Scotland has set an ambitious goal to achieve net zero emissions of all greenhouse gases by 2045, aiming to tackle climate change.

As an individual, what is the simplest way to contribute towards this goal? I’d say, cycling! Cycling not only reduces air and noise pollution but also creates a demand for more green spaces and helps mitigate climate change. Plus, it’s good for our health and mental wellbeing.

As a climate justice advocate, I tried my hand at an individual contribution and began cycling in Edinburgh. I’ve been cycling for more than twenty years but was new to cycling in Edinburgh. I thought it would be wise to start on quieter roads with less traffic and acclimatise myself to the city’s cycling environment. But, I was not aware that a “BUMPY ROAD” was waiting for me, literally!

I started cycling from the South Gyle in the West of the city and was shocked to see so many potholes on the roads. I had to swerve a lot to dodge the craters, and it felt like navigating a minefield on my bike. I was grateful that I had opted to purchase a new gravel bike instead of a road bike! With the state of Edinburgh’s roads, I’m not convinced a road bike would survive for long!

Thereafter, I encountered a painted section of the road with a sign of a bicycle, which apparently was the designated cycle path. However, it seemed to be located in most damaged part of the road.

Yet another surprise was waiting for me. Whilst cycling in the cycle lane, I was forced to change lanes because some people were using the designated cycle path as their parking spot. It does not seem that there is much enforcement to prevent this from happening.

To be honest, given the state of the roads, pavements were looking like a better option for me to cycle on. Our brains are always looking to choose safer alternatives. However, I am well aware you can get an on the spot £30 fine for cycling on pavements. According to Rule 64 of the highway code and the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984, section 129, both state that cyclists must not cycle on pavements.

While public transport is an option, it can be costly for regular use, and the routes are not direct. Therefore, I braved the hustle and bustle of the city centre. I was attending a bike maintenance course and had to cycle through the centre of Edinburgh. The next hazard I had to negotiate was crossing the tram tracks on Princes Street.

I’m well aware of the issues the tram tracks can cause, as I’ve assisted in many cases at Cycle Law Scotland involving the tracks, but I was not prepared for almost losing control myself. These tracks can be especially hazardous in wet weather, and let’s be honest, it rains a lot in Scotland!

The Edinburgh tram tracks have been controversial since they were unveiled. The number of cyclists injured is constantly on the rise, with 652 recorded cyclist casualties between 2009 to 2021. The city council has paid more than £1,246,659 in personal injury claims concerning tram lines.

Proceeding towards the North of Edinburgh, I was relieved to see another designated path for cyclists at Leith Walk. However, these paths presented their own challenges, and while cycling there in a ‘Zig-Zag’ pattern, I had to face many obstacles.

The design of the cycle path is a bit unusual, to say the least and I had to cross tram lines to make the turns. There were people waiting on the cycle path for their buses and it was unclear if the path was a one-way system or not. It was only when I was back home that I read that Leith Walk is considered one of the worst cycle lanes in the world. Well, I can relate to that!

Despite the Scottish Government’s proposed funding of nearly £190 million for active travel in the 2023-2024 draft budget and  £20m allocated for infrastructure improvements related to active travel, still many in Edinburgh still feel unsafe cycling due to obstacles such as potholes, tram tracks, and poorly designed cycle lanes. This does raise the question as to how this investment will truly improve cycling infrastructure and encourage more people to embrace active travel options.

Manas Disoriya – Paralegal

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