What in Edinburgh costs £875 a metre? There’s an obvious tram-based answer to that question, but remarkably it is the figure suggested to make Leith Walk cycle-friendly, 1.6km in each direction; 3.2km for a cost of £2.8m – or £1 million for 1.14km. That might seem like some ridiculously expensive red paint, but apparently this includes:

  • The relocation of street furniture such as approximately 100 street lighting columns and over 500 other pieces of street furniture;
  • The relocation and alteration to existing services and utilities such as BT, gas, water etc;
  • Crossing points (signalised and unsignalised) and the need for additional signals for cyclists at signalised junctions;
  • and Surface water drainage issues and connections potentially required for a segregated cycle lane.

The building up of costs in this way seems ‘questionable’ at best. Questions arise more than answers, such as why do utilities need to be relocated for a segregated cycle lane? Why are there more crossing points? What water drainage issues are there that are different from the normal road?

The Council may have considered some plans that have a Copenhagen-style segregation – raised bike lanes separated from the road by a low kerb (just like a pavement); traffic lights for bikes, etc. This is the sort of infrastructure that an aspiring ‘model cycling city’ would look to as a perfect solution (but even the Danes haven’t spent this much to build their cycle infrastructure), and if it proved too expensive would consider alternatives and tweaks that might bring the same benefits to one of the most cycle-unfriendly streets in the country. Instead there is a danger that the £2.8m plans (wherever they may have come from) will be dismissed as ‘too expensive’, and any alternative simply not considered.

To ignore any possibility because the ideal is seen as unachievable brings to mind the proverbial cut off nose spiting the face. If the entire road was to be resurfaced would we be looking at the utilities being moved? Why then for a segregated cycle lane? Can a cycle lane be put nowhere else on one of the widest streets in the city other than a position that requires moving lampposts (sorry, lighting columns)? Four lanes of traffic, parking on both sides of the street, a central reservation, and some wide pavements, and yet there is no ‘space’ for cyclists?

Cities like Vancouver, New York and Chicago show how cheaply and easily such transformations can be made, without costly requirements to build in concrete. A much simpler system is to use two solid white lines with either rubber kerbs or plastic bollards at intervals of a couple of meters. These solutions are cheap, quick to implement and flexible.

To vote against making the Walk more liveable and safer makes a mockery of the cycle targets which the Council itself signed up to, on one street in Edinburgh which truly can fit a world class infrastructure on a vital main route into the city. If the plans for Leith Walk are dismissed out of hand, without looking into the real costs (and benefits), an opportunity would be missed, and Edinburgh’s good intentions will come to naught.

NB: The total cost of the Edinburgh’s 14Km tram line cost £69,714 per metre, just for comparison.

What in Edinburgh costs £875 a metre?