The burning question on Edinburgh Transport policy – Are we nearly there yet?

by Scott Douglas

Friday, November 29th, 2013

Going Nowhere FastA version of this post first appeared in the Edinburgh Now supplementEverybody knows blokes are really bad at stopping and asking for directions.

So I knew man help was required at the weekend when a driver pulled up beside me near the Meadows and asked hopefully: “Are you local?”

He was a similar age to me, with a cheerful face and an easy-on the ear Midlands accent. A couple of young kids were chattering in the back seat.

Turns out he was looking for Palmerston Place and he’d already stopped at least one other person to ask for directions. Since that had happened away over in Gorgie it was clear he was having a bad morning on Edinburgh’s empty Sunday roads.

According to the AA route planner his destination was just 1.8 miles – or four minutes driving – away from the spot where he’d stopped me.

It was a piece of cake to point him back the way of Lothian Road and advise him to follow it to the bottom and turn left. I even pulled out my phone and showed him a map. Problem is, no sooner had he headed off with a cheery wave, then I started to suspect those directions may have been more trouble than they were worth.

After all, the West End of the city, between Princes Street and Haymarket is still traumatised by the trams shambles.  Sure, the roadworks were recently lifted much to the delight of businesses in the area, but when it comes to the streets, who knows which are open and which are not?

Over the past two years, the road layout in that neck of the woods has changed more often than Lady Gaga’s hair do, and proved every bit as annoying. Being local is now no guarantee of knowing which route to take.

Chances are the poor guy is still trying to navigate his way round a baffling series of one-way switchbacks, while the bairns in the back seat chorus miserably: “Are we nearly there yet?”

Which, funnily enough, is exactly the question I would have put to Edinburgh’s transport supremo, Lesley Hinds, had I known she was taking to Twitter to discuss the city’s transport policy.

Fair play to the bold councillor for taking on such a risky endeavour. In the past couple of weeks British Gas, banking giant JP Morgan and even X-Factor judge Gary Barlow have all discovered just how wrong things can go when inviting questions from Twitter users.

Ms Hinds could well have ended up getting a very bumpy ride. Instead she earned praise for putting her “head above the parapet”.

During her hour-long Tweetathon, it was revealed she is keen to reduce the length of bus lanes in Edinburgh to ease congestion. But she won’t go as far as Liverpool’s mayor Joe Anderson, who insists bus lanes do not work and is closing them all for nine months to find out if traffic flow improves.

I’d love to see the same thing happening in Edinburgh – and to have it monitored and studied by boffins so that the people of the city could finally get decent, qualitative information on whether the bus lanes actually do any good.

Anyone who’s been stuck in their car going nowhere during rush hour, while an entire lane stands empty for half-filled double deckers must’ve felt that creeping conviction that the bus lanes serve as much to lower the blood pressure of bus drivers, as they do to raise a fortune in fines for the council.

With all the hurdles faced by road users, you’d think the term “super commuter” might be a badge of honour for anyone who’d persevered with travelling in the city centre over the past three years, whether by car, bus or bike.

Nope.  According to posh people’s estate agent, Savills, the new breed of super commuters are the well-off from London who are keeping jobs in the Big Smoke, but relocating to Scotland because they can get swanky houses and quality schools for a fraction of the price.

Savills says air travel between Scotland and the south of England was often cheaper than commuting by train between London and its outlying commuter areas – so has made the concept of super commuters a reality.

Commute to London every day? Sounds about as much fun as a trip along potholed Princes Street on board a bus with burst suspension.

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