17 December 2013

A step change?

We've been asking the Scottish government for 'a step change' in their policies for a while now. But I was taken by surprise today when a step change happened within Scotland's campaigning groups.   This was a very welcome submission from Sustrans about a series of cycle 'improvements' proposed for an area in the north of the city.  I'd looked quickly at these - I've only cycled there occasionally, and don't know the streets well.  So, I was leaving the detailed comments for others.  And Spokes had provided a reasonable critique with their usual sensible suggestions.  But the Sustrans contribution goes well beyond that - it calls for mandatory lanes with 'soft' segregation, for corners to be tightened up, for zebra crossings, and the removal of pedestrian railings.  All of these would go a long way to make the roads safer and far more friendly.

It is not that Sustrans is the first group to call for such details, but that they do so from a position of authority - and with scope to help finance them.  But I also found their approach refreshing. It wasn't tinkering at the margins, or minor suggestions, but instead a whole-scale 'this is what we could do'.  It struck me as particularly strategic that they cut through the on-going wrangle over red-colouring, and pointed out that armadillos might be cheaper than either paint or chips.

This intervention was particularly welcome because this week also brought a number of other tensions to the fore.  Following on from debates on this blog and elsewhere, Keith Irving threw down a gaunlet to the council over shared space.  A response from Cllr Jim Orr about how it works on the continent did little to assuage concerns.

But in a series of emails and tweets cycle campaigning group Spokes hit on the nub of the issue - what should we actually suggest?  In the particular issue of the left turn from the Mound to Princes' St, I've refused to lend my (puny) weight to a solution, as they all seem equally bad. This has been branded a cop out.   But I don't see my role as requiring me to propose alternatives.  Surely that's the council's job?   Spokes has gotten a long way by engaging with the Council to find least-worst options,  but does that mean that all campaigners need to do this?  and that if we don't we're somehow letting this side down?

The case of the Mound-Princes St junction is just one instance where there aren't many good options.  The Meadows-Innocent tunnel consultation is another one -- the current proposals are better than what is currently in place (where NCN 1 is directed through railings and rubbish bins), but it's not great. It's not terribly direct; it requires a number of sharp turns (tricky for kids, tandems, trailers), and it meanders between segregated on-road, shared space pavements, and on-road non-segregated sections. The real block to better provision is the lack of willingness to reducing parking spaces and/or car flow - council officials are constrained by the traffic engineers and political will.  Councillors don't dare to dream big either.  Cllr Orr knows it could be better, but tries to convince us that a compromise is better than nothing.

But Sustrans wading in where many fear to tread is immensely heartening.  They've chosen their case well, and if it goes through, along with Leith Walk, it could really signal a step change in how we think about cycle infrastructure. That's a lot of ifs, but still a heartening place to be at, at the end of a dispiriting few weeks of campaigning.


Paul Milne said...

It would be good to see Sustrans comments on Meadows/Innocent railway plan as well. My comments, while addressing some specifics of the proposal as it stands, were that it is inadequate and they need to go back to the drawing board and think again, looking at a more direct route with some traffic calming, etc. Not likely to be implemented, but why NOT criticise something I think isn't very good or safe?

The Ranty Highwayman said...

Pleased to see Sustrans getting a little more firm in their approach - I think public opinion is changing them for the better.

But as a volunteer, I am bound to state that!