Picardy Place

Picardy Place is a major junction in Edinburgh, currently the subject of a big redesign, and it’s not going well. The Council has been very quickly pushing through a gyratory which does everything it can to keep Picardy Place a car-dominated non-place. It goes directly against their own stated transport strategy of reducing car modal share in favour of active travel, which I can only assume this is down to a bad deal with the developers of the nearby St. James’ Centre replacement, soon to be famous for the giant gold poop that is going right in the middle of the new shopping centre.

The finished plans were quietly unveiled a couple of months ago, to the dismay of the few people who saw them, who then managed to kick up enough of a fuss to get a formal consultation going. That’s running now, basically on the same plans as before, with a few more colours and arrows drawn on them.

I’ve been meaning to submit my thoughts on it for that consultation for a while now, and it closes in just two days, on the 15th of December, so I spent some time writing them tonight. What I’ve written is below, but for a bit of context if you’re interested, it’s worth having a quick skim over the newly formed Picardy Campaign Group’s manifesto.

Even the Scottish Government aren’t too impressed.

Here’s what I wrote:

The current layout is clearly poor, a relic from the 1960’s. We’ll not redo this junction again for at least another 50 years, so please, please, take a step back and plan it for people, and as a place for them to gather and to enjoy our city, not for cars. I live in North Edinburgh, and use this junction very frequently in many of the modes of transport which share it, as a driver, cyclist, pedestrian, and bus passenger at different times, and I am very worried about the proposal under consultation currently.

Fundamentally, the plans are flawed by the gyratory design which everything else revolves around. It takes up a huge amount of space both with the lanes of traffic, and the central area which it cuts off from the surrounding area. People will not find it easy or compelling to use this space, even if it is not sold off as a development opportunity and kept as common good land.

The wide roads of the gyratory in the current proposal make it difficult for anyone not in a car to get around, even along major desire lines. Many, many more people travel through this junction on foot or by bike than in a car, so please prioritise them in the design - good, quick pedestrian crossings and proper, physically segregated bike lanes which have priority over the roads they cross are critical for this.

The current design does not have good crossings. For example, to get between the shops, bars and restaurants on the East side of Broughton Street, and the centre via Leith Street requires four separate crossings of 2 or 3 lanes each, with associated waiting on traffic islands. For those with buggies, small children, or mobility needs, these are even more awkward.

The council has stated its goal of reducing car modal share from 42% to 29% between 2014 and 2019. I don’t know the current progress on this, but the modal share can only be reduced by making other modes, public transport, walking, and cycling significantly more attractive. I don’t see their prioritisation over cars in the use of space, or the layout of traffic controls. For example, the tram lines are likely to be regularly blocked by cars at the east side of the gyratory, when cars drive through the two sets of lights nearest them, without regard to what’s in front of them. Reducing the number of lanes over time, as noted in the consultation documents, is not the way to achieve this. It has been clearly demonstrated that building wider roads induces demand, so the number of lanes should be built at a reduced level initially, in order to avoid this increase in car traffic, and encourage a decrease. Where there are likely to be delays for public transport, prioritise those modes over cars using bus lanes, bus gates, and tram and bus priority at traffic lights, rather than trying to get all the cars through so that public transport isn’t delayed.

The current public space could be much higher quality, but the current proposal makes them worse. The plans reduce the overall amount of space, breaks it upmoves the Paolozzi sculptures to the edges of roads, rather than placing them in a pleasant space for people to enjoy them - whether that’s sitting inside or outside at a local cafe, children playing around them, or people gathering in a good quality public space.

With the TRO which is currently in force showing that there really is no need for car access along Leith Street, I urge you to please take these plans back to the fundamentals, away from a gyratory and to a much smaller junction allowing for better public space, for example the T-junction proposal by Zone architects, and the Y-junction proposal by Sustrans. Removing car access from Leith street to replace it with a bus gate, wide footpaths, and segregated cycleways would be a great start to improve the priority of modes other than the car.

If you are also concerned about these plans, please do fill in the consultation. There are only two questions, you don’t have to write nearly as much as I did, and the more people who write in about it, the better.