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A 5 point plan for City of Edinburgh Council to promote walking during social distancing

Introduction

It is currently impossible for pedestrians to maintain social distancing on many Edinburgh streets, which have pavements that are not wide enough.  As ‘lockdown’ measures are eased, but social distancing requirements maintained with more people on the street, it will be even more vital to increase the amount of safe space for walking. This will be a particular challenge when schools eventually re-open. Wider measures – notably to encourage cycling – will also be needed when lockdown measures are eased to ensure safe, efficient transport, with a likely reduction in the capacity of Edinburgh’s bus network. However, now more than ever, action is needed to ensure that walking’s place at the top of travel hierarchies is put into practice.

This paper focus on five immediate measures to encourage walking.   Many of these measures could be introduced at little cost while the additional £10m funding from the Scottish Government could be used to fund others, including the removal of larger, more complex structures such as the obsolete ‘real-time’ parking displays.

There are a number of resources which the Council has commissioned in recent years which contain specific suggestions to improve the walking environment on streets, such as the ‘Street Life Assessments’, ‘Street Reviews’ by Living Streets Scotland and the recent work by LSEG on ‘Tackling Street Clutter’. We recommend that these resources are revisited and used to guide immediate measures.

 

1) Pavement Widening

We want to see a programme of temporary pavement widening, focusing on high footfall streets such as ‘retail/high street’ and public transport corridors. The classification of streets in the Edinburgh Street Design Guidance provides a ready strategic framework to assist in identifying such streets. This will in places require removal of parking/loading/waiting permissions. To complement this process, the following streets have been identified as potential candidates by the LSEG Committee members and also from social media (see especially:

  • South Bridge/Nicolson Street/Clerk Street
  • Great Junction Street
  • Ferry Road
  • St Johns Road/A8
  • Queensferry Road
  • George IV Bridge
  • London Road
  • Easter Road
  • Dalry Road
  • Milton Road East
  • Lower Granton Road
  • Niddrie Mains Road
  • Raeburn Place
  • Morningside Road
  • Morrison Street
  • Captains Road
  • Liberton Road
  • Burdiehouse Road
  • Frogston Road
  • Comiston Road
  • Colinton Road

 

2) Road closures

In residential areas, many streets could be closed to through traffic, while retaining access by motor vehicles to/for residents through barriers (‘filters’). This will reduce traffic on local streets, making walking and cycling safer. This may apply particularly in residential areas (eg Oxgangs, Bingham, Lochend, Stenhouse etc).

 

3) Guardrails

Guardrails which hem in pedestrians over long stretches of pavement (for example, Slateford Road bridge) are particularly inappropriate at present. The Council already has a presumption against these features unless there is a compelling need, but Edinburgh has a legacy of many such guardrails from earlier, outdated street design philosophies. A programme of removal should be introduced immediately to accelerate the removal of inappropriate guardrails.

 

4) Decluttering

Removal of streets clutter is a ‘quick win’ to aid walking and social distancing. As with guardrails the Council already has a policy of de-cluttering which should be accelerated at the present time. This could include ‘sweeps’ of roads to remove old roadworks debris such as traffic cones, sandbags, old signs etc which litter many streets, and also removal of redundant and empty signage poles (many of which have been notified to locality teams as part of LSEG’s ‘tackling Street clutter’ project).

 

5) Signals

Traffic signals, including signalled pedestrian crossings, should be reconfigured so as to give pedestrians priority – eg immediate ‘green man’, increased crossing time, single crossing of staggered crossings, etc. This will aid walking movement and also reduce the risk of pedestrian congestion at lights, islands, etc.

WALKING CAMPAIGN CALLS FOR MORE ACTION ON STREET CLUTTER AFTER A-BOARD BAN SUCCESS

Following the success [1] of the City of Edinburgh Council’s ban on pavement advertising boards (A-boards), the local walking campaign has called for further action to clear the city’s pavements of clutter. Living Streets Edinburgh Group [2], which campaigned for years for the Council to tackle the A-board problem, says further measures are needed to build on the A-board action to create safe, obstruction-free pavements across the city. David Hunter of Living Streets Edinburgh commented:

“ ‘A-board’ clutter had become a significant problem on many Edinburgh streets, especially because so many pavements aren’t wide enough. The ban has made it easier, safer and more enjoyable to walk in many local streets across the city. But there are still far too many obstructions on pavements: waste bins need to be sensibly sited, roadworks signs managed properly and unnecessary signage poles removed. All pavements should have an absolute minimum ‘clear zone’ of 1.5 metres for pedestrians as laid down in the Council’s own Street Design Guidance [3]. And in residential areas, hedges are too often allowed to grow over pavements, obstructing safe passage by pedestrians.”

 

NOTES FOR EDITORS:

 1.      A report on the success of the A-board ban is to be discussed at the City Council’s Transport & Environment Committee on Thursday 5th December.

2.      Living Streets Edinburgh Group (LSEG) is the local voluntary branch of Living Streets, the national charity promoting ‘everyday walking’: http://www.livingstreetsedinburgh.org.uk/

3.      Edinburgh Street Design Guidance is at http://www.edinburgh.gov.uk/downloads/file/11626/p3_-_footways_-_version_11

 

LSE Comments on ‘Summertime Streets’ 2019

 Living Streets Edinburgh Group (LSEG) strongly supports the concept of ‘summertime streets’; ie closing streets to motor traffic during the festival to create more space for people to walk in safety to enjoy Edinburgh, its sights, shows, shops, bars etc and to make a better environment for local residents. LSEG first called for such measures in 2015: https://www.livingstreetsedinburgh.org.uk/2015/11/16/car-free-edinburgh-for-festival-for-2016/. We have the following observations to make on specific locations.

 

Cockburn Street, Victoria Street

 These streets were well stewarded and in our view worked best. However, we are not clear why there were so many cars parked in Cockburn Street in particular. The ugly metal barriers used block off the streets to vehicles should be replaced by ones which are more ‘people-friendly’ and show clearly that walking is permitted (and indeed encouraged!)

 

Candlemaker Row

Our feedback was generally positive on this street. However, many tour coaches ignored the ban with apparent impunity and this requires better management.

 

Cowgate

Summertime Streets was not a success in the Cowgate. As was amply demonstrated on social media, the ban on motor traffic was completely ignored by many drivers, including licensed private hire cars and taxis. There was usually little if any staff present to manage the restrictions. Pavement parking was rife (as in previous years) and the police appeared to show no appetite to deal with the frequent ‘moving vehicle offences’. The restrictions in our view should start from 12.00 midday or 14.00, with all servicing of bars, restaurants etc taking place before then. Appropriate access to courts, the mortuary etc could be provided through special arrangements, use of Guthrie Street etc.

 

Lawnmarket

This was also unsatisfactory. Taxis and many tourist coaches use the roundabout at the foot of Castle Hill to turn, completely undermining the ‘car-free’ environment of the Lawnmarket. Stewards, who had the difficult job of managing this conflict, were frequently observed shouting at pedestrians to get out of the way of vehicles. Vehicles should therefore be banned entirely from Johnston Terrace during the traffic restriction period.

 

High Street/South Bridge

 We were pleased to see barriers providing wider walking space on the west side of South Bridge near the Tron – a high-risk space for pedestrians. We note the problems reported by residents about diversion of bus routes on the Canongate and would not object to buses (but not general traffic, including taxis) continuing to use the street during the festival. At the other end of the High Street, the police appeared to be prioritising vehicles exiting from St Giles Street over pedestrians – this section of the High Street (to Bank St/George IV St) needs to be improved. There should be no vehicle access to Parliament Square during the festival, allowing this grossly under-valued space to be better used by people on foot.

 

Conclusions

We welcome the Council’s introduction of traffic restrictions in 2019. However, we want to see the idea improved and extended in 2020 particularly by:

  • extending the hours of traffic closures;
  • extending the traffic closures to more streets; and
  • improving enforcement/staffing of traffic restrictions.

Tackling Street Clutter through Locality Working

Introduction

The Living Streets Edinburgh Group (LSEG) carried out a project to tackle pavement clutter in the summer of 2019. We are grateful to Paths for All for supporting the project through its ‘Smarter Choices Smarter Places’ Open Fund.

The first objective of the project was to identify at least 100 obstructions on city pavements which inhibit walking – aiming to have at least some of these removed. Secondly, and just as important, we wanted to develop our understanding of the problems that street clutter cause and share perspectives on managing clutter between ourselves (LSEG members), community representatives and council staff working at ‘the coal face’ of managing local roads. This meant working closely with the four Locality Roads Managers across the city and their staff.

What we did

Four members of LSEG participated in the project, each working in one of the four ‘Localities’ (North West, North East, South East and South West). We emailed all community councils in the city that we could find and also the Edinburgh Access Panel, inviting suggestions for areas to look at where ‘pavement clutter’ was seen as a problem.

Based on this feedback and personal knowledge, we then walked selected city streets, recording and photographing objects which we felt inhibited walking and should be removed. We appreciate the participation of members of the Access Panel, community councillors and City of Edinburgh Councillors who joined us on several of these walks.

The project aimed to take in different parts of the city, focussing as much on residential areas as on ‘town centres’ or central Edinburgh. The main areas assessed are set out below. We appreciate that this inevitably misses out many parts of the city where no doubt pavement clutter is just as much of a problem as in these areas.

NW SW SE NE
Blackhall/Craigleith Colinton Bruntsfield Easter Road
Broomhouse Dalry Tollcross Leith Walk
Corstorphine Gorgie Hanover St London Road
Drumbrae Oxgangs Morrison St Portobello
Ferry Road Slateford South Bridge Willowbrae
Pilton Walter Scott Avenue

What did we find?

In all, we identified 290 items of ‘clutter’ which we felt should be tackled – far more than the original target of 100! We took a broad view of what might be considered ‘clutter’, which to some extent is subjective. However, we aimed to focus on things which are fixed, or at least in place for a considerable time. So this included things like signage poles, guard rails, large refuse bins, bushes, utility boxes, phone kiosks and roadworks signs. We generally excluded things like the occasional stray ‘A-board’ (contravening the council-wide ban), regular wheelie bins and pavement parking, despite encountering this on many streets.

At the time or writing, we are awaiting responses from the council on most of the items which we identified. However, few items have been tackled as ‘quick wins’ (especially removal of overhanging vegetation). In some other cases, council staff judge that items which we identified as ‘clutter’ should be retained. Often, locality staff have to consult further with colleagues over whether items which we have identified can be removed.

Lessons learned

LSEG developed a better understanding of how ‘clutter’ comes about and how difficult it can be for local roads staff to manage.  There can be historic reasons to explain the presence of some clutter; for example a guardrail on St Johns Road used to provide protection at a busy bakery, but has long been closed. Local roads staff face requests for items to be placed on the street from many different sources (both within the council and from external bodies).   Resource constraints (both in terms of staffing and capital) seem to limit the extent to which clutter (and the scope for removing it) is assessed. Another clear message is that inspection regimes are almost entirely focussed on hazards and ‘defects’ – for example a broken traffic sign will be reported, but not an unnecessary one.

The influence of the Council’s Street Design Guidance – which has minimising clutter as one of its key principles – seems limited in practice. A particular example of this is that, despite the Guidance stating that vertical No Loading signs should normally be removed, other council managers have advised locality staff that these signs should be kept.

In some cases, action to remove clutter may require a programmed, rather than-an-item by item, approach.  Examples include obsolete (non-operational) ‘real-time’ parking availability signs and poorly maintained or semi-derelict phone boxes. There seems to be a real opportunity to manage streets more ‘holistically’ which should produce better streets; and perhaps also reduce costs.

Next steps

We believe that there are valuable insights from this project which will be useful to share with a wider audience – to community groups in Edinburgh, City of Edinburgh Council staff, other councils, and professional bodies and institutes. We therefore hope to secure additional funding to enable us to publish a professionally produced report and a short video to communicate the findings of our project more widely.

We will also keep in touch with the localities staff (currently being re-organised) and continue to monitor what happens to the 290 items we recorded. To keep in touch, please see our website and Twitter account for further updates.

 

David Hunter

Living Streets Edinburgh Group

October 2019

LSE Objects to Cowgate Hotel Development – 19/03174/FUL

We object to this application on the grounds of the failure to improve the pavements outside the development. Consent should only be given if there is a significant contribution by the developer through a ‘Section 75’ grant to improving them.

The problems with the current pavement are well known – it is less than one metre wide and has multiple vertical kerbs. These features mean that many pedestrians are placed in hazard by having to walk in the road (carriageway) at present, while the pavement is unusable by a person using a wheelchair. The pavement therefore needs to be widened and made level. We do not consider that it would be ‘reasonable’ (in the context of the 2010 Equality Act) if these deficiencies were not remedied as part of the development. If consent is granted without requiring these improvements, we would therefore ask the Equality and Human Rights Commission to formally investigate.

The minimum width for this pavement specified in the Council’s Street Design Guidance is 2.5 metres. To achieve this may require further traffic management measures (such as the installation of a chicane) which were recommended in the street audit conducted by Living Streets Edinburgh Group in 2016 (bit.ly/2covj3Q). This would be consistent with the proposals to make the Cowgate ‘pedestrian priority’ as part of the City Centre Transformation initiative.

We also consider that there is over-provision of hotels in the Cowgate, although this site may be more suitable for a hotel than some other developments which have already been approved.