With Edinburgh about to enjoy its annual Festival invasion, you’d think that the city’s Waverley railway station would be keen to welcome all visitors. Not so, it seems.
Cyclists used to be able to ride in and out of the station via one of two road ramps up to Waverley Bridge in the centre of the city. Now they are required to dismount, and push their bikes along narrow, enclosed footpaths thronged with hurrying pedestrians, roller-bags and buggies.
The result is congestion, conflict and reportedly angry outbursts, as too much foot traffic tries to navigate long and inescapable bottlenecks. Meanwhile, road ramps the other side of metal barriers remain eerily empty most of the time.
“The message from the station to visitors and to the general public is appalling,” said the local cycling campaign group, Spokes. “What other major European station would corral two-way walking – with bikes, prams, wheelchairs and luggage – into narrow passageways?”
Spokes has launched a campaign to improve access to Waverley for bikes. It has been backed by a cross-party group of MSPs at the Scottish Parliament, who have written to Network Rail demanding changes.
The Scottish Nationalist MSP for Edinburgh Southern, Jim Eadie, has accused the rail company of bringing in a “ridiculous policy”. He said: “I am extremely concerned about the impact of these changes, which have made travelling to and from the station an unwelcome experience for many.”
The Green MSP for Lothian, Alison Johnstone, was also worried and puzzled by the new restrictions on cyclists. “We should be doing everything possible to encourage more people to cycle to the station, and I believe this sends out the wrong message,” she said.
“I cannot see what problem there is with cycling down either of the main ramps into the station. Indeed, the more southerly entrance on Waverley Bridge leads neatly round to the back of the station near the bicycle storage.”
The cycling restrictions were introduced in the wake of a decision by Network Rail to ban all private cars and taxis from driving down into the station, as they’ve historically been allowed to do. This was said to be to prevent car bomb attacks and to cut air pollution.
Trucks and vans still use one of the ramps to deliver supplies for the shops and food stalls in the station. But cyclists have been greeted by billboards telling them that they are banned from the ramps, and crowd barriers blocking their way.
So far Network Rail’s response has been defensive. Acting area director, Lindsay Saddler, told Johnstone in a letter dated 1 July that the south ramp has been closed and that passengers and cyclists are banned from the north ramp because it is used for deliveries all day.
“Looking ahead, the station team will look at other options to improve the station delivery process however, in the meantime, all cyclists should dismount before walking into the station with their bikes,” Saddler said.
“We are confident that there is adequate space for all station users requiring access to Waverley Bridge via the pedestrian ramp.” The station is used by 25 million people a year.
Johnstone, who is co-convenor of the Scottish Parliament’s cross-party group on cycling, told constituents that she was not satisfied with the company’s response. She said: “I am seeking further clarification as to why a reduction in overall traffic makes the environment more hazardous for cyclists in Network Rail’s view, and why they chose to close the south ramp entirely instead of, for example, taking the opportunity to create a dedicated cycle path into and out of the station.”