February 2018

Inactive Travel?

Spokes has written to Edinburgh City’s Transport Convener, Cllr Lesley Macinnes, about the extensive and lengthening delays in implementing planned cycle and walking projects, many of which are now on hold.

There are many exciting and badly needed projects in the pipeline, the active travel staff appear committed and capable and there is reasonable capital funding – but there seems to be an ongoing structural problem in terms of numbers of staff and the time taken for staff recruitment.

Meadows to Canal is probably Edinburgh’s single most important cycling ‘missing link’ and will also signficantly improve pedestrian conditions.  First adopted as a Council project in 2013, an initial consultation was held and reported on in 2014. The public was then consulted on detailed plans in late 2014, but nothing further seems to have happened.

Pilot bike storage scheme at Lonsdale Terrace

Onstreet secure bike storage is a vital need in tenemental and some other central areas, with research from as long ago as 2008 suggesting that bike storage problems for flat/tenement dwellers are a significant deterrent to city centre bike use.  Furthermore, too many bikes in tenement stairwells can cause conflict between residents.  In 2010 the Council committed to a pilot onstreet storage project, but it did not begin until 2014. A Committee report in Nov 2016 showed that the pilot had been a great success, with demand far outstripping supply and a long list of streets where storage had been requested.  The report proposed a rollout over the next 3 years – but there is no sign of this even beginning.

Since 2010 there has been an ongoing commitment, in successive versions of the Council’s Active Travel Action Plan, to a program of measures to enable 2-way cycling in 1-way streets. This could shorten many journeys, provide alternatives to busy roads or dangerous junctions, and generally encourage use of bikes for more trips. Several years ago Spokes was consulted, and we understand that a report has been near publication for some time – but 8 years after the original committment there has been no action on the ground, and indeed private developers have been allowed by the Council to construct new 1-way streets (such as at Quartermile).

There are many more long-standing examples listed in our letter, but the letter has been prompted by a whole series of new deferrals of further projects which had been consulted on extensively in 2016/17, including missing links and connecting routes such as Holyrood Park Road to Newington (including Pollock Halls to Kings Buildings), Meadows to near West End (avoiding Tollcross), and a range of smaller projects.

CCWEL project visualisation at Melville Street

The Council also has three major cycleroute projects, all with 50/50 Sustrans funding support, which it is – rightly – treating as top priorities.

  • CCWEL (City Centre West East Link) – this appears to be more or less on schedule, though we have concerns since the project manager moved on a few months ago

  • MGS (Meadows to George Street) & WEATN (West Edinburgh Active Travel Network) – these were only approved in September 2017, when Edinburgh won 50/50 funding in the Sustrans Community Links Plus competition.

Finally, there has of course been progress with some projects in recent years – for example in outer Edinburgh areas such as the A8 path, Gilmerton, Portobello-Leith; and more centrally in Leith Walk and upgrades to the North Edinburgh Network.


Edinburgh has a UK-leading policy to allocate 10% of its transport budget to cycling investment (in practice much of which also benefits pedestrians) and that, together with Sustrans 50/50 funding, means that capital funding is not a primary cause of the extent and severity of delays which we have outlined in the letter.

The main problem seems to be, and to have been, insufficient staffing, together with very slow recruitment processes when staff leave, as they inevitably do periodically. This is a structural problem which has existed for years, and continues.

Recently, for example, despite approval for the above MGS and WEATN projects in autumn 2017, staff have not yet been appointed – even though the Sustrans 50/50 funding can be used towards staff as well as for physical works. And the CCWEL project manager who moved on some months ago has apparently not yet been replaced. As a result, other staff have had to be moved to these priority projects, putting several other projects on hold.


Most important – the amount of skilled cycle project design and policy staff needs built up, to match the available capital funding – and staff recruitment procedures need speeded up.

However Spokes has also suggested a couple of lower-level measures (and there may well be more) to improve efficiency.

London secure onstreet bike storage map – to find a space or to suggest a new location

The level of consultation, particularly on smaller projects, may be excessive, with two rounds of full public consultation followed by Traffic Orders, when the public can comment again. The second of these three rounds could be replaced by stakeholder-only consultation for some schemes, particularly those which require Traffic Orders.

Secondly, the onstreet bike storage scheme (and possibly some others) could be passed over as a priority to Transport for Edinburgh. This was done last year with the also much-delayed bike share scheme which, as a result, now appears near implementation. These types of scheme require outsourcing and ongoing management skills, and are probably better undertaken by a body such as TfL than by a Council team which is geared more to infrastructure projects. London has what appears to be a very successful, extensive and rapidly growing onstreet bike storage scheme operated by CycleHoop on behalf of several Boroughs. TfL should be well placed to issue a tender for an Edinburgh operator.

  • Read our letter to Cllr Macinnes in full here
  • If any of the delayed projects matter to you, speak to your councillor – but point out that delays seem to be a wider problem affecting many cycle projects, and so councillors need to ensure that action is taken at a high level.  If you are particularly concerned about this, ask to visit their surgery for a discussion rather than just emailing them.  You can find Edinburgh councillors at www.edinburgh.gov.uk/councillors

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