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Tragic death of cyclist needs an immediate response

Edinburgh needs a zero-tolerance approach to the deaths of cyclists and pedestrians on our roads, says Alison Johnstone

Alison Johnstone MSP
Alison Johnstone MSP

Portobello High Street is just the latest place in the capital to witness the death of a cyclist on our roads. My heart goes out to Heather Stronach’s husband and her wider family.

Heather was the second cyclist to die at the same location within 20 months. Constituents have told me they need an immediate interim and urgent safety measure for this junction with permanent protections.

The fact is cycling in many parts of the capital remains unsafe. No one should be risking their life when they get on their bike in Edinburgh.

It was the deaths of cyclists in 2012 that prompted me to call for a road safety summit. I was then invited to raise concerns with the Scottish Government’s road safety group. While we’ve had heated debate since over the introduction of 20mph zones in certain areas, we’re all too frequently faced with these shocking reports of the avoidable deaths of people who simply chose to cycle on our roads. Edinburgh remains an outlier, as a historic European capital with many lanes of traffic jams throughout its medieval centre.

Injuries to cyclists were already on the increase before the pandemic hit, but many more people bought a bike during lockdown and venturing out onto roads once again choked with traffic. Scottish Greens repeatedly warned that there was a risk we could go straight from lockdown to gridlock, and it appears to have happened, even at tier three restrictions.

It is encouraging that Edinburgh council’s transport and environment committee has discussed the evidence for more low traffic zones, but there remains considerable political opposition.

Indeed, the Scottish Conservative leaflets for the council by-election in nearby Duddingston and Craigentinny said “expensive new cycle lanes” were not a priority.

Cycle lanes are not expensive. They are relatively cheap when you consider the lives saved by them. Segregated cycle lanes save lives.

Roads do not exist to serve cars. They exist to serve people. It is completely unacceptable to put the convenience of drivers above the safety of pedestrians and cyclists. What’s more, road traffic is the biggest contributor to Scotland’s air pollution health crisis and a major factor in why Scotland keeps missing its CO2 emissions targets. We have to change our mindset from one where the private car is king of the road.

Time and time again, low traffic neighbourhoods and segregated cycle lanes have proved the concerns raised before they were introduced wrong. Traffic isn’t merely displaced to other roads, it is often actually reduced. Local businesses have been boosted instead of disadvantaged. This kind of infrastructure doesn’t just benefit cycling hobbyists and enthusiasts – the so-called ‘middle-aged men in lycra’ – because they are more likely to be out there cycling anyway. Quieter streets with coherent cycling networks encourage others to venture out on bikes.

And a new study of low-traffic neighbourhoods has busted the myth that limiting rat runs through residential areas disproportionately benefits better-off households. In fact, everyone benefits.

The evidence from places that have led on this is conclusive. We need that level of leadership in Edinburgh. We need a zero-tolerance approach to the deaths of cyclists and pedestrians on our roads, with urgent action on the ground to make our streets safer for all.