December 2020

2020: What on Earth Happened??

No one could have predicted the incredible shake-up which Covid19 has brought to transport and travel in Edinburgh, Scotland, the UK and worldwide in 2020 – as just one element of its shock to every aspect of life. Conversely it was modern transport, notably flying, which caused such rapid spread of the original and the mutated virus.

In greatly changed circumstances, Spokes volunteers continued working for a safer and more people-friendly city and country, where cycling and walking are the norm for local trips, public and shared transport is encouraged, and car dominance is reduced. Perhaps surprisingly, despite Covid, all but two of our nine Edinburgh 2020 pre-pandemic predictions came true to a greater or lesser extent!

Spokes in 2020

  • Key-worker support – thanks to generous membership donations we contributed £2000 to Edinburgh Bike Station and Bridge8 Hub to help key workers get to work by bike
  • Spokes maps group – Our Midlothian map was published, to great acclaim. Some 20+ members are now surveying Edinburgh in detail for a new Edinburgh edition, provisionally due summer 2021.
  • Spokes planning group – In addition to usual activities, we responded to some 70 Spaces for People consultations – hence the unreadable graphic below! See here for the original, with links to the consultations and our responses
  • Local Groupslocal groups in Porty, South Edinburgh and Dalkeith have promoted bike use in many ways and responded to local-area consultations. Porty in particular is in detailed discussion with the Council over the junction which has seen two cyclist deaths in two years.

Covid19 and transport in 2020

  • Working from home has become a sudden reality for huge numbers of office workers
  • Public transport has seen many people warned and/or scared off – paradoxically perhaps now making it pretty safe
  • Total commuting has fallen (our count is an example) for many covid-related reasons: but car use is approaching previous levels as former car travellers who now work at home are replaced at the wheel by former public transport users
  • Road casualties have fallen (because fewer cars?) but casualty rates and speed-related lawlessness appear to have risen (because of the change in the population of drivers?)
  • Pop-up cycle and walk facilities, funded by government, have appeared extensively in urban areas across the UK – including some 30km of semi-segregated bike lanes in Edinburgh. Whilst we don’t yet know of any representative local surveys post-implementation, an early survey in the West Midlands suggests a very positive overall reaction to such schemes. This ties in well with pre-pandemic local surveys such as Edinburgh Bike Life which found 74% supporting new cycle tracks even where this meant less space for other traffic.
  • Air travel has fallen drastically – and to its severe climate impacts has now been added an understanding of its drastic pandemic-spreading potential, with the original and mutated coronviruses transported rapidly between countries.

Edinburgh bike policy in 2020

Of our 9 predictions for 2020, two haven’t yet happened, both of which, sadly, are vital health and safety measures – though given Covid, perhaps 2 out of 9 is not bad!
  • Tramline blackspot safety measures (phase 3) Crashes and injuries continue on the existing tramlines, with perhaps half the crashes being at five city centre blackspots where the Council has approved physical remedial measures. But, due to Covid and difficult contractor negotiations, these measures are still not in place (apart from some cycle advance traffic lights). We understand that the contractor negotiations are largely resolved, so let us hope implementation is soon.
  • Low Emission Zone To great disappointment, the Scottish Government postponed the LEZs planned for Scotland’s four biggest cities, including Edinburgh, from late 2020 till Spring 2022 at the earliest. Whilst blamed partly on Covid the delay seems excessive. Meanwhile, following a series of court cases, and a determined mother of Ella Kissi-Debrah, the nine-year-old’s death certificate has, for the first time in the UK, included pollution as a cause of death.
Our biggest non-prediction
  • … of course, was the pandemic and its impact on Edinburgh transport.
  • When the government urgently changed the Traffic Order rules and offered #SpacesForPeople money to Councils, Edinburgh was among the first and boldest to take advantage, with, so far, some 30km of arterial road segregated cycle lanes, town centre spacing (good for pedestrians though sometimes less good for cycling) and 50 or so school schemes of which many, encouragingly, include road closures. To achieve so much in such a short time, Spaces for People entailed huge effort and significant staff redeployment, for which Edinburgh City Council must deserve considerable credit.
  • These facilities all rely on the above Covid-related Temporary Traffic Orders. To be made permanent (with modifications based on experience and feedback) they will require full Traffic Orders, which allow for wide consultation and objections.
  • The experience of #SpacesForPeople, with rapid implementation and low initial consultation, contrasts dramatically with the traditional approach of multiple consultations and shockingly slow implementation – five major Edinburgh cycle projects have been in consultation/ preparation stages for over 5 years with no work on the ground. Spokes has proposed a new approach for future projects, to speed up implementation whilst ensuring full – and more effective – consultation.
Seven of our nine predictions did, however, materialise to a greater or lesser extent
  • Advance Cycle Lights A small but growing number of traffic-light junctions are getting advance cycle lights, giving cyclists a few seconds start before motor traffic is released. Recent traffic-light software upgrades apparently make this relatively easy to install and it is now meant to be always considered when a junction is modified or upgraded. Advance lights are also to be specially installed at all junctions on the tram route (original and extension) to enable safer tramline crossing
  • E-bikes for Edinburgh Cycle Hire These were introduced in March, and over 120 are now available – from the same stands as the conventional bikes
  • Onstreet secure bike storage – 180 bike hangars, each storing 6 bikes, have been installed by Cyclehoop, who are contracted by the Council, with around half now fully occupied (you can enter a waiting list).
  • Leith Walk now has a 2-way temporary cycleroute the whole way during tramworks – the original proposal was for bikes to use the motor traffic diversions, and we had to argue strongly against this for over a year. The route is certainly not perfect, but once tramworks are complete there will be unidirectional segregated lanes on both sides of the street, linking to the Picardy Place routes (which are also currently temporary during tramstop construction) and thus to the West-East city centre route, CCWEL
  • Open Streets Whilst the Open Streets events, which banned traffic for specific times once a month, have been scrapped during Covid, the Council has gone much further and banned through motor traffic at all times in Victoria Street and Cockburn Street. This is a #SpacesForPeople measure, so it will take a full Traffic Regulation Order if it is decided to make it permanent
  • CCWEL The first, albeit very short, stretch of CCWEL, the city centre Roseburn-Leith largely-segregated route, opened in York Place – giving a tantalising taste of the future. With the shocking 2-year delay to the Roseburn section caused by antiquated Scottish Government procedures (now changed, we understand, largely as a result of this disaster) work there is expected to begin in a much delayed May 2021.
  • Cargobikes are supporting local Leith Walk businesses during tram extension works – also acting as a Council pilot scheme for elsewhere in the city centre
Thank you to everyone who made these developments possible … councillors, officers, contractors, voluntary organisations and the many individuals (such as you?) who speak to their local councillors and MSPs about such issues. Please keep it up in the coming year – we’ll do our best too!

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