Edinburgh tram lines "a fatality waiting to happen" due to danger posed to cyclists, says law firm

City council could have to pay out £1.6m in damages to cyclists already injured in crashes caused by tram rails

by Simon_MacMichael   November 23, 2012  

Edinburgh Trams.jpg

Edinburgh’s Princes Street “is a fatality waiting to happen” claims a firm of solicitors that has identified 74 separate incidents in which cyclists have been injured after coming off their bikes due to tram tracks – and accuses the city council of wanting to “bury its head in the sand” about the issue.

Cycle campaigners have consistently warned about the danger posed to riders by the project, which has been dogged by controversy since it began in 2008, with costs spiralling out of control, contractual disputes, and delays which have seen the completion date pushed back from 2011 to 2014 with the network being less extensive than originally envisaged.

According to Thompsons Solicitors, the council also faces a wave of compensation claims from cyclists injured after coming off their bikes when their wheels became jammed in the tram tracks, reports The Scotsman.

Patrick McGuire, a partner at the law firm, said: “The situation in and around Princes Street is a fatality waiting to happen.

“In all the cases we are dealing with if the cyclist had been subsequently hit by a vehicle after falling from their bike then it’s possible they wouldn’t be here today.

“It’s a disgrace that the council is continuing to bury its head in the sand and is refusing to implement simple safety measures to ensure the city centre is a safe place for all who use it.

“The number of accidents in Edinburgh city centre is already worryingly high and that is before the trams are even introduced.

“Many of the accidents have been caused by cyclists feeling under pressure from heavy bus and taxi traffic.

“Once you add trams into the equation it will be a recipe for disaster and unless drastic action is taken I’m in no doubt the number of accidents will increase.”

He added that the council has not acted on safety recommendations such as a two-way cycle lane, or improved lighting and signage to warn cyclists of danger.

The figures were based on analysis of responses to a Freedom of Information request put in to Edinburgh City Council and Lothian & Borders Police by cycle safety consultant John Franklin, but represent the minimum number of incidents in which cyclists were involved.

One lawyer who spoke to The Scotsman said the true figure could be as many as 200, and with a potential average compensation payout of £8,000 per cyclist, that could leave the council with a compensation bill of £1.6 million.

Thompsons is being helped by its efforts to force the council to make the city safer for cyclists by the charity Cyclists Defence Fund.

Both will be hosting a public meeting later this month at which a campaign will be launched calling for safety features to be implemented prior to the first trams coming into service.

Chris Field, chairman of the Cyclists Defence Fund, said: “Local cycle campaigners had repeatedly voiced concerns about the hazards of Edinburgh’s tram scheme.

“It is now all too clear that they were right – over 80 cyclists have been injured on Edinburgh’s main street and the trams haven’t even started running yet.

“But this legal challenge isn’t just about cyclists and tram lines. It is about the duties of highway authorities to take proper account of cyclists’ safety, whatever they are designing.

“Given the media focus on cyclists’ deaths at King’s Cross or the Bow roundabout in London, this case clearly has a much wider significance.”

Ian Maxwell of Lothian cycle campaign Spokes pointed out to The Scotsman some of the measure that could be taken to improve cyclists’ safety.

“There will be places along the tram route where cyclists will be prohibited but there are times when you will be unable to avoid going across the lines.,” he explained.

“If complete segregation from trams isn’t offered then it will be possible for people to cycle in the same space as the trams. Given the schedule, there will be large gaps between approaching trams and it should be fairly obvious when a tram is around because of the bells they carry.

“Having a specific cycle lane was one of the ideas we have putting forward time and again. Even if it was one way, possibly on the [Prince Street] Gardens side, that would have been really good and avoided some of the problems we will have with mixing.

“We have seen it’s possible to move the buses off Princes Street and it would be really good to have far less flow of buses and motorised traffic.”

A spokeswoman for Edinburgh City Council told the newspaper: “Experience of other European cities shows that trams and cyclists can exist safely together.

“It’s a priority to improve safety right across the city and the council’s coalition agreement commitment to invest 5 per cent of the transport budget on provision for cyclists will help achieve this.

“We lead a cycle forum where we discuss the safe development of cycling the city with cyclists themselves but we’re always happy to listen to new suggestions and ideas.”
 

10 user comments

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Watch this space on the new Oldham extension to Manchester's Metrolink. Some absolutely crazy angles have been used for road crossings. There are going to be a *lot* of incidents.

posted by andyp [860 posts]
23rd November 2012 - 12:11

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I know this is a daft question, but trams pootle around the streets of Amsterdam all the time. How do Dutch cyclists avoid this menace?

Boardman CX Team '14 | Cannondale CAAD8 '12 (written off, SMIDSY) | Scott Sportster '08

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posted by Gizmo_ [814 posts]
23rd November 2012 - 13:00

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Gizmo - Amsterdam's city planners have been figuring out how to get vehicle traffic, trams and cyclists to interact for rather a long time. Remember that there are a lot of segregated cycle lanes in the city, while urban vehicle traffic densities are also comparatively low for Europe due to the high percentage of journeys by bicycle nd public transport. In Amsterdam there is also a better standard of road repair overall and better road construction standards.

In Edinburgh there is a high vehicle traffic density in the centre and no segregation of cycle lanes. The quality of road repairs and construction is also inferior.

The tram debacle in Edinburgh has been a disaster. A chimpanzee could have planned the works better and more cheaply. There were cheaper and more efficient alternatives that would have allowed construction of a tram network more quickly also. There is an extensive network of old rail commuter lines in and around Edinburgh. A lot of these were converted to cycle lanes in the 1990s, which are still very underused due to fears of muggings. A smart planner could've turned them into tram routes very easily.

Instead the authorities opted for the most expensive and disruptive option. It has been a financial disaster.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2172 posts]
23rd November 2012 - 13:30

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Pity Princes Street is such a narrow poky place with no room for cycle lanes isn't it...

posted by Chrisc [141 posts]
23rd November 2012 - 13:35

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Chrisc wrote:
Pity Princes Street is such a narrow poky place with no room for cycle lanes isn't it...

Yep, plenty of room for cycle lanes in Princess St. But if you think they'll be set up...

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2172 posts]
23rd November 2012 - 15:22

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Princess Street is in Manchester...

Otherwise Old Ridgeback nails it - the standards I've seen for the presumably finished on-street track in Edinburgh are very poor and do not match up with detail in ORR guidance for installing rails on-street. More detailed discussion here http://citycyclingedinburgh.info/bbpress/topic.php?id=8970&replies=19#po... notably the picture of the surface irregularities. Nottingham manages to get a much smoother surface finished up to the railhead.

At one Edinburgh location they manage to get a cycle lane with a tram rail right in the middle, positively set to capture cyclists riding in the middle of the cycle lane.

Shane Sutton has some pretty ascerbic comments on the Oldham extension, ironic really that it has a Velodrome stop, and won't carry cycles at present.

47 years of breaking bikes and still they offer me a 10 year frame warranty!

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posted by A V Lowe [481 posts]
23rd November 2012 - 20:46

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Bear in mind that bumpy/uneven street surfaces inevitably wear faster and fail quicker and you'll realise that in Ediurgh, Princes St will only get worse.

There is a lot of buck passing within the council as to who is responsible. But the tram project has been a shocking waste of money, to no discernible effects and especially when cheaper options were available - specifically the old rail lines right across the city.

It's my home town and the tram fiasco is, frankly, embarassing.

Oh, and there is also the south Edinburgh freight rail line that could have easily been updated at low cost for passenger traffic. All it needed was a bit of extra switchgear, some signalling and some platforms for new stations. A tramline could probably have been run along that route also.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2172 posts]
23rd November 2012 - 21:11

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Gizmo_ wrote:
I know this is a daft question, but trams pootle around the streets of Amsterdam all the time. How do Dutch cyclists avoid this menace?

[[[[[[ I cycled in Amsterdam just once, on a clunky hired bike. I was scared to death of the traffic---they all drive on the wrong side of the road! But could it be that their tram-tracks are narrower than 99% of Dutch bicycle-tyres, so they never actually get stuck in them? Anyway, segregated bike-lanes are a must. How do riders manage down in Croydon, in S.London, since tramageddon?
P.R.

PhilRuss

posted by PhilRuss [276 posts]
27th November 2012 - 20:22

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Has that photo been photoshopped or otherwise retouched. The tracks in Princes Street don't look like this, and the rails give the appearance of being far too high above the road surface when compared to the ORR guidance.

47 years of breaking bikes and still they offer me a 10 year frame warranty!

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posted by A V Lowe [481 posts]
23rd May 2013 - 6:49

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At POP2 Graeme Obree "£100m spending on cycling - put in perspective of official attitude when they can spend £800m on a tram system for one city - and it still isn't finished"

47 years of breaking bikes and still they offer me a 10 year frame warranty!

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posted by A V Lowe [481 posts]
23rd May 2013 - 6:51

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