Leaves on the lines. Also, mud, ice, snow.

Our paths aren’t just for summer – they are used all year round, including in winter. In fact, from a transport point of view they are even more important during winter weather when we should be doing all we can to keep people walking and cycling and away from traffic. Elsewhere, this is an accepted part of coping with winter weather – in Copenhagen, for instance, after snowfall they clear the cycle lanes and paths before the car and bus lanes

It’s a shame, therefore, that routine maintenance of our paths is so poor. A quick cycle ride round some of the routes last week revealed paths caked in mud, leaves and running water. In some areas, the paths have not been swept in well over a year, although some had recently had a cursory annual sweep which hadn’t done much to tackle the soil that had caked onto the tarmac.

Some places were worse than others, depending on which council department’s territory it fell in, and there is seemingly no correlation with how busy each section is – some of the worst sections were on the Sustrans National Cycle route to Leith (the purple line).

When the paths are covered in leaves and mud, it’s hard for cyclists to know where the path edges are. For pedestrians, being forced to share an ever-narrower stretch of muddy tarmac with each other and with cyclists just adds to congestion. And why should a journey home resemble a muddy off-road trecking experience?

And now, after a week of sub-zero temperatures and absolutely no gritting, all that mud and all those wet leaves have turned to ice. Where there are streams of water running across the paths, we now have icy “sleeping policemen”.

Because the paths are so rarely, if ever, swept, it makes it even harder to clean when they are. Leaves and soil get compacted down, so that when a sweeper does come past, it hardly scrapes the surface. And the mud and wet leaves, when frozen, amplify tenfold the effects of icy conditions. Reports on Twitter show the same problem across the city – the North Edinburgh Paths, canal towpath, the Meadows – all heavily used for commuters, by bike and on foot.

Despite continued promises from the council to prioritise maintenance of these crucial transport corridors, and with all the signs of it being a bad winter ahead, nothing seems to have changed. It looks like we are set for a repeat of what happened two winters ago when many of the cycle paths were still under an inch of solid ice long after the last snow, whereas the main roads were totally clear, and many miles of our transport infrastructure were taken out of action by mere neglect.

Why has it got like this? One of the principle reasons is that responsibility for path maintenance is divided up into different neighbourhood teams and they each decide their own priorities. Some, such as City Centre and Leith, do not sweep or pay any attention to the paths at all – as anyone can tell by looking at the condition of the path from Canonmills to the Shore. This division into patches leads to farcical situations, such as in 2010, when the path from Fiveways Junction to Canonmills was gritted by the North Team, but only as far as the “boundary” with the City Centre team’s area, at which point the pack ice resumed and in any case the accesses to the paths were not treated at all .

Despite council assurances, little seems to have changed and there are plenty of examples of untreated and very poor paths across the network.

The neighbourhood teams respond to Tweets: @southwest_team @west_team @east_team @south_team @north_team (I couldn’t find the City Centre Team).

These photos were taken before the recent snow and ice (except for the snowy ones).

Mark Sydenham
Mark Sydenham

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