22 January 2015

Why the Evening News is wrong...

Edinburgh Road casualties 2000-2010 Click here to see the map in better resolution.

One of the less barmy claims by some anti-20 campaigners, which has featured in the local paper, is that we're targeting the wrong streets...because other streets have higher rates of accidents.  On the face of it, this seems a huge blow to the council and 20splenty supporters. 

But let's think about this a little.  Firstly, the story is discussing all accidents, not pedestrian accidents, and it is pedestrians, especially child pedestrians, as this article from the BMJ shows who really stand to benefit. While there are gains for everyone will benefit : "The introduction of the 20 mph zones was associated with a reduction in casualties and collisions of around 40%" there are particular benefits for child pedestrians:  The observed reductions were largest for the youngest children (0-5 and 6-11). "

In looking for our 'most dangerous roads', the EEN is missing half the logic of 20mph zones - to make our streets feel safer as well as be safer. 

The council's focus  on streets that have dense housing, such as tenements , or shopping areas is exactly the same logic that currently justifies our 20mph zones around schools and in quiet residential streets.  

It's not that there are more accidents in bungalowland, or around schools, but they are areas that we want to make feel safe, as well as being safe. 

If we want to keep Edinburgh a living, breathing city, we need to keep mixed populations living in and around the centre of the city -- families, older people, professionals and students.  They will only do this if the city continues to be a welcoming and enjoyable place to live - for all, including those with pushchairs, wheelchairs and zimmer-frames. 

By all means, let's also look at ways of making our most dangerous streets safer, but ignoring the streets that we live on is not the way forward. 

21 January 2015

The 5 wackiest claims about 20mph so far...

In case you've missed these, apparently:

1. It’s too difficult to drive at 20mph 
"It will not help with road safety at all, people don't even go 30mph, so makes you think we can stick to 20mph? It is very hard to drive that slow, we have been taught to drive at 30mph, so it's almost natural, do you know what I mean by that?"  (from a taxi driver).

2. 20mph will be more dangerous
A 20mph limit in Edinburgh will caused more accidents and incidents from road rage";  "I agree that motorists will get upset at cyclists roaring past them, so revenge is foreseeable as will be "accidents";  20mph signs "will have the complete opposite impact on safety around schools to what the clowncil are trying to do. I feel that most people will ignore these new limits and it may cause them to be less aware of their speed around schools etc as all they will see is another 20mph sign"

3. Cyclists will be too scared to cycle if traffic moving at 20mph  "My self a driver, cyclist & pedestrian in Edinburgh i have been chatting to allot of people who are in the same boat and i have asked their opinion on 20 mph limits on Main Busy roads whilst cycling, and around 85% are saying they will now think twice about cycling as they will feel more put at riskdrivers will be frustrated with going slow, stuck in traffic and cyclists getting more ahead." 

4. Enforce a no Jaywalking law, because that's much easier than enforcing 20mph zones
"Jaywalking is a perfectly reasonable safety measure and much cheaper to implement than making Edinburgh a 20 mph city"  [despite the fact that it goes against the Highway code]

5. We should be putting the speed limit up not down. "Due to the fact that when the speed limits where made car brakes weren't that gd. But now brakes are far more advance and can stop in more than half the stated distance of cars from the days when the laws where passed. Plus all these car have been run of the road by the scrapage scheme. we all have new cars now so theres no reason why the limits shouldn't go up"

I've spared you the personal attacks, threats and generally ill-informed nonsense. 

19 January 2015

10 reasons 20mph's plenty for Edinburgh

A 20mph limit's not going to transform Edinburgh drivers into sweetness and light, nor is it going to get rid of tram-related traffic snarlups, or over-heated busses, but it's still got a lot going for it.  

Here's my top ten reasons why 20's plenty:

  1. Safety: there's no two ways about it, the biggest argument for 20mph is the increased safety for anyone out shopping, walking the dog,  on their way to school, or even just getting out of a car. I dare you to read this and not think, yeah that could so easily have been me, and that kid could have been my kid.  Every day five children and 20 adults are killed or seriously injured while walking or cycling on UK roads (Department for Transport, 2013).  Lower speed limits reduce the severity of accidents. Whatever data you choose to look at, there is study after study showing that survival rates increase dramatically when speeds drop from 30mph.
  2. Reaction time:  Stopping distances at 20mph are half that at 30mph, which means that you're more likely to be able to avoid hitting someone at 20mph, even if a child runs out, or a pedestrian slips and falls while crossing a road. 
  3. Time: We're all busy people. Can we really afford to take it slow? Most city journeys on 20mph roads will only take a few seconds or minutes more. Living Streets research suggests that an urban journey of three miles, which would take 30 minutes in a 30 mph limit,  only increased to 33 minutes in a 20 mph setting. That's a tiny price to pay for safer roads.
  4. Congestion:  Slower speeds actually reduce congestion by smoothing out the bunching that occurs at higher speeds, so we should see some reduction in congestion.
  5. Pollution: 20mph should also reduce most forms of air pollution in our cities  30 km/h zones reduce CO2 emissions by 15%, NOX emissions by 40% and CO emissions by 45%. Only hydrocarbons will increase, by 4%.  And bonus - cars should also be more fuel efficient. 
  6. Noise: Reducing traffic speeds by  10 km/h, a noise reduction of 2-3 dB is achieved.
  7. Good for business: All of those things mean that 20mph zones are also good for business, making shopping, chatting, and socialising more pleasant and more common. 
  8. Fairness: At present there are 20mph zones in lots of residential areas - especially our leafier suburbs - but this would make streets that are densely populated by families, students and the elderly safer.  
  9. Happier mornings: In 20mph zones, more parents are happy to let their kids walk or cycle to school, which means fewer cars on the school run, which has got to make life saner for all of us.
  10. Demand: Surveys (scientifically conducted ones) repeatedly show high levels of support for 20mph.  The  2011 British Attitudes Survey showed that well over two-thirds of us, including motorists, would like a 20mph speed limit in the streets where we live. As I've already reported, 60% of the people surveyed in the Edinburgh People's Survey in 2012 supported further extension of 20mph in the city centre and busy streets, and only 5% opposed it.    
Reading material: 

I've not footnoted everything. I do enough of that at work.  The stats I have cited - and more - are to be found here.  Happy reading: 

18 January 2015

Can do better?

So, according to a media report on a report prepared for TFL, there are 11 conditions that are needed for 'world class' cycling cities.  So, I thought I'd rate Edinburgh. I've written these fairly quickly - more for debate than trying to be definitive:

1. There is strong, clear political and technical  pro-cycling leadership which is supported through all parts of the lead organisation.  7/10  There is some political and technical leadership, but it's not yet fully mainstreamed. 

2. Cycling is considered an entirely legitimate, desirable, everyday, ‘grown up’ mode of transport, worthy of investment, even if current cycling levels are comparatively low.  8/10 The Council's decision to commit 5% of its transport budget to cycling and to increase that by 1% each year, is laudable, and very much signals that cycling is 'legitimate'.  It helps that when I approach my elected reps, they take me seriously, since all three of them (Labour, SNP and Greens) cycle daily as well. 

3. Increasing cycle mode share is part of an integrated approach to decreasing car mode share. There is no intended overall abstraction from walking and public transport; and improving cycle safety and convenience is not intended to diminish pedestrian safety and convenience. 6/10 The Local Transport Strategy and Active Travel Action plan are steps in the right direction, but there's a long way to go. 

4. Loss of traffic capacity or parking to create better cycling facilities, while often a considerable challenge, is not a veto on such action.  4/10  There are very few examples of Edinburgh being willing to remove or limit parking - Leith walk comes to mind.  In some cases, parking is 'traded-off' or moved, on others it has been reinstated. 

5. There is dedicated, fit-for-purpose space for cycling, generally free of intrusion by heavy and fast motor vehicle traffic. In cities where the aim is to grow cycling rapidly, simple, cheap and effective means of securing this space have been used as first steps, with more permanent solutions following in due course.  5/10 It feels like we're on the cusp on this one, with a three short areas of segregation in planning/implementation stages, and the George Street 'experiment'.  But these are just baby-steps.

6. There is clarity about the overall cycling network (including planned future development), with connectedness, continuity, directness and legibility all being key attributes.  8/10 yes, this, I think is well in hand, but the current plans do not have capacity for growth beyond 10% modal share. Some routes are already crowded. 

7. There is no differential cycle route branding, simply three principal types of cycle facility that make up well-planned and designed cycle networks. The current 'family network' approach fails pretty spectacularly here, but I've graded these three separate aspects individually:

a. Paths/tracks/lanes on busier streets which provide a degree of separation from motor vehicles that is appropriate to motor traffic flows/speeds and the demand for cycling.  1/10  Nope. Not yet, but presently...

b. Quiet streets/’bicycle streets’ with 30kph/20mph or lower speed limits and often restrictions on motor vehicle access, particularly for through movements. 5/10 the recent decision to make 80% of Edinburgh's streets 20mph goes some way to achieving this. We also have some examples of permeable infrastructure, but not near enough. 

c. Cycleways/‘greenways’ away from the main highway (e.g. bicycle-only streets, paths in parks and along old railway lines and canals), but still well connected to the rest of the network at frequent intervals.  10/10  I'm being absurdly generous here - there are a number of improvements that could still be made - but this is surely one of Edinburgh's great successes, and the council's commitment to gritting much of it in winter makes it really functional.

8. There is clear, widely-accepted and routinely-used guidance on the design of cycling infrastructure.   6/10 there's guidance, but too often its been ignored or poorly followed, and council has to revisit and replace. 

9. The frequency of occasions when cyclists need to give way or stop is minimised. This means that people cycling are able to make steady progress at a comfortable speed.  6/10 Can we all say chicanes

10. At least subjectively, where the cycle mode share is greater, the driving culture (and indeed city culture generally) is more respectful of the needs of cyclists. Local traffic laws often play a part in this.  6/10 This remains to be seen, but the move to 20mph may contribute to a better environment. 

11. Making better provision for cycling, even in the most well-cycled cities, is an ongoing challenge; with growth in cycling, and of city populations as a whole, requiring clear forward planning.  7/10 Edinburgh's pretty good at the planning, but not so hot on the 'doing'.  And I'm pretty convinced that their current planning is only good for a modal share of 7-9%. It's not even remotely prepared for 15 or 20% modal shares. 

I make that out to be a mean and a mode of 6.  Translates as 'could do better' in my marking scheme. 

17 January 2015

Easy win or moral panic?

We should be feeling elated about Edinburgh's new proposed 20mph rollout.  I had expected a huge fight over it last summer and autumn, but none materialised.  All parties except the Tories supported it, and even they were careful not to oppose the idea wholesale, and tried to convince the council that they were 'improving' the scheme.  

But in the last few days, hysteria seemed to envelope the local paper commentators (and some leader and headline writers).   

Since the vote went through, it really has felt like a classic moral panic -- drivers convinced that the city will be a ghost town, or, alternatively,  full of traffic ground to a halt.  

Apparently they're planning a protest march now, and asking for a consultation. A consultation! 

I complain about Edinburgh a lot, but it has never once occurred to me to demand 'more consultation'. At times  - worn down by one more roadshow or invitation to a 'stakeholders meeting' - I've wanted to beg for mercy. 

But, supposedly 'no-one' knew about the 20mph consultation, despite the roadshows, drop-ins, exhibitions and public meetings.  All of these were also discussed in the media and on social media.  Community councils ought to have been crucial here - but this really flags up how ineffectual they can be in transmitting information down to neighbourhoods, or stimulating debate at the local level.  

Expanding the 20mph zone has been council policy since at least 2010, as part of both the  Active Travel Action Plan,  and the Local Transport Strategy.  When the council started planning in earnest for it last year,  in light of the Edinburgh People's Survey in 2012, and the pilot, it looked like an 'easy win'.  When surveyed, very 60%+ percentages of people supported further extension of 20mph, and only single digit numbers opposed it.  How many council policies get that sort of ratings?   

So, what can we make of that? The surveys were representative and reliable (the more recent consultation was open to everyone, but not necessarily representative).  The numbers surveyed may seem small, but they were more than adequate samples.  Did the people surveyed not really understand what they were asked? Did the 'undecideds' all realise they were opposed after reading the local paper?  Or is the mob braying for blood on Facebook really just a minority? 

More broadly, it does bring home to me how amazingly divided Edinburgh can be, and how, despite innovative community groups, and a council that to my eyes, does everything it can to reach people, huge numbers of people are simply not aware, or don't have time, interest, or confidence to engage with what's going on.

So having missed the consultations, and the chance to write to their councillors, they now feel appallingly hard-done by, and righteously indignant about the lack of democracy.  The councillors on the transport committee are getting the worst of it, with some very nasty personal attacks.   I'm struck by on-line comments like those accusing them of being a 'clique' that pushed this through, when it went through on a vote of 11-3 and was approved by party caucuses.

Are these comments just gratuitous, a sign of disenchantment with all parties, or evidence of a failure to understand how council decisions are made (not something most people want to spend time worrying about)?  

The obstacles to better local government and more participatory decision-making seem very high.  

(I could write another blogpost or three on why they're wrong, but it's the tone of the debate that worries me right now, more than the content).

06 January 2015

"There's no where else to go"

It's now January 6th and every day I've been in the meadows this year, I've seen cars parked or driving in the meadows.  Not an auspicious start.

On a lovely Saturday morning, with kids everywhere on new bikes and scooters, this car was parked squarely on a path in the links, while the several lorries were parked so as to block the dropped kerbs giving pedestrian access to the paths and play park.

Other days I've seen cars parked on the meadows, which we know the council can't do anything about.  Equally common is the range of service vehicles.

Yesterday @fountainbridge reported a lorry, which was totally blocking the Melville Drive pavement.  It was there are again this morning.  When I asked them if they were aware they were blocking the pavement one of them said 'there's no where else to go'.  He suggested that pedestrians could go past on the very boggy grass.  There's no way that the wheelchair I saw there on Saturday could possibly have got past.  It then drove along Melville drive, and made a very awkward turn onto MMW.   They also seemed to take some pleasure in telling me that I'd have this problem for months because there are 275 trees to be planted on the meadows.  Sigh.

This afternoon, @Kim_Harding tweeted about a council vehicle, which was apparently servicing the toilets on MMW and then continued down MMW and along NMW to the other set of toilets - even though those are easily accessible via Buccleuch place.

It's becoming clear is that an awful lot of vehicles are on these paths daily.  Quite possibly both of these particular vehicles did need to be there but did they need to park on them?  Make their way along the paths at length?  Could some or all of their journey be made differently?  Cllr Andrew Burns has promised to let us know what the council's guidance to drivers is.

A further issues is that none of the entrances used by vehicles are suitable, since they are designed for pedestrian and cycle use.  The Melville Drive / MMW entrance to the Meadows paths is particularly dangerous, and the manoeuvres that lorries have to make - at speed - to safely access the path are a recipe for disaster.  The lorry towing a trailer, for instance signalled left, then pulled fully over onto the right-hand-side of the road (by the pedestrian island) before pulling across and onto the path.

Btw, I'm keeping track of ('curating'?!)  all the tweets on this issue over on Storify:https://storify.com/SRDorman/why-are-so-many-cars-in-our-parks  Check out the pics there - there's some doozies.

02 January 2015


I'm not much of one for New Year's resolutions, but on my last day of work in 2014, I found myself more than normally annoyed:

by this vehicle, which entered Middle Meadow Walk from Melville Drive and drove the length of the walk to get to this point, whereupon two guys jumped out. They were there for a minute or two then drove back down MMW. They could have easily parked  on George Square lane just beside where I took this picture.  There is also vehicle access on the other side of Middle Meadow Walk through Quartermile.  

I don't spend that much time in the Meadows. Except for my daughter’s occasional football matches, I'm usually just passing through - maybe 30 seconds if I'm on my bike, or 2-3 minutes strolling if on foot. But what struck me, as I reflected on the MMW van, was how often I see vehicles on the Meadows paths. Often they're police vehicles, or rubbish removals, or council employees laying out flowerbeds. Sometimes they are contractors for works in adjacent buildings. In the summer, I often see vehicles connected with the festival or sports events.  Recently, I and others have complained about cars parked on the grass near the cricket pitches in the summer evenings, and near the football fields on Saturday mornings (covered by  the Evening News). 

There are two issues - cars parked inappropriately (some of which have permission to be on the meadows and some of which don't) and vehicles using the paths to access parts of the parks to collect rubbish or plant flowers.  Obviously, the tree cutting and other equipment needs to be on the paths.  likewise, some of the maintenance crews may need to drive in to their sites - but must the vans be parked on the pavement the whole time they're working there?  I'd really like to know what guidance council officials are given about driving in parks - are they simply told to go slowly? or are they given advice as to which journeys are necessary? Is it ever suggested that they might park at an adjacent area and walk in?  Likewise, with rubbish collection, couldn't rubbish be removed to the gravelled area by the tennis courts, by hand-truck, or cargobike, and then collected by lorry? 

Although these lorries rarely constitute dangers to pedestrians, they send a signal that motorised vehicles are allowed in the parks, and this seems to be taken as a signal by others to abuse their privileges and hope they don't get caught.  

So, my New Year's resolution is to keep track of how many vehicles I see in 2015.   This morning I saw a blue rubbish lorry (similar to the one above) rolling down MMW (the sun was too low in the sky for a good picture) and exiting onto Melville Drive, and the Quartermile Tractor, also on MMW. And this afternoon, on my way home, there was a sports car parked next to the pavilion (again the sun was too low for a good picture).   So, three today.   #meadowsnotmotors