4 January 2024

Tram troubles and Cycling Safety


Unravelling the Edinburgh tram inquiry

At the end of last year, Lord Hardie issued his 961-page report following the Edinburgh Tram Inquiry. The Inquiry cost £13 million to fund and was looking into why the tram network was £400 million over budget and delayed by 5 years!  

The Council responded to Lord Hardie’s findings just last month stating, “It’s worth noting too that in the nine years since the line between Edinburgh Airport and York Place has been built, the service has flourished to become a hugely successful transport route for thousands of residents and visitors each day.” However, given the volume of tram related cycling incidents we see on a weekly basis, we must question just how ‘successful’ this project has been to date and continues to be.

In September of 2022, figures were published indicating that over £1.2 million had been paid out over tram-related cycling incidents by the Council. Now the line is extended to Newhaven and the number of incidents is not slowing, we can only assume that this figure is now even higher.

Cycling hazards along the tram tracks and the ongoing toll of tram-related cycling accidents

From our own research, it seems there have been almost 700 cyclists injured since 2009 but we are yet to see any drastic improvements that will help reduce those numbers. As part of the Active Travel Plan 2030, the Edinburgh City Council has started the construction of the City Centre West to East Cycle Link and Street Improvements project. However, this only extends as far as Shandwick Place and still leaves cyclists vulnerable along Princes Street.

You do not need to spend long on Princes Street to notice the types of vehicles that utilise the route. They tend to be large vans making deliveries, double decker buses, bin lorries and other commercial vehicles. When sharing the space with these types of vehicles, it can put a huge amount of pressure on a cyclist and make navigating the tram tracks at 90 degrees, virtually impossible.

For too long our roads network has centred around motorised vehicles. In January 2022, the Highway Code was updated to recognise a hierarchy of road users. It is well understood the vulnerability of cyclists and that those cycling ought to be afforded extra protection. Alongside this, we also understand the massive health and environmental benefits to cycling. That is why the Council make statements such as, “by 2030, Scotland’s communities will be shaped around people and place, enabling walking and cycling to be the most popular mode of travel for short, everyday journeys.”

Edinburgh's vision - a cycling-friendly city by 2030

Furthermore, as part of the Active Travel Plan, the Council want "Edinburgh to be a city where everyone, including children, has the freedom to cycle safely, whatever their destination, at all times of day. Cycling will be a natural choice for local and longer trips around the city, with safety no longer seen as a significant barrier.”

Given the amount of money spent and the rising number of casualties, the tram network needs to be addressed now to consider what improvements can be made, especially in light of their comment above that “cycling will be a natural choice.” It’s all well and good making such sweeping statements, but Edinburgh residents must see that road safety is, in fact, a priority.

It is a difficult pill to swallow when it is widely broadcast that Edinburgh Trams are Scotland’s number one public transport operator.  It seems as if such accolades can overshadow and undermine the financial and physical impact this is having on the people of Edinburgh.

From a civil law perspective, the position has not changed from my blog on this very subject in September 2022. We continue to represent cyclists who have been injured and are still required to raise Court proceedings in 100% of these cases as the Council and their representatives refuse to deal with the cases pre-litigation. We are all too aware that this increases the financial burden, but it has become the only way to progress the cases and reach a successful settlement.

While compensation goes some way to helping the individuals who have been injured, the vast majority want to see improvements to the network so fellow cyclists stop getting injured.

We know trams and bikes can live in harmony. All we must do is look to our European neighbours. We simply ask that lessons are learned from past mistakes and a consultation is carried out with all interested parties so logical and practical solutions can be achieved. We have waited 14 years already and do not wish to be in the same position in another 14 years’ time!

We cannot simply accept the fact that one transport network is hailed a success at the detriment of those that choose to cycle through our city. Cycling in Edinburgh has grown over the past decade. In 2011, 4.8% of journeys to work were cycled. In 2019, prior to the pandemic, this figure had increased to an estimated 8%.

The 18.5km dilemma - balancing tram success with cyclist safety in Edinburgh

If these figures are to grow further, then changes to parts of the 18.5km route must be made alongside promoting awareness and infrastructure improvements, so we can create a safer and more enjoyable city for all road users.

Jodi Gordon


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