June 2013

Princes Street : fight continues

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photo: Chris Hill

Will traffic-free cycling be provided for in Princes Street? The cycling ban in the proposed traffic-free north (shops) side of Princes Street is a critical question for city centre accessibility. It also threatens Edinburgh’s growing international reputation as Scotland’s top cycling city – see below.

Thanks to everyone who has contacted and lobbied councillors, the proposed ban is to be re-assessed, with a decision postponed until August.  The result, however, remains very uncertain and it is vital to keep lobbying councillors.

Many Spokes members contacted their councillors in response our urgent email circular of 2 June, and other organisations ranging from the Cockburn Association to Living Streets also expressed their doubts about excluding cycling.

Top officials and councillors had decided to go ahead with their original Vision for the City Centre – a 1-way traffic system which banned cycling eastbound in Princes St entirely, with no cycleroute in the planned huge area stretching from the shops to the tramlines.

Less than 24 hours before the Transport Committee which was to approve this recommendation, Transport Convener Cllr Lesley Hinds announced that a decision would be postponed until the next meeting [August] to allow further thought.  The main factor behind the postponement was dissatisfaction by traders with the overall concept, but thanks to the extensive cycle lobbying the cycling aspects will now also be re-assessed, with a greater awareness of the arguments and of the strength of feeling.

This is such a major issue for Edinburgh’s future as a cycling city – for its citizens who want to get about by bike but also for its international cycling reputation – that Spokes issued a briefing to councillors and organised a mini-demo for the morning of the Committee – our first for several years.   Despite the postponed decision, we went ahead, to keep the issue high up the agenda – but with an extra poster thanking councillors for agreeing to a re-think.

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Spokes has emphasised from the outset that to prohibit traffic-free cycling in Scotland’s premier street would be a major blow to Edinburgh’s international reputation as a growing cycling city, and we highlighted this on page 1 of the latest Spokes Bulletin [no. 116, summer 2013].

Lest there be any suggestion that we are exaggerating, the inspirational June 15 lecture by Copenhagen’s international ‘Cycling Ambassador’ Mikael Colville-Anderson*, part of Edinburgh Festival of Cycling, made the position crystal clear, referring twice to the future of Princes Street.    The lecture was peppered with references to the growing momentum of cities, in Europe and wider, led by capitals like Paris, Dublin and London, moving to promote cycling as a crucial means of getting about for everyday journeys, alongside walking, buses and tram.  The implication was clear that if Edinburgh intends to be seen in the same light, then its iconic street cannot have ‘no cycling’ signs.

*For more on the speaker see his TEDx lecture, Copenhagenize.com blog and Copenhagenize Design Company website

Interestingly, the speaker emphasised the importance of improving cycling provision along desire lines – i.e. where cyclists already go.  The recent Spokes city centre traffic count found that although many cyclists do use George Street [which is important, and where traffic-free cycling is already planned] many more use Princes Street [where the ban is proposed].

It was, however, very encouraging that Edinburgh’s Transport Convener Cllr Lesley Hinds came to the lecture, gave a warm vote of thanks to the speaker, and expressed her intent that Edinburgh should make its way into the Copenhagenize Index of the world’s most bike-friendly cities.   As a result of the lecture she now intends to widen her planned Dublin tram discussions to include how Dublin is also integrating cycling into their future.  Also at the lecture was deputy Transport Convener [responsible for cycling] and Spokes member Cllr Jim Orr.  We trust the significance of the forthcoming Princes Street decision became clearer.


We have little idea what top councillors and officials are thinking about the overall City Centre plan, but options could include…

  • Decide to stick to the 1-way traffic system [with some tweaks].  We think this is the most likely outcome – if so, they will also then decide how to incorporate cycling, including whether or not it will be 2-way traffic-free in Princes Street.
  • Lose nerve and keep things very much as they are now.  This would be a serious loss of credibility for the Council who have rightly insisted that the present situation is not tenable.  In this case, Princes St would retain 2-way cycling, but only onroad with traffic like now; and there’d be no George St cycle route.
  • Keep 2-way buses like now on Princes St but reduce traffic drastically in George St – a George St cycleroute would be possible if traffic is tackled seriously, but Princes St cycling would again be with traffic both ways.
  • Make Princes St traffic-free, possibly with 2-way local buses on George St and longer-distance on Queen St.  A traffic-free Princes St is our top choice and came top in our recent member survey, but with the power of the traders lobby, we doubt it can yet be achieved – though doubtless it will happen eventually.


  • If you have not written to your councillors about Princes St, please do so, telling them what you would like to see and why.  Options are being debated now by councillors and officials, for decision by August, so please contact them soon.
  • If you bump into a councillor, for example at a meeting, collar them, ask what is happening and tell them what you want to see.  There will be lots of councillors at the Spokes Bike Breakfast on June 19.
  • We’ll keep members updated about other opportunities as they arise [Join Spokes to support us and to get our email circulars].  We are discussing this with other relevant groups and will take part in any further council consultation in advance of the August decision.

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