A new advisory cycle lane on Edinburgh’s Leith Walk – the home of the now-infamous zig-zag bike lane, roundly condemned as a “disaster waiting to happen” – has become the latest piece of cycling infrastructure in the city to be on the receiving end of widespread social media mockery.
The City of Edinburgh Council’s decision to paint the astonishingly slender advisory cycle lane, right beside tram tracks at the foot of Leith Walk, has been variously condemned by local cyclists as a “death trap”, “narrower than a pair of handlebars”, and as a “unicycle lane”.
Installed on Thursday, the extremely narrow, unprotected lane forms part of the council’s Trams to Newhaven project.
The project, expected to be completed early this year, includes the creation of a controversial northbound protected bike path on Leith Walk, which has been the subject of months of criticism and ridicule for its non-linear “zig zag” layout, potential for conflict between cyclists and pedestrians, and, most recently, the installation of large planters on the pavement.
As the council announced on Friday that two-way traffic will return to Leith Walk by the end of February, with preparation for tram testing on the new lines set to begin, cyclists have been left scratching their heads at Leith Walk’s newest ‘bike lane’, dismissed by one local as the “icing on the cake”.
After pictures of the narrow lane, located at the foot of Leith Walk at the junction with Duke Street, appeared on social media, Edinburgh-based cyclist and author Alan Brown ventured up to Leith – armed with a set of handlebars – to assess the latest addition to what has been described as “Britain’s worst new street”.
“Went down for a wee look. Actually burst out laughing on the way down it was so tragic,” he wrote on Twitter. “Edinburgh has done it. They’ve made a brand-new advisory cycle lane narrower than a pair of handlebars.”
Went down for a wee look. Actually burst out laughing on the way down it was so tragic.
Edinburgh has done it. They've made a brand new advisory cycle lane narrower than a pair of handlebars.@david_mccraw, @SpokesLothian, @CllrScottArthur, @susan4leithwalk, @LCyclable https://t.co/aRT8wwXGG8 pic.twitter.com/PZtZcuU5PY
— 𝙾𝚟𝚎𝚛𝚕𝚊𝚗𝚍𝚎𝚛 (@overlandertheb1) February 4, 2023
“Given that you’re meant to cycle 0.5m from the kerb, according to the Highway Code, that’s completely laughable/tragic,” Emily Williams replied.
Speaking to road.cc, Alan, who commuted on Leith Walk before the Covid-19 pandemic, was scathing in his appraisal of the council’s work on the road.
“Leith is tasty, quite Wild West… But it was doable,” he said. “Then they put in an uphill lane. It was so fragmented you were better off in the road. I tried the cycle lane but you kept running into pedestrians and it was humiliating to have to zig-zag round cars and bins.
“The downhill lane is now world-famous. A patchwork zig-zag with surrealist junctions. People wandering all over it as they would.”
Referring to the new painted lane, he continued: “This thing is the icing on the cake. That corner is one of the most intoxicated on the planet… For absolute certain somebody is going to fall off the pavement and push a rider into the tram tracks.
“It’s a death-trap. It’s the council’s cowardice in concrete form. I struggle for words to describe how insulting it is in the neighbourhood with the lowest access to cars in Scotland.
“This should be a walking and cycling place, but they put the trams through for financial reasons and abandoned all other modes to scrap it out for crumbs.
“If I was commuting to Leith again, I’d use Easter Road. Between the tram tracks and the pavement/cycle lane, Leith Walk is no longer a practical proposition for bike mobility.”
That sentiment was echoed by Euan Hamilton, who posted the original photo of the painted lane which sparked the latest Twitter furore.
“I would love to cycle round the city but without proper segregation, I won’t take the risk. I walk or get the bus everywhere,” he told Edinburgh Live.
Although complaints focus on the v substandard🚲lane
top problem here is (yet again) tramline layout
Tramlines have caused many injuries
🙄We highlighted narrow kerb-tramline width early on but @TramstoNewhaven insisted tramline must be there & footway couldn't be reduced
— Spokes CycleCampaign (@SpokesLothian) February 5, 2023
Meanwhile, this morning cycling campaign group Spokes noted that, alongside the “very substandard bike lane”, the tramline layout remains the scheme’s most serious problem.
In September, we reported that over £1.2m had been paid out to cyclists who were injured after falling from their bikes on Edinburgh’s tram lines during the last ten years.
Since the tracks were installed in 2012, there have been 422 incidents involving cyclists on the tram lines, with the majority occurring on Princes Street and around Haymarket.
“We highlighted the narrow kerb-tramline width early on but Trams to Newhaven insisted that the tramline must be there and the footway couldn’t be reduced,” the group tweeted.
“We know of one extremely serious injury tramline crash at Haymarket Yards, where, like here, tramline is close to kerb.
“A walker stepped out without looking, cyclist went into the tramlines to avoid hitting them and suffered severe injury.”
A spokesperson for the City of Edinburgh Council responded to the complaints by stressing that the design of the bike lane has not yet been finalised.
“The whole cycleway remains closed as it is under construction and there are also ongoing works around this junction – this is not the final layout for the cycleway,” the spokesperson said.
I still cannot believe this is actually being built. We really spent limited tax funds on this. Someone was PAID genuine money to create this design and then somehow, thinking people approved it. Was the project remit create accidents and make Edinburgh look moronic? #Edinburgh pic.twitter.com/7jGkWfrJFl
— Allasan Seòras Buc 🦓🏴 (@Airisaiia) April 6, 2022
The council’s response – urging patience before the project has been completed – has proved a common one over the last ten months.
In April, as images first emerged of Leith Walk’s new protected bike path, it quickly gained notoriety for its “moronic” zig-zag layout and sharp bends around obstacles.
Locals also shared images online of lampposts situated right in the middle of the path, despite the bends, while others criticised the poorly-placed utility covers and lack of space afforded to pedestrians.
And this week, locals criticised the decision to install large planters on the pavement, further reducing the space for pedestrians and cyclists, as “bizarre” and “dangerous”.
No kidding, just when you think the worst new street in Britain has hit rock bottom... it somehow gets EVEN WORSE https://t.co/ELlZQMAwhc
— Dave McCraw (@david_mccraw) February 2, 2023
In December, an Edinburgh pensioner, who suffered a suspected broken rib and other minor injuries after hitting a shallow kerb on the side of the new infrastructure, warned that the crooked bike lane is a “disaster waiting to happen”.
The city’s council responded to 69-year-old’s John’s complaint by noting that the lane is currently closed, with barriers and signage in place notifying the public, and will not be complete until early this year – though the pensioner claimed that it won’t be any safer when it’s officially open and that the “terrible design” could cause someone to be seriously injured.
Last month, Edinburgh local Lauren tweeted a photo of several people queuing across the cycle lane as they waited for a bus, with the caption: “Spot the problem with this section of Leith Walk cycle path”.
Spot the problem with this section of Leith Walk cycle path pic.twitter.com/nhqP04qR3b
— Lauren (@NeepsnTatties) January 19, 2023
“A dedicated cycle path is a positive development as many people, including me, aren’t confident cycling in traffic,” Lauren said.
“Unfortunately, the Leith Walk cycle lane design reduces pedestrian space and puts cyclists and pedestrians into conflict. It’s common to see people walking in the bike lane without realising.”
Edinburgh City Council’s transport and environment convenor Scott Arthur says he recognises the “genuine concerns” of residents concerning the much-criticised layout, and will monitor the situation when the lane is fully open.
“The current layout on Leith Walk complies with the Edinburgh Street Design Guidance (ESDG), which recognises that flexibility is required to accommodate a variety of modes in the design of existing streets,” Arthur said.
“The Council’s project team worked hard to engage closely with the public from the project’s inception, and the design was developed in close consultation with the community and stakeholders during 2018 to allow residents, businesses, pedestrians, and cyclists to co-exist with buses and trams.
“The cycle lane is currently closed, with diversions in place. However, I do acknowledge that there are genuine concerns regarding this scheme and I will ensure it is closely monitored once it is fully open to the public.”
Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.