I have always been a booster for Edinburgh as a city: a walkable, architecturally inspired romp across panoramic hill and architectural dale that encourages exploration. City fathers of yore discharged their duty of care well, although some choices— as when they ripped out all their trams in 1956—have been less than far-sighted. In the half-century since, Edinburgh City Council has had an office-full of time-served civil engineers whose job it was to improve city road. Yet—discounting the Gyle and Sir Harry Lauder—they have built squat.
Driving new roads through historic cities is difficult. Yet the 1995 manifesto for the new unitary council aimed “to help create a civilised, safe, inclusive and sustainable city (we must) improve alternatives to the car, reduce the need for car travel, restrain traffic and improve safety”.
Sounds good. So, if building more roads is too hard, why not conceptually overlap them? An ocean of paint to shame the Forth Bridge was splashed along major arteries creating bus lanes, bike lanes and more stripes than a US top sergeant. Together with the arrival of privatised ‘Blue Meany’ traffic wardens, all this did achieve rises—but only in gridlock, cross-city travel times and driver resentment.
Since Edinburgh has no post-Beeching suburban rail and since buses kept getting slower, despite all that paint, the idea was hatched in 2002 to build a 3-line tram system, paid for by congestion charging. The story of that debacle is seared into every ‘Burger’s psyche—especially those retailers along the route. Payback on the £1bn involved only started with the stump of that system carrying paying passengers three years ago.
Problem is that the new Gateway station or the 100 Airport bus get you between Waverley and the airport faster than the tram; the route appears to derive more from civic ego than green strategy. In the tram wreck that was TIE and the ludicrous overspends they left, funds for completing Edinburgh’s cycle network, single-ticketing and even reasonable fares (tram costs £8 return) have gone begging.
Despite three years of TFE claiming tram success, ah hae ma doots that any tram duplicating a major rail line can ever be viable (European cities never build such a thing). And I have no idea how civic and commercial culprits involved walked away from this without public humiliation. No TIE exec has ever had their knuckles rapped, let alone their six-figure salary pinded.
(First published in East Lothian Courier, May 2014)