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“Travesty” if tram extension plan leads to loss of “much-loved” cycle path, says councillor

“We should be protecting our green spaces, not removing them,” the Liberal Democrat politician said, after plans to replace a section of a popular cycle route with a new tram line were announced

Plans to remove a section of a popular cycling and walking path in Edinburgh, to make way for a new north-south tram route, have been branded a “travesty” by one local councillor, who has argued that “we should be protecting our green spaces, not removing them”.

Liberal Democrat councillor Kevin Lang says a recommended extension to the Scottish capital’s tram network, which will be scrutinised by the City of Edinburgh Council next week, would lead to the loss of the “well-used” and “much-loved” Roseburn green active travel corridor, a decision described as “appalling” by the Spokes Cycle Campaign.

However, the local authority’s transport convenor Scott Arthur has hit back at Lang’s criticism of the proposals, pointing out that walking (if not cycling) will still be available along that particular section of the new tram route, that alternative plans will lead to longer journey times for motorists, and that the cycle route in its current guise does not allow for “24/7 safe cycling”.

> Zig-zag corners on “moronic” Edinburgh cycleway to be replaced to improve cycle safety

Next week, Edinburgh’s Transport and Environment committee will meet to discuss the approval of a public consultation on a recommended north-south tram line through the city centre from Granton to the BioQuarter, which would extend the existing network between Newhaven and Edinburgh Airport and finally incorporate a line first planned around two decades ago during the city’s initial tram project.

Since then, the Roseburn cycle path has established itself as a popular active travel corridor in the city, with the council last year beginning work on a £12.5 million scheme to improve connections for cyclists between the path and the Union Canal.

However, the recommended proposals for the new tram route involve removing two kilometres from the Roseburn cycle path and incorporating it into the tram network. An alternative route via Crewe Road South and Orchard Brae, which would avoid having to replace the bike path, was also considered by council officials, but was ultimately deemed too difficult to implement and likely to increase congestion for motorists.

While a three-metre-wide footpath will be retained alongside the proposed tram line, opposition councillors and cycling campaigners have criticised the plans, which they believe will be a “huge loss” for active travel in Edinburgh.

“Lib Dem councillors in Edinburgh are open to extending the tram but we cannot and will not support losing the Telford/Roseburn path as proposed,” opposition councillor Lang wrote on Twitter following the proposal’s publication.

“The Telford/Roseburn path is a well-used and much-loved green corridor running through the west of Edinburgh. It would be a travesty for such a major active travel route and important part of our natural environment to be lost for the tram extension.

“There is clearly a long way to go before final decisions are taken. However, Lib Dems will oppose any attempt to turn over the Telford/Roseburn path for the tram extension. We should be protecting our green spaces, not removing them.”

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

This criticism was echoed by the Spokes Cycling Campaign, which described the recommendation to remove the Roseburn cycle path as “appalling”, and one that makes a “mockery” of the Roseburn-Union Canal active travel project.

“I appreciate all the efforts to improve and expand the tram line, but this route is utterly disappointing,” wrote another local.

“We use this path every single day. All this green space will be gone. Discarding an active travel route doesn’t make any sense and it would be such a big loss for Edinburgh.”

However, transport convenor Scott Arthur has said that a one-kilometre section of the Roseburn path will remain untouched by the project – an assertion which elicited a sarcastic “yay” from Lang, who pointed out that two kilometres of the path would be lost – and that an “excellent walking route” will be maintained.

Labour councillor Arthur also argued that Roseburn path, as it currently stands, isn’t fit for round-the-clock usage by cyclists, especially women and children.

“I use it myself, but it's not a path I would go along at nighttime. As a city I think we have to aspire to 24/7 cycle paths,” he said.

“If we want people (especially women and young people) to be able to cycle safely 24/7, then the Roseburn Path really isn’t the answer.”

> Subsidise bike hangar costs by raising car parking charges, says councillor – but opponent warns move would “pit drivers against cyclists”

Arthur also noted that replacing the existing path with safe, protected cycling infrastructure was “the plan”.

According to the proposals, while cycling will be discouraged on the proposed walkway next to the new tram line, “segregated cycling facilities will be instead provided on Queensferry Road and Orchard Brae, providing a direct link to the city centre and improved connectivity to the Western General Hospital via Crewe Road South.”

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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28 comments

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chrisonabike | 5 months ago
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I believe there is at least one petition out (e.g. via Lib Dems).  If you're bothered by this you could check that out.  Do please write to your councillor to express your opinions on this.  The campaign group Spokes has lots of information on this plan including evaluation of the little that is known of plans for cycling, plus suggestions on ways forward including the possibility of keeping both proposed tram route and a good cycle route here.

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chrisonabike replied to chrisonabike | 5 months ago
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For info - here's Councillor Scott Arthur cycling the proposed tram route.

The image shows the disconnect (drawn on the nice "InnerTube map") and how this will effectively sever 3 routes serving areas in the North West from town (West End), rail (Haymarket) and apparently the shops at Craigleith!

(Also - if you want to cycle out of town to the West e.g. towards South Queensferry / Forth Road Bridge this will complicate or at least make it much less pleasant.  Please speak up, commuters!)

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mattw replied to chrisonabike | 5 months ago
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Lib Dems seem to be using that to harvest emails unfortunately.

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chrisonabike replied to mattw | 5 months ago
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Bloody political parties... lizards in general.

Spokes have an update on how the public response has made an impact.

http://www.spokes.org.uk/2024/02/positive-tramline-decision/

Of course this kind of thing is a marathon not a sprint (sadly almost all cycle campaigning is). So this is barely the start of the beginning, but encouraging. If only the fickle public attention can be maintained (where there is interest many see opportunity).

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mark1a | 5 months ago
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One can always rely on an article involving trams issues to get the comments going on road.cc...

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A V Lowe | 5 months ago
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Worked on some of the Edinburgh Paths in 1980's plus built a 16 mile cycle path in 1993-94 which was then returned to a Railway 10 years later

Edinburgh's Trams hava a flawed core which should have been built in tunnels UNDER the streets from Haymarket to Waverley, a detail that was planned by the Caledonian Railway almost 150 years ago, and the ground conditions, both leave the original on street tracks cracked and moving (with 30 cm spaced cracks at the load transfer joints every 5 metres on the street tracks). A large file of borehole logs along Princes Street show that the digging is 'easy' through alluvial deposits (a raised beach) 

Putting the trams UNDER the roads will eliminate the conflicts and delays to the trams in the current system plus facilitate better junctions for the line to Bioquarter & Edinburgh's main hospital (via North Bridge), plus route to Granton (with various options) Going below Princes Street also eliminates the mess of traffic management between St Andrew Square and Picardy Place, plus puts tram stops at Lothian Road and Waverley Station, with a suitably intensive tram frequency on Princes Street, which also doesn't need to shut when an event takes place above.

Unlike a few of the second generation tram systems Edinburgh trams run in the CENTRE of the carriageway, the original place and the one that works

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chrisonabike replied to A V Lowe | 5 months ago
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Putting things under the ground and especially under other things tends to make the costs go through the roof.  Although in Edinburgh we seem to have managed to do that without needing to... even the second bite of the tram was apparenlty almost as expensive to do as the first.

(Aside: perhaps Edinburgh just should be banned from playing with trams for a while as we don't seem to be able to do them sensibly?  Seems we ignored standard practice and even "rules" from the overall finance / planning level right down to the mundane details like bike racks.)

Given the Waverley and Haymarket stations are in holes and there's a massive ravine down the centre of Edinburgh (the Cowgate) does make an argument for lower level access.  I suspect trams serving the shops and attractions of Princes Street / Queen Street makes most sense here though?

When I look at e.g. NL (other European countries available for trams also) a lot of what is good about the trams comes from them being street-level transport.  Several benefits here: as mentioned excavation is expensive.  Not having to descend to the transport then ascend again gives convenience - e.g. step out of the shops and onto a tram.  (Trams beat buses here as many more can get on at once).  Access at street level can be easier for those with disabilities (implementation-dependent, obviously!).  Trams can be safer to interact with than motor transport as they literally keep to the tracks.  Cars, buses, motorbikes etc. can unexpectely come and get you!

So if you really wanted to dig to eliminate conflict I'd suggest the motor traffic goes underground!  Again I've no knowledge but I'd guess that unfortunately that is the more expensive arrangement.  But if I was in charge I'd still look to keep the trams at street level and either send the motor traffic elsewhere or severely restrict access by time / type of vehicle to avoid holding up the most efficient mode.

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HiFi | 5 months ago
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I thought Edinburgh council had finally understood from a period of running their current trams that trams need to run on roads to be successful, where people and businesses and hospitals are. Not in railway cuttings where there is nobody. It's a tram, not a train. This route has been thrown out previously precisely because it doesn't service the nearby Western General Hospital, and has no catchment for people or businesses. The preferred route is past the WGH, and over the dean bridge, servicing multiple new housing developments and a shopping centre on the way. You know, where people are. And where they want to go. Fear of closing the dean bridge to cars is a fear of the motoring lobby; there are plenty of other car routes into the city centre from the west, via roseburn, via stockbridge. If you want to reduce city centre car traffic by 30%, then closing the dean bridge to cars and running a tram across it would be an excellent place to start.

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OldRidgeback | 5 months ago
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If Edinburgh had built the tram network on the old rail lines in the first place, before the cycle lanes were even in use, this would've been avoided. It would've saved billions and been quicker and would've resulted in a bigger tram network at less cost.

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chrisonabike replied to OldRidgeback | 5 months ago
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Again though - the old rail lines don't make the most suitable routes for a tram system serving people and destinations.

The whole saga of the planning of the new tram network and what we got is more of a box-set drama than a comment!

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OldRidgeback replied to chrisonabike | 5 months ago
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The old rail lines cover a surprisingly large portion of the city. All it would've needed would've been some proper signage. I think building a tram system on city streets wasn't the best idea when there was a suitable alternative. It's cost gazillions to get to where it is now and with massive disruption in the centre of town, also leaving safety hazards to cyclists crossing the tracks that's resulted in many, many crashes.

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chrisonabike replied to OldRidgeback | 5 months ago
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OldRidgeback wrote:

The old rail lines cover a surprisingly large portion of the city. All it would've needed would've been some proper signage. I think building a tram system on city streets wasn't the best idea when there was a suitable alternative. It's cost gazillions to get to where it is now and with massive disruption in the centre of town, also leaving safety hazards to cyclists crossing the tracks that's resulted in many, many crashes.

Think of how many European cities have actual tram networks (eg. not just one line currently, maybe 2 in future). Many of those also have a lot more cycling than in the UK - not just in NL either:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Vil5KC7Bl0

Pretty sure those places have tram lines traversing the main streets of the cities.

Unfortunately Edinburgh's example has mostly shown "how not to do it" at many levels. Possibly from its very conception. One for future historians, should all the facts emerge. The safety*, the cost and disruption...

* The local campaign group Spokes made responses, and at one stage even financed external consultants (from NL IIRC) to look at the proposed route and design and comment. You can probably guess how that went... I bet councils on the continent aren't paying millions in compensation (going on for years) because they'd refused to listen to advice, stuck with some dangerous designs and wouldn't back down / didn't have the money to undo what they'd made.

The tram company has even stuffed up the cycle parking (covered by road.cc), not following the council's own guidelines and indeed unlike all the other examples I can think of here.

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rmv replied to OldRidgeback | 5 months ago
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If Edinburgh hadn't ripped up the old tram network in the first place, then would've been avoided - and also the majority of the pollution damage to the old town buildings from car exhausts in the eighties and nineties.
However, here we are with a good, well used and safe north-south active travel route which they propose to replace with something that will inevitably be worse.

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mattw | 5 months ago
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This I think argues for registration, or dedication where the landowner is amenable, of cycleways as Public Rights of Way wherever possible, to give a degree of protection. It is very hard, slow work.

Cycling UK page:

https://www.cyclinguk.org/briefing/public-footpaths-england-wales#:~:tex....

This is England and Wales; I am not sure about how it works in Scotland.

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marmotte27 | 5 months ago
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Playing one form of environmentally friendly transport against another? Another page from the neoliberal playbook. (Maybe Labour should change their name to "The other Tories".)

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chrisonabike | 5 months ago
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Have a personal interest as this is part of the "almost network" which makes cycling - and indeed life - better for me.

The biggest issue for me is that the overall effect is likely to diminish provision for active travel (breaking up some mini-networks) and (including new development) probably will end up increasing demand for driving and traffic volumes.

The headline here should be "Convener reassures motorists tram plan will not increase journey times or congestion".

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chrisonabike replied to chrisonabike | 5 months ago
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My self-interest gets trumped by trams - alas but fair - and there's ongoing development around my end of the path. Trams - if adequate provision - might help avoid leaving the "only options" for a large future population as car or (probably rubbish) bus. Note - already there's "but in a compact city why couldn't we look to have cycling as a *primary* means of transport?" but that's still a utopian notion in the UK, moving on...

Trams are most useful when they are on-street transport - where you can access them directly, like cars or buses rather than them being a bit out-of-the-way like trains - and this would be the case here as it's an ex-rail line.

The comments about "but (for some) these spaces don't offer 24/7 transport" are true but doubly disingenuous. First - why is that and why not address that, if it's something you're really concerned about? Second - I could be wrong but pretty sure they're not going to offer 24/7 trams.

Even if the entire new line were developed in say 5-10 years (optimistic given the last farrago...) it's not a tram network - it's two lines! The attraction of car - or indeed bike/walk - is you can go door to door. Or at least within half a mile of your start/ end point. With two tram lines? Nope.

Trams are great but we have to be honest about them. They are very expensive to install (and can be to operate, IIRC the tram is still costing millions a year to run just one line). To take some of the car traffic away you have to have a network, ideally integrate well with walking / cycling (to increase "catchment areas"), we need to ensure they don't get held up by car traffic (otherwise they're no better than buses).

To try to have your tram but not trouble the motorists? That's not a sensible transport choice - unless this is in fact not really about changing transport so much as about city status, trailing lures for some investing businesses, giving money / jobs to some construction companies...

Hope I recall correctly but some years ago when someone asked at a public meeting what experience they'd drawn from European cities the tram guy got defensive and said he'd plenty experience thank you - in Ireland...

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HoarseMann | 5 months ago
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I actually think that trams and trains should trump cycling on routes like this. It would be great if there is room to accomodate both, but if not, then it makes sense to defer to the mass transit system. Moving cycling routes onto protected street level infrastructure should help maintain the active travel network.

Often, these train lines take the optimum route given the local terrain. They're not easy things to move, as gradients and curves need great consideration.

Another thing I came across when researching a disused railway line local to me, is the railway enthusiast society were staunchly against utilising the trackbed as a cycle route, as they feared it would never be returned to use for locomotives. Well it's now been completely lost to development of businesses and houses, with no hope of restoration.

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marmotte27 replied to HoarseMann | 5 months ago
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Historic roads, established before motor cars and big construction machinery also take an optimum line through terrain. Cycle paths on disused railway lines have the advantage of preserving the railway right of way, which could be returned to a railway line pretty easily when real space is made on the roads for active travel.

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chrisonabike replied to HoarseMann | 5 months ago
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Yes - but here we have a proposal for an old *train* line (not certain on history here but Granton section mostly for industrial purpose?) reused for *trams*.

(Of course - our freight mostly goes via road now - another reason why "we have to drive"...)

Best route for trams - and where they used to go - would be ... down the main streets. Because trams are best used more like buses* than trains, surely?

* buses with higher capacity, speedier boarding and bit better energy efficiency, true.

Otherwise what you're really doing is cheaping out on an - urban - rail link. So instead of fast transit from what is going to be a suburb direct into the centre (only a few stops), you've got an extremely expensive, inflexible-route bus. A bus which doesn't take you so close to buildings and main roads, but is more like bus-speed for a longer journey. Because it has those extra stops and eventually has to go through the centre, where it is slowed because we still have competing motor traffic.

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HoarseMann replied to chrisonabike | 5 months ago
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I don't think trams should be constrained to roads. Yes, historically, they did use the streets, but there was not the volume of motorised traffic back then.

It's much better these days if trams are not mixing with traffic, so that they don't get held up in traffic jams and can maintain a reliable timetabled service.

There's not really much difference between a tram and a light train. Certainly when comparing a trip on the Metro from Newcastle airport to the centre vs the Edinburgh airport tram to the centre, apart from the tram not going underground, there's very little difference. Both are very much run almost entirely on their own dedicated tracks, not really mixing with other traffic.

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chrisonabike replied to HoarseMann | 5 months ago
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HoarseMann wrote:

I don't think trams should be constrained to roads. Yes, historically, they did use the streets, but there was not the volume of motorised traffic back then.

It's much better these days if trams are not mixing with traffic, so that they don't get held up in traffic jams and can maintain a reliable timetabled service.

...

They certainly don't *have to be*.

Not a tram expert but I suppose you *can* use a light rail network as an "urban train" - but I'm not sure it makes sense to *design* that.

Again - I'd be more accepting if they maintained - or even improved - the active travel network. Ideally along the desire lines eg. main roads. But seems that isn't the idea - it's "right you leisure users, the adults need this space now".

Obviously the issue is "for efficiency trams need not to be slowed by traffic". But to me that points to "...so we're going to have to move the *traffic* out of the way because there's less point having high-capacity transport that serves points at a remove from destinations".

Not "we'll have to find some out-of-the way routes for our tram because we have to keep our (historic!) city centre permeable in all directions to cars."

I suspect just like putting active travel where you *can* rather than where it makes most sense this is a failure to commit to a future which could have less driving - and certainly less private car use.

That's understandable but very unfortunate when considering massive projects like this with money and timescales on the generation level.

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HoarseMann replied to chrisonabike | 5 months ago
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I just think (as happened with the disused line near me) if people are of the opinon that once it's turned into a cycle track they'll be no going back to trains, then we lose a very valid argument for preserving the route with a cycle track.

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OldRidgeback replied to HoarseMann | 5 months ago
2 likes

I agree. I like the Edinburgh cycle paths and have used them a lot when I visit, for cycling and running. But they'd be better used as tram routes. There are issues of safety for cyclists at night on certain stretches and a number of sections aren't used much by cyclists.

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Secret_squirrel replied to HoarseMann | 5 months ago
3 likes

You've missed the point.   This is a car-brained councillor making two forms of mass transit compete because they dont want to offend the car brains.

Both forms of transit should be preferred instead of the private car.  Car inconvience should be part of the design if it needs to be.

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chrisonabike replied to Secret_squirrel | 5 months ago
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I think you have it.  To be fair to the Convener I suspect he's still leagues ahead of the usual "can only see the motor vehicles, apart from the occasional massive project (like Tram)".  For example here he is trying out the CCWL on bike - though I'd still think a quick trip to Copenhagen and then NL would be of use!

I think he and the other planners just look at what people are doing now (driving, buses, a bit of walking - then cycling miles behind) and extrapolate the future from that.  Enlightened "predict and provide" if you will.

I suspect you'd have to have early Boris-levels of support (not to say chutzpah) to say "we are putting motor traffic second" and actually pursue that as a goal, from the start of a project.  Even though in practice Edinburgh did that (and screwed with people's businesses) for years during the Tram construction...

He's got a couple of videos out about his vision - overview / CCWEL thoughts and the proposed route.

I disagree with much of what he says but I can understand the motorvation (sorry, motivation, naughty).  On CCWEL he's not mentioned that Edinburgh is just finishing a connection from the end of the Granton path to the canal - which taking out cycle access on this line makes less useful (adding a link then breaking another link).

I just wish he could look at what is a very mixed-quality cycle route that's taken a decade to deliver and say "the lesson is we need to actually complete a network of minimal-quality cycling infra and routes better than this - and we need that speeded up by a factor of 10".  Not - as he does - "the lesson is we need to rock the boat for people (drivers) less when we're messing up while doing development".

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brooksby | 5 months ago
2 likes

*I'm* still waiting for my local council to explain what will happen to the cycle path between Portishead and Pill, and to the Pill  Path along the riverside to Bristol, when they (finally) reopen the railway line between Bristol and Portishead.

No way on earth the cycle path can stay between P and P, given that some of it is actually laid *on top of* the old railway line, and there's no equally safe alternative route.

But nobody from the council will come out and admit that as far as they are concerned, the railway trumps active travel... surprise

(sorry, nothing directly to do with this story, just kind of a riff off of it...)

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chrisonabike replied to brooksby | 5 months ago
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Again I've some sympathy for turning a former rail route back into same. But there's a tacit "hierarchy of *provision* for road users".

Also in the Edinburgh case note we're NOT bringing the trams we *had* back - because they would actually go where now people want to drive.

I suspect this kind of active travel provision is seen as a placeholder for "real travel". Or putting something more costly in spaces is "development" and thus a good. Also active travel is seen as infinitely flexible compared to the more codified rules and necessary space requirements of road or rail. It's "well they can just get off and walk / cross over the road again". Of course, people will moan about 5 minutes extra journey time in cars, but drive regardless. Add that diversion for active travel - perhaps that journey isn't made.

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