Two and a half years ago, Edinburgh launched its Active Travel Action Plan. In many ways, it's not a bad plan. But it hasn't aged well, and the current review process is showing this up all too clearly.
First, nothing much has changed. Of the things that I really wanted to see implemented via ATAP, very few have even begun. Some of these are really small interventions like public bike counters (or just publishing the data that exists!), removing 'guard' railings, cycle contraflows on one-way streets, and tackling footway parking. Others where we have seen incremental change include a piloted 20 mph zones (which leaves out all the big roads) and better cycle parking (but not in the city centre!).
However, the star attraction of ATAP (or drawback for some), was the plan for a 'family network' (see map on page 23 of this pdf). This approach comes in for a lot of criticism for directing cyclists along quiet roads, without doing anything much to improve the big roads that we all need to use to get to school, work and shopping. I'm not convinced that this is an entirely fair criticism of Edinburgh's plan. Our family network has the potential to be a lot more than that. Because we already have the extensive off-road network, the network was proposed to link up various bits of the city. Right now, from where I live in south-west Edinburgh, near the canal, we can cycle to the beach at Cramond, or the Botanics, or Leith, or out to Musselburgh and go most of the way on lovely, well-maintained off-road paths. But the remaining 10% of our journey is on scary, fast, poorly designed roads.
A few weeks ago, we had a lovely family cycle to Cramond. When we got there, we ran into a lot of people who live around us. They had all driven there so that their kids could cycle up and down the promenade. Ironically, we'd probably gotten there faster - or certainly not much slower. But they didn't feel that they could put their kids on the road even for that short section.
The Family Network is supposed to link all those bits up, so that you can go across town with your kids - faster than the buses - and not feel like a bad parent for risking their lives. On page 22 of this pdf you can read a list of the connecting bits that are prioritized for rapid completion. One of these has been done - an off-road connector between Leith and Portobello. By all accounts it is a fantastic addition, and already encouraging new cyclists to start cycling regularly.
But none of the rest has been done. And my concern is that plans for those mainly involve paint on roads, and that simply isn't going to get the South Edinburgh equivalent of the busy Mum who now cycles from Leith to work in Portobello on her bike, and certainly not if she has her kids in tow.
To look at just one example: the link from the Union Canal to the Russell Road access for the North Edinburgh Path Network. To anyone who knows this route, it is the most obvious, amazing access from South Edinburgh to the North (on the link above chose 'fastest route'). The Council's take on it is that there is an expensive off-road option that involves old railway infrastructure, OR a cheap on road access. And, if you look carefully at the on-road access (very hard to see because the map is so tiny), it appears to take you on a twisty route through the car parks of various housing estates, Dundee Terrace, and then down the Telfer subway to the Dalry Road. This is a massive diversion, and no real improvement if it just means paint on roads. I dare you to find a parent who currently doesn't let their kids cycle on the road, who says this would make the slightest difference to them.
When I asked why not just make the direct route safer for cyclists, I was told 'we'd have to take road-space away from cars'.
There you have it folks. Why Edinburgh's Family Network and Active Travel Action Plan - as presently being implemented - will never make more than incremental change to the number of cyclists on our streets.
We can have off-road cyclepaths -- where developments permit, or old infrastructure can be amended -- and on-road paint and signs, but we won't redesign roads so as to take roadspace away from cars.
This is where we come to what has changed since ATAP was launched. Not in Edinburgh, but everywhere else. In London, Chicago, New York, even Detroit, roadspace is being re-allocated away from cars to bikes, with spectacular results for local businesses and communities. Edinburgh needs to realize that while their plans are still stuck in the past, the environment has moved on.