Wishing You A Safe Journey


Posted by in August's Magazine

In the aftermath of the tramocalypse, Leith Walk has rather unfortunately won some unwanted accolades. At the start of the year national cycling charity Sustrans named Leith Walk among the top 10 worst streets for cycling in the whole of the UK. As if that wasn’t bad enough, there is hard evidence that footfall is down and recently it’s also emerged that the Champs-e-Leithy could well be a contender for the dirtiest high street in Scotland!

Everyone has a view on how the street could be improved. Now that the council has agreed on a budget of £5.5 million to put right the damage, it’s time to work out how to spend it wisely, so that everyone benefits.

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Over the summer, Greener Leith worked with other community groups to run a community-led consultation to see if we could find some consensus on what a ‘Vision for Leith Walk’ might look like.

Online and offline, hundreds of people took part – you may vaguely remember being handed some sticky dots at Leith Gala Day – and the final top twenty list makes for interesting reading.

Top of the list came a call for better walking and cycling facilities, including dedicated cycle lanes on Leith Walk – an idea that has generated a lot of debate since it was picked up by national cycle campaigners. But local folk also came up with a whole host of other ideas, some practical and some creative, to rejuvenate the old street.

Amongst them came a call for a public register of shop owners to make it easier for people to get in touch and set-up up ‘pop-up’ shops and temporary art galleries in empty spaces. Or how about extending the planned free public wi-fi system intended for the city centre to the Foot of the Walk? The problem of street clutter, both bins and signs, also came very high up on the list. The Leith Business Association have started looking at the bins issue and they’ve been trying to work out how they can encourage traders on the street to look after their trade waste bins better.

It’s even rumoured that the LBA’s work uncovered the fact that there are commercial bins that have been sitting on the street for ages that apparently have no owner. Does one laugh or cry? It’s damn hard to tell.

Ever since the Vision for Leith consultation finished Greener Leith volunteers have been trying to ensure that council officials do their best to work out how to make local folks’ priorities a reality. Indeed, locals’ calls for dedicated bike lanes have clearly proven a bit of a challenge to council officers at times. A couple of months ago I had to go to a council meeting in the city chambers and ask councillors directly to instruct officers to look seriously at the design options. A few weeks later their first estimate of the cost of installing the lanes stands at £850 per metre. Despite this scary sounding cost – one that may yet stand in the way of making Leith Walk a more people friendly street – it’s important that we don’t declare it too difficult, or too expensive, and give up on it.

The cost of running a car is going up faster than inflation and besides, Leith is one of the few parts of the city where by choice or necessity, the majority of households don’t have access to a car. Even the cost of bus fares is going up faster than inflationFor local journeys, the simple freedom of the bike has never been more appealing to Leithers. Unfortunately the main thing that stops them cycling is a lack of acceptable safe places to ride that link the places that they want to go to.

Importantly, good quality public realm, which is specifically designed for people on foot and on two wheels, is proven to give an economic boost to local businesses. All over the world, wherever cities invest in better footpaths and cycle facilities businesses fare better. And if you need a local example, all you need to do is look at the work that’s been done to improve The Shore.

By restricting traffic on the street, and widening the pavements, more local businesses have been able to put tables outside. The whole place has become more appealing to locals and visitors alike. A positive to take forward then…
If you have a chance, try searching for Vision for Leith Walk: The Final Top Twenty Ideas on your computer. If you see an idea that appeals to you, now is a very good time to get in touch with your councillors so that you can help influence and indeed affect the future of Leith’s most iconic street.

Info:  greenerleith.org
Twitter: @greenerleith

Photo: www.henniker.org.uk

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