17 March 2013

A letter to my councillors

My planned blog about cycle advocacy strategies has been hijacked by computer malfunction and the need to write to my councillors.  So I'm taking a leaf out of Dave McCraw's book, and posting my letter here (but do read Dave's too): 

I understand that the Council is taking several important decisions in the next few days and weeks that will very much affect transport and cycling in Edinburgh. As you know, I think the council's made some amazing strides forward in recent years and that we are moving in the right direction.  Indeed, I had a message on facebook only this morning from an old friend in Canada, who was absolutely flabbergasted when he heard that Edinburgh was committing 6% of its transport budget to cycling.  He's trying to convince his city to commit 1% and not getting
very far. So, I know you're doing something right!

Nonetheless, I do wish to emphasize how important it is that any  major shifts in Edinburgh get things right this time, and not require further tinkering and costly remedial adjustments.  In particular, this relates to both Princes Street and Leith walk.  We have a real opportunity here, and it matters that we get it right, if we are to enable cycling  in Edinburgh, with all the concomitant benefits - including for businesses.

I understand that the current plan for the redesign of Princes St and George St basically treats cyclists like cars, but provides some extra segregation on George Street. While the segregated path is obviously beneficial, banning cycles from Princes Street eastwards is really retrograde.  This is not how Copenhagen or any other city has supported and encouraged cycling.  Instead, what we see is the widespread and extensive provision of cycling contraflows, of two way segregated paths, and/or cycling encouraged in pedestrianized areas.  Cyclists are not drivers - they are mobile shoppers who will stop at markets, browse stalls, and pop into cafes.  We want to encourage this, not erect 'no cycling' signs right outside Waverley as a greeting to arriving tourists!

It is thus vitally important that the 'steer' the Transport Cttee gives to the proposed plan is one which emphasizes the importance of making cyclists and pedestrians welcome in the city centre. I used to cycle
down to Princes street a lot for shopping and I look forward to being able to do so again.  But I am convinced that the future of the city centre depends on making this easy, safe, and fun to do, not by restricting access unnecessarily.

I understand that the Transport Cttee is also considering the proposals for Leith Walk.  I have contacted you on this before, and have made my input through the consultation process.  I would simply add at this point, that if we are really serious about making Edinburgh a cycling city, Leith Walk is an opportunity that we cannot afford to miss. It is one of the scariest roads in the city to cycle on, and not very pleasant to walk either (as I did for 5 years), but it has such potential, both in terms of its width and the wonderful shops and neighborhoods.  Again, let's remember all the research indicating how shops and restaurants elsewhere have benefitted financially once
segregated cycle paths were installed.  And remember also that as in London, a remarkably high proportion of residents in and around Leith Walk, are not car owners.  Whether they choose to walk, cycle or bus, these residents will benefit from cyclepaths beside the footpaths.

I'm sure you've  read the London vision for cycling - and compared it to ATAP.  Edinburgh gets mentioned rightly for its financial commitment to cycing, but let's make sure that we spend that money wisely on good quality infrastructure (which is not necessarily expensive infrastructure), rather than risk another farce like the QBC.  While retrofitting infrastructure can be expensive, the Leith Walk proposals are an amazing opportunity to move forward and integrate cycling into our travel plans, in a way that we have rarely been able to do.

Apologies for this long message.  Please don't feel you need to reply, but I do hope you will bear these points in mind when you and your respective parties make decisions, and especially in consultation with your colleagues who sit on the Transport Committee.

All best wishes,

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