09 March 2013

What's so bad about the QBC?

London's announcement seems to have rekindled the debate (on forums, blogs, twitter and even in the comments on my last blog post) about the so-called Quality Bike Corridor (QBC) which runs through south Edinburgh. It's been touted as a great improvement, and much money was spent on it. But since it opened the outcry has been loud and sustained. Even the council leader has weighed in, rather critically in fact.

It has also amplified divisions - or at least articulated them - between Spokes, the doughty cycle campaigners, and a variety of other voices. After reading some of the exchanges, you'd be forgiven for thinking that we were all at each other's throats. That's not really the case - we all respect Spokes' dogged persistence and reliable data.  Many things have happened for the better in Edinburgh because of Spoke's interventions, despite being run on a shoestring of a budget, and entirely based on volunteers.

The basic position though, is that while pretty much everyone agrees that the QBC is simply not good enough to get kids etc cycling safely, Spokes argues that their data suggests it may have nonetheless increased cycling levels, and hence is still a good thing, if less good than it could be.  Others suggest that it is a total waste of money.

I'm not totally convinced that the QBC explains the cycling data, but it may be that Spokes is right that the QBC by virtue of its presence, and the publicity given to it, has enabled some cyclists.

The problem though is that the QBC ought to be the most basic level of cycle infrastructure - the lowest common denominator - while it is being touted as an improvement.  In fact, given that part of the QBC doesn't even have an on-road lane painted on it, it might not merit even that. But, it doesn't have parking bays painted on top of the lane. There are some restrictions on stopping and loading.  Both of those make it better than many other cycle lanes in Edinburgh. But that's not saying much.

Several years ago, at my first foray into bike campaigning, I challenged the then transport convener about the bike lanes that had parking bays on them.  He admitted that they were less than optimal and said that Council policy had changed and that they would no longer build cycle lanes with metered bays on top. The QBC is clearly the outcome of that policy.

Rather than saying - 'Look at the QBC, it's so great!'  maybe we should be saying 'the QBC's a bit better than the lanes elsewhere in the city, but it's not good enough'.

As others have said, it may provide some sort of support for determined/experienced cyclists, but it is not the sort of infrastructure that will get more 'timid' cyclists out, and keep them on their bikes - and that's what we need, and what the Council needs to invest in.  Let's not aim for the LCD any more.


A Thomson said...

The CEC need to take some action on the QBC or this debacle will drag on. I suggest the following:

1. Cease all reference to this route as a quality bike corridor on their website and elsewhere with immediate effect. Recognise it for what it is: a series of streets with limited cycle improvements.
2. Urgently commit to reviewing the most dangerous sections of the route to see what can be salvaged.
3. Commit to removing some of the more useless/dangerous bits of red paint where they give a false sense of security and encourage cyclists to take risks.

This was put in place by a previous transport conveyor from a different party, so Cllr Hinds has nothing to lose (except a bit of face for having taken part in its launch). She will get credit for accepting reality and taking a tough decision. She and the current administration have no vested interest in defending the poor decisions of their predecessors.

The news from London shows the kind of infrastructure that we are now aspiring to, and the only future use of this section of route and the term Quality Bike Corridor is as a benchmark of failure.

Sara Dorman said...

It wasn't just the Council on its own. The University of Edinburgh also bought into it. I dn't know if they put money in or not, but they were consulted and are also promoting it. I find this very disappointing. the university needs to think more creatively and robustly about students and staff access - building bike sheds and racks isn't sufficient. They ought to have the skills and expertise to do this, or to commission the research.

Unknown said...

Realistically the parking and loading restrictions on parts of the QBC achieve virtually nothing, because in practice they're not enforced. To see an example try cycling past the Hua Xing supermarket at rush hour or at lunchtime. You'll probably find that the cycle lane and the clearly marked double yellow lines are both blocked by delivery vans unloading at the supermarket. It's clearly illegal, and yet these deliveries carry on, day after day, month after month, and nothing ever appears to be done about it, since it keeps happening. It makes one wonder exactly why the authorities seem to have chosen not to enforce the law here.