Earlier this week, the City of Edinburgh Council launched a consultation exercise about its proposals for the revamping of Leith Walk.
The exercise concentrates on the top of Leith Walk (junctions with London Road and Picardy Place) and the foot of Leith Walk (junctions with Constitution Place and Bernard Street), with technical drawings available to show what is being proposed at each of these junctions. Respondents are asked a series of (leading) questions about the proposals and whether they think they will improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists. There are additional comment boxes for those who 'disagree' with the statements. The consultation is open until the 13th of January 2013.
There are no drawings available for the other parts of Leith Walk, or any holistic presentation or justification for the approach which has been taken.
I spent some time yesterday looking at the plans and composing my responses. My main frustrations and objections are as follows:
1. None of the junction layouts or designs presented appear to give the pedestrian or cyclist priority over other forms of transport, as required by Scottish Planning Policy and the guidance set out in 'Designing Streets'. Pedestrians are instead treated to dog-leg crossings, which are relatively narrow, with refuge islands at which to break their journeys (pretty much the same as currently on offer). There appears to be little attention given to desire lines, or creating the possibility for pedestrians to cross a junction diagonally. Instead, as before, pedestrians are required to make their crossings in two or even three stages - unlike cars, which of course will be able to traverse each junction in one easy step.
2. In relation to cycling, the drawings show that there is no continuous provision of cycle infrastructure along the length of Leith Walk. In addition, the design of the junctions - with ASLs, but little else - also fails to prioritise the cyclist over other forms of transport. This is exactly the opposite of what cyclists are asking for. Cyclists want joined up infrastructure, not adhoc bits and bobs - and the hope for this refresh of Leith Walk is that it would take this once-in-a-generation opportunity to make a significant change to the street layout, rather than just tinkering at the edges. The diagrams do not address this, but there is the unanswered question here of whether any of the traffic lights at these junctions would be phased to prioritise cyclists. Such phasing is standard in most Danish signalling systems.
3. The provision of segregated cycle ways at the top of Leith Walk is a good thing. However, the way in which cyclists are then expected to negotiate the two roundabouts there is not. One minute separated from traffic, then next crossing various lanes of traffic to share a lane with buses. No, no, no!
4. The survey asks general questions about where cycle parking, street trees and greenery should be included. My view on all of these is 'everywhere', with significant concentrations of cycle parking close to main shops (e.g. Tesco), and secure cycle parking for residents too.
5. The proposals introduce further inconsistencies in the city's approach to marking bus and cycle lanes, by specifying that the bus lanes will be marked with red chips. This surface has been used to denote the cycle lanes in the Quality Bike Corridor, and should not here be used to denote space for buses. There needs to be a consistent approach across the city to the surface markings and colours used to designate space for buses, and space for cyclists.
6. It would be useful for the council to set out its rationale to the redesign of Leith Walk alongside this consultation: with a clear statement of the policy objectives it is trying to meet, and any evidence for the way in which the design proposals put forward will help to achieve these objectives. In particular, it should justify the absence of segregated cycle ways along the length of Leith Walk; and the absence of diagonal crossing points for pedestrians.
7. At the moment, the proposals seem very disappointing - tinkering with the current layout rather than taking the opportunity to reconfigure the space and really make it worthy of its name: Leith WALK. If you want some ideas of how things could be done, then try watching this lecture - given in Edinburgh earlier this year - by the great Jan Gehl, who thinks places should be for people.