Safe cycling in the city centre

Green transport spokesperson Chas Booth says a step change is needed in in both cycling infrastructure – and in attitudes – in order to avoid future tragedies.

The death last week of Zhi Min Soh, a young medical student, who was killed while cycling at the west end of Princes Street, was a tragedy that should not have happened.

We don’t yet know the full circumstances of her death, since police are still investigating. What we do know is that she came off her bike and fell under the wheels of a minibus. The senseless loss of a young life, someone who had so much to offer the world, is terrible. As a parent myself, I can only imagine the heartache of her family and friends, and my utmost sympathy goes out to them.

But this was also a tragedy that was avoidable. Edinburgh is almost unique amongst major European capitals in having so many road users sharing space in the centre of our city. In the words of one transport expert I spoke to this week, the council has treated the city centre ‘like a giant crossroads’ and expected all road users simply to ‘get along’.

Other European cities focus on making their centres more pleasant spaces for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport users, creating high-quality and distinctive places, and, critically, providing segregated space for cyclists. In Edinburgh, we have been far too slow to respond to that agenda.

But we also need to recognise that it is not normal in a European context, and nor is it reasonable, for vulnerable road users to be expected share road space to such a large extent with private and commercial motor vehicles. So what can and should the council be doing to rectify the situation, and to ensure that a tragedy like the death of Zhi Min Soh can never happen again?

Over the longer term, the council needs to create a more people-friendly city centre. The city needs to learn from the best examples of cities around Europe of creating high-quality public spaces where people enjoy spending time, and where pedestrians, cyclists and public transport are given priority.

Over the medium term, there are clear and concrete steps that could be taken, such as accelerating the roll-out of a planned east-west cycle route, to separate cyclists from the motor traffic that represents the greatest risk to their safety.

And in the short term there are steps that cycle groups have long been calling for, such as an advance cycle phase on certain traffic lights, which will give cyclists additional time to cross tricky junctions, and could potentially mean the difference between a fall resulting in a few bruises and a damaged ego, and a fatality. And the council should look into campaigns to raise awareness amongst drivers of the importance of giving cycle space, and respecting vulnerable road users.

But I’m also not sure the council has always got the tone of its approach right, with some cyclists suggesting there is too much responsibility put on them to avoid collisions. The council must always be absolutely clear that it has a duty to keep vulnerable road users safe, and that means, first and foremost, providing safe, high quality and segregated cycle infrastructure.

It’s essential we get that focus right, in order to avoid a repeat of the tragedy that occurred on our streets last week.