Where are Edinburgh's Cross Pedestrians?
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.
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.