Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Cycling in my home city

Well, it's been all quiet on the blogging front from me. I was tempted a couple of weeks back to do a big rant about how crap road conditions are for cyclists in Edinburgh. In the great "separation" debate in cycling ideology, for the record, I'm pro going Dutch, e.g. shed loads of separation to encourage the novice cyclist to carry out short journeys, but then leaving people (idiots like me, mainly) the option to hurtle along a dual carriageway if they want.

Anyhoo, a while back (when I was doing this post, actually) I emailed one of my local Councillors because the Council is the majority shareholder in our fantabulous, wonderful, couldn't-be-better-if-they-tried, [insert further superlatives in here] bus company Lothian Buses. Lothian Buses have been publicising the fact that they train their drivers very seriously about driving around cyclists, since we share bus lanes. And boy can you tell the difference. Plenty of room given when overtaking, patience when stuck behind you. So long as you do nothing stupid like undertake just before a bus stop, I'd be gob-smacked if a Lothian Bus ever grazed a cyclist. I sense things are a little different elsewhere. I suggested to my Councillor that since they are the majority shareholder they could encourage the company to offer their training to other employers of drivers - the Council itself, taxi drivers, utility companies etc.

And I didn't hear anything. Until last week when I got the most fantastic reply from my Councillor who thought it was a "very good idea" and forwarded it onto officers for investigation. I got three emails back that told me lots I didn't know. 

Taxi-driver training - includes driving round cyclists. Now, Edinburgh cyclists, try not to fall off your chairs laughing or die in shock, the "meter-obsessed, wheeled black boxes of death" do get training. I'm presuming this is one slide, after the lunchbreak, which must include "the pink bit of roads at stop lines are for you and not cyclists", "if you see a cyclist in a bus lane, try and mow them down" and "cyclists should be killed". It is good that this training is included, but really, it doesn't seem to be working as well as Lothian Buses.

Cycle-safety week - I didn't even know this was happening. But apparently it was and included interventions with drivers and cyclists. Lothian & Borders Police put out a press release about it, picked up by STV local (watch out for the ads). This angers me. Both stories start off with "247 cyclists" being stopped. Note that only two of the things listed as cyclists being stopped for are actually illegal - going through red lights and cycling on pavements, neither of which I'd condone (Greener Leith have had a couple of interesting posts on pavement cycling here and here which I think illuminate this debate a lot). The actual story here is that "Six drivers received a fixed penalty notice or were reported to the Procurator Fiscal and three cars were seized". And it's me on my little ol' bike that is the safety problem on the roads! The really good news they're keeping quiet is that this is going to continue and will include advertising on the back of buses. I'm presuming this will be of the "keep your distance" variety. If so, then woohoo! When I no longer have a near-miss with a car driver doing something illegal every night when I cycle home (last night's was someone going through a red light. Not running a red light, but just proceeding through the junction while it was at red) then I'll start taking cyclists as a safety problem seriously.

Cycling infrastructure - the emails also included a lot of information about new cycling infrastructure the Council are building down in Leith. This is all good grade-separated stuff and needs to be applauded. I've suggested the City of Edinburgh Council do a news blog post on this to take some of the cyclist's flak. This is a start, but we do need more. A recommendation from me would be to put some tarmac grade-separated paths through the national cycle route that goes through the New Town - cycling on those setts is back-breaking. If LA can manage more cycle infrastructure then I don't see why a compact city like Edinburgh cannot.

Overall I was quite pleased by the response I got. It is good that some of these issues are now being taken serious, although clearly anyone who has cycled in Edinburgh will know that implementation gaps still exist. There is clearly a communication issue here and the Council needs to be blowing its own trumpet a bit more. But still, as I said in an exasperated email to the Council's tram teams regarding the roadworks for the trams, it still feels like the City is managed for the car and pedestrians and cyclists are always an after thought. If we're serious about sustainable transport then we have to accept that not thinking about the car, or only considering it a problem, will be effectively demand management and push people into more sustainable transport modes.


  1. Taxi training: "the pink bit of roads at stop lines are for you and not cyclists". I want any taxi drivers to know that: 1. I don't own a car since mostly I cycle. 2. because I don't own a car I probably use taxis more than your average driver. 3. I will not tip any taxi driver that goes into an advance stop area, cuts in on a cyclist, drives too close behind one.

  2. Ditto. I also think if a taxi company bought Lothian Buses training and advertised themselves as "cycle friendly" (perhaps with bike racks on the back?) I'd be more likely to use them.

  3. Now i realize how old this post is :)

    Greetings, Zygmunt
    taxi from Edinburgh airport