Why I don’t cycle in Edinburgh

I learned to ride a bike in Cambridge over thirty years ago – beautifully flat roads, no long flights of steps, lots of places to chain a bike up, and such a culture of cycling that car drivers actually see you.

There are a bunch of problems with cycling round Edinburgh – the hills, the stairs, where to lock your bike safely if you live in or are visiting a tenement. I rode a bike to school for a few years. Got bullied fiercely by the boys at Gillespies who regarded bike-riding as a strictly male privilege. (Eventually my parents found out because of the minor vandalism the boys were practicing on my bike, and I got to stow my bicycle safely inside the school where they couldn’t get at it. I still remember the bewildered look of one of the boys – who’d been taking part in the vandalise-the-girl’s-bike campaign – when he demanded how come I got to use an inside storage room for my bicycle, when I pointed out that it was because my bike wasn’t safe in the shelter where all the boys kept theirs. I expect he compiled a female privilege list in later life.)

That experience didn’t stop me, though. It was unpleasant, but I still loved the feeling of getting places under my own power: if it was a struggle getting up hills, it’s a pleasure speeding down hills. There was something else that stopped me.

I was cycling down Gilmore Place, towards the traffic lights where Home Street and Leven Street meet. The lights were red. I slowed down and glanced behind me: there was a big double-decker bus coming along, right next to the pavement. I assumed that it would have to stop, since otherwise it would run me down. I glanced back a moment later. The driver didn’t appear to be slowing. It looked as if the bus just meant to run right over me.

I didn’t think that could be. I had always been told that bus drivers and taxi drivers will take more care avoiding cyclists and pedestrians than ordinary private car drivers, since for them it’s their livelihood if they’re in an accident. But. I could see the bus was not slowing. I leaped off my bike on to the pavement and dragged the bike off the road and I stood there, breathless, almost disbelieving, realising that if I had not reacted like that – if I had calmly continued to assume that the bus driver was paying attention to the road ahead and to the solitary cyclist on it – I would now be dead.

I didn’t quit bicycling immediately. But that moment has never gone away from me. That bus driver would have killed me, and no doubt felt very sorry afterwards. But I’d still be dead.

Every year or two, there’s some newsworthy account of yet another cyclist being killed on Edinburgh roads. Yesterday Andrew McNicoll died on Lanark Road – he hit a parked car (my guess? parked in a bike lane. Car drivers do this) and an articulated lorry hit him. No doubt the driver is very sorry now. But Andrew McNicoll is still dead. In April last year, a cyclist was killed at Broughton Point – an odd junction and one that another cyclist friend mentions as a dangerous area for anyone on a bike. Car drivers are supposed to give a bicycle exactly as much road space as they would another car – but they don’t. A bicycle will not harm a car driver even if the cyclist crashes into the car, and drivers do not worry about what happens to cyclists if a car bumps into them.

Ricky Henderson, one of the ward councillors, intends to ask if road improvements would have saved the cyclist’s life:

No comfort whatsoever to Andrew McNicol’s family but I’ve asked for this to placed on the agenda for the next Pentlands Neighbourhood Partnership meeting so that we can consider any road safety improvements that may be possible. Could be of course that no such measures would have prevented this tragedy but I’m keen to look at all the options. Pleased to say the NP Manager responded immediately saying he has already instructed work to look at this location.

When cyclists ride on the pavement, providing they take due care to avoid pedestrians, who can blame them? Edinburgh roads are not safe, and it’s Edinburgh drivers who kill cyclists. No doubt they’re always very sorry afterward.

They don’t see us.

Note: Wednesday 11th January 2012, 1pm: St Andrews House, Regent Road, Edinburgh – cyclists urged to attend a demo for an hour

to urge Scottish Ministers to increase funding for cycling and walking instead of funding expensive road-building programmes that will increase Scotland’s carbon footprint.

Good plan. Fund compulsory annual classes for drivers on cyclist-awareness.


Filed under Personal, Public Transport, Sustainable Politics

6 responses to “Why I don’t cycle in Edinburgh

  1. Kim

    There are a number of us who think it is time for change, the City Council has recently committed a decent amount of money to put into cycling infrastructure in Edinburgh and we intend to see that it is spent wisely on Dutch quality infrastructure. This is the first draft of our proposed eight point manifesto for safer cycling. Would you be interest in helping us to spend the word? There is an event in the planning for 28th April and a web site coming soon.

  2. Kim

    Hope you will be able to join us for the Pedal on Parliament event on the 28th April. We want to make Scotland’s roads safe for everyone to use. Please spread the word!

  3. James

    As a cyclist and car driver I can see different points of views here, and not just the one sided view reported. I agree that cyclists do get killed and injured on Edinburgh roads by vehicles, but on my travels I have seen many ( and I do mean many) cyclists flauting road traffic laws. It is a wonder that more are not maimed or injured. At every opportunity, I let them know of their misdemeanours, and have been verbally abused because of this. It is not all one sided as is suggested and the cyclists who have been killed or injured in these accidents may only have had themselves to blame. Innocent vehicle drivers then have to live with this burden for the rest of their lives. We never seem to hear who was at fault with a lot of these accidents after the fact, driver or cyclist. However, I do keep on cycling in Edinburgh, even at the risk of accident. Police should be a bit more active in catching cyclists who flaunt the rules and regulations to which we are all bound , the same as any other road user – this list should include but is not exhaustive – riding on pavements, speeding, running red lights, riding unfit bikes ie unfit brakes, tyres, lights etc. And should it not be compulsoty for all cyclists to have insurance for the times that they are at fault in an accident?

    • riding unfit bikes ie unfit brakes, tyres, lights etc.

      I agree that there should be a standard of safety for cycles and it should be applied – brakes, tyres, and lights especially.


      Trickier to enforce, because most bikes don’t have a speedometer. But I think it’s reasonable to say that if a cyclist is sharing space with pedestrians -whethere on the sidewalk or on a cycleway/footpath – the cyclist should be riding at a reasonable speed with regard to the safety of pedestrians – especially if the cyclist is on the pavement.

      running red lights,

      From what cyclists say, and this is supported by my own long-ago experience, the main reason for running red lights is to ensure they are seen by other drivers. Would probably be more effective to institute a requirement in the driving test to be aware of cyclists (and a provision in the law that police can enforce if they see a driver plainly unaware of a cyclist, whether or not this has caused an accident) and – most effective of all – provide space at traffic lights ahead of the cars that is cyclist-only and specifically allow cyclists to cross at junctions before the cars start.

      Remove the need for cyclists to run red lights against the law, and then – if it happens without need – cyclists can be penalised for doing so.

      riding on pavements

      Providing a cyclist uses the pavement at a slow speed and with proper caution for pedestrians, I have every sympathy for them when they do this where the roads are dangerous and no proper cycle path has been provided (or where drivers have parked their cars on it without penalty).

      We never seem to hear who was at fault with a lot of these accidents after the fact, driver or cyclist.

      The person who should be assumed to be at fault, sans other evidence, is the one in control of a lethal quarter-ton of machinery. The driver is responsible because the driver is the one who can kill. That’s the law with regard to pedestrians, and it ought to be the law with regard to cyclists.

      Innocent vehicle drivers then have to live with this burden for the rest of their lives.

      But at least they’re alive to know it. After all, in Edinburgh, they usually have the option to quit driving …and be cyclists, if they’re convinced that’s so much better.

  4. Go get an Edinburgh Inner Tubes Map- then take a marker and connect all the “Gaps” in the middle of the city- then we are beginning to get it- Car, let alone trucks, buses and taxis DO NOT mix with people on bikes. If I run over you with my 15lbs bike, it WON’T have the same effect as my Peugeot 405 diesel…trust me. The bike proliferation is a financial, healthy necessity.
    Ride On.

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