Month: August 2015

My much less woeful George Street consultation experience

Since writing up my experience of the George Street design consultation in mid-August, there’s been a fair bit of discussion and chat about it. The City Cycling Edinburgh forum has several threads dedicated to the consultation, the blog comments have some good discussion points, and I’ve had quite a few face-to-face conversations about it, too. Who says democracy is dead, eh?

In a surprising twist, I also had a chap from the council on the phone to me last week. He was keen to hear about how I felt the consultation exercise went, and I hope I came across as honest and not-mad. We spoke for probably around 20 minutes, and I recounted my confusing and slightly depressing foray into public consultation. He was really helpful, attentive and promised to feed back my experiences. Which is really nice. Bear in mind he’s not taking forward my actual input on the George Street redesign because I’ve already done it via a blank sheet of paper and even blanker stares from consultants.

Here’s his blog comment that led to the conversation, which I think is very useful and relevant for anyone interested in George Street:

Hi Claire
I’m the guy at the Council who has been in charge of the George Street Experimental Traffic Regulation Order from the outset, so I wanted to say I’d seen your blog and thanks for posting it.

The meeting you were at (13/8) was in fact the only part of the George Street trial that I have not been in charge of and I wasn’t in attendance. I’m sorry to read how negative it was for you, especially as the rest of the project to date has been characterised by a huge effort to engage the public and to value people and their needs above all else.

By way of example, from July 2014 to July 2015 there were some groundbreaking aspects of the project. We took the view that there was only any point in running a trial if it is tested properly, and to everyone’s satisfaction. Otherwise, why trial. So to reassure and to overcome people’s (natural) scpeticism, the public were put in charge of the research aspects.

The Council paid for an independent research company to undertake 1200 interviews and other traffic-based research, but there have been quarterly meetings where the public have been first to receive the results (before any elected members or senior officials) and it has been the public who have interrogated and scrutinised the feedback. It’s been a refreshing approach, in many people’s eyes – for example here http://www.broughtonspurtle.org.uk/news/george-street-experiment-thrives-success-and-failure)

So, with this meeting being the first to have moved away from this model, I was interested in your feedback, sorry to read it was negative, but I’m interested in hearing from you about your thoughts. The street is so important to the city, to its many stakeholders, and getting the design right for the long run is something I am passionate about. I’d be happy to pick up the conversation with you if you’d like.

Well done, council! Thank you for taking the time to do this 🙂

It was brilliant to be so pro-active and I was pleased to hear that the council’s staff working on the street design are so invested in the project and keen to get a positive outcome for all users of the street.

I believe there are more George Street consultation bits and bobs lined up, so I will be keeping an eye on how it all goes. I might even go to another event! 😉

 

 

 

 

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My woeful George Street Design consultation experience

For those not in the know, George Street has been under an experimental road traffic order for the past year. As part of the experiment, the 30 metre-wide road has given over some space to cyclists. Which is nice.

What’s not so nice is its poor design. I’ve been using it for the last year as part of my daily commute, and although I absolutely embrace the council’s decision to offer some proper space for cycling, in practice the experience is flawed for all users of the street. There are plenty other online discussions that are much clearer than I could ever be when it comes to George Street’s ETRO, so I won’t go into detail here.

I did, however, attempt to go into some detail at an open consultation event yesterday. I am not a very vocal cycle campaigner, as this blog confirms. Nor am I a transport planner. I only have my opinions from first-hand experience of riding a bike and reading a lot of cycling literature. I also walk, use public transport and occasionally drive. I feel frustrated and isolated whenever I attempt to “discuss” cycling issues with people that don’t ride a bike for transport, but I felt it important to attend the event and weigh in with my two pennies.

When it comes to cycle campaigning, my usual tact is to write to MSPs and the like as I feel I can be much more considered and back up my observations with links to relevant studies and evidence. Of course, in conversation that’s not so easy to do and I can get frustrated and emotional and can’t articulate myself.

My George Street design experience was almost a carbon copy of that template situation. I was dismayed to hear a range of bizarre and sometimes frightening responses from some of the consultants hired to undertake the consultation, as well as attendees. I couldn’t fight the good fight because I was too busy disliking conflict with strangers.

Some choice exchanges and overheard conversation included snobby opinions on how all the traffic should be moved onto Princes Street because the shops there are very tatty (!). Another grim comment went along the lines of how George Street needs loadsa parking, as posh people will only shop in posh shops if they can have their cars parked outside.

I had a classic conversation when I asked the consultants whether they thought people on bikes were shortchanged in Edinburgh due to the lack of space for them. Pedestrians get footways, traffic gets roads, bikes get a useless hybrid that encourages conflict. They disagreed.

I also had a cracking comment from a consultant who stated that cycling was embedded in Dutch culture, so they are not very relevant as a comparison to the UK. I was too flummoxed to mention that the Dutch only have a cycling culture because investment was made in infrastructure 40 years ago and it has grown from nothing to amazing.

Another choice snippet came from a fellow consultation participant, who stated that the cycling lobby in Edinburgh was getting too strong. As if fighting for cycling as a legit transport mode is the enemy. Because bikes are such a bad idea by easing congestion, being environmentally friendly, keeping people fit, encouraging more robust and connected communities etc etc.

Of course, I also got the standard red light jumping, cyclists on pavements crap and that “You don’t do yourself any favours”… Because if one cyclist red light jumps then we all do it, OBVIOUSLY.

I appreciate that the point of consultation is to gather feedback from lots of different people. I totally get it. And I also understand that some people don’t think bikes are brilliant. What I don’t get is the thinly veiled vitriol and meanness directed towards people riding bikes and the willful ignorance of the problems that too many cars create.

So it’s back to the old considered email, I think. I’m a bit fed up feeling belittled because I choose to cycle in my city.

*** Update 01/09/2015 – I have since been contacted by the council re the above blog post and experience, feel free to read about it.