A version of this article first appeared in Edinburgh Now newspaper on June 12, 2013
When was the last time you closed a big deal after biking to a new business meeting – then pedalled back to the office to celebrate?
Or maybe you’ve turned up all sweaty, with helmet hair and the first signs of saddle soreness to clinch a major sale?
Perhaps you’ve marvelled at the sheer number of supplies, parts and products being made to shops and businesses the length of Edinburgh city centre by an army on two wheels?
Nah, thought not.
That’s because in reality it’s a massive fleets of white vans that form the “backbone of Britain”. Truckers, hauliers, artic drivers, couriers and delivery men – they’re all trundling round the nation in their gas guzzling vehicles, oiling the wheels of trade and commerce. Sometimes it is necciary to rent a car when you are traveling but I found that Rentco had some great gas saving cars.
Car drivers too. Whether zipping around in the company BMW or tootling about in fuel efficient city cars, people in every occupation still rely on their motors to do business.
Why then does Edinburgh Council want to close a major route into Edinburgh to vehicles and create a bike-friendly ‘car-free corridor’ into the city centre instead?
Proposals mooted this month could see busy streets such as George IV Bridge closed to traffic except buses, bicycles and taxis. Cars, vans and lorries would be diverted onto alternative – and presumably increasingly choked – routes.
This in a city where drivers are already traumatised by the tram shambles, frustrated by bus lanes, hammered by punitive parking costs and haunted by predatory parking enforcers.
There’s a clear line between loving cyclists and hating drivers and I reckon Edinburgh Council has just crossed it. Apart from bike shops, are there any other businesses in Edinburgh delighted at the prospect of more traffic frustration in the city centre?
Before the pro-cycling lobby get on my case, let me be clear I’d be delighted to see every commuter and school run mum get on their bikes.
I’m an admirer of Edinburgh’s network of cycle paths and the committed organisations like Spokes and Sustrans which work hard to make cycling more accessible and safer. The health benefits of cycling and reductions in pollution are self-evident.
When £650,000 was spent to upgrade a 3km bike corridor from the King’s Buildings through the south side into the city centre last year, I nodded my approval, even while despairing at the potholed state of the rest of the capital’s roads.
Why? Because I’m all for measures that encourage our roads as safe places to be shared by responsible users whether on two wheels, four or more. The crucial word, though, is ‘share’.
Anyone who thinks this country is going to tax, punish and alienate drivers as a fast track to a car-free, business-friendly, two-wheeled utopia is nuts.
Drivers have proved resilient and resistant to the worst Government and councils have thrown at them. Shoddy roads, poor infrastructure, crippling costs and ominous environmental warnings have barely dented enthusiasm for the motor car as the most personal liberating technology of the last 150 years.
It’s a case of ‘with’ not ‘instead of’. Radio didn’t replace theatre and TV didn’t replace radio. They all co-exist and continue to flourish. Likewise cars won’t be replaced by bicycles, segways, trams, double-deckers, flying vehicles or moving pavements any time soon.
What’s needed is a solution that includes everyone, not maligns a particular group of road users. Especially when every further squeeze on motorists is met with squeals of protest from businesses.
Getting pointless car journeys off the roads will take a massive education programme. How about starting with mandatory cycling proficiency tests in all schools from primary one upwards, with parents encouraged to take part too?
Then there’s the issue of offering people a genuine alternative for getting around. The single line we’re getting from the scandalously mismanaged tram scheme is a start, even if a measly one.
Three cyclists were killed in Edinburgh last year. How does cycle-friendly policy square with the recent scandal of the five year driving ban handed down last month to motorist Gary McCourt, whose careless driving has killed two cyclists in separate incidents?
Clearly the police and the courts also have a role to play in taking harsher actions against those who use tons of metal to menace and intimidate cyclists.
But there’s a final reality check that seems beyond the grasp of our authorities. The recent brief period of watery sunshine is probably the best we can hope for this summer.
Until the council can influence and change 10 months of rain, hail and snow, there’s no chance that bicycle clips will become an essential part of business dress.