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.