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.”
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