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"Trams should replace cars, rather than people cycling": Fears new tram route will be built on popular active travel path

There has been disagreement over the most suitable site for the new transport link amid concerns "a fantastic green space and active travel corridor" might be impacted...

The location of a proposed new tram line in Edinburgh, and whether it will be built on the city's roads or instead along a popular off-road cycling and walking route, has been a hot topic of discussion in the Scottish capital, interested locals being turned away from a public meeting on the issue as the venue had already reached capacity.

Edinburgh City Council is soon to begin a public consultation on the new tram line to Granton and is considering constructing the route along the Roseburn Corridor, a former railway line that is now home to a popular path for cyclists, walkers and wheelers. An alternative Orchard Brae route has also been proposed, the council stating that this on-road alternative would not have the same "key factor" of "avoiding congestion and road works" that using the Roseburn Corridor would.

However, a campaign group called Save the Roseburn Path has opposed the off-road proposal, arguing that "trams should replace cars, rather than people walking, cycling and wheeling" and the path has "immense value" as a "fantastic green space and active travel corridor for walking, cycling running".

> Cyclists injured on Edinburgh tram line paid £1.2m in compensation

"Our objective is clear: to stop the proposed tram extension going down the Roseburn Path," the group says. "We want to protect the integrity of a key active travel corridor. The route is used by Edinburgh residents for walking, running, commuting, cycling, bench sitting and spending time in nature. It's a slice of calm in our busy and often stressful lives.

"We want to protect one of Edinburgh's last remaining urban green spaces. If the City of Edinburgh Council is allowed to build on this space, it opens the door to further expansion in other green spaces - with particular risk to other areas of the path network."

​The public meeting was organised by the cycling campaign group Spokes, that has not expressed a preference between the options and says, "Whichever option the council selects, we will lobby for cycling and walking provision to be of high quality".

Roseburn Path, Edinburgh (North Edinburgh Community News)

The council has insisted that its Transport and Environment Committee has instructed the project to explore the potential to install a high-quality walking and cycling route alongside the tram line, should the Roseburn Corridor option be picked, however some have concerns about losing the green space and active travel path in its current form. 

It is believed this new active travel path would be a three-metre-wide tarmac surface for most of the route, reduced to two metres at pinch points.

Edinburgh City Council also points to reduced journey times if the tramline is built on the off-road site, making it more attractive to commuters than if it is on the road and slower.

Edinburgh Evening News reported that a former city transport convener, Lesley Hinds, told the public meeting (attended by a couple of hundred interested locals) that the on-road route is "not feasible" but that "good quality" cycling and walking provision would have to be part of the project.

"There is obviously real concern regarding greenery and the wildlife on line 1b. I don't think anyone can deny that," she said. "It is an issue that has to be dealt with.

"We should spend no more time or money on the on-road option as it's not a feasible one. In my view, line 1b is the only option that addresses both cycling and walking and also delivering public transport links to the waterfront and all along the way, because unless we invest in public transport our city will come to a halt and our children and grandchildren will have the worst pollution and the worst air quality that we can have."

Justifying her statement about the on-road proposal being "not feasible", Hinds suggested there would be utilities issues, congestion, as well as impacts on businesses and buses, while safe cycling alongside the route would be "potentially undeliverable" due to complex junctions.

However, Euan Baxter of the Save Roseburn Path campaign believes not opting for the on-road option would be "devastating for residents, wildlife and climate change".

"The on-road option takes more people on more journeys," he told the meeting. "The trams should replace cars on the road, not pedestrians, cycles and nature in a local park. The way transport planning is done you come up with the benefits first and then you work out the costs later on. Unfortunately not a single budget or a detailed engineering report has been done on the route."

The public consultation is expected to begin later in the year. In January, a Liberal Democrat councillor said that it would be a "travesty" if the tram extension meant losing a "much-loved" cycle path, that comment coming a month before the council stated its intention to make a new active travel path part of the project.

Dan is the road.cc news editor and has spent the past four years writing stories and features, as well as (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. Having previously written about nearly every other sport under the sun for the Express, and the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for the Non-League Paper, Dan joined road.cc in 2020. Come the weekend you'll find him labouring up a hill, probably with a mouth full of jelly babies, or making a bonk-induced trip to a south of England petrol station... in search of more jelly babies.

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25 comments

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Chris RideFar | 1 day ago
2 likes

It always makes me a bit sad when I ride on a bike path that I can see used to be a train line, because I would prefer that there were more trains, that are used by more people. I don't mind riding on the road, personally.

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chrisonabike replied to Chris RideFar | 1 day ago
2 likes

Chris RideFar wrote:

It always makes me a bit sad when I ride on a bike path that I can see used to be a train line, because I would prefer that there were more trains, that are used by more people. I don't mind riding on the road, personally.

Indeed. And good for you.

Unfortunately the politicians chose to favour driving - and (after some initial pushing) the people were sold on it and so we got mass motoring on the roads instead.

We're continuing to miss a trick in the UK by failing to join up public (rail, bus) and private transport.  Not that public transport is frequent or reliable enough, or good value for money (always judged relative to the car, sadly) either.  And chicken and egg again - we don't build cycle paths to transport hubs or install enough safe cycle parking there because people don't cycle to the transit points, because...

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HLaB | 2 days ago
3 likes

Its a long time since I used the Roseburn path but as great a facility as it was then after dark and in the quieter hours I'd preferred to dice with traffic, especially towards Granton (where I lived at the time).  If its designed right it could benefit from the passive security of trams running along it too, but they definitely can't lose it, it will be a massive step backwards for Edinburgh!

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OldRidgeback replied to HLaB | 2 days ago
2 likes

Yep, a lot of the route is wide enough to have trams running alongside the bike/pedestrian path.

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Backladder replied to OldRidgeback | 2 days ago
5 likes

OldRidgeback wrote:

Yep, a lot of the route is wide enough to have trams running alongside the bike/pedestrian path.

Well in the parts where it isn't surely the tram drivers can get out and push!

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OldRidgeback | 2 days ago
1 like

I do like the North Edinburgh bike routes. I've used them a lot over the years. It'd be a pity to lose them. 

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Wheelywheelygood | 2 days ago
1 like

Trams sound like a brilliant idea and I would free the roads of selfish people who ride 3abreast to stop cars getting past or put kids on the crossbar and ride on main roads or those who believe that lights and reflectors are ornaments totally unnecessary especially at night  or wearing something reflective as drivers don't need to see you until they hit you , there are a lot of really "clever" people on bikes 

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chrisonabike replied to Wheelywheelygood | 2 days ago
6 likes

Aren't you worried your wheelchair wheels might get stuck in the rails?

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Backladder replied to Wheelywheelygood | 2 days ago
1 like

Wheelywheelygood wrote:

Trams sound like a brilliant idea 

Trams are merely a variation on trains and we don't have train tracks running along the roads for very good reasons, battery trolleybuses are a better idea.

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chrisonabike replied to Backladder | 2 days ago
1 like

Pros and cons BUT as I understand it the key benefit of light rail / tram is speed / capacity.  So lots of people boarding a single vehicle and by multiple doors.  Trolley buses just don't cover that.

Of course - that is only where are certain you have need for that capacity...  In many places that may be questionable.  But for a busy urban environment trams could end up "holding up the traffic" far less.  (Of course - that's also a bit backward because the routes should be engineered to prioritise trams, them being potentially much more efficient movers of people than cars or even buses).

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Backladder replied to chrisonabike | 2 days ago
1 like

The downside of trams (apart from killing cyclists) is lack of flexibility, once you have put in the rails (at enormous cost) then the route is fixed, regardless of any changes to requirements. Battery trolleybuses can be re-routed more easily as long as part of the route still charges the batteries. I'm not sure why a bus can't be designed with more doors, I've seen them with doors at the front, in the middle and at the back but never all at once for some reason.

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chrisonabike replied to Backladder | 2 days ago
0 likes

Well - bendy buses!  (There have certainly been issues with these ... but they are also still used).

I'm not a particular flag-waver for buses or trams (there are definitely fans of the latter).  However while there are a whole series of pros and cons to each the capacity advantage appears to be decisively with the tram.

... of course - that is always dependent on how many people actually use it (a question in Edinburgh)!

It's possible to make tram tracks more dangerous (see Edinburgh) or apparently less so (see ... pretty much everywhere else).  All on-street motor transport - tram or bus - is potentially dangerous.  FWIW I've heard the "fixed path" of trams cited as reason why they are safer than e.g. buses / trolleybuses to operate around people on foot as if you're not standing between or close to the tracks you *know* they can't hit you!

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cyclisto replied to chrisonabike | 2 days ago
2 likes

For me a really appealing solution is trolleybus. Easy to install and not as expensive as tram, brakes better than tram, not emitting pollutants like buses, cheaper than battery buses.

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Backladder replied to chrisonabike | 1 day ago
0 likes

While individual trams might have a greater capacity than individual buses I can't imagine trams running close enough together (due to braking capacity) to beat a continuous line of buses running one after the other. As for trams "fixed path" wasn't this near you? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wbyV1kpnMm4 

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chrisonabike replied to Backladder | 1 day ago
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Well, again ... I'm cautious about the trams especially when in an "Edinburgh Council" context.  But that one's a bit like blaming the house that the driver drove into (or a train).

I wonder if it was cats behind it again, like a previous one?

For "tram trouble" there's this tragedy but I think the biggest problem is the unsafe crossing designs (failure to properly design for, never mind provide for cycling) which have lead to many cycle crashes, including one in which a cyclist died (that link is to the Spokes page which has a great deal of material on the whole troubled tram saga).

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chrisonabike | 2 days ago
2 likes

I think Carior and nniff's points apply here.

Redevelopment of north west Edinburgh - there are a whole series of concerns to address.  The council presents the tram as answering each in part (e.g. providing transport with sufficient capacity and speed, taking "people off the roads", encouraging less car use as we're already struggling).

When examined in more detail the tram doesn't appear to be a particularly good "answer" to any of these (some of these mentioned in the article).  Of course it would never be the only answer.  For me it's concerning that the "multimodal" aspect e.g. integrating trams (or trains for that matter) and cycling seems to be almost overlooked.  It needs really good integration (e.g. see here) from the start to allow any challenge to the dominance of motor transport.  And there's clear evidence the current tram folks are at best *really* not interested - see lots of previous road.cc stories on junk-grade cycle stands on Leith Walk, or the badly built slalom cycle paths...

The current Transport Convener, Councillor Scott Arthur, has explained part of the thinking in a video.  One of the key points seemed to be "we can't get away with irritating the public by disrupting their travel and business access again".

It's tricky - but ultimately I think this is a key driver for those in charge.  The council sees these former railway lines as "free space" - or even "wasted underdeveloped space just ready to drop a train / tram on".  So run a tram through there and you get more capacity, no space taken from drivers and crucially little "disturbance" to the restive residents.  Everyone's a winner, right?

The council is (relatively, for the UK) forward-thinking on active travel.  That means "not even as advanced as London" of course.  But even with trams we seem to come back to the same roadblock (literally, in the case of the trams when they go through the city centre, as they must).  One mode of transport is more equal than others (motor vehicles).

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chrisonabike replied to chrisonabike | 2 days ago
2 likes

Of course it still remains to be seen the final forms of plan the council would be willing to countenance looking at.  (Which is not the same as what they might decide to deliver of course.)

FWIW that route is my connection with town and to rail transport (Haymarket). It is much more efficient than on the road (no traffic lights, no waiting at junctions, hills and valleys are flattened out).  It's usually infinitely more pleasant even than the "nice new" cycle paths, because it's green space free from road noise and smells.

Effectively breaking it as planned will break what is (sort of) an active travel network*.  It'll cut less-problematic access for active travel between the West of the city and the whole north-west of Edinburgh.  There's no alternative route which doesn't involve busy roads, hills, a big detour or all of them.

Not only that but it will also render much less useful the still not quite completed "Roseburn to the canal" link which would have connected to the south west and other active travel links.

No, it's not perfect - it's shared space!  With occasional ne'er-do-wells, the usual broken glass and odd grumpy dog-walker.  But it mostly ... works.

* Politicians and planners in UK just haven't grasped that even though people mostly walk or cycle locally, those "routes" are not infinitely divisible.  And thinking about e.g. "city-wide networks for active travel" is the opposite of redundant.

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Flâneur replied to chrisonabike | 2 days ago
1 like

chrisonabike wrote:

The council is (relatively, for the UK) forward-thinking on active travel.

I'd disagree strongly on that. Maybe true 10-15 years ago, but cities like Glasgow, Manchester, perhaps even Sheffield and Newcastle (north of the river anyway) have come from virtually a standing start and implemented much more usable infrastructure in that time.

Meanwhile Edinburgh has done what - CCWEL (which was fought tooth and claw), Canal-Roseburn underway (but vastly overengineered and potentially utterly compromised even before opening by these tram plans). Meanwhile how many times have relatively simple improvements like Canal-Meadows been redesigned, consulted on & generally spaffed the active travel budget without a single tangible action?

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chrisonabike replied to Flâneur | 2 days ago
0 likes

Hmm... I need to get out more?  It does depends who you're comparing to!  Yorkshire and Lancashire come to mind (not in a good way).

I've had the odd pootle around Glasgow but haven't been for a few years.  The others - I don't know.  (Greater) Manchester had a great vision - but not sure exactly how much has arrived and how does it actually connect?

Edinburgh is not great at all.  You're absolutely right that change has been glacial.  And it feels like we've "sat on our inheritance" e.g. the former railway paths - which were only done with the help of Sustrans.  And the tram folk seem to have been at best completely uninterested in cycling.

But - with CCWEL - the Murrayfield - Haymarket section is - just about - genuine cycle infra.  The Danes and even I think the Dutch would recognise it.  It goes down main routes.  Albeit not the most direct route from Haymarket to the West End.

Probably something like expanding the Covid-era "spaces for people" into a rough-and-ready Danish-quality-level network was a missed chance?  (Could have just upgraded the blocks / wands to concrete barrier?)  And of course the normal UK oversights: junctions, enabling multi-modal transport (compare the size of the - now grotty - cycle parking at e.g. Haymarket with almost any Dutch railway station) and ultimately recognising that humans travel socially.

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Carior | 3 days ago
5 likes

The fundamental question it seems is whether you want to drive modal shift to create a better city, or make life easier for motorists.

If the motivation is the latter then it follows that you don't want to take away from cars, if your motivation is the former (which p.s. is likely to benefit those who have no choice but to use the roads, e.g. deliveries etc) then why would you destroy a nice part of a city to protect motor vehicles?

As a side note - how many stops are they going to have in the park vs on the road near businesses etc.  Surely its going to be a bit more convenient to be able to hop off and nip into business x, y, z?

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brooksby replied to Carior | 2 days ago
2 likes

Carior wrote:

As a side note - how many stops are they going to have in the park vs on the road near businesses etc.  Surely its going to be a bit more convenient to be able to hop off and nip into business x, y, z?

Which is exactly the point that nniff raises below (I think).

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nniff | 3 days ago
10 likes

Waste of time, effort and money.  Many years ago I was involved in the Leeds Supertram (sic) project.  One of our Italian partners took one look at the Council's proposed route and said 'Where are all the people?  It's a Rapid Mass Transit system, not a railway - it must go through where the people live and work'.   Parts of the route went on the same roads where the old trams used to run, but most of it didn't.

Shortly after, we pulled out and the project subsequently died some years later.

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brooksby | 3 days ago
11 likes

Nobody in the future will use trams/trains, so we'll pull out the railway lines and tram lines.

Some decades later…: we must find a use for that abandoned railway line, we can't leave it derelict.  I know, let's let cyclists and pedestrians use it.  Encouraging active travel and recreational use will make us look very good indeed.

Some years later…: You know what - I think it would be great idea to start using trams again, to stop so many people having to use their cars.  But we can't possibly put the tram lines back where they were: we need that space for the cars we are trying to discourage people from using.  I know, why don't we put the tram line back where the old railway was?  It's practically derelict anyway - it's only being used by people for recreational use.  And probably encouraging crime and teenagers on dirt bikes.

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Samtheeagle | 3 days ago
9 likes

In my own county, when involved in initial discussion on rapid light transport, similar propositions were discussed.  Redundant railway lines tend to be constraint laiden (its why they are redundant) and useless for heavy rail (double decker etc).  My and others arguments included that there would be no better advert for the new rapid transport if it were provided by taking a lane away from ICE road traffic & drivers were able to see their colleagues whisked to work in a modern, wifi enabled tram/bus.    

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AidanR | 3 days ago
13 likes

So the off-road route has the "key factor" of "avoiding congestion and road works"? That's a temporary problem. Losing the Roseburn Corridor would be a permanent problem. I think that's more key.

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