October 2013

Tramline Traumas

In the first 2 days after Haymarket area was reopened to traffic we heard of 4 cyclist tramline crashes, three involving minor injury and bike damage, and one with no injury, but which was video’d.  Crashes continue with dreadful frequency.  Why is this happening, and what is your safest route?…

[7.2.15] Another crash video in this article.


See also


1. What to do near Haymarket
2. The background – why is it happening?


These are suggestions how to cross Haymarket area as it is now – the Council is very aware of what is happening, and we hope for mitigating measures – though the basic layout of the whole onstreet tram system is very poor [section 2 below] making really good solutions now  virtually impossible.

Cycling east to west, Morrison Street to Haymarket Terrace – the big danger

If you stay on the main road you have to cross the tramlines at a very difficult angle, often with traffic behind and/or beside you.  Some people feel confident in doing this, with a last-minute turn or a ‘jump’  However, several of the tramline crashes here and elsewhere (e.g. Princes Street) have been to experienced cyclists who cross the tramlines every day and were astonished to find themselves one day on the ground.  For example, you may be distracted or forced off-line by motor traffic, the tramline may be wet, or you may hit a section which is a few mm too high.

The safer alternative is to take the bike lane ‘jug-handle’ which begins at the entrance to Haymarket Station.  This will give you a much better angle to cross the tramlines, though still not perfect.   However it also brings a sometimes lengthy traffic-light delay, and it is occasionally blocked by taxis.

Another option, intermediate between the above, is to stay on the main road on the left side of the tramlines, go past the jug-handle, then slow right down or stop, look behind, and when the traffic stream ends, or there is a gap, cross the lines.  This may be the best solution for most people at present.

[Stop Press 12.11.13 – the Council intends to install new road markings suggesting the above manoeuvre – though people should also be advised not to try and cross the lines earlier].

Another very serious problem is that  taxis are sometimes queueing illegally on the double yellow lines outside Ryrie’s [click for picture] and are overlapping the tramlines, thus forcing the cyclist to cross the tramlines at the last minute and at an appalling angle.  This was the cause of one of the above injury crashes.  Our suggestion here has to be to stop behind the taxi and walk to the above bike lane.

Spokes (and others) immediately raised these problems with the council tram team, who alerted the traffic wardens, are meeting the taxi companies, considering a taxi ‘feeder rank’ nearby, and looking at what further remediation can be made.

Cycling west to east, Haymarket Terrace to Torphichen Street

This is certainly a less difficult manoeuvre, but crossing the tramlines is still difficult with traffic behind, especially if you arrive at the Advance Stop Line at the wrong time and/or in the wrong place.

Some users have suggested the following alternative…

Rosebery Crescent – Grosvenor Crescent – Palmerston Place – Torphichen Street.  This allows you to cross the tracks at a very good angle, and can even be quicker as you avoid the lengthy Haymarket traffic lights.  There is however a right turn from Grosvenor Crescent into Palmerston Place.

Dalry Road to Torphichen Street

Following the main road you cross the tramlines twice – at difficult angles both times, often with traffic behind and on one or both sides of you.

A safer alternative – slower, but giving you a much better angle for both sets of tramline crossings (and enabling you to stay on the left of motor traffic all the way) – is…

Dalry Road – Grosvenor Street – Lansdowne Crescent – Palmerston Place – Torphichen Street  [take care leaving Lansdowne Crescent into Grosvenor Crescent and then right into Palmerston Place].

Lengthening cycle trips through detours is generally a very bad idea, but if safety is your priority this is probably the best compromise currently  available.   One person who tried it tweeted to Spokes, “your Grosvenor St – Landsdowne Cres route worked well, thanks.”

Dalry Road to West Maitland St / Shandwick Place

When emerging from Dalry Road, in order to cross the tramlines at a safe angle it is necessary to stay in the left-hand lane.  However this means that motor traffic heading for Grosvenor Street will pass on your right, making it dangerous for you to turn right into West Maitland Street.  A safer alternative – although it means a detour – is to use the Lansdowne Crescent diversion above, turning left when you emerge from Palmerston Place.

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Spokes has always supported the principle of the tram – as long as it was well implemented in relation to cycling and other transport modes. Our member survey back in 2005 [Spokes 90 – pdf 494k] found 95% in favour assuming onroad conditions were not worsened and Princes Street bike lanes were retained.

The Council’s Local Transport Strategy promised that “conditions for pedestrians and cyclists should be maintained or improved” in relation to the tram [Spokes 98] and councillors in 2008 approved a Green-sponsored motion to ensure that such conditions would not be worsened [Spokes 99]. [Find all Spokes Bulletins here].

These promises never came true in relation to onroad conditions (there are improvements in some offroad sections, but not all).   The reasons – and the problems we are now experiencing on the roads – date back to the early days of the project.

Most of the problems arise because the tramline layout was decided with a ‘one track’ approach in around 2008  i.e. deciding the tramline layout first and leaving until later the question of how cycling, walking, buses etc would be integrated.  Instead of a holistic design taking all into account at the outset, as would be the case in many European designs.

We argued very very strongly against this at the time, even bringing over a Dutch cycle/tram expert (and persuading TIE to pay part of the cost) who did a report [pdf 7MB] showing the types of approach that might be used in the Netherlands.   All of its significant recommendations were rejected by the tram designers.

The non-holistic approach was probably primarily because the council wanted the tram to happen and it was uncertain whether they would get the necessary government funding. Therefore the tram project got 100% priority over everything else at that time, and the unholistically-designed tramline layout became fixed in stone – or should that be concrete.   Another factor was ‘streetscape’ appearance, which was probably one of the main reasons why the tramlines run down the centre of Princes Street with a wasted 1-metre space in the middle.

There was a further, more recent, problem in that after the tram contract was renegotiated by the new council it became virtually impossible for changes to be made to any aspect of the plans until after the contract is complete and the system handed over to the council by the contractors, because of big penalty clauses. [This is part of the reason why tram construction has run more smoothly since then!]

Once the very unfortunate tramline layout was decided, Spokes had the choice of giving up or of doing the best we could to try and ensure the problems were reduced as far as possible. So we attended consultation meetings. Of course the basic problems remain, but we have had some small achievements. Most of these are not perfect – but they are better than what would otherwise have happened. Those where we had a significant impact (some of which involved a huge amount of effort by Spokes and individual members) include…

  • Getting motor traffic lanes reduced from 2 to 1 where the Mound crosses Princes St, to allow cycle lanes.
  • Removal of cobbles at the Princes St tram stop (and preventing them at others)
  • Trial of bike carriage agreed (this will be the first regular tram bike carriage in UK)
  • Provision of the above ‘jug handle’ at Haymarket (Note – we argued this was a really dangerous place for crossing the tramlines, and that a jug-handle would help give a better angle, though we did not see the final detailed design).
  • A left turn at the foot of the Mound. Its design is a big compromise, but the council are monitoring it. Once they get something they are happy with they will consider left turns at the foot of Lothian Rd and at Dalry Rd.

Finally, it is important to note that the fact that Spokes has worked with the Council through consultations such as the above certainly does not mean we have ‘endorsed’ everything about the tram project, as has occasionally been suggested.  Rather, we have done our best to try and ensure the amelioration of some of the many problems which were virtually inevitable given way the project was run in the early years, as desribed above.  On the very few occasions when it has been officially suggested that Spokes had ‘approved’ of the tram layout we have made clear that our input was in trying to get the best of a bad job, not agreeing that everything is perfect.  We made this very clear, for example, in Spokes 107 [pdf 3.5MB][see page 7].

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Credits:  Videos by Chris Hill and Andy Arthur

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