Transport Scotland’s plans for the redesign of Sherriffhall roundabout will be shown at two public exhibitions later this week, with a formal consultation period which closes on 31 January 2020. You can respond to the consultation by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
Sheriffhall is a major junction on the city bypass, lies on the border between Edinburgh and Midlothian and has been a longstanding barrier to cycling in the area. Indeed, Midlothian Council was given almost £800 thousand in 1999 to build a bridge for pedestrians and cyclists over the roundabout (the money was spent on other projects instead).
The estimated cost of the redesign is £120 million. For some context, Scotland’s annual national active travel budget is £80 million.
The plans involve elevating the bypass above the roundabout, with the A7 and A6106 being accessed by slip roads. Transport Scotland claim that the redesign will “Improve the movement of traffic on the A720 between Gilmerton and Old Craighall”, “Minimise traffic impact of local proposed developments” and “Reduce the conflict between strategic and local traffic”.
As part of the roundabout redesign, segregated cycle paths are being included, allowing pedestrians and cyclists to cross the junction safely. Underpasses will connect the various paths to a central path in the middle of the roundabout. A detailed plan of the proposals, including the cycle paths, can be seen here (pdf).
Whilst the cycling infrastructure in the plans is a significant improvement on what is currently there, it still has some major flaws. For example, no underpass is planned to the east side of Millerhill Road, despite this area being earmarked for significant development by Midlothian Council. If the roundabout is built without this underpass, it will be prohibitively expensive to retrofit at a later date. This missing underpass also means that anyone cycling south on the A6106 towards Sheriffhall will have to cross the road to access the cycling infrastructure. More importantly, the cycle routes will all end approximately 100m away from the roundabout, with Transport Scotland leaving it up to Edinburgh and Midlothian Councils to extend them towards Dalkeith, Eskbank and Edinburgh. If the roundabout redesign does go ahead, it would surely be most cost-effective to build these routes at the same time.
Removing the traffic bottleneck at Sheriffhall will undoubtedly be appealing to those who drive through it regularly. However, the long-term effect of this is that more people will choose to drive, making the existing bottlenecks at other junctions on the bypass worse, and increasing congestion on the arterial roads into Edinburgh. It is well known that increasing road capacity only improves congestion in the short term and that within a few years traffic expands to fill the available space – a concept known as “induced demand”, and there is no reason to think Sheriffhall junction will prove to be an exception.
£120 million is an enormous amount of money to spend on one road junction. That money, if spent on improving Scotland’s active travel infrastructure or on improving public transport between Midlothian and Edinburgh, would have a truly transformative effect. £120 million would be almost enough money to build segregated cycle lanes alongside every A road in Edinburgh and Midlothian, for example. Instead, Transport Scotland’s plans are unlikely to even achieve their own goals, but waste a lot of time, effort and money in the process.
Whilst safe cycling infrastructure between Midlothian and Edinburgh is desperately needed, it seems that the Sheriffhall redesign will still do more harm than good. With the First Minister declaring a climate emergency, the Scottish Government must surely agree there are better ways to spend this money.