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How’s Edinburgh Doing? Cycling in Scotland’s Capital

Edinburgh is a vibrant, cosmopolitan European city. Scotland’s capital is very walkable, and it has an extensive and efficient public transport network. The city is also home to numerous public green spaces such as Princes Street Gardens and the Meadows, and cultural institutions. What the city arguably lacks, however, is adequate cycling infrastructure.

The City of Edinburgh Council, and Sustrans, a charity that promotes walking and cycling in British cities, found that just 7.5% of citizens travel to work by bicycle, compared to 30% cycling mode share in Groningen. They also discovered that 61% of Edinburgh’s residents never cycle. As one of the 61%, I was interested to see the widespread use of bicycles in countries I’d visited such as the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden. In Edinburgh, it seems that only the most experienced cyclists would venture out onto the roads. Moreover, it is already easy and efficient to navigate the city via its extensive bus system. Better bike infrastructure, however, would give city dwellers another sustainable transport option, and would likely encourage less frequent cyclists to choose this option.

Safety is a major concern for potential cyclists. Cyclists are rarely separated from cars, making helmet use and experience essential. There are advanced stop lines, also known as bike boxes, in central areas of the city. These allow cyclists to get a head start once the lights change. However, the city needs more segregated bike lanes to protect bike users.

The Council has already added segregated bike lanes to Buccleuch Street in the city’s south side, and St Leonard’s Street, and have found that 80% of Edinburgh’s citizens would like more lanes to be added. The existing bike lane in Buccleuch Street clearly separate cyclists from traffic, but it only covers a very short distance. It would be beneficial to extend these bike lanes, and to make cycling in the city more akin to walking. This would give potential cyclists confidence, and help to protect them from the traffic.

At present, there can be a lack of legibility in city spaces. Navigating the city by bike or on foot should be intuitive, but some areas can be hard to read. For example, opposite the Edinburgh Bus Station, there’s a pavement that’s divided into pedestrian space, and a cycle lane. Although there are a couple of bike symbols on the pavement, they are sparsely-distributed, meaning that pedestrians often accidentally wander onto the cycle path. Similarly, at the bottom of the Mound in Edinburgh’s bustling Princes Street, there are a couple of worn sketches of bikes on the pavement. It’s not clear where the bikes are meant to go, and this lack of consistency confuses both cyclists and pedestrians.

The City of Edinburgh Council plans to improve bike infrastructure, however. Adam McVey, the leader of the city’s Council, has stated that the city is committed to making cycling and walking safer. Lesley Macinnes has been enlisted as Transport Convenor. She is a strong supporter of cycling and wants to include stakeholders in planning decisions.

Additionally, in March, placemaking expert Daisy Narayan from Sustrans became the Central Edinburgh Transformation project’s lead officer. Narayan writes that Edinburgh’s urban fabric should encourage citizens to use sustainable ways to navigate the city, and that walking, cycling and public transport should all work together seamlessly.

It is positive that Edinburgh is beginning to take cycling infrastructure seriously. Giving residents choice and making sustainable modes of transport attractive will improve citizens’ health through the prevention of pollution and integrating exercise into everyday life. This will make Scotland’s capital a safer and even more pleasant place to live.

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