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“Is that the unicycle lane?” Cyclists blast new painted cycle lane that’s “narrower than a pair of handlebars”

The advisory lane, described by one local cyclist as a “death trap”, is the latest questionable piece of cycling infrastructure on Edinburgh’s Leith Walk to receive widespread ridicule on social media

A new advisory cycle lane on Edinburgh’s Leith Walk – the home of the now-infamous zig-zag bike lane, roundly condemned as a “disaster waiting to happen” – has become the latest piece of cycling infrastructure in the city to be on the receiving end of widespread social media mockery.

The City of Edinburgh Council’s decision to paint the astonishingly slender advisory cycle lane, right beside tram tracks at the foot of Leith Walk, has been variously condemned by local cyclists as a “death trap”, “narrower than a pair of handlebars”, and as a “unicycle lane”.

Installed on Thursday, the extremely narrow, unprotected lane forms part of the council’s Trams to Newhaven project.

The project, expected to be completed early this year, includes the creation of a controversial northbound protected bike path on Leith Walk, which has been the subject of months of criticism and ridicule for its non-linear “zig zag” layout, potential for conflict between cyclists and pedestrians, and, most recently, the installation of large planters on the pavement.

> ‘Moronic’: Edinburgh Council to make changes to bizarre zig-zag cycle lane after social media backlash

As the council announced on Friday that two-way traffic will return to Leith Walk by the end of February, with preparation for tram testing on the new lines set to begin, cyclists have been left scratching their heads at Leith Walk’s newest ‘bike lane’, dismissed by one local as the “icing on the cake”.

After pictures of the narrow lane, located at the foot of Leith Walk at the junction with Duke Street, appeared on social media, Edinburgh-based cyclist and author Alan Brown ventured up to Leith – armed with a set of handlebars – to assess the latest addition to what has been described as “Britain’s worst new street”.

“Went down for a wee look. Actually burst out laughing on the way down it was so tragic,” he wrote on Twitter. “Edinburgh has done it. They’ve made a brand-new advisory cycle lane narrower than a pair of handlebars.”

“Given that you’re meant to cycle 0.5m from the kerb, according to the Highway Code, that’s completely laughable/tragic,” Emily Williams replied.

Speaking to road.cc, Alan, who commuted on Leith Walk before the Covid-19 pandemic, was scathing in his appraisal of the council’s work on the road.

“Leith is tasty, quite Wild West… But it was doable,” he said. “Then they put in an uphill lane. It was so fragmented you were better off in the road. I tried the cycle lane but you kept running into pedestrians and it was humiliating to have to zig-zag round cars and bins.

“The downhill lane is now world-famous. A patchwork zig-zag with surrealist junctions. People wandering all over it as they would.”

Referring to the new painted lane, he continued: “This thing is the icing on the cake. That corner is one of the most intoxicated on the planet… For absolute certain somebody is going to fall off the pavement and push a rider into the tram tracks.

“It’s a death-trap. It’s the council’s cowardice in concrete form. I struggle for words to describe how insulting it is in the neighbourhood with the lowest access to cars in Scotland.

“This should be a walking and cycling place, but they put the trams through for financial reasons and abandoned all other modes to scrap it out for crumbs.

“If I was commuting to Leith again, I’d use Easter Road. Between the tram tracks and the pavement/cycle lane, Leith Walk is no longer a practical proposition for bike mobility.”

That sentiment was echoed by Euan Hamilton, who posted the original photo of the painted lane which sparked the latest Twitter furore.

“I would love to cycle round the city but without proper segregation, I won’t take the risk. I walk or get the bus everywhere,” he told Edinburgh Live.

Meanwhile, this morning cycling campaign group Spokes noted that, alongside the “very substandard bike lane”, the tramline layout remains the scheme’s most serious problem.

In September, we reported that over £1.2m had been paid out to cyclists who were injured after falling from their bikes on Edinburgh’s tram lines during the last ten years.

Since the tracks were installed in 2012, there have been 422 incidents involving cyclists on the tram lines, with the majority occurring on Princes Street and around Haymarket.

> Cyclists injured on Edinburgh tram line paid £1.2m in compensation

“We highlighted the narrow kerb-tramline width early on but Trams to Newhaven insisted that the tramline must be there and the footway couldn’t be reduced,” the group tweeted.

“We know of one extremely serious injury tramline crash at Haymarket Yards, where, like here, tramline is close to kerb.

“A walker stepped out without looking, cyclist went into the tramlines to avoid hitting them and suffered severe injury.”

A spokesperson for the City of Edinburgh Council responded to the complaints by stressing that the design of the bike lane has not yet been finalised.

“The whole cycleway remains closed as it is under construction and there are also ongoing works around this junction – this is not the final layout for the cycleway,” the spokesperson said.

The council’s response – urging patience before the project has been completed – has proved a common one over the last ten months.

In April, as images first emerged of Leith Walk’s new protected bike path, it quickly gained notoriety for its “moronic” zig-zag layout and sharp bends around obstacles.

Locals also shared images online of lampposts situated right in the middle of the path, despite the bends, while others criticised the poorly-placed utility covers and lack of space afforded to pedestrians.

And this week, locals criticised the decision to install large planters on the pavement, further reducing the space for pedestrians and cyclists, as “bizarre” and “dangerous”.

In December, an Edinburgh pensioner, who suffered a suspected broken rib and other minor injuries after hitting a shallow kerb on the side of the new infrastructure, warned that the crooked bike lane is a “disaster waiting to happen”.

The city’s council responded to 69-year-old’s John’s complaint by noting that the lane is currently closed, with barriers and signage in place notifying the public, and will not be complete until early this year – though the pensioner claimed that it won’t be any safer when it’s officially open and that the “terrible design” could cause someone to be seriously injured.

> "Moronic" much-ridiculed zig-zag cycle lane now blamed as cyclist injured by shallow kerb crash

Last month, Edinburgh local Lauren tweeted a photo of several people queuing across the cycle lane as they waited for a bus, with the caption: “Spot the problem with this section of Leith Walk cycle path”.

“A dedicated cycle path is a positive development as many people, including me, aren’t confident cycling in traffic,” Lauren said.

“Unfortunately, the Leith Walk cycle lane design reduces pedestrian space and puts cyclists and pedestrians into conflict. It’s common to see people walking in the bike lane without realising.”

Edinburgh City Council’s transport and environment convenor Scott Arthur says he recognises the “genuine concerns” of residents concerning the much-criticised layout, and will monitor the situation when the lane is fully open.

> Edinburgh bus passengers play ‘spot the problem’ with infamous Leith Walk zig-zag cycle lane

“The current layout on Leith Walk complies with the Edinburgh Street Design Guidance (ESDG), which recognises that flexibility is required to accommodate a variety of modes in the design of existing streets,” Arthur said.

“The Council’s project team worked hard to engage closely with the public from the project’s inception, and the design was developed in close consultation with the community and stakeholders during 2018 to allow residents, businesses, pedestrians, and cyclists to co-exist with buses and trams.

“The cycle lane is currently closed, with diversions in place. However, I do acknowledge that there are genuine concerns regarding this scheme and I will ensure it is closely monitored once it is fully open to the public.”

Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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35 comments

Avatar
PRSboy | 1 year ago
3 likes

This morning I was 'close passed' by a truck while I was walking on the pavement through our village.  The door mirror passed inches from the back of my head.

The more I think about it, cycle paths, pavements etc are a complete waste of time. They provide no safety protection at all and simply mean that drivers think their responsibility has ended as long as they keep in their lane.

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chrisonabike replied to PRSboy | 1 year ago
0 likes

PRSboy wrote:

The more I think about it, cycle paths, pavements etc are a complete waste of time. They provide no safety protection at all and simply mean that drivers think their responsibility has ended as long as they keep in their lane.

Cycle lanes - indeed, not so much use.  Cycle *paths* and pavements?  More so.  They're not *sufficient*, yes.  The same as hiding in your house - the vehicles may come to you...

However where a cycle path / track is made how it *should* be (e.g. with some separation - the width of that depending on the design speed of the road) and for pedestrians if there is a cycle path (acting as additional 2m + of buffer between them and the carriageway) that's pretty good for our current civilisation.

There's always Sark though if not.

I can understand you feeling that way.  What with UK designed "infra" for everything apart from motor traffic being only fit for purpose of "getting them out of the way of the cars".  In many cases in the the UK we've got exactly the same "narrow streets" running through urban areas which were OK(ish) in the era of horse transport but now have a high volume of vehicles up to the size of trucks running through them.  At a nominal speed limit of 30mph.  Or we've made some wider "arterials" but which still run through urban areas, past houses etc. with nominal 40mph limits...

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schneil | 1 year ago
3 likes

Here's the bike lane on Lancashire Hill in Stockport. It's only just wider than the length of my size 7 foot. At least it's downhill, so I ignore it and ride primary.

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chrisonabike replied to schneil | 1 year ago
2 likes

Luxury!  You can almost fit a 3" tyre past your toes there!  In Edinburgh I'd want steelies doing that.

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ChuckSneed | 1 year ago
3 likes

Simple solution, ride in the road. That's where bikes belong, and cars need to accept that. None of this bike lane apartheid.

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IanMSpencer replied to ChuckSneed | 1 year ago
5 likes

There are tram lines, so cyclists should be separated from them as they are lethal.

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ChuckSneed replied to IanMSpencer | 1 year ago
1 like

Just develop situational awareness and learn to bunny hop. It's not hard.

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chrisonabike replied to ChuckSneed | 1 year ago
5 likes

And that is why you're not employed by the Health and Safety Executive, Highways England (or other regional bodies), the Department for Transport etc.

(I hope)

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Flintshire Boy replied to chrisonabike | 1 year ago
1 like

.

LOL!

.

Deffo going to steal that, and 'invent' it myself at some point in the future.

.

Ta.

.

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giff77 replied to ChuckSneed | 1 year ago
2 likes

Which pretty much defeats the aim of encouraging more people to sustainable travel. You want to make infra joined up, easy to use and make the environment less hostile. But I forgot. You're a Strava Warrior tapping out a 20mph average who is probably clueless about utility cycling. 

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Wales56 | 1 year ago
6 likes

From,  "Edinburgh Street Design Guidance : Part C - Detailed Design Manual - Version: V1.0 2017

Dimensions •

Recommended width 1.75m • Maximum 2m (adjacent to inset parking bays) • Minimum 1.5m - Lanes narrower than 1.5m are only acceptable in exceptional circumstances, such as feeder lead-in lane to advanced stop line (ASL) (1.2m Minimum) ". My bold

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chrisonabike replied to Wales56 | 1 year ago
3 likes

The only Important words here are "they are cheap" and all the others which could be replaced by "and irrelevant".

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eburtthebike replied to Wales56 | 1 year ago
3 likes

Thanks for digging that out, and as I suspected, the lane doesn't meet the guidelines.

“The current layout on Leith Walk complies with the Edinburgh Street Design Guidance (ESDG)....Edinburgh City Council’s transport and environment convenor Scott Arthur.  Is Scott Arthur as deluded as Liz Truss?

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chrisonabike | 1 year ago
11 likes

I popped over to have a look on the way home. Usual Internet confected outrage, someone just found a set of ridiculous outsize handlebars for a silly picture ... oh.

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chrisonabike replied to chrisonabike | 1 year ago
10 likes

What complaints? It's easily a foot wide...

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chrisonabike replied to chrisonabike | 1 year ago
5 likes

Don't worry though,it's only 10 metres long! Then it stops and then you fall over on some fencing.

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ChuckSneed replied to chrisonabike | 1 year ago
2 likes

Nice bike.

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chrisonabike replied to ChuckSneed | 1 year ago
3 likes

Thanks if not ironic - it's my city-hack rusty, indifferently maintained with random parts 90s Dawes Galaxy which is only still in service because its nicer replacement was much more stealable.

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IanMSpencer replied to chrisonabike | 1 year ago
1 like

I reckon that the whole lane isn't wide enough for a bike (it looks even narrower a foot forward), yet lf you got close passed, that stripe is enough to let a motorist off because they are in lane.

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chrisonabike replied to IanMSpencer | 1 year ago
1 like

I can't recall how this got here (Spokes have tons of info) but it's an awful mess.  Even if it wasn't going to just pause like this - which it is planned to do because organising cycling further north from here hasn't been figured out / funded yet.

Short - the main direction at this point is East-West because North there is "only space for" trams and pedestrians (red X on my pic - I've annotated a council plan).  (Don't know if using a single track here was ever considered - I believe it is done some places...)  I suspect the main flow is to-from the west for e.g. ocean terminal / the shore (blue arrow).  So you'll either want to turn off much earlier, OR suck up the narrow lanes / tram lines.

I think the silly narrow cycle lanes are an attempt at fending off compensation claims really, I don't know how well that will work...  There will be pleny pedestrians here, there are bus stops and pubs, so enough footway is needed.

To access Leith Walk from Great Junction Street you have to go past the junction then turn back, it's basically "dismount at the lights".   I suspect that many people will do exactly as they're doing now and treat the cycle paths on either side of Leith Walk (green) as two-way.

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chrisonabike replied to chrisonabike | 1 year ago
0 likes

Here's looking north-east across the east side of the junction earlier today (the really narrow bit of lane is to the left / behind the image).

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IanMSpencer replied to chrisonabike | 1 year ago
2 likes

It's burning my eyyyees!

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giff77 replied to IanMSpencer | 1 year ago
0 likes

The infra, bike or fut. 

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Mungecrundle | 1 year ago
6 likes

Somebody signs off on this crap as a job well done.

Rule of thumb, if it isn't wide enough to fit the cycle pictogram (inside of the yellow lines doesn't count) then it ain't wide enough for an actual bicycle.

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IanMSpencer replied to Mungecrundle | 1 year ago
3 likes

At least it hasn't got a Give Way on the cycle lane as they have in Meriden. I think where traffic merges like that, they should always paint a Give Way across the vehicle lane. At least you'd have a decent argument from your hospital bed.

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IanMSpencer | 1 year ago
2 likes

The trouble with a bike lane on the pavement like that is that they hae placed it on walking desire lines - a pedestrian will not zig-zag to fit the path layout. The other problem is that pedestrians aren't really engaged in coping with cyclists, so they get irritated as their first response. A good few will be deliberately obstructive, however polite, and the real militants will throw a bit of half-read highway code at you as an excuse. See also dogs off leads or on long leads near cycleways.

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eburtthebike | 1 year ago
4 likes

Edinburgh City Council’s transport and environment convenor Scott Arthur says he recognises the “genuine concerns” of residents concerning the much-criticised layout, and will monitor the situation when the lane is fully open.

So after sufficient people have been injured and died, they'll rip it all out and start again; not the most common or sensible approach to safe road infrastructure.

“The current layout on Leith Walk complies with the Edinburgh Street Design Guidance......"

Then there is something very wrong with the Edinburgh Street Design Guidance, and one has to ask if it meets any design guidance of any authoritative body.

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IanMSpencer replied to eburtthebike | 1 year ago
3 likes

Grenfell complied with building guidance apparently. Doesn't make it right. Of course, the key word is guidance - be interesting to know what their overriding objectives are, regardless of pedantic, face-saving interpretation.

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chrisonabike replied to IanMSpencer | 1 year ago
2 likes

I haven't bothered to look it up but a) "guidance" so all moot and b) *all* designs in the UK are trumped by the One Rule which is "maximum motor traffic throughput consistent with motorists' safety" c) those in charge in Edinburgh had a thing about trams which trumped all other considerations. Those folks might have now gone (on very expensive holidays I suspect...) but "sunk costs" and "we've started so we'll finish, damn all else" mean that this is happening. Next bright idea is to reclaim the paths built on former railway lines - so reducing the one bit of actual "network" in Edinburgh. However its the usual single-focus design - without much thought about sensible compromises. If they did this they could at very least make space for some parts which would be critical for keeping a semblance of connected active travel routes. Parts of tram route could be a single line like other tram systems do, but currently "not invented here"...

But we've got lots of nice words about "sustainable"...

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hawkinspeter | 1 year ago
5 likes

I, for one, welcome our new unicycle lane creating overlords

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