November 2013

Bikes up, Cars down – again!!

The November Spokes traffic census found the highest ever number of bikes (up even on May numbers) and the lowest ever November count of private cars.  Remarkably, more than one in every five vehicles heading for the city centre along bike-unfriendly Lothian Road was a bike…

Latest [15.11.13] – We have just added an excellent graphical representation of our data since 2006.  Find it on our counts web page.

As usual, we counted bikes on Lothian Road and Forrest Road, on the second Tuesday in November, during rush hour.  The overall figures mask some interesting details, as explained below.

For years interpretation of our data has been plagued by the shutting and reopening of roads for tram works, resulting in sometimes massive shifts of motor traffic, with knock-on effects on numbers of cyclists and the road conditions for cycling.  This is the first count where all roads are re-opened, so hopefully comparisons will be easier in future years.

See the full count data and trends from 2006 to the present on our traffic counts page.


Spokes Lothian Road traffic count    Pic: Chris Hill

On Lothian Road bikes were up significantly and cars down significantly.  Perhaps this reflects the Haymarket road reopening, enabling some drivers to avoid diversions, whilst a few cyclists might be seeking an alternative to the Haymarket tramline crossing.   Whatever the reasons, it is astonishing that over 20% of citybound rush-hour vehicles on Lothian Road are now bikes.

On Forrest Road both cars and commercial vehicles* were up significantly citybound compared to last November (probably a continuing effect of Mound reopening) and there was a small drop in cyclists, although bikes still formed 22% of all citybound vehicles.  Thus whilst QBiC appeared to bring a small increase in bike use when it first opened its impact (in Forrest Road area) seems to have been overwhelmed by a rise in motor traffic (cars and vans, lorries, taxis, buses) following Mound re-opening, and resulting deteriorating cycling conditions.   Thus cycle use at this location has not increased further, remaining only slightly higher than pre-QBiC.

*Commercial vehicles = lorries, vans, taxis, buses.  Our count lumps them together.

Once again 7 out of every 10 cars have only one occupant – a huge waste of precious roadspace.  In the citybound direction, heading for the heart of congestion, and also responsible for creating it, a shocking 78% of cars are single occupant.
Update:  The 2011 Edinburgh census data confirms this picture, and additionally shows that many of the multi-occupant cars are on the school run.  Therefore single-occupancy commuting is almost certainly significantly worse than our 78% figure.

What next?

Whilst the council is to be congratulated on continuing growth in bike use, the rate of change is not fast enough to achieve its 2020 cycle use targets, and bolder steps are needed.    The Leith Walk proposals should be a step change up from QBiC, but much more is needed in the important corridor from South Edinburgh to the City Centre.

Council policies on encouraging people to move from car to cycling, walking, car club and public transport are working too, as new Census data shows – with Edinburgh the only council in Scotland to succeed in bucking the trend to higher car ownership.  Again, however, as the data shows, progress is slow.


A public bike counter is planned soon for Middle Meadow Walk

Back in 2008 Spokes proposed a sustainable transport corridor from South Edinburgh along Lothian Road to the City Centre, with cycle facilities of the sort seen in Copenhagen, together with higher priority for buses and walking and greatly reduced private motor traffic.  Our challenge to the then city council is in Spokes Bulletin 101 [pdf 1.1MB].

This year Jim Eadie MSP [co-convenor of the Scottish Parliament Cross-Party Cycling Group, and MSP for Edinburgh Southern] has come up with a similar idea  between the Meadows and Princes Street via George IV Bridge but the council has shown little enthusiasm so far.

Recent years have shown that traffic quickly adapts to new patterns, with some drivers using alternative routes and others changing to alternative and more benign modes.

If you like these ideas, speak to your councillors.  Council policies are working – but much too slowly, and a real step change is needed now.  Find your councillors at   Let us know the result.

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