Braid/Comiston Road Spaces for People Scheme Survey now LIVE

I was informed by a resident yesterday evening the Braid/Comiston Road SfP survey is now live – the results of this will inform the ongoing review.

I was very disappointed not to have been informed by the Council that survey was going live. Additionally, I received no replies to my request to comment on the survey design. Nor was I allowed to see the area from which residents will be permitted to participate (it is shown on the above map which I received today after complaining).

My view is that the number of households being invited to respond from the Buckstone Terrace area is wholly inadequate, and does not compare well with the approach taken along the Lanark Road where a number of side streets were included.

People living outside the survey area can’t take part, and when I asked about how this was monitored (for the Lanark Road survey) I received this response – “Participants of the survey are required to supply name, surname, postcode and email address. This will allow the us to determine if the participants are from the area or not. Regarding the integrity of the survey, we are managing the risk of this happening proportionately by introducing these required fields as it make it much more difficult for someone to fake a response at scale – to submit a hundred fake responses you would need a hundred valid postcodes, a hundred emails and a hundred names.”

A copy of the survey and the letter to residents is below, but please don’t respond if you have not been invited to do so. I’m working to have the area enlarged.

Update – Braid/Comiston Road Spaces for People Scheme Review

Below is an update from Council Officers in the ongoing Braid/Comiston Road SfP Scheme review. At the foot of the blog are the notes from the Community Council workshop and the slides which informed the discussion. It looks like an interesting meeting, with two stand-out quotes:

  1. The Council appears to be considering allowing parking in the cycle lanes: “it is proposed to remove the Loading restrictions along most of the length of the scheme, and provide gaps in the cycle lane defenders where possible, to provide additional loading opportunities.”
  2. There is an acceptance that the road network is now less resilient when road traffic incidents occur: “Accidents can happen anywhere but they are occasional events and should not be the primary concern when planning a road network.”

The next step is for a survey of local people to take place. I have asked for an opportunity to comment on the questions and the area included in the survey.

Council Update – Braid/Comiston Road Spaces for People Scheme Review
As you will be aware we recently completed a consultation exercise on the potential retention of Spaces for People measures. This was followed by the publication of the report on keeping these measures, which was considered at the meeting of the city’s Transport and Environment Committee on 17 June. The decision to retain or remove measures was based on consultation results, independent market research, a review by technical officers and consideration of how well such changes fit with the Council’s long-term transport policy objectives.

At this meeting it was agreed that a final decision on moving forward with the schemes should be made at the 24 June meeting of the City of Edinburgh Council.

Council motion on Braid Road
The Council voted to approve the report, with requests from Councillors to review the Comiston Road Scheme and consider options for reopening Braid Road in both directions. Officers have been asked to engage with local residents and local Community Councils to consider:

  • options for Comiston Road, to improve public transport connectivity and reduce impacts on local residents
  • options for the reopening of the Braid Road in both directions, including analysis of impacts on traffic levels, resident connectivity and vulnerable road users walking, wheeling and cycling

To help us make more informed decisions, we are also currently monitoring traffic through the area, using cross-modal counters. You can read the full motion here.

We have commenced with the required engagement with Community Councils and Local Residents – this engagement will continue over the coming weeks through the following means.

Meeting with Community Councils
Council officers developed initial proposals which were discussed with representatives from the relevant Community Councils at a workshop on 25 August. Notes from this meeting, along with the slides which were presented, are attached.

Residents’ Survey
The outcomes of this meeting in terms of proposals will be detailed in a survey on the Council’s website. Information regarding this survey will be circulated to residents on affected streets via letter drop. This will allow us to gather a good sample of opinion in the local area in relation to the changes proposed.

The results of survey will help us to mitigate the concerns which have been voiced regarding this scheme and will sit alongside the results from the previous consultation when elected members decide on whether this scheme should be retained in the longer term.

The plan to resurface Lothian Road whilst George IV Bridge is closed?

A few people have been in touch about the Council’s plan to resurface Lothian Road whilst George IV Bridge is closed due to the recent fire. I have ask Council Officers about this as Lothian Road is used by a number of bus services serving my Ward, some of which are already being delayed by the Braid/Comiston Road Spaces for People scheme (this is under review, but I spotted no problems today). The response from Officers on the resurfacing plans is below.

Lothian Road Resurfacing Works
Firstly I can confirm that we are well aware of the issues at George IV Bridge and have been working with the Network Management team to determine a way forward.

It’s not simply a question of postponing the works. As the work is being undertaken by a third-party contractor there would be a cost involved in rescheduling the works, possibly requiring us to go back out to tender and delaying the work by several weeks.

I am pleased to report, however, that we have been in discussion with the contractor over the last couple of days and have determined a way to reconfigure the work to enable us to delay the introduction of the proposed temporary traffic lights at the Fountainbridge/East Fountainbridge junction which were planned to be in place from Monday 6 September. This will mitigate the impact of the work in the short term.

We are now looking at implementing them at some stage week commencing 13 September instead, when the situation at George IV Bridge will hopefully be clearer.

The work at Lothian Road next week will concentrate on the removal of the existing Spaces for People measures on Earl Grey Street along with gully replacement works which will require only a single lane closure. Lothian Buses have been involved in these discussions and are supportive of the revised proposals.

We will continue to monitor the situation over the forthcoming days and weeks.

The Official Lanark Road Spaces for People Survey Starts Tomorrow.

I understand a survey will go out to local people tomorrow asking their views about the future of the Lanark Road Spaces for People scheme.

Earlier this year, the Council asked residents and businesses what they thought about keeping the Spaces for People measures for a longer experimental period (or permanently) as they feel they help it achieve some of their longer-term ambitions for the “people-focussed travel network” included in the City Mobility Plan. This consultation rejected the Lanark Road scheme largely based on safety grounds, and the current mini-review aims to see if these can be addressed.

The survey going out tomorrow will seek the resident’s views on:

  • measures to achieve cycle speed reductions; and,
  • changes to the parking spaces which sit outside protected cycle lanes.

The Council have developed proposals which they feel focus primarily on those locations where conflict is most likely – that is where cyclists might be travelling at speed on the inside of parked vehicles. They’ve discussed these options with Community Councillors (I was not invited to this) and they say the comments have helped them inform the proposals.

I have not been given prior sight of the survey(!), but I was successful in having the area it covers enlarged and I was also given a commitment that local businesses would be included.

Below are notes from the meeting with Community Councillors – the discussion was based on the slides I shared here. The discussion sounds constructive, but it appears very little hard data informed proceedings (a concern given the recent RED Internal Audit finding SfP received).

Meeting Notes
SfP presented the previously circulated document, outlining the options which had been developed to mitigate cycle speed, and conflict between people accessing parked cars, and people on bikes.

Proposals include the introduction of road markings on the cycleway to encourage people cycling to slow down on approach to parking areas, as well as specific options for revisions at two parking areas: Spylaw Park (by Cranley Nursery), and; Kingsknowe Park (by Dovecot Park).

Spylaw Park (street)
The Council is aware of concerns regarding conflict between parents accessing Cranley Nursery and passing cyclists at this location. Due to its location this section of cycleway is also likely to be less heavily used, and less beneficial to users than the remainder of the corridor.

There are two proposed options at this location.

  1. Remove the Parking
  2. Remove the cycleway

(NB: SfP clarified during the presentation that there is a third option at this location – to leave it as it currently with both parking and cycleway, and that this will be made clear in any community engagement)

A Community Councillor stated that cycle counts were being carried out but the Post-Implementation results were not yet available, and that they would not go into granular enough detail to assess this specific location. Though this level of granularity may be available from Strava data, and this can be considered in advance of final decisions being made. However, the assumption that it sees less use than the rest of the route is reasonable.

A Community Councillor suggested that this area should remain as it is now, with improvements made if possible, and that it would be a retrograde step to remove the infrastructure now it is in place. AG further suggested that the cycleway should instead be extended further west to more effective connect the communities to the West of the bypass.

Officers noted that no support was voiced for removing the cycleway at this location, and that this would be considered in developing the public engagement, which would include the option to retain the current layout.

Kingsknowe Park
The Council is aware of conflict at this location between people accessing the parked cars and passing cyclists, including reports of near misses and collisions. There are two options at this location:

  1. Remove the parking
  2. Relocate the parking to the opposite side of the road
    1. (Relocating the parking results in a net increase in the number of spaces)

(NB: SfP explained that due to the occurrence of at least one collision at this location it was not considered a viable option to make no changes here – as such leaving the layout as it is was probably not a viable third option)

A Community Councillor stated that relocating the parking to the uphill side of the road seemed a sensible move, but asked about receiving deliveries etc for the flats where the parking is currently located.

SfP explained that loading/unloading, as well as pick-up / drop-off was still permitted on Double Yellow Lines. As such there will still be space for deliveries and other such uses to be carried out from the kerbside. As a brief activity this is permitted to take place from the cycleway where space allows.

Two Community Councillors agreed that relocating the parking to the uphill side of the street was a sensible option. Though one noted that electric bicycles can still travel at reasonable speeds uphill – though this was probably acceptable as the assisted speeds are still below what can be achieved when travelling downhill.

A Community Councillor queried whether the bollards could be removed from the downhill parking bay to provide more manoeuvring space for people cycling.

SfP explained that this would likely result in vehicles parking closer to the kerb, which would both remove the benefit, and increase the likelihood of ‘dooring’ accidents. Though SfP noted that the bollards have been omitted from the parking areas adjacent to the two nurseries, and adherence does seem to have been good. Nonetheless, the problem is resolved by relocating the parking.

Officers noted that there seemed to be a generally favourable view of relocating the parking bay at this location to the uphill side.

Other Parking Locations
At all remaining parking areas the risk of conflict between people cycling and people accessing parked cars is mitigated by the topography. Nonetheless, it is proposed to introduce further markings to encourage people cycling to keep to an appropriate speed while passing parking areas.

Attendees agreed that this would be a positive change.

General Discussion
A Community Councillor suggested introducing timed parking bays at the parking areas with high demand for customers. Officers highlighted that this is not possible using a TTRO, however it would be possible using an ETRO should the schemes be retained for a longer period.

A Community Councillor queried why we are not paining SLOW on the main carriageway given drivers are being recorded at speeds of 68mph even with the new road design changes. Surely the balance of risk has lost it’s sense of proportionality if we are only concerned about writing SLOW on the cycle lanes? I do support writing it on the cycle lanes before the floating parking bays but why not for drivers also? ‘Traveling Safely’ must surely apply to all road users

A Community Councillor suggested that the ‘floating’ parking bays should be ‘bookended’ better, eg: with planters, to ensure that they are conspicuous even when lightly used. It was also noted that these bays provide a valuable purpose in traffic calming by requiring passing vehicles to reduce their speed.

A Community Councillor highlighted that the cycle crossing point at the junction of Lanark Road and Kingsknowe Drive has poor visibility and should be altered to ensure safety.

A Community Councillor noted that some parking for the golf course has been displaced and that parking around the junctions of Kingsknowe Gardens and Kingsknowe Avenue, with Kingsknowe Road South. AG suggested installing Double Yellow Lines at these junctions to ease parking concerns.

A Community Councillor expressed support for points made by others, including retaining the parking and cycleway adjacent to Cranley Nursery and relocating the parking at Dovecot Park, and introducing SLOW markings on the cycleway. When asked for his thoughts on extending the cycleway further west the Community Councillor stated that should this be considered it should be alongside further engagement.

A Community Councillor suggested reducing the speed limit on Lanark Road further to 20mph. Further suggested installing Crossways (Zebra Crossings without Belisha Beacons) at regular intervals in Lanark Road and at Side Roads, and highlighted the need to improve the environment for cycling on Lanark Road between Inglis Green Road and Hutchison Avenue, especially in light of the new developments taking place in the area.

Officer’s Response
Officers stated that these points would be considered in advance of engagement with residents, and where appropriate the designs, and options, would be updated. In particular, consideration will be given to improving opportunities for crossing the road throughout the scheme, and consideration will be given to the inclusion of a temporary-traffic light controlled crossing. Though officers highlighted that budgetary constraints may create difficulties as such installations are costly due to the ongoing hire costs involved.

Two attendees sent further comments.

A Community Councillor had to leave early but submitted the following questions before leaving, and asked that they be answered:

  • Q: What can be done about enforcement whether that’s speeds (cyclist and cars) or parking illegally?
  • Answer: Enforcement of traffic speeds is carried out by the Police. Police Scotland have carried out enforcement recently following numerous concerns about speeding and are issuing penalties. Speed limits only apply to motorised vehicles as such it is not possible to ‘enforce’ cycle speeds, though it is unlikely that any more than a small minority of cyclists are travelling at speeds in excess of 30mph on this route. The Council is monitoring cycle speeds and will be able to consider whether further mitigations are required in the future.
  • Q: Will anything be done to improve/reduce conflict on the Water of Leith.  The largest number of complaints I receive are around inconsiderate cyclists on the water of leith.  if we are improving safety for cyclists on Lanark Road, is there a way or justificaiton on directing them away from WoL?  Especially what we’ve been referring to as the ‘Strava’ ones?
  • Answer: It is not proposed to actively discourage users from using the Water of Leith, however Lanark Road provides a far more direct route and it is hoped that this will encourage greater use from those people who value speed while cycling.

A Community Councillor was unable to contribute during the meeting due to technical troubles. However, they sent comments after the meeting, which included:

  • Requirement for pedestrian crossing improvements long overdue
  • Relocation of parking at Dovecot Park supported
  • Cycle crossing at Kingsknowe Drive dangerous due to visibility
  • People are much safer cycling on the new route, though some still choose to stay on road
  • Difficult for motorists joining Lanark Road from side roads due to visibility being obscured by parked cars
  • Don’t agree with banning people cycling on Water of Leith
  • Agreement with 30mph limit, but 20mph not required
  • Speed cameras should be re-instated, query why the only face east
  • Several changes at once, means it’s hard to identify results of each
  • Lack of clarity on what metrics will be used to assess the impact of the scheme


Consultation – Taming Airbnb in Edinburgh?

Below is a briefing from the Council on a consultation which is now underway in Edinburgh. After 10 years of inaction (and actually supporting Airbnb), the Scottish Government have given the Council the powers to reduce the impact of Airbnb. Essentially, these changes will mean that in many instances the Airbnb host will have to apply for a “change of use” in order to operate if the let is not their principle home. You can take part in the consultation here.

Briefing
We’re seeking views on a proposal for Edinburgh to be short term let (STL) control area.

A public consultation approved by the Planning Committee on 11 August, will run from today (3 September 2021) for nine weeks, until the 5 November 2021.

If, following the public consultation, the Council gives the go ahead and the proposal is approved by the Scottish Government, the new powers would mean all residential properties, which are not an owner’s principle home, being let as STLs in their totality throughout the local authority area would require approval of a ‘change of use’ to a STL from Planning. Our ‘Choices’ consultation responses for our next local development plan, ‘City Plan 2030’, also showed overwhelming support for us to look at control areas in the Capital.

Around a third of STLs in Scotland are in Edinburgh.  At the moment, in addition to planning applications made for STLs, to establish whether or not planning permission is required for properties where this is disputed, the Council’s enforcement team looks at each case individually, which is a very lengthy and time consuming process.

The introduction of powers to make a control area, follows the Council calling for new legislation to tighten up the control of STLs to help manage high concentrations of secondary letting where it affects the availability of residential housing or the character of a neighbourhood.

Also, it will help to restrict or prevent STLs in places or types of buildings where they are not appropriate as well as making sure homes are used to best effect in their areas.

Generally renting out a room/s in your house or letting your property whilst on holiday would also still be allowed if Edinburgh became a STL control zone.

The Scottish Government is currently consulting on legislation to introduce a new licensing regime next year, which the Council also called for, to address the issues of safety, anti-social behaviour and noise. These issues have all had a detrimental effect on communities as the number of STLs has greatly increased across the city in recent years.

The proposal is that all Scottish councils will have to adopt a STL licensing system by October 2022. In terms of the Government’s proposed new licensing regime, if Edinburgh becomes a control area it will be a mandatory condition of any licensing application to have made a planning application or to have planning permission already when providing accommodation that requires it.


Further information
Q. What is a short term let?
A. Details can be found in Annex B of the Scottish Government’s Planning Circular on Short-Term Let Control Areas.

Q. How many STLs are Edinburgh?
A. There are a significant number of short-term lets in Edinburgh, with the Airbnb platform providing a useful indicator of the scale of this in the city. In the period 2016-2019 there was a substantial rise in the number of both entire properties and rooms registered with Airbnb. Relative to other areas in Scotland the number of Airbnb listings is high making the impact on the city disproportionate. In 2019, 31% of all Airbnb listings in Scotland were in the city of Edinburgh. The next greatest proportion was 19% in Highland followed by 7%.

Update on the traffic signals at Fairmilehead Crossroads

Below is an update on the traffic signals at Fairmilehead Crossroads. A few years ago I was promised that this junction would be completely overhauled, and that this could address the issues vehicles turning right from Buckstone Terrace on to Oxgangs Road face. This has now been “reprioritised”, but after a bit of fuss the Council has agreed to upgrade the signals infrastructure. As part of this the junction will be improved for pedestrians (esp those with visual impairments) and changes to the right turn on to Oxgangs Road will be considered.

I am also in the process of asking the Council about the very short green man time of the Biggar Road leg of the junction.

Fairmilehead Crossroads Update
Thank you for your enquiry of 18 August 2021 on behalf of your constituent regarding the introduction of a right turn filter into the traffic signal sequence at the above location.  I was sorry to hear of the issues your constituent is experiencing whilst traversing through the junction.

The traffic signal sequence currently has a right turn filter for vehicles turning from Biggar Road into Frogston Road West.  This movement has a very high flow with the opposing vehicles turning right into Oxgangs Road relatively low.

To allow for the introduction of two opposing right turn manoeuvres, they would need to be separately signalled on a red/amber/green signal and the north/south movements stopped to allow for this to happen.

Alternatively, the north/south movements would have to operate separately as per the current east west movement.  However, the current road layout does not allow for the separate signalling of the right turners.  If the north/south movement was to run separately this would lead to lengthy delays on all arms of the junction and an increase to pedestrian waiting times.

Although there are junction improvement works programmed for this location we are only upgrading the traffic signal infrastructure and not the actual junction constraints or road layout.

Like many junctions across the UK vehicles turning right into Oxgangs Road are expected to do so in gaps when it is safe to do so or at the end of the stage during the safety period from one stage leaving green to the next stage receiving a green signal (intergreen).  As a measure of comfort, the intergreen period for this manoeuvre has been increased by 40%.

As part of the junction improvement works, the junction timings will be looked at in detail to try and find any efficiency measures that can be introduced to improve the overall operation of the junction.  However, it should be noted that the current constraints of the junction layout may mean that it is operating as efficiently as it can.

Briefing – Notification of potential national industrial action in Local Authorities

Below is a Council briefing following the vote of UNISON, Unite and GMB trade union members to reject a pay offer from the Scottish Government. This follows claims that SNP ministers dismissed council workers as ‘not on par‘ with health workers in pay talks. Indeed, SNP Councillors across Scotland are great at paying lip service to the work Council staff have undertaken throughout the pandemic, but when push came to shove at COSLA in May they voted AGAINST a fair pay rise for staffthey put party loyalty before teachers and other Council staff.

The SNP/Green Government need to engage with trade unions in good faith and negotiate a fair pay deal.

Introduction
The purpose of this briefing is to update members on the current status of national pay negotiations for local government employees and the possibility of industrial action arising from this. 

Background
The joint trade unions for local government employees (UNISON, GMB and Unite the Union) recently voted to reject the revised national pay offer presented by CoSLA on behalf of Local Authorities.

Whilst negotiations are continuing, Unite the Union and the GMB are currently undertaking consultative ballots with their members and, as of 23 August 2021, we have received formal notification from UNISON that they are intending to issue voting papers to their members on
1 September 2021 to ballot them on whether or not they are prepared to take part in strike action. 

Main Points

  • The joint trade unions for local government employees (UNISON, GMB and Unite the Union) recently voted to reject the revised national pay offer presented by CoSLA. Whilst negotiations are continuing, in the absence of an agreement the joint unions are undertaking ballots with their members.
  • UNISON will be issuing a ballot to their members on 1 September 2021 balloting members on whether they are prepared to take part in strike action (yes/no answer). This ballot will close on 22 September 2021. The period during which any strike action can take place covers from 6 October 2021 to 21 March 2022. The UNISON ballot for strike action also specifies that the members they are specifically seeking to involve in the proposed action would cover employees working in school cleaning, school catering and waste and cleansing services.
  • Both Unite the Union and the GMB are currently undertaking a consultative ballot with their members as to whether or not the pay offer should be accepted. The result of this will determine their next steps and whether they too issue a ballot for strike action.
  • Before any industrial action can be taken, certain ballot thresholds need to be met to comply with employment law provisions:
    1. At least 50% of members covered by the ballot need to vote;
    2. A simple majority of those who voted must be in favour of industrial action; and,
    3. In certain important public services, the level of support required must be at least 40% of total members entitled to vote.
  • If certain Council employees were to strike this could seriously and adversely affect vulnerable children and adults, or anyone receiving certain key public services. Trade unions are required to provide lists of categories of employees whom they reasonably believe will be asked to take part in any proposed industrial action.
  • As an employer, we are collating a list of roles we believe should be exempted from participating in industrial action and if agreed, the unions can grant ‘life and limb’ exemptions from strike action. Simple ‘inconvenience’ is not an acceptable reason for requesting exemptions, but rather where there is genuine concern surrounding risk to vulnerable service users or critical public services. “Life and limb” cover would typically include areas such as residential homes for children and the elderly, emergency duty social work, etc.
  • A cross organisational working group of officers led by the Service Director: Human Resources has been established to ensure we have resilience and communication plans in place to respond accordingly.
  • Discussions with the City of Edinburgh Council Trade Unions Branches and relevant Regional Officials locally will be continuing. However, member attention is drawn to the fact that, as a result of the current national position, the City of Edinburgh Council UNISON Branch has withdrawn from local discussions which were underway to explore opportunities for reform and change in respect of pay and terms and conditions of service, following the successful consolidation of Scottish Local Government Living Wage earlier this year.
  • CoSLA Leaders will meet next on 27 August where the position on the national pay negotiations will be discussed further.
  • Further briefing notes will be provided to elected members to update on this situation as it develops.

Council Briefing – Ongoing response to George IV Bridge fire

(Image from Edinburgh Live)

Below is a briefing from the Council on todays fire on George IV Bridge. I hope the Firefighter makes a full and rapid recovery, but my thoughts are also with those that live and work in the area.

Council Briefing
As you will probably be aware from local media, fire fighters have spent much of today tackling a large blaze on George IV Bridge.

It is believed to have begun in the Patisserie Valerie café early this morning and at least one of the floors in the building has collapsed as a result.

Regrettably, one firefighter from the scene was hospitalised, although we have subsequently been updated that they are okay.

Council officers continue to work closely with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, along with Police Scotland and the Scottish Ambulance Service, to respond and to minimise any disruption.

Roads officers have put a safety cordon around the affected areas and effected necessary road closures, which are likely to remain in force for the remainder of today and are likely to continue into tomorrow. 

The closures are as follows:

  • George IV Bridge from junction with Royal Mile to junction with Chambers Street
  • Chambers Street to Guthrie Street
  • Victoria Street
  • Candlemaker Row
  • Merchant Street

Unfortunately, the Central Library will remain closed for as long as the cordon is in place.

The Resilience and Communications teams are continuing to liaise with the relevant agencies and Shared Repairs officers are on site to offer structural engineering advice. 

There has been no request to open a rest centre and we are advised that the residential lets affected by the cordon have now been reallocated to alternative properties via the lettings agent.

Group Leaders and City Centre Ward Councillors have been kept updated on the incident.

Resettlement of Afghan Refugees in Edinburgh

(Image from here)

Below is a briefing from the Council on plans that are being drawn up to accommodate Afghan refugees in Edinburgh. I am mindful that military personnel based in my Ward served in Afghanistan, and some gave their lives (there is a memorial inside Dreghorn Barracks). These service men and women may well have worked with the refugees previously employed by the British Services detailed below. Helping these families is the very least we can do.

Briefing
Members will be aware of the recent deterioration of the situation in Afghanistan and press reports of the various ways in which the UK Government is responding to its humanitarian implications.

Officers are in regular contact with both the UK and Scottish Governments to develop plans for how best the Council and our partners can offer support and housing to as many Afghan refugees as possible.

Two options are currently being progressed:

  1. Permanent resettlement for a cohort of Afghans (and their families) previously employed by the British Services in Afghanistan is being explored. They would be housed in surplus MOD property. Agreement on leasing from the MOD is still to be reached but is being progressed as a matter of urgency.
  2. The Home Office has indicated (via COSLA) that, due to the pressure of numbers now being resettled, it intends to move forward with plans to procure hotel accommodation in Edinburgh.

Due to the speed with which plans are being developed, details – including exact numbers and locations – are still to be confirmed.

Work will continue with the Home Office and partners and particularly services such as education and health to coordinate arrival and support planning.

We’ll provide a further update once more details become available.

Wearing a cycle helmet – it makes sense!

(image adapted from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsr.2019.09.003)

I cycled a lot as a child after learning to ride on a friend’s Raleigh Chopper. This was mainly with a second hand bike an auntie obtained from her neighbour, but then a Raleigh Grifter (my brother’s) and a Halford’s Vitesse road bike. By the time I left Kirkcaldy for university in Dundee in 1987, however, these bikes were past their best and replacements were unaffordable.

Once I started my PhD in 1992, I bought a bike – a Diamondback Curaca. What had changed in the intervening 5 years was that cycle helmets had become more common. I bought one with my new bike as it made sense, but found it was not unusual to be pointed at by pedestrians in Dundee where I lived. We moved to Edinburgh in 1996 and I found that cycle helmets were more common (and the drivers were less aggressive).

I have cycled a lot since then – mostly commuting, but I have toured Scotland (inc the Outer Hebrides), England, France, Belgium and the Netherlands. The vast majority of the time (99.9%) I wore a helmet because it still made sense to me, and when my kids came along they wore them too.

Since 1992 I think I’ve had 6 proper accidents on my bike: two due to ice, one in my drive, two with cars (their fault, one driver was charged) and one on the canal towpath in Edinburgh. I don’t think my helmet was damaged in any of these, but there was one broken arm and a few scraped knees. Nonetheless I was glad I was wearing it.

On the 10th of August 2021 I spotted this tweet:

I saw this and thought of a recent incident in my Ward where a SUV driver had pulled out in front of cyclist using a Spaces for People lane (the junction has now been made safer). The cyclist’s bike was destroyed but a trip to A&E showed that he had been relatively lucky in terms of physical injuries. Like Storm Huntly above, he was clear that he thought his helmet had saved him – an uncontroversial observation which I accepted. In responses to Storm Huntly’s tweet, I retold his story on Twitter and encouraged people to wear a helmet – “Wear a helmet!” I said.

I did not get quite the response I expected. Three replies stand out:

  • “As there are, overall, many more pedestrian, car driver and bath/shower user injuries do you recommend helmet wearing for them too Scott?” Cllr David Key
  • I’m in the business of selling helmets and I don’t recommend wearing a helmet. It’s a personal choice. I doubt this ‘saved Storm’s life’. Probably saved a bump or an abrasion, though.” – Hart’s Cyclery
  • There is no evidence that cycle hats reduce either mortality or morbidity for transport cyclists. This is due to risk compensation by riders, increased aggression from motorists and a few cases where a cycle hat causes injury in a fall. Hats are not the answer – segregation is.” – Overlander

Now, it is important to note that none of these people are saying that people should not wear helmets. They are however trying to say that the risk of an accident while cycling is low compared to other everyday activities, and that investing in cycle lanes is the best way to reduce the risks associated with cycling. Nonetheless, I found the scepticism about the benefits of wearing a helmet interesting.

Of course, it is possible to argue for changes to road network which reduce the likelihood of incidents whilst also making the case for measures which reduce their consequences. Indeed, this is entirely sensible as we know that around 16% of fatal / serious cyclist incidents reported to the police do not involve a collision with another
vehicle, but are caused by the rider losing control of their bicycle. Furthermore, peer reviewed research has concluded that helmet wearing is beneficial “especially in situations with an increased risk of single bicycle crashes, such as on slippery or icy roads”.

Indeed, in many places in the UK we are a million years away from having safe cycling networks to get us from A to B. Even where they so exist they tend to make the safest section safer, but offer little support at junctions (see Lanark Road).

I think RoSPA sums up my feelings pretty well:

In 2018, 99 cyclists were killed, 4,106 were seriously injured and 13,345* were slightly injured on Great Britain’s roads. Although cyclists suffer a number of different types of injury during accidents, head injury has been identified as an important cause of death and serious injury in cycling collisions. One way in which cyclists can prevent or reduce the extent of a head injury in a cycle accident is to wear a cycle helmet… …we strongly recommend that cyclists wear a cycle helmet. However, it is important to remember that cycle helmets do not prevent crashes from happening. It is therefore vital that through infrastructure improvements, supported by education and training that we reduce the primary risk factors.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents

Of course, we live in an era where we have instant access to information and misinformation. If you don’t believe the earth is spherical, the Covid-19 vaccines are safe or the the Climate Emergency is real there are websites which will cater for your views. The debate about cycling helmets is no different, but is based on the perceived uncertainty regarding the benefits of wearing a helmet rather than conspiracy theories.

A quick look at Google Scholar suggests that there is a fair bit of work being undertaken in this area. I searched for “cycle helmet” from 2000 – 2021 and ranked the return by relevance, and these were the top 20 results:

  1. Non‐legislative interventions for the promotion of cycle helmet wearing by children – This observed that “helmets reduce bicycle‐related head injuries, particularly in single vehicle crashes and those where the head strikes the ground”, and that “non‐legislative interventions appear to be effective in increasing observed helmet use, particularly community‐based interventions and those providing free helmets”.
  2. The impact of compulsory cycle helmet legislation on cyclist head injuries in New South Wales, Australia – This concluded “we have identified evidence of a positive effect of compulsory cycle helmet legislation on cyclist head injuries at a population level such that repealing the law cannot be justified”. 
  3. Emotional reactions to cycle helmet use – This found that “cycling with a helmet did not lead to increased speed, or to changes in emotional reactions as would have been expected from a risk compensation perspective”, but did note “those who use helmets often cycle more slowly when not wearing a helmet“.
  4. Performance analysis of motor cycle helmet under static and dynamic loading – Not relevant.
  5. The impact of compulsory cycle helmet legislation on cyclist head injuries in New South Wales, Australia: A rejoinder – This paper challenges the conclusion of Paper 2 above and suggests the helmets “protect at best 10%-15% of cycling related head injuries”, and concludes “Bicycle helmets may provide a small benefit for some types of low speed crashes, but the conclusion that there needs to be mandatory helmet legislation for all adults and children is not justified”.
  6. Cycle helmet ownership and use; a cluster randomised controlled trial in primary school children in deprived areas – This observes that “bicycle helmets afford protection against head and brain injuries to wearers of all ages involved in all types of crash, whether or not another vehicle is involved. Although childhood cycle injuries appear to be reducing in incidence, there were still more than 7500 children under 16 admitted to NHS hospitals between 1991 and 1995 with bicycle related head injuries… There is a steep social class gradient in mortality from pedal cycle injury, with children from social class V having a mortality rate four times higher than children from social class I.”. This paper concludes that “an educational pack plus a form to order a free cycle helmet is an effective way of increasing bicycle helmet ownership and use and reduces inequalities in helmet ownership among children in deprived areas”.
  7. Demographic, socioeconomic, and attitudinal associations with children’s cycle-helmet use in the absence of legislation – Behind paywall.
  8. Inequalities in cycle helmet use: cross sectional survey in schools in deprived areas of Nottingham – This concludes that “programmes aimed at preventing head injury among child cyclists will need to address the inequality in helmet ownership that exists between children residing in deprived and non-deprived areas”.
  9. Cycle helmet wearing in 2002 – See Paper 10.
  10. Cycle helmet wearing in 2004 – This is a regular report which has been published since 1994. It shows that cycling helmet usage has been increasing amongst adults, but less so with children.
  11. Increasing cycle helmet use in school-age cyclists: an intervention based on the Theory of Planned Behaviour – This observed that “helmets reduced the risk of head and brain injury by 63%-88%” and studied measure to increase the numbers of children wearing helmets.
  12. Systematic reviews of bicycle helmet research – This article concluded that “there is good evidence that bicycle helmets are effective in reducing head and facial injury in the event of a crash, and that helmet legislation is also likely to be effective at a population level, although high quality controlled research must continue. We know that non-legislative interventions are effective in increasing helmet wearing rates in children, particularly community-based programs that provide free helmets.”
  13. Changes in head injury with the New Zealand bicycle helmet law – This questions the efficacy of making helmets compulsory at a time when the number of people wearing helmets is increasing. It concludes that “the large increases in wearing with helmet laws have not resulted in any obvious change over and above existing trends, helmet laws and major helmet promotion campaigns are likely to prove less beneficial and less cost effective than proven road-safety measures, such as enforcement of speed limits and drink-driving laws, education of motorists and cyclists and treatment of accident black spots and known hazards for cyclists.”
  14. Cycle Helmet Performance in the Real World – Not peer reviewed(?) and contains no references. It concludes that the “clearest outcome of promoting helmet use has been to increase the public’s perception of cycling as a dangerous activity, leading many people to forego the overall health benefits they might otherwise enjoy. Research has shown that helmet promotion campaigns are linked strongly to a decrease in the number of people cycling”.
  15. Head injuries to bicyclists and the New Zealand bicycle helmet law – This paper concludes that “the helmet law has been an effective road safety intervention that has lead to a 19% reduction in head injury to cyclists over its first 3 years.”
  16. The impact of mandatory helmet-use legislation on the frequency of cycling to school and helmet use among adolescents – This concludes that “the implementation of the helmet-use law did not have a negative impact on the frequency of cycling to school.”
  17. A computational simulation study of the influence of helmet wearing on head injury risk in adult cyclists – This paper concludes that “bicycle helmets are effective in reducing the severity of head injuries sustained in common accidents.” and that helmets were effective over the entire range of cycle speeds studies, up to and including 14 m/s (31.2 mph)”.
  18. The impact of mandatory helmet law on the outcome of maxillo facial trauma: a comparative study in Kerala – Not relevant.
  19. Application of Reverse Engineering and Impact Analysis of Motor Cycle Helmet – Not relevant.
  20. MADYMO simulation of children in cycle accidents: A novel approach in risk assessment – This paper concluded that “wearing a cycle helmet was found to reduce the probability of head injuries, reducing the average probability of fatality over the scenarios studied from 40% to 0.3%.”

I then searched for “bicycle helmet” from 2000 – 2021 and ranked the return by relevance, and these were the top 20 results:

  1. The risk compensation theory and bicycle helmets – This paper suggest that when wearing a helmet cyclists may take more risk. The paper explains why this may be the case, but offers no empirical evidence. The authors note “The empirical difficulty with establishing the relevance of risk compensation to cycle helmets is that, compared with other activities such as motoring, there is a shortage of reliable data.”
  2. Effect of legislation on the use of bicycle helmets – This paper documents how in Canada the “rate of helmet use rose dramatically after legislation was enacted” in 1997 and that the “proportion of injured cyclists with head injuries in 1998/99 was half that in 1995/96”
  3. Risk compensation and bicycle helmets – These researchers observed 35 volunteers cycling down a short hill with and without helmets. They found that “routine helmet users reported higher experienced risk and cycled slower when they did not wear their helmet“. However, for “cyclists not accustomed to helmets, there were no changes in speed, perceived risk, or any other measures when cycling with versus without a helmet“. The paper concludes that the “findings are consistent with the notion that those who use helmets routinely perceive reduced risk when wearing a helmet, and compensate by cycling faster”.
  4. Oblique impact testing of bicycle helmets – This paper concluded that the “current helmet designs provide adequate protection for typical oblique impacts onto a road surface, in terms of the peak linear and rotational head accelerations“.
  5. Bicycle helmets–A case of risk compensation? – This paper is from the same authors as Paper 3 in the first list and Paper 3 in this list. The researchers conclude: “The results give less support to a risk-compensation explanation, in particular because the speeding behaviour of the speed-happy group is more connected to other types of equipment than to bicycle helmets. The helmet is more or less just one element in the total equipment package. So it is not because of the helmet that these cyclists ride fast; they use all the equipment (including helmets) because they want to ride fast.”
  6. Bicycle helmets–To wear or not to wear? A meta-analyses of the effects of bicycle helmets on injuries – There are three key conclusions here – (1) Bicycle helmets reduce head injury by 48% and serious head injury by 60%; (2) Bicycle helmets reduce face injury by 23% and do not increase cervical spine injury; and, (3) Bicycle helmet effects are larger in single bicycle crashes than in collisions. The final sentence in the paper – “Thus, for an individual cyclist, the results suggest that wearing a helmet can be recommended, especially in situations with an increased risk of single bicycle crashes, such as on slippery or icy roads.”
  7. Bicycle helmets – Behind a paywall, but the abstract notes “the bicycle helmet is a very effective device that can prevent the occurrence of up to 88% of serious brain injuries.”
  8. Bicycle helmets work when it matters the most – This paper concludes that “injury prevention programs should advocate the use of helmets in bicycle riders especially in the teenage group where least compliance with bicycle helmet use was observed.”
  9. Protective effect of different types of bicycle helmets – This is behind a paywall but recommends the use of hard shell helmets over foam ones.
  10. The efficacy of bicycle helmets against brain injury – this paper re-analysed data from 1987–1998 which was used by a separate study to conclude that cycle helmets prevent serious injury to the brain. This paper concluded that the “analysis does not provide scientific evidence that bicycle helmets, not being tested for capacity to mitigate the main factors that cause serious injury to the brain, do reduce it” and that “the Australian policy of compulsory wearing of helmets lacks a basis of verified efficacy against brain injury”.
  11. Bicycle helmets and risky behaviour: A systematic review – this paper built on the the work of Paper 3 and 5 in this first list, and Paper 3 the first list. The researchers conclude: “review found little to no support for the hypothesis bicycle helmet use is associated with engaging in risky behaviour”.
  12. The Cochrane Collaboration and bicycle helmets – This is from the same researcher as Paper 10 and again critiques the work of others. This time it is noted that the Cochrane review Helmets for preventing head and facial injuries in bicyclists took no account of the “scientific knowledge of types and mechanisms of brain injury”.
  13. Differences in impact performance of bicycle helmets during oblique impacts – This research evaluated 10 helmet designs and noted significant variations in performance.
  14. Heat transfer variations of bicycle helmets – Not relevant.
  15. Increasing the use of bicycle helmets: lessons from behavioral science – This paper focused on measurers to encourage younger people to wear cycle helmets.
  16. Protection performance of bicycle helmets – This study presents a helmet test method that considers oblique impact in addition to drop tests, as well as brain tolerance limits based on recent biomechanical research.
  17. Bicycle helmets: a review of their effectiveness: a critical review of the literature – This is a DoT report which considered the case for making cycle helmets mandatory. It made this observation – “There is now a considerable amount of scientific evidence that bicycle helmets have been found to be effective at reducing head, brain and upper facial injury in bicyclists. Such health gains are apparent for all ages, though particularly for child populations.
  18. Bicycle helmets and the law – Behind a paywall.
  19. Testing of bicycle helmets for preadolescents – This is not peer reviewed(?). This study aims to provide guidelines for a helmet testing procedure especially designed for preadolescents.
  20. Nonuse of bicycle helmets and risk of fatal head injury: a proportional mortality, case–control study – This study concludes that “not wearing a helmet while cycling is associated with an increased risk of sustaining a fatal head injury. Policy changes and educational programs that increase the use of helmets while cycling may prevent deaths.”

So what do these 40 papers tell us? Firstly, it is broadly accepted cycle helmets are effective at reducing the likelihood of death or head, brain and upper facial injury – this makes sense. This finding fuelled studies considering how to increase the the number of children using helmets, particularly from more deprived areas. It also appears that the cyclists wearing helmets tend not to take more risks – i.e. there is scepticism about the “risk compensation”.

The main controversary in the field appears to be whether not making helmets mandatory is justified. This issue is that it makes it is just another barrier to people starting to cycle (some studies contradict this). This is understandable as most novice cyclists will buy a cheap bike, and then are stung for the extras – lights, lock & helmet. At a minimum, this will come in at £50, but could easily be double that.

I guess the other question is how dangerous is cycling really? Is cycling really safer than driving as some suggest? In 2019 alone, 100 pedal cyclists were killed, 4,333 seriously injured and 12,451 slightly injured in the UK (2020 was far higher). However, based on time spent travelling a cyclist is 500% more likely to have a fatal accident than a car driver – they are vulnerable road users. However, that’s still only one fatality every 9,000,000 bike rides and let’s not forget that for individuals shifting from cars to bicycles the estimated beneficial effects of increased physical activity are “substantially larger than potential mortality due to increased air pollution exposure and traffic accidents“.

Is cycling more dangerous that walking? This is an odd question as pedestrian already have the segregated lanes cyclists want (i.e footpaths!). FullFact looked at this, and concluded: “The overall and KSI casualty rate per billion kilometres travelled is greater for cycling than walking, suggesting that the former is more dangerous on this measure”.

Cycling being more dangerous than walking and driving is why we need to invest in well designed and maintained cycling infrastructure in the UK and elsewhere. We have seen progress on this in recent years in Edinburgh, but the flawed approach since Covid-19 has polarised the debate here.

There is a also a growing case for for 20mph schemes in the UK. The European Transport Safety Council notes“At speeds of below 30 km/h, cyclists can mix with motor vehicles in relative safety.” and that “Traffic calming measures in 30 km/h zones are essential to discourage drivers from exceeding the speed limit.”

We also should not pretend that investing in cycling infrastructure can lead to a situation where we have no incidents . In the Netherland where levels of cycling are far higher than the UK and the infrastructure is far better, the number of cyclists being killed there is very similar to here despite that country only having about a third of the population. The story is worse for for Denmark. Indeed, in the Netherlands and Denmark 5-6 people per million each year when cycling (in the UK it is 1.6 people per million), and most of these deaths are due to collisions with vehicles (see the chart at the bottom of this page). The higher number of deaths is explained by the fact that people cycle far more in these countries – the death rate per kilometre cycled is 50% higher in the UK.

Nonetheless, the Dutch Road Safety Research Foundation (in a report commissioned by the Dutch Transport Ministry) predicts that if cyclists in the Netherlands always wore a helmet, there would be 85 fewer road deaths a year.

This means that whilst improving the safety for cyclists in the UK is essential, even when we achieve the level of the Netherlands and Denmark incidents will still occur. It is therefore important that we think about how we reduce the impact of the incidents that will continue to occur with or without a step change in the provision of high quality cycling infrastructure in the UK. This is why it makes sense to wear a helmet.

Image adapted from ETSC.