09 December 2014

Research-informed policymaking? Not in Newfoundland

Bear's cove, Harbour Grace

See anything wrong with this picture?  Nope. Me neither.  My kids had a wonderful summer in Harbour Grace playing on their bikes just like we did when we were kids.  We'd packed helmets for them, but somehow never put them on.  And as the days went on, it seemed less and less of an issue  -- these are quiet roads, and the kids were safe and under supervision.

However these days are about to be a thing of the past, as the Newfoundland government is proposing helmet laws.  Now, I'm not opposed to helmets - I wear one fairly regularly and I used to be pretty evangelical about them.  But then I looked at the research and realised that helmets do little or nothing to protect cyclists from harm.  Which is why I think helmet-wearing ought to be a choice, not under compulsion (and that there are much better ways of making cycling safer).

For one thing, cycle helmets are not designed or tested for protection at speeds over 12mph.  They are not like motorbike helmets, or ski helmets.  They are not tested for impacts with cars or trucks, but on kerbs.

The stats on helmet use and injuries are very complex (see this BMJ editorial which specifically discusses the Canadian data), but one thing is clear, there are far fewer cyclist injuries in countries where few if any cyclists wear helmets like Denmark and the Netherlands.  As you can see in the graph below - fatalities are almost inversely related to rates of cycling.  This is because Denmark and the Netherlands have invested in making roads safer, not in requiring helmets.

source: http://cyclinginfo.co.uk/blog/734/cycling/cycling-rates-by-country/

All helmet compulsion does is lower rates of cycling, which increases long-term health problems like obesity and diabetes.  As the Danes say, you're safer on a bike than on a sofa.

I'll try to blog more another day about some of the other ridiculous aspects of this, but for the moment, please write to your MHAs and ask them to look at the evidence before taking this retrograde step.

06 December 2014

Induced demand

A letter to my MSPs

Spokes has asked us all to write to our MSPs.  Here's my effort:

As you doubtless know, the Autumn statement has generated some new
'Barnett consequentials'. It would be great if some of these could be
dedicated to cycling infrastructure.

We all know that if you build roads, then cars magically appear to fill
them. If we do the same with cycle infrastructure, we might get someway
towards reaching the CAPS 'vision' of 10% of journeys being made by
bike by 2020.

Otherwise, we have no hope of making this vision a reality, and
Scotland will reap the whirlwind of higher demand on the health
service, congestion, and greenhouse gas promotion (another target not

But, with more infrastructure we stand a chance of making the
Minister's recent 'Vision' of a more active, healthier and happier
Scotland a reality - and that's the Scotland I want to bring my
children up in.

30 November 2014

1/3 of 1/3 = not worth the £

I've taken my 4 year old swimming twice.  His big sister went all the time, but that was when Waterworld was open. 

We've been to Dalry Swim centre twice now, for what is advertised as a  'fun' session.  On Sundays 1/3 of the pool is roped off into lanes, and the third of the pool next to that is occupied by people swimming laps.

So that leaves 1/3 of the pool.  Only, if you're with a pre-schooler who can't swim on his own, you have to stay in the shallow end.  Which means that the available space for us, and all the other families, is 1/3 of 1/3 of the pool.   

It's not the pool staff's fault that the swimmers don't use the lanes set aside for them.  They got out some floaty toys for us, which was nice.  The 4 year old had a blast. 

But what is telling is how few other families turn up, and what they're like.  I'm a poor swimmer, and I take my kids along in the hopes that they'll move on to lessons and be better swimmers than I am.  But the other families there tend to be keen swimmers - kids with lots of kit. Serious stuff. Not average local families splashing around.  In Waterworld you used to see lots of young dads with tattoos, Asian families, grandparents - a real mix of people from all walks of life.  

Doubtless the swimming lessons are attractive to a wider range of local residents, but that's not the same as splashing around and having fun.  And no exercise at all for the Mums and Dads and Grandparents. 

I can't compare this to other pools - maybe they are different - but the word on the street is that parents who can are taking their kids to Perth or Dunbar for water play.   

None of this augurs well for the future of Edinburgh Leisure's local facilities, or the health of local communities, who are being let down.

28 November 2014

A solution to cycle path maintenance

photo by Chris Hill

If you ask for a list of the top 10 things Edinburgh has done for cyclists recently, you will almost certainly hear someone mention 'widening North Meadow Walk'.   You can see the improvement in this Spokes report here.  Not only was it an excellent use of unexpected government money, but it responded to the network being 'over-capacity' by widening the path.  And as I reported in an earlier blogpost the design was adapted to accommodate the responses received in the consultation.  So, all good.  

Except, that with most of the work done in the summer of 2013, and finished in autumn 2013, it is already showing signs of poor design and maintenance issues.   The design problems showed up within weeks -- while the pedestrian (north) side of the path remains dry in the rain, the south side - for cyclists - is prone to puddles.  On the north side, the path sits slightly higher than the surrounding turf, but on the south side it is roughly level, with no drainage channels

In the autumn, this is compounded by dropping leaves, which also favour the south side of the path, because of the age of the trees, and the prevailing wind (see here for an expert explanation).  The combination of leaf 'jam' and mud makes for a worryingly slippery ride. 

And finally, the path is growing narrower as the mud and leaf mulch combine with the grass growing out over the stone border and onto the tarmac.  If you look at the pedestrian side you can clearly see the coping stones along the side, but on the cycle side, they are covered in turf - about 4 inches has grown over in some places. 

This is compounded by vehicles going along here and mashing the side of the path, as you can see in this picture.  
This isn't an issue that can be dealt with by sending a street sweeping machine along, or  even leaf blowers.  So, rather reluctantly, I canvassed for opinion on CityCyclingEdinburgh and a small group of us tackled the worst section of the path.  

This isn't a solution though, especially when the main problem is the actual design of the path.  The council doesn't expect drivers to sweep the roads, or fix potholes.  But it seems to be pretty standard to expect community groups to maintain cycle paths.  I think it's because cycle paths are still thought of as parks, and leisure spaces, not commuting routes, which obviously needs to change. 

Edinburgh's excellent about gritting paths in winter and not bad at sending out street sweepers,  but their budget's pretty stretched at the moment. So, here's my solution - all those drivers stopped for being on their mobiles, or eating their cereal, or even worse cases of careless and dangerous driving who get community service, should be given bikes with trailers, shovels, and rakes, and sent out to keep the mud and grass from our cycle paths.  

(so seriously, how do we get the council to deal with this?)

03 November 2014

A rather boring, slightly ranty, post

I've been pretty sceptical about the George Street cycle lanes since they were first proposed. But I thought I should at least try them out rather than just critiquing from afar. Last Saturday seemed like a good opportunity.  We again had to go to Jack Browns, so the stoker and I saddled up and made sure we had the helmet camera ready and loaded.

It's perhaps telling that cycle streets definitely doesn't recommend the route that I used (my route is shown ikn red below), even though it has the most/best cycle specific infrastructure on it, as well as the most direct route. It's a mile and a quarter through a vibrant shopping area with high pedestrian footfall, a bus station, a train station and a tram route, surrounded by parks and historic sights.   You'd think we want to make this a pleasant journey?  Even encourage people into the city centre?

As you can see I went for the most direct route, which is also along the best cycle infrastructure - in theory. What I did was to head from Lothian Road onto the new George Street cycle lane -- requiring crossing tram tracks at speed and then changing lanes.  This would be okay if it was clear what to do, but I was frantically trying to figure it out.  The cars and buses were surprisingly patient - probably because of my stoker - or because they didn't know where to go either. I've speeded this video up a bit too much at 16x, but that means its only 15 seconds long.

Once on the George Street lanes, it was fairly smooth sailing - once the furniture was moved.  the first couple of crossings are fine, then there's the slightly odd roundabout thing where we switch from one side of the road to the other - basically okay if the traffic's light, but I was at least expecting that.  can't imagine cycling that blind.  And finally, the cycle-specific lights.  Fine as far as they go, but quite a long wait?

Finally however, we get to what I consider the coup-de-grace -- we are directed onto the pavement (I think) then around the north side of St Andrew's square (I think), then onto some more pavement, then across the tram tracks (oddly there is a bike light suggesting the crossing is a toucan, but with railings on the island, I'd recommend walking), then down Queen street, which is 4 lanes + trams, I think, then across the tram tracks again...

Not my idea of fun.   On that ride, and the return leg a couple of hours later, I saw precisely 2 cyclists.  Unlike others, I had no issues with cars driving or parked on the lane.  and the pedestrians were pretty polite too - if a bit baffled by it all.

So, should I be being more positive about it?  Grateful that the council is thinking out of the box? Happy that they're taking segregation seriously?  Today's local paper quoted me as saying ""'It’s an attempt 2 balance so many different interests, but it’s not suited any of them' .  You can read the rest of the story here.  It also sparked a polite debate on our cycle forum.

I really wish I could be more positive and see it as a 'start', but I can't.  The George St lanes serve no purpose at all in making the city centre more cyclable.  Those who are more optimistic may hope that this first step convinces the local businesses that they can still function - thrive even - on a pedestrianised road, or next to cycle lanes.  If that is the outcome then it will be positive. But I don't think we should pretend that what has been created is some sort of cycle infrastructure, because it clearly isn't.

05 October 2014

Panda Crossing?

I saw this picture on twitter earlier today, and all I could think was how much better it would make my work commutes (and that of all the pedestrians who use the same route as me).

So, for instance, at Bruntsfield Place/ the top of Leamington Terrace:

Or when crossing Melville Drive at Argyle Place, where planners have jury-rigged something that approximates this already...(shhh...don't tell anyone)

And it would be an excellent addition to the planned crossings/route that I blogged about earlier in the week.

The good news is:

Now, we just need to get it in the Scottish Guidance (and get my suggested name adopted!).

01 October 2014

Step Change?

Yesterday I had to make my way from my office near the Meadows to a meeting near Haymarket.
Amazingly, I realised that not only can I get most of the way there using off-road paths, but if current proposals go through, I will be able to ride 99% of it off road in a couple of years.

The current route, in case you're wondering goes - NMW-Tarvit Street-Gilmore Place-Leamington Lift Bridge - Toucan crossing - Shared use path - toucan across the Western Approach - shared use path through to Dalry colonies - Dalry rd  (link here)

map from cyclestreets

Under the proposals currently under consideration, there will be segregated paths, toucan crossings, and two cul-de-sacs linking the Meadows to the Canal.

I am convinced that the proposals being consulted on reflect a step change in the city's cycling provision.  I have a vague recollection that at some point there had been talk about 'shared pavements' being involved.  But when the first phase of consultation with stakeholders occurred, there was no mention of it at all.  All the options under consideration involved segregation.  Clearly lessons were learned from the Meadows to Innocent process,  where proposals for shared use pavements were revised.

The Canal-to-Meadows consultation - by far the best I have been involved in - asked the stakeholders to consider how best to implement the project aim - a cycle network - while balancing the competing demands of pedestrians, local residents, shops, and bus users.

Some of you will remember this intersection from this blog and perhaps also that of Uberuce. It desperately needs improvement, and I'm pretty convinced that the current proposals go a long way to making it more family-friendly at least.  I'm even more hopeful that it may be part of a process of making the Tollcross area more pedestrian-friendly, and help local businesses,

And it won't just be useful to local folks -- it will enable safe, family-friendly cycling all the way from the city's western edge to Musselburgh.  Extraordinary really.

But cycling through yesterday also highlighted the limitations of the council's current approach.

The full route to Haymarket is bitty, and windy, and surprisingly hard to follow - despite having cycled it several times before in both directions (see also), I still missed a crucial turn.  It is not, and will never be speedy.  If it is ever widely used by cyclists, it will become entirely hostile for pedestrians.

If we're ever going to get 10% of trips made by bike, then we need this sort of segregated infrastructure, but once we get to that 10%, it will be over-capacity, and a substantial rethink will be required, along with another step change....

But, ever since I participated in the first stage of consultation for the Canal-Meadows link, I've been feeling quietly optimistic, not about cycling, but about the potential to make Edinburgh a more liveable city. This is only the first step, but it's a really important one.

(by the way, if you use the Canal-Meadows route, or might if it were safer, please do respond to the consultation - it's extremely short and very straightforward).

(Edited 5 October)

16 June 2014

Second-class, left-out, ad-hoc...

I rather unexpectedly found myself facilitating a table discussion at the first UK Women's Cycle Forum on Saturday.  Have been increasingly aware since then of all the things I did wrong - I didn't get people to introduce themselves, I didn't keep clear notes, and I didn't report back comprehensively (probably more....).

So, by way of amends, here's a quick roundup of what was despite all that, a pretty good conversation.

We started with the burning issue of TRAMS, highlighted by a participant who now struggles to get her daughter to school safely because of the shambles at Haymarket.

But we agreed that the trams project was really just symptomatic of the way in which cycles (and cyclists) are sidelined, not taken seriously, or just added on without much thought.

One participant at our table expressed concern that 'segregated' infrastructure risked reinforcing this even more - by pushing cyclists off the road onto second-class tracks.

This is exactly why I prefer to talk about integrating cycling into transport planning, not segregating it.  It's not just about cycle-tracks, but also about redesigning intersections and much more.

But this sort of planning can't come as an after-thought, as is so often the case; nor can it be funded with the money left over from road-building.

For cycling infrastructure to work, and be properly inclusive, it needs to be mainstreamed into all planning, not compartmentalized off into a little corner.

I do think there is hope here. Despite many negative examples, some aspects of planning in Edinburgh does seem to be moving towards considering the needs of all users, and balancing the different interests to build decent infrastructure.

The #UKWCF was a really positive, optimistic event, so I'm going to hold out hope for these changes.

Hopefully when we reconvene next year, we'll have seen some more positive change.

13 June 2014

Women's Cycle Forum

Still no idea what to say at tomorrow's inaugural Women's Cycle Forum.  That's partly because Sally said it all already, and partly because for me it's really not a gendered issue.  

But, of course, it is a gendered issue. I spent a bit of time this morning at a meeting about Edinburgh's 'Bike Account', a Sustrans initiative launching in 7 UK cities.  When I got there (a bit late), there were 18 people in the room, and 3 were women.  And one of them was the invited speaker from Copenhagen.  But on the powerpoints, there were lots of inspirational pics of women cycling merrily along. And the Council's family network is supposedly for "for less confident cyclists 'including women'".  Sigh.  

Clearly we have some work to do.  

On the other hand, I'm lucky. On my commute I tend to see as many women as men - all kinds too - MAWILS, hack-bikes, pashleys and bobbins, lots of kiddie seats, but also briefcases. At work, far more women in my department cycle than men.

This perspective probably blinds me to some things. I'm always baffled when men I know who cycle miles through town say their wives won't let them take their kids on the road in a bikeseat or tag-along.    

In an interesting reversal, my husband's been putting in some miles on the road these long summer evenings on his new road bike.  And I'm terrified.  When he's out with the kids, he's on roads we know, and I know he'll be careful.  

But, when he heads out after putting the kids to bed, and then comes back and tells me where he's been I'm horrified.  "not THAT one!" " do you KNOW how many accidents there's been on that road?"

It's these semi-rural roads around Edinburgh that have seen most of the fatal accidents in recent years, not the city roads where we take our kids. 

So, yes, cycling is gendered, but in some pretty complicated ways. 

I bet I'll learn a lot from everyone else who's going to the bike forum tomorrow. Please come and share your experiences too. 

06 June 2014

Why the rush?

This morning, walking to school, another mum was shepherding  several small children across a small intersection, while a private hire car with its flashers on waited impatiently for them.  

I say impatiently, because while he waited for them to go, he pushed in behind them as soon as they were half-way across.  The kids were small enough  to be a bit unpredictable, and even wobbly, as one was on a balance bike. 

The driver may have followed the letter of highway code rule 170, but surely not its spirit.  What really galled me is that there was hardly room for him to turn his car around, once he did get in, so why the rush? 

pic from googlemaps

The thing is, the Mum clearly saw nothing wrong with what had happened.  And it wasn't 'dangerous'  just inconsiderate. 

What I saw was a group of children being bullied by a big metal box.  I know (hope!) people reading this probably won't think I'm  over-reacting, but obviously 'most people' do.  

I came away feeling a bit stupid, a bit annoyed with myself, and a bit annoyed with the world. Not a good combination. 

02 June 2014

Craighouse : third time lucky?

A third set of plans have been released for the Craighouse site.  A friend of mine, whose response I posted last time, has now written an authoritative response. I'm posting it here as a public service - and to encourage us all to write our own! 

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the third application for the Craighouse site (12/04007/SCH3).  I object to this proposed development, for the reasons set out below:

Buildings at Risk

A key argument of the developer is that permission should be granted for the proposed development to secure the future of the listed buildings on the site.  This is a false argument. 

The buildings only entered the Buildings at Register during June 2012, after the developer took ownership of the site.  It is the failure of the developer to propose a suitable development for the site that has resulted in their inclusion in the Register.  While the long term future of the existing listed buildings is dependent on re-development, there is no reason why that future should be dependent on the current poorly thought out proposals. The developer should work with local residents to develop a scheme that is sympathetic to this unique site while also being capable of returning a reasonable profit.

It is also worth noting that the buildings are included in the Register “due to ongoing vacancy and lack of identified new use”, rather than any fundamental risk to the deterioration of the fabric of the buildings.  There is no immediate risk to the buildings that require an urgent decision.

Enabling Development

The developer argues that the new build elements of the proposal are required as “enabling development”.  Enabling Development is not defined in Scottish planning policy, however the English Heritage policy is generally used in Scotland – which is:

“Enabling development that would secure the future of a significant place, but contravene other planning policy objectives, should be unacceptable unless:

a) it will not materially harm the heritage values of the place or its setting
b) it avoids detrimental fragmentation of management of the place
c) it will secure the long-term future of the place and, where applicable, its continued use for a sympathetic purpose
d) it is necessary to resolve problems arising from the inherent needs of the place, rather than the circumstances of the present owner, or the purchase price paid
e) sufficient subsidy is not available from any other source
f) it is demonstrated that the amount of enabling development is the minimum necessary to secure the future of the place, and that its form minimises harm to other public interests
g) the public benefit of securing the future of the significant place through such enabling development decisively outweighs the disbenefits of breaching other public policies.”

The new build elements of the proposed development are contrary to this policy on several counts:

The new build proposals will materially harm the heritage value of the site, particularly through inappropriate massing of the new build elements and the use of materials alien to the current site, such as timber cladding, zinc roofing and metal framed doors and windows.

The new build proposals exist to increase the profitability of the site for the current owner rather than benefit a site of significant architectural, heritage and landscape value.

The developer has submitted a Report on Financial Case: May 2014, which aims to show that the proposed new-build elements of the development are the minimum necessary to secure the future of the listed buildings on site. This has used an average sale price of £419,550 per unit to calculate a conservation deficit of over five million pounds. This average has been calculated using nearby sale prices paid over the past ten years and an average price paid per square foot for those sales.

I would argue that these methods significantly underestimate the potential value of the units that will be built on the Craighouse site, thus overestimating the amount of new build development required to secure a reasonable profit for the developer. 

 My reasons for this are as follows:

1.    There are no properties comparable to the units proposed for the site in the nearby area.  The local area consists of Victorian tenements, terraces and 1930‘s semi-detached houses built in a traditional street pattern, the price of which does not reflect the unique nature of the Craighouse site.

2.    There are no new build properties in the local area with which to compare prices for this unique site.  Any homes on the Craighouse site would carry a price premium to reflect its location and nature

3.    Prices charged for properties on similar iconic sites are significantly higher than those used in this report, e.g. an average two bed flat in the Quartermile development retails at £426 per square foot[1] – which is between £36 and £136 per square foot higher than the sales prices quoted by the developers in this report.

The developer also highlights a figure of 20% profit as fair and reasonable, mentioning a decision by an English Planning Inspector to back this up.  It is worth quoting the English Heritage Guidance[2] on this matter, which states:

“As a very rough guide, in today’s market, a pure entrepreneurial residential developer will look for an overall return on costs of between 15% and 20%, while a builder/developer may seek only a 10% return on the construction cost element, as a builder’s profit should be included in those construction costs. It is important that a double profit is not allowed.”

Given this, 20% seems an overly generous profit margin which, again, would allow for more enabling development to be built than is required to secure the future of the listed buildings.  The developer also indicates that the decision of the English Planning Inspector sets a precedent for the level of profit that should be considered fair and reasonable.  This decision does not set a precedent.  The English Heritage guidance is clear on this point, stating “Each scheme is different, and must be assessed on an individual basis, normally within the range indicated[3]

It is also worth remembering that the English Heritage guidance goes on to state that:

“…a developer will normally wish to maximise the conservation deficit to be covered by enabling development, and thus the quantum of development, in order to maximise allowable profit, since it is directly related to the scale of the operation… The public interest will almost always lie in minimising the quantity of enabling development.”

Development Plan Policies

The proposed development is contrary to many development plan policies, including:

1.   It is contrary to the spatial strategy set out in Strategic Development Plan for the regional core, which directs development towards the four Strategic Development Areas within Edinburgh.

2. It is contrary to Policy 1B of the Strategic Development Plan, as the new build proposals would have significant adverse impacts on several A listed buildings, due to their proposed location, height, massing and materials used. These proposals would have an adverse impact on a highly visible setting, which can be seen from many parts of Edinburgh.

3. It is contrary to Policy 1B of the Strategic Development Plan as the proposals do NOT have regard to the need to improve the quality of life in local communities by enhancing the natural and built environment. The proposals will reduce available open space, negatively impact on a site of architectural and historic value and make the surrounding area less, rather than more, attractive.

4. It is contrary to policy 1B of the Strategic Development Plan as the proposed new build elements are not a high quality design and there is no indication that there will be use of sustainable building materials.

5. It is contrary to Edinburgh City Local Plan policy Des 1 which states “Planning permission will not be granted for poor quality or inappropriate design or for proposals that would be damaging to the character or appearance of the area around it, particularly where this has a special importance.” The new build proposals would be damaging to the character of the surrounding area, which is of special importance (given the presence of A listed buildings and conservation area status) due to their height, massing, location and proposed materials.

6. It is contrary to Edinburgh City Local Plan policy Des 10 which states that “Proposals for buildings which rise above the building height prevailing generally in the surrounding area will only be permitted where… there would be no adverse impact on important views of landmark buildings, the historic skyline, landscape features in the urban area or the landscape setting of the city, including the Firth of Forth.” The proposed new build development would have an adverse impact on views to and from Craiglockhart Hill, as the elevated position means the buildings would be highly visible and exceed the height of all other nearby residential buildings.

7. It is contrary to Edinburgh City Local Plan policy Env3 as the proposals are detrimental to the appearance and character of several listed buildings.

8. It is contrary to Edinburgh City Local Plan policy Env6, as the proposals will have a negative impact on the appearance and character of a conservation area.

9. It is contrary to Edinburgh City Local Plan policy Env 11, which states “Planning permission will not be granted for development which would damage or detract from the overall character and appearance of the Areas of Great Landscape Value shown on the Proposals Map, prominent ridges, or other important topographical or landscape features.” The proposed development clearly detracts from the character and appearance of an area of great landscape value.

10. It is contrary to Edinburgh City Local Plan Env12, as it has a negative impact on trees within a conservation area which the proposed re-planting proposals do not ameliorate, particularly in the short to medium term as mature trees are being replaced by far smaller plants.

11. It is contrary to Edinburgh City Local Plan policy Env15, as it will have a detrimental impact on the flora, fauna and landscape of a local nature reserve.
12.  It is contrary to Edinburgh City Local Plan policy Env16, as the proposals may have a negative impact on nesting birds, badgers and bats.

13.  It is contrary to Edinburgh City Local Plan policy Os 1, as the proposals involve the loss of open space with no significant benefits.

Developer’s Planning Statement

The developer’s Planning Statement sets out to prove that the proposed development is in accord with the development plan and, where this is not the case, there are material considerations which outweigh the policies and proposals in the development plan. 

Hopefully, the detailed objections above are enough to refute the claims made by the developers that the proposed development complies with the development plan.  The following section questions the heroic assumptions made by the developers with regards material considerations.

Paragraph 25 of the Scottish Planning Policy states that “material considerations should be related to the use and development of land”.  Clearly, the Scottish Government’s 2012-13 Programme for Government and Historic Scotland’s Corporate Plan 2012-15 do not meet this criteria and these document should be disregarded as material considerations.

The policies and proposals set out in the Strategic Development Plan and Edinburgh City Local Plan are already in accordance with the requirements of the National Planning Framework for Scotland 2, the Scottish Planning Policy and the Scottish Historic Environment Policy.  The national policies highlighted by the developers have been effectively incorporated into the development plan policies I have highlighted above and there is nothing new in the points raised under these headings that aren’t already covered in the development plan policies.

The English Heritage policy on enabling development is discussed above, it is clear that the new build elements of the proposals do not meet the definition of enabling development.

The Craiglockhart Hills Conservation Area Character Statement could not be clearer about the importance of the Craighouse site, stating:

“Views to the Hills from Arthur’s Seat, Calton Hill, Blackford Hill and Edinburgh Castle are also spectacular, in particular to Easter Craiglockhart Hill on which high quality Victorian buildings are set against a predominantly wooded hill, the woodlands emphasising the visual prominence of the site over the local surrounding area.”

It is clear that the new build development proposals would have a significant detrimental impact on these spectacular views.  The Character Appraisal goes on to state the following about the Craighouse site:

“The buildings form a homogeneous group round the old mansion, as they are closely related in design, layout and materials. This character has remained largely unchanged since the late 19th century. The conversion of the site by Napier University has maintained the essential historic and architectural character, and conserved and enhanced the surrounding landscape.”

Again, the new build proposals could only have a negative impact on the architectural character of this unique site.

The proposals do not meet the definition of enabling development or enhance the character of the conservation area and cannot be seen to meet the policies set out in PAN65 and PAN71 as claimed by the developer.


The Transportation Assessment which accompanies the planning application fails to take account of several factors that act against walking, cycling and public transport use from this site and significantly underestimates the number of car trips that the development would generate.  This is contrary to the key aims set out in the National Transport Strategy of improving journey times, reducing emissions and increasing access to public transport.   It is also contrary to policies set out in the Local Transport Strategy 2014-2019, which aims to encourage modal shift to active and sustainable modes, reduce car travel and reduce emissions. 

The errors/omissions in the Transportation Assessment include:

  • The straight line distance based walking isochrones set out in Figure 3.3 do not take account of the fact that Morningside Drive is a long, steep hill and that Craighouse Road is among the steepest roads in Edinburgh and only usable by the most able pedestrians. This results in a significant underestimate of the time taken to walk along these routes, e.g. it takes a fit adult at least 20 minutes to walk from the centre of the Craighouse site to Comiston Road and not 15 minutes quoted.
  • The straight line distance based cycling isochrones set out in Figure 3.5 do not take account of the fact that Morningside Drive is a long, steep hill and that Craighouse Road is among the steepest roads in Edinburgh and only usable by very fit cyclists. This results in a significant underestimate of the time taken to cycle up Morningside Dive and the fact that most cyclists in Edinburgh would choose to avoid Craighouse Road due to the gradient. 
  • Bus services near the site were reorganised on 1 June 2014. The site is no longer served by Lothian Buses 41.
  • Bus stops served by the replacement Lothian Buses 36 are a 5-10 minute walk from the proposed development and the service ends at around 2000 each night.
  • Most of the bus services mentioned in the transport appraisal can only be accessed from Comiston Road, which is approximately 20 minutes’ walk from the site. Significantly reducing their attractiveness.

Given these errors/omissions, it is highly unlikely that the modal share estimates for the site (24% bus, 9% walking and 3% cycling) would be met and it is likely that a far higher proportion of trips would be made by car than estimated.

It is also worth noting that these modal share estimates are far below the 2020 modal share targets for active travel set out in paragraph 2.3 of the Local Transport Strategy 2014-2019 (walk 36% and Cycle 10%).

It is clear that the transport assessment has also failed to consider the major congestion on Craighouse Road/ Myreside Road at the morning and evening peaks caused by parents and carers dropping off and picking up pupils from George Watson’s College – something that cannot be shown by simple traffic counts. This is a significant oversight, as additional traffic on these routes at these times will have a far greater effect on congestion in the area than assumed in the assessment.


In summary, I object to the proposed Craighouse development for the following reasons:

1. It is contrary to Strategic Development Plan policies.
2. It is contrary to Edinburgh City Local Plan policies
3. It is contrary to Local Transport Strategy 2014-2019 policies
4. The new-build elements of the proposal do not meet the definition of enabling development
5. There are no material considerations which indicate that the development should be approved contrary to the numerous development plan policies which require its refusal.

[1] Meadow Heights, Q22 Level 02-04.  Checked on the Quartermile website on 30 May 2014
[2] Paragraph 5.12.2, Enabling Development and the Conservation of Significant Places, English Heritage,
[3] Paragraph 5.12.3, Enabling Development and the Conservation of Significant Places, English Heritage,

15 May 2014

Easy for some...

I've been enjoying reading about one Mum's attempt to go car-free for a week in North London.  She's chronicled her struggle against the default option of taking the car, and highlighted the mental switch required.  But there's also the environment to deal with - although the two are inter-related, with the choices made about schools and activities rather profoundly shaping your transport options.

All of which makes me realise how lucky we are - living fairly happily as a 4 person car-free household.  We would love a car for getting out of the city and exploring more, especially when we have visitors,  but in our day to day activities, we're not suffering.  

From our home to the nearest public pool is under a 1/2 mile., the nearest public library is only 1/4 mile away.  School is 3/4 mile, even if it is up hill, and nursery is a pleasant 1/2 mile  stroll (although we did spend 3 years doing a 6 mile roundtrip to the eldest's nursery...). Our longest regular journey is 2 miles to dance classes - most of which is along the canal. The spanner in the works tends to be unpredictable things like birthday parties - especially from the nursery kids who seem to come from miles around.  

But unlike subversive suburbanite  we rarely agonize about our transport choices, which makes it easier.  The kids know that if we have to get somewhere, they have to saddle up - they've never known anything different. I've not yet had had to force them kicking and screaming on to the bike - despite seeing too many parents struggling to strap kids into their car seats. 

If we're going into town, we get a bus and if the weather's really vile - gale force winds for instance -- we'll call a cab, but that's pretty rare.  It helps that other parents are very kind about offering lifts when needed, but also that I don't think we're seen as particularly unusual. We're certainly not the only family in the area without a car, and even those who do have one often choose not to use it. 

If it really were difficult to live without a car, we'd probably have buckled down, sorted our licences and joined the car club. But when the inconveniences only surface once or twice a year, and the benefits are manifold, it's actually pretty easy to stay car-free.

12 May 2014

Forgiving infrastructure...

Making space for cycling has hit the main stream - big rides, campaigns, new guidance. It's all really good stuff, but I can't help feeling there's one small point that's missing. 

All the reasons given for infrastructural change/making space for cycling are brilliant - especially making people feel safer (often referred to as subjective safety).  But there's an aspect of this, which I think Kim Harding first helped me understand, which is underplayed.  

Essentially, most drivers are careful, considerate, and concerned about causing accidents.  That doesn't always mean they remember everything in the Highway Code, or even get it right every-time. But mostly, and most of the time, they're trying to get it right.  

The problem is that our infrastructure is currently very unforgiving. So, a small mistake, inattention, or just plain bad judgement can lead to very serious consequences. 

And this is why it is so scary to take kids out on the roads, because you can't always trust them to stay focussed.  And sometimes they look in the wrong direction, and their handlebars follow...  Or an adult cyclist hits a pothole, or gets a puncture....  Or a driver misjudges the distance of their overtake, or opens a car door without shoulder checking, or just forgets to indicate....

Infrastructure that 'forgives' these small mistakes by channelling bikes on the inside of cars, with space for doors, or making intersections safe for cyclists, is what makes us feel safer. 

So, when we call for redesigns around schools, on residential roads, commuter routes, shopping areas, it's not just about making it easier for people to cycle, shop and walk, nor about the environment and health, but it's also about making the environment shape how drivers, cyclists and pedestrians behave in it. 

Countries that have higher rates of cycling also have lower rates of injuries - especially deaths. It's not that their drivers are any better (although it probably does help that more of them cycle), it's that their environment is the fundamental determinant underlying the ways in which they interact. 

Maybe this was obvious to everyone else, but in a country where 'education' is prioritised above 'infrastructure' in the Road Safety Framework (link - see top of page 18), it seems like an important point to spell out. 

11 May 2014

The trouble with chicanes

A few years ago - maybe even just months ago - I didn't even know what a chicane was.   I've paid so little attention to them, that I don't even have a picture to show.  But suddenly, they're springing up everywhere like the new must have fashion accessory for bike paths.  

Like most cyclists, I've certainly cursed a chicane or two.  There's nothing worse than a bike gate that you can't get a bike through when its got a sleeping baby on the back. Not only is it bloody heavy to lift or slant, but it's likely to wake the baby up.  And it means you can't easily ride alone - you need someone to help you get the bike through.  All this even worse with a tandem - and ours is only a few inches longer than a 'normal' bike. Most times, the odd chicane on a rural route is survivable, if demoralising to a short middle-aged woman, but in recent months commuter routes all across Edinburgh seem to be festooned with them, and the more I learn, the less I like.

Scottish Transport's own guidance states explicitly "Access controls on cycle routes should be avoided wherever possible, and only used where there is a proven requirement."  and "Measures to slow cyclists down can include rumble surfaces, SLOW markings or staggered barriers. If staggered (chicane) barriers are used, the arrangement should be designed to slow cyclists rather than force them to dismount."

It also gives clear criteria for 'desirable' and 'absolute minimum' distances between the gates.  None of the chicanes put up recently conform to these criteria - although that seems to be a problem of implementation, rather than policy. 

But my real objection is that chicanes are so not the right tool for the purpose.  They don't minimize conflict - they create it.  They take a wide path, and narrow it down so that people are funnelled down the narrowest section.  

Pedestrians are being made into mobile traffic calming in much the same way that cyclists are used at pinch points and road build-outs.  

This is surely not actually what the pedestrians want? 

29 April 2014

School run - what a joy!

A couple of weeks ago I posted a video of 5 minutes cycling with my daughter.  It got quite a lot of views and comments. Even the nicest commenters admitted that they'd found it terrifying, and I'm sure more than a few privately concluded we were mad.

As I said at the time, that ride was not typical of our family cycling. And I've been hoping to get a more representative video.  And this morning, we had 5 minutes of joyful cycling.  

Only 3 moving cars visible in the entire video. And yes, one of them does make a rather close pass (at 2.48), but that was it. 

I've left the sound on. Please excuse my inane chatter, but you will catch me reminding her rather a lot about gears, and when to 'go'.  I'd like to think that that wouldn't be necessary in Holland, and it really shouldn't be necessary on a quite route to school (although we were running late). 

A couple of other things to note -- from 4.42 onwards you can see why the pavements are inadequate for pedestrians, much less kids on scooters or bikes. And at the end, at 5.20 you can see our pathetic school bike shed -- a sorry comparison to the next nearest kids school, with shiny new racks all arrayed in front of the main door, and 10 times as many bikes on them. 

not our school

I think it does show that a cycle to school is not impossible for a sensible 7 year old. But it also shows how easy it would be to make this route - and other kids routes - easier, safer and more attractive. 

21 April 2014


I may have let the cat out of the bag in a recent post.  I said 'Edinburgh's a pretty decent place to cycle'.  And I actually do believe that. But you probably wouldn't know it from my usual moaning.  

It could easily be so much better. and that would be better for the city too.  

Equally important, we are really lucky to have elected politicians and council officials who care deeply about making the city accessible. 

We have a council leader who cycles, and gives priority to environmental and justice issues . We have a transport convenor with real commitment to public transport, and desire to take pedestrian issues seriously. We have had a series of young, dynamic and energetic deputy convenors/cycling supremos who have thrown themselves into their jobs . We even have talented and committed council officials, who - amazingly - now have the budget to make some big changes. 

So, when I moan, it's because there is so much potential. and it hurts to see it wasted.. 

I'll plead 'not guilty' to the charge of pessimism, and 'guilty' to the charge of being overly optimistic. 

Re-uniting Edinburgh with its coastline

Edinburgh's a strange city in many ways. It's a city with a port, not a port city.  This is in part a function of history - Leith  only became part of Edinburgh in 1920.  But even despite the massive growth in the city, this distinction remains visible not just in planning and transport networks (in fact Leith is well integrated), but in people's behaviour.

I grew up in a port city, my mum grew up in a port city, my parents currently live in a port town.  And, I always thought that if you live in a port, one of the things you do is drive (or walk or cycle) along the waterfront and check out what is going on  -- not just the arrivals and departures of ships, but also the weather, the tideline, the changing skyline.  But in Edinburgh, this is not an easy or natural thing to do.

Some parts of it - notably Cramond and Portobello - have fabulous infrastructure. But in between, despite fascinating nooks and crannies, it can be difficult to find your way, and certainly not suitable for unconfident cyclists, or even pleasant for walkers.   Even the John Muir way which is being celebrated and opened today  goes inland through the meadows - a lovely walk, but an odd inland route for a coastal city.

But there's a lot of potential, as we discovered when we were invited to join this 'study tour' of the waterfront (yes, that's us, definitely NOT going 27 mph).

It would be easy for the council to join up the bits and pieces and make a marketable 'round Edinburgh' path, mostly off-road, with spectacular views, industrial archaeology, cafes, pubs, playparks -- something for everyone.

The work currently being undertaken to link up Edinburgh's NEPN with the canal, the city centre and the south/east paths network is going to transform the city, but our next target must definitely be to build in the coastal network, enabling proper 'round the city' rides for everyone.

Keep an eye on http://edprom.wordpress.com/ for progress - and add your ideas too.