City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Where are Edinburgh's Cross Pedestrians?


By edg - Posted on 16 July 2011

Pedestrian Signal on Queen Street, Edinburgh

In spite of its hills, Edinburgh's compact size lends itself nicely to the pedestrian. Anyone of moderate fitness can walk from one place to another quite easily within Edinburgh's New Town and Old Town and a little more energetic stretch of the legs will transport you beyond the centre to outlying Edinburgh areas such as Leith, Murrayfield, Stockbridge, and Newington.

If you are a tourist, walking is a great way to see the city, particularly the Old Town.

Yet, pedestrianism gets a bad rap. The very word "pedestrian" has long been a byword for uninspiring or commonplace. Some enraged road-users have stronger words for their two-legged counterparts: "bovine", "like sheep", and "stupid". Totally unfair - although there's no doubt that pedestrians are treated by city planners as a herd rather than people who should be allowed to move freely around the city.

I don't know why pedestrianism is held in such poor regard, in spite of efforts to encourage people to walk. Maybe it's because most of us do it everyday we just take walking for granted? Maybe there's no money in pedestrianism, which is why you don't hear so much about pedestrian issues? Maybe the whole idea is just too... pedestrian?

We are regularly reminded about the benefits of walking: better air quality, reduced noise pollution, improvements to our own health, and a generally more liveable city. And events like the recent Walk Edinburgh Week or Great Edinburgh Run (which includes a 5k walk) show initiatives to improve the image of walking are, er, afoot. 

But really - while these kind of events are welcome - it's the day to day experience of walking through the city that really counts. And any initiatives to improve that daily experience have been sorely undermined by the ubiquitous road works, and tram works of recent years (more of which is in store with the beginnning of tram remedial works on Princes Street starting in September).

I may be wrong about the lack of pedestrian advocacy. I know SPOKES who are Edinburgh's long-running cyclist lobby group are also pro pedestrians, but cycling is the organisation's raison d'etre.

Earlier this year, a report (see PDF) by Gehl Architects to the Council's Policy and Strategy Committee recommended that pedestrians be put first in the city centre. But the report only looked at Princes Street, Rose Street and George Street. These streets are already quite pedestrian-friendly. Just one street down from George street - Queen Street - it's a very different pedestrian experience.

Queen Street traffic is heavy and there are very few pedestrian crossings. The street acts as both a physical obstacle and pyschological deterrant for would-be pedestrians.

I was crossing Queen Street today with my young son at the Castle Street corner. As I'm teaching my son about safe crossing, we waited obediently at the side of the road for the pedestrian signal to light up with the green man.

The traffic signals changed several times allowing traffic on and off Queen Street from Castle Street. Each time the lights changed I thought, "We're next.". But no, the traffic stopped and started, but the pedestrian signal never changed from red. Eventually, I gave up waiting, and we darted through the cars instead.

Edinburgh City Council traffic signals hotline (0800 232323) isn't answered at weekends so I don't know if the traffic signal (above) was broken or, if in the interests of keeping traffic flowing, it just doesn't work at the weekend. Whatever the reason, no signal would have been better than a signal stuck on "stop".

It's a small thing, perhaps, but small things can quickly add up.

In the absence of an obvious forum for cross pedestrians, or happy pedestrians for that matter, I invite you to post your thoughts, comments and suggestions on this thread about Edinburgh's pedestrian experience.

Go ahead, talk your walk.

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I could not agree more with the article posted by edg, "Where are Edinburgh's Cross Pedestrians?".  What with the tram works and the gas works, which are to be quickly followed by yet more unending tram works, together with all the traffic manipulation that the City Council is imposing on the visitors and residents, the city is rapidly becoming a most unwelcoming place for anyone, be they a visitor or a resident.

The pavements are a total disgrace and present a hazard for anyone walking as you have to keep your eyes open lest you trip and injure yourself on the countless uneven paving stones.   For the car driver the roads offer an experience little short of riding a bucking bronco in a rodeo, rather than a reasonably smooth passage for a vehicle.   And where there are quieter streets with little traffic, the Council has thoughtfully provided traffic calming measures in the shape of "sleeping policemen" and other ridges to test and destroy your vehicle springs, or remove your exhaust!   It seems that Edinburgh introduces these obstacles just as other cities are abandoning them!

Add to this the total impossibility of finding your way round the city with the huge number of traffic diversions, it really makes Edinburgh the "Frustration Capital" of Scotland for any visitor foolish enough to try and use a car - or other motor vehicle - so much so that we have had visitors who have abandoned their car in desperation.   Many people are also frustrated by the lack of parking available with many being caught by the ever vigilant swarms of Parking Attendants - it makes for a really enjoyable experience for the visitor!   Some people we know now refuse to come to Edinburgh as they have had so many unpleasant experiences.

The cyclist too finds life difficult and the city unwelcoming.   The much-vaunted cycle lanes have been badly affected by all the roadworks and with all the pot holes and deteriorating road surfaces the cyclists have to take great care to avoid a serious accident.

It would seem then that the only people the Council wants to see are those who spend money in the shops, restaurants and hotels.  But you are only welcome when you are actually spending your money - as soon as you leave you become one of the unloved and unwanted, tiresome pedestrians.

While I agree mostly with what you say, I support general traffic calming. Sleeping policemen are probably a necessary evil.

I was going to mention the Water of Leith as a positive side of walking in Edinburgh, particularly with the recent pathway upgrades between Stockbridge and Roseburn. But in other sections of the path there's industrial scale re-landscaping of the river as part of the Flood Prevention Scheme which means roundabout diversions on parts of the walkway, such as Stockbridge to Canonmills. I was recently at Balgreen where one the Water of Leith diversion actually seemed to lead you on a circuit back to the beginning of the diversion. I realised that somebody had mischeviously turned one of the signs to face the wrong direction, but only on the second loop around. Luckily I was on a bicycle not foot.

I can happily report that the crossing at Queen Street and Castle Street appears to be working. The two of us ('self and 2 year old), stopped there today and the green man made an appearance. My companion was clearly aware that things were different this time, mimicking the distinctive beep, beep, beep of the traffic light all the way down the road afterwards.