Melville Crescent Consultation Exercise

The City of Edinburgh council periodically releases consultations about various aspects of the city. This one caught my eye, in which they “are seeking [citizens’] views on proposals to improve Melville Crescent to make it a more pleasant environment for local residents, staff and people passing through by foot and bike“. Here’s what I thought:

Option B Melville CrescentOption B is my preferred option, however it requires some enhancements, as there does not appear to be adequate visible pedestrian crossing facilities. If traffic volumes are low, then a zebra crossing is not necessary, however there does not appear to be a clear provision for north-south movements across Melville St. The east-west CCWEL (that’s the City Centre West-East Link cycle route which they refer to only as an acronym) alignment appears to be the safest, provided the cycle route is clearly visible – for example through a different surface treatment. I imagine that due to the location in Edinburgh’s New Town, restrictions on materials will be in place to maintain the historic feel, but appropriate sett paving (the subject of another recent consultation) can be used to good effect.

This option appears to have the largest amount of public realm which should serve to make the area more attractive and a place where people will want to dwell. As far as I know of the area, it is primarily residential and offices therefore it would present a great opportunity for a café, bookshop or other similar commercial venture to enhance the appeal and ‘sense of place’ for the location.

In summary, I believe it is most important to ensure pedestrian and cyclist provision is prioritised over vehicular traffic to improve the public realm and make the area more pleasant and inviting. What are your thoughts? Did you complete this consultation?

How to catch a train?

I found an interesting question on one of the Linkedin groups I belong to and felt compelled to write an answer. As it turned out to be a pretty complete response, I deemed it worthy of its own blog entry, so here it is.

How can we get more rail passengers to arrive at the station by bike, bus or on foot?

This is a great question which I have pondered somewhat in the past, so it’s great to try and put these thoughts in writing. The methods with the most potential in my opinion are buses and bikes. As to how to encourage walking to a station? Presumably only by deterring driving by car!

In situations where walking or cycling is not suitable, be it due to weather, distance or convenience, buses seem like the obvious answer, provided that they have an advantage over taking the car. In simple monetary terms, a return journey to the station by bus must be cheaper than a day’s parking ticket at the station. More importantly though, the bus timetable must be suitably synchronised with the train one to ensure convenient connections. This should be relatively simple to arrange in a sleepy commuter village.

As to cycling, the answer is relatively straight-forward – ensuring that the bike which is left at the station remains safe. Although cycle boxes may be an attractive idea, they take up far too much space to be an effective solution anywhere with more than 50 bikes. There are in my opinion two key criteria to meet for someone to leave their bike at the station: ensuring it is protected from thiefs and the elements. The latter is ensured by bike shelters closed in on as many sides as possible. The former, by installing CCTV cameras and optionally having ‘guards’ patrol the racks, as well as by encouraging cyclist to register their bikes. The solution feels simple enough to me.

My experience spans reaching train stations semi-regularly in three very different cities. In Oxford, I lived too far from the station to walk so, as a poor student, cycling (there and everywhere else) was the only option. However, the bike racks were perhaps the most crammed I have seen anywhere. In the commuter town of Harpenden (Herts), there was a vast car park alongside the track which caused endless traffic jams on the main Station Road leading into the centre. Walking or cycling past the long queue of frustrated drivers was therefore very satisfying. Finally, in Edinburgh, I commute out of town at 8am – the 20min bus journey drops me off outside the station with a slightly excessive 15 mins to buy my ticket and board a train for a 20min train journey, which is followed by another 20min walk (or a 5 min cycle ride on the rare occasion the weather is clement – at least going ‘against the flow’ means there’s always space for my bike).

To summarise, what will encourage walking, cycling or using public transport to catch the train? A smoother and friendlier journey than getting there by car – something well within reach if it is planned properly.

What stops a train?

My train journey to work this morning took 20 minutes. On the way back, I was on the train for 1 hour and 20 minutes. The extra hour, spent waiting between two stations was due to something the British have a love/hate relationship with, something uncontrollable, but not insurmountable, something which surely shouldn’t bring a nation to a grinding halt, yet it does, over and over again… rain. But can blaming everything on the rain possibly be acceptable? I doubt it.

The train was approaching Edinburgh Haymarket on its way to its final destination of Edinburgh Waverley when it stopped for a few minutes due to “congestion around Haymarket”. When it stopped at Haymarket station, I had a brief thought of getting off the train, but dismissed the thought, as I knew I could get a convenient bus which would take me to my doorstep if I just waited a few more minutes until we got to Waverley. This turned out to have been the biggest mistake of not following a gut feeling in quite a while, as my patience began to be sorely tested within a minute of leaving Haymarket. At first, I thought we would just be stopped briefly, waiting for the signal to proceed on to Waverley. But it was not to be.

Fairly quickly, the train conductor announced that we were held due to flooding on the tracks between Haymarket and Waverley, however he was unable to provide an estimated time when the train would be on the move again. Whether he knew how long the train would be held and simply preferred not to inform his passengers, perhaps successfully preventing a riot, I will probably never know. His message of apology at the inconvenience caused came at frequent intervals throughout the hour long wait, pointlessly repeating that we are stopped due to flooding on the tracks, bla, bla, bla, as though some passengers might have missed the message the first, second and fifth time around. This, as well the fact I would miss the end of the Murray v Ferrer match coverage, was probably the most frustrating thing about the whole wait. Unsurprisingly, other passengers seemed to keep their cool, though perhaps they were, like me, considering finding the emergency door release and simply walking back along the track to Haymarket.

In the end, having seen only a couple of trains pass at a walking pace in the other direction, my train advanced at a 5mph speed through Princess Street Gardens, where it finally reached a terminal packed with sodden and undoubtedly disgruntled passengers with over an hour’s delay. What mistakes were made? I’ve come up with a few…

  1. The flooding situation wasn’t quite so sudden that it only became apparent after the train left Haymarket. Therefore, passengers should have been advised of the potential delay when the train arrived at Haymarket, giving them an opportunity to disembark and alter their journey to Waverley or their final destination.
  2. Even after the train had ‘got stuck’ a little way out of Haymarket, again anticipating the time it would remain ‘stuck’, it should have been reversed back to Haymarket.
  3. All trains bound for Waverley should have terminated at Haymarket and a ‘shuttle’ train should have run across the affected section of track. This is of course only a solution for regional services which only go to or from Edinburgh, rather than longer-distance services having to pass through the whole city. But it would have still alleviated the congestion on the flooded track.
  4. This is perhaps obvious, but in a city which is used to heavy rainfall, an arterial railway line should probably be designed to cope with rain a little better than it did!

The only redeeming feature of this whole episode was that the snacks trolley was circulated through the carriages and a complimentary tea or coffee was offered. As to the other facts, I would be keen to find out how this surely-not-infrequent event could have been managed so poorly.

PS: This was the first time I did this commute and I can’t say it has left me looking forward to repeating it next week.

Why fly?

Seriously, why do people automatically assume that any journey between capitals requires flying? I will pick one particular example, a journey I have done several times and my choice has always been the same: going from Edinburgh to London, the best choice is always the train.

Q: Huh? Are you really advocating taking a train in the UK?

A: Yes, that’s exactly right.

Q: But how long will it take?

A: Less time than you think… in fact, just 4 and a half hours.

Q: 4h30? But a flight takes far less time: 1h30 at most.

A: Think again. The flight, perhaps; but did you take into account getting to the airport, on time, going through security, then getting to the city centre at the other end?

Q: Hmm, I guess… so even flying might add up to 4h, you think?

A: At least. Overall travel time is pretty balanced.

Q: What about cost?

A: That depends. In theory, it’s pretty even, but if you can buy in advance (even by only a few days), train fares are significantly cheaper. There’s also a range of railcards available, which give 1/3 off your fare and are often worthwhile buying even for one trip (when ticket price is over £100).

Q: Are there any other advantages?

A: Many, but my favourite is the fact that once you board the train, you can sit down and sit/sleep/work/read/listen to music/watch a film, undisturbed for the entire journey time, instead of having to check in, drop-off your luggage, drink all your liquids, strip off all metallic belongings, go through security, buy a new drink, find your gate, wait to board and switch off all electronic devices – and that’s before your plane has even taken off!

Q: You know what…?

A: I think I do. 😉