Tragic death in Edinburgh highlights need for segregated cycling infrastructure

One of the tramline pinch points for people cycling at Haymarket, Edinburgh
Several weeks ago, the tragic death of a young woman in Edinburgh rocked the city’s cycling community. The cause of the incident isn’t yet known and is being investigated by Police Scotland, but we do know that 23-year-old medical student Zhi Min Soh fell off her bike near tramlines and was subsequently run over by a mini-bus. Here, we look at the issue of tramlines, bicycles and segregated infrastructure.

Zhi Min Soh came off her bike at a notorious black-spot for people cycling in Edinburgh, where tramlines and corresponding road designs place vulnerable road users in difficult situations. Lack of space and manoeuvrability, pressure from traffic, and shallow crossing angles over tramlines mean that cycling along these stretches can be extremely stressful and dangerous.

While we cannot speculate on the exact nature of how Zhi Min Soh fell off her bike, the location on a junction of Princes Street and Lothian Road has a significant number of reported cyclist injuries. Before the tragic news, there had already been more than 250 walking and cycling injuries recorded across several tramline black-spots in the city.

Serious hazard

The tramlines in Edinburgh have been flagged up to the City of Edinburgh Council and Edinburgh Trams as a serious hazard for cyclists for nigh on a decade, with clear warnings and evidence from cycle campaigners, transport consultants, NHS doctors, and even solicitors.

Tramlines and networks need to be designed with proper regard for the safety of people who cycle. Ideally trams and people who cycle should not have to share the same space, but where car intensity is low and separation is not possible, the network should be designed to ensure that people on bikes have both space and the opportunity to swerve and cross tramlines at a safe angle. We believe that if the needs of cycling had been planned in from the outset of the tram designs in Edinburgh, it's likely that these 250-plus injuries would be massively reduced.

Indeed, the provision of segregated cycling infrastructure in our towns and cities that separates vulnerable road users from vehicular traffic (as well as trams) would reduce the death and serious injuries of thousands of people across the UK who choose to cycle from A to B. It would also help encourage many new people onto bikes for transport.

Improved infrastructure

This sentiment was echoed by Alison Johnstone MSP in First Minister’s Questions when she asked if the Minister for Transport and the Islands, Humza Yousaf, could meet with campaigning groups to ensure that cycling fatalities are avoided in the future through improved cycling infrastructure and better road safety provision.

The Scottish Government has committed to tackling the recent bikelash in Scotland that is stalling the planning and installation of segregated cycling provision in local communities across the country, and has also promised to maintain the current record levels of walking and cycling investment for the term of the parliament.

However, Zhi Min Soh’s death demonstrates the need to further invest in infrastructure and accelerate action. The total transport budget allocated to active travel is only 1.6 per cent - we are campaigning for 10 per cent of the budget to be dedicated to active travel in Scotland.

Safety review

Cycling UK and other campaigning organisations recently met the Minister to discuss how to make our Scottish towns and cities safer for people who cycle, via good segregated infrastructure design and further investment in active travel. 

The tragedy of Zhi Min Soh has also spurred City of Edinburgh Council to expedite a safety review on the tramlines and other cycle provision across the city. While it is unacceptable that it has taken a death before the council expedites tackling issues, we hope that the outcome of the review will ensure that nobody else will die or suffer injury on the city’s streets because of tramlines.

With the Scottish Government keen to encourage cycling as a mode of transport, as well as a proposed tramline extension in the works for City of Edinburgh Council, we sincerely hope that road space reallocation is taken seriously and that high-quality cycling and walking provision is planned in for future designs from the outset, rather than as an afterthought.