rates, and not the other way around. Experience from other countries has shown that, when safe and convenient routes are provided between places people want to go, cycling rates increase rapidly.

Instead, British transport policy has historically been aimed at making driving easier, and at the same time taking away choice by making it harder to walk and cycle, through measures such as “traffic smoothing” and “cycle networks” which look like they have been designed by a spider on caffeine. This is something we need to turn around. The one piece of news Cllr Hinds gave the meeting, that came as a surprise to all (including Cllr Mackenzie), was that TIE (the company set up to run Edinburgh’s trams) intends to renege on its promise to carry bikes on the trams when they start running. This would be a very foolish move on their part.

Next on the list was Cllr Cameron Rose (Con), a long time Spokes member and regular utility cyclist. Given that description, you might expect Cllr Rose to be supportive of active travel, but he wasn’t keen on the idea of spending money on it, well he is a Tory. More oddly, he seemed to think that we should “experiment” with different solutions, rather that using existing best practice from places where cycling is common, and where they have already carried out these “experiments” and found out what works. The reason given by Cllr Rose was that the Netherlands are flat, an argument which I really can’t get my head around, what has topography got to do with safe junction design and the principles of separation? If he was trying to suggest that high levels of cycling can only be found in places that are flat, he should try telling that to people in cities throughout the Alps where cycling rates are high. I have personally seen this in Salzburg, Innsbruck and Bozen/Bolzano, these places are not exactly flat. I do however like his strong support for the idea of having a bicycle share scheme in Edinburgh, similar to those found in cities across the world.

I don’t remember Cllr Steve Burgess (Green) saying anything I could disagree with, indeed he seemed to have read the Pedal on Parliament manifesto and was supporting all the things we are calling for. Then again, I would be seriously worried if the Greens weren’t supportive of Active Travel.

Finally there was Cllr Alasdair Rankin (SNP) who seemed a wee bit unclear as to just what the SNP policy on cycling is – he is not alone there, non of us are clear on that. He was, however, keen to take on board the need for change. I just wish Keith Brown MSP, the Transport Minister, was the same. Currently the SNP’s transport policy seems to be stuck somewhere in the 1980’s, building more roads without strategic thought for the future. For example, the new Forth road crossing has been designed with no provision at all for cycling or walking (which came as news to Cllr Rankin). At the end of the day, using the roads should be safe for all, and no one should have to take their life in their hands to get from A to B.

The one glimmer of hope on the SNP front comes from Marco Biagi MSP, whose response to the Pedal on Parliament manifesto I received today. He says: “The Pedal on Parliament manifesto is a set of practical and helpful proposals that set out very clearly the action that must be taken at all levels if cycling is to grow and flourish in Scotland.” Let us hope that he can persuade the rest of his party of this.

10 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Spokes Hustings

  1. Kim,

    I didn’t say we couldn’t remove parking but I think the point I was making about local shops depending for some of their income on passing car trade has been covered by the first contributor. I read your comments about they traders in Gorgie but if you pop down to the shops near you on Newington Rd you will find that many recently suffered substantially from the loss of trade during the gas mains works in the area which removed quite a lot of the parking. I’ve no doubt several would go out of business if that became the norm. Similarly if you’ve been to a GP practice, like the one near me on Dalkeith Rd you’d appreciate that while many patients could do with a bit more exercise there are also a substantial number who have impaired mobility and a ban on parking would mean that they’d have to move practice or require more home visits.

    However I wasn’t arguing in either scenario that we couldn’t change or improve the situation for cyclists, I was mainly highlighting the fact that it’s not as easy as saying ‘lets remove parking’. There would undoubtedly be significant consequences for many of those involved. Loss of trade could mean a business becoming unprofitable and a loss of jobs. Having to move GP could involve more travel, loss of a key relationship and additional costs to the NHS. These are not insurmountable obstacles but they’re not easy or cost free to remedy. That’s why I’m not sure that a parking restriction is always the best option.

  2. An interesting and useful summary, thank you.

    May I go off-topic and make a comment on your blog post about Innsbruck? I showed it to my partner (also a keen cyclist) who grew up there, and his comment was “Innsbruck is flat. Edinburgh is not.” Innsbruck city itself is on the valley bottom. It is pan-flat. Yes there are mountains surrounding the place, but utility cycling within the city itself does not require one to cycle up them. Your comments about infrastructure are not affected by this, of course, but I feel it is a touch dishonest to say “these places are not exactly flat” when that isn’t the case, at least as far as Innsbruck is concerned.

    1. The centre of Innsbruck is certainly flat, but when you move away from the centre it certainly isn’t, if you go up to Hoetting or Hungerburg for instance there are still people riding bikes are transport (not just the down hillers going to and from the cable car station). You also find people utility cycling in the villages all along the Inn most of which are up on the slopes above the flat agricultural land.

  3. Also, thanks for summarising what the local councillors had to say. I get the impression that they are all suddenly discovering that cyclists are voters but don’t really have a clear idea what to do about it. In the past, they all haven’t done a good job of making the city attractive for cyclistsm, pedestrians and bus users, so with the upcoming elections I would expect some more substantial strategies and plans from them if they want my vote.

  4. I’m surprised by the lack of more creative solutions. Again a look to other countries may help. Many European countries have redesigned traffic routes in cities more fundamentally and, for example, use one-way streets to guide traffic separately in each direction.

    It may be worth investigating if Causewayside could be made one-way into town, and Nicolson Street one-way outbound. That might free a lot of space for a separate cycle path, wider footpaths as well as additional local parking. Whether this works or not needs more planning, of course, but waht I can say is that many German towns chose such solutions in similar situations, and everybody profited, especially local traders – because wider footpaths and more cycle traffic generally bring more customers than cars.

    Similarly, George Street and Queen Street could both be one-way, and Princess Street pedestrian/cycle path/tram. That would be free space for large street cafes in Princess Street and George Street, no traffic noise, and the city centre would be much more attractive.

    The new “quality bike corridor”, on the other hand, looks like a huge disappointment. The white line just reserves all the potholes for cyclists, I already saw cars parking on it, and the lane stops at every junction dumping the cyclist in the middle of the traffic where it is most dangerous. It certainly doesn’t encourage me to use the bike.

    1. Please write to your counsellors and tell them (, very few of them can imagine how much better Edinburgh could be if they made the effort to follow best practice from places where active travel works. I think one of the major problems is that they are not widely travelled and simple can’t imagine places where people don’t feel the need to drive to the local shops and where the idea of “car dependence” would be laughed at. There are plenty of places within a two hour flight of Edinburgh which could serve as a model of the way Edinburgh could be, but the just never go there. This probably because they are worried about the “language barrier”, which is ridiculous as there are plenty of people coming from those places to Edinburgh as tourist or to do business, those people don’t worry about the “language barrier”.

  5. Good summary of the meeting and issues, and I totally agree with you about need to remove parking on the QBC (and elsewhere in southside), but I don’t think we’re going to win the argument by claiming that people don’t drive to the causewayside shopping. This may be true in some areas near by (nicholson st; Brunstfield etc) and especially where companies target locals – bakeries, butchers etc, but companies like the furniture folk and others around there surely can’t survive mainly based on local traffic. But, I don’t see why that means ‘driving’. We lived in Leith and bought furniture there, we got there by bus and asked them to deliver. Perhaps they just need to be more creative (and offer better deals on delivery).

  6. Thanks for a good report. With regard to Cllr Mackenzie I have to support part of his position.

    People still do drive to local shops and local shops also depend on passing trade. In the late 1990s I used to live in Gorgie and every shop unit was occupied or only unoccupied for a short period. Then the Greenways/Red lines came in and very quickly a large number of local shop owners sold up to new owners and other shops closed. In Gorgie there is a direct correlation between parking availability and retail unit occupation.

    (and I would argue that there is a lot of parking on Causewayside – often right out side the antique shops. Its where I park.

    1. I also lived in Gorgie several years (in Wardlaw Place) and noticed that the shop units were well occupied and moved up market with the change in demographic as the price of flats in the area rose. Talking to the local traders, they didn’t think that parking was a significant issue and most of their customers arrived on foot. When we came to sell our flat, one of the selling points was the good range of local shops within walking range. It is also notable that when the Sainsbury’s supermarket arrived, it was the other supermarkets that suffered most and not the small food retailers (although Chris Johnstone panicked and ruined his own business by stopping his USP). The butchers and the fish mongers are doing fine, as are the other small food outlets there. Taking the parking away from Causewayside and reducing the speed and volume of traffic would improve footfall not reduce it. It is footfall that retailers rely on not drive past.

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