Comment: This Congestion Can’t Go On (Updated)
Our editor questions daily queuing on the A701 and A702
Penicuik and West Midlothian has ground to a halt twice in the past 24 hours and it simply isn’t acceptable.
At the start of the year, I wrote the following article calling into question the inaction over the county’s infrastructure problems. In light of the problems faced by motorists in the past twenty-four hours, not just in Penicuik and West Midlothian but in South Edinburgh, I have reconsidered the problem. Whilst everything I say below is still very much my opinion, I now believe there needs to be an immediate solution to prevent a similar situation every happening again.
Midlothian Council and the Scottish Government need to act immediately to increase the capacity of the A702 around the vicinity of the A720. They must do this, so that in a situation where an incident on the city bypass causes queuing, or if one or two lanes becomes blocked, there will remain continuous movement on the major trunk road to the south.
There is a very simple solution to this. All four lanes must be reopened between Hillend Ski Slope and the Lothianburn roundabout, removing the speed reducing measures and parking. The speed reducing measures have become redundant given the daily queuing and the parking is only being used in lieu of a Park and Ride in the vicinity. These cars will have to find somewhere else to park until Midlothian and Edinburgh council get round to building the Lothianburn Park & Ride (see later).
By reopening these additional two lanes under a Red Route scheme, the council would be able to restrict stopping during peak commuting hours but permit parking between or out with these. This 400m of extra lane would enable up to an additional 80 cars to queue onto the bypass without restricting a city bound lane. Should emergency roadworks be needed, like was the case yesterday, up to two lanes can be closed whilst still maintaining traffic flow.
I acknowledge that this will cost money, that our cash strapped council will deny they have, but for every additional ten, thirty or even sixty minutes a commuter sits in a queue, the commuters suffer through fuel costs and the employers suffer through lost productivity. Our local economy will suffer. So yes, it may cost £100k to remove some traffic islands and paint lines but it will be worth it until a more permanent solution can be funded.
The people of Penicuik, West Midlothian and South Edinburgh are calling out for help, don’t ignore our cries.
Keep reading for my previous article on the daily commuting queues and how they can be solved.
What is evident as you sit in a never ending tailback on the A702, somewhere three miles away from the Bypass, is that years of dithering, ignorance and inaction have pushed west Midlothian to breaking point.
Are you tired? Tired of getting up half an hour earlier to beat the congestion to get to work? Tired of spending tens of minutes to travel a tiny distance? Well so am I, and I’m sure you’ll join me in saying that this has to end.
Over time the conversation has always been about what housing development should go where and how many houses should we build? However the question of critical infrastructure has been long forgotten, consigned to the pile of papers labelled ‘if only we had the money’. Perhaps our elected representatives need to hear it in nice simple terms: You can’t build thousands of new homes without increasing the capacity of the road network or introducing alternative transport methods.
Years have been spent acknowledging that the major trunk roads in Midlothian are facing peak time capacity issues. In a transport study undertaken during the feasibility study for the yet to become operational Edinburgh Orbital Bus Route, the engineering firm Scott Wilson Ltd. discovered that in 2010 Edinburgh’s A720 City Bypass was critically over capacity on all Midlothian approaches. The damning figures were forecast to deteriorate dramatically by 2013 with one section of the A720 between Dreghorn and Lothianburn due to reach 128% capacity during evening peak. We’re now in 2016 and new figures are not publicly available, but if we extrapolate the forecast 9% rise in three years, conceivably the City Bypass has now reached 137% at times. If true, it shows the shear ignorance of the region’s councils and the Scottish Government. Everyday commuters are struggling to beat 30 minute queues and yet improvements to road network are not be seen on any agendas.
To give credit where it’s due, Midlothian Council are trying to revive plans to construct an A701 bypass to alleviate pressure off the A701 and A702. However it is too little too late and with recent conflictions with the planned Scottish Film Studio at Straiton, the whole scheme promises to end up being one giant white elephant stuck in the planning and legal systems. We need solutions now, not five to ten years in the future when the additional 1000-2000 houses in West Midlothian come on stream.
In lieu of any solutions from our elected representatives (councillors and MSPs), I open the floor to you, the reader and concerned commuter. What is the best solution in your eyes? I’m going to set out my pitch but please share your views with us and let’s get a debate moving forward.
It is evident to me that there are two areas of contention for the morning peak in the west Midlothian road network: The over capacity of the City Bypass causing queues into its junctions and priority problems at the Hillend A702/A703/Seafield Moor Road junction.
Capacity problems on the A720 City Bypass are the result of years of neglect and lack of willingness to improve the artery. Local plans and regional development plans dating back to the millennium have questioned how to combat the rising number of vehicles. One solution was honed in on around the start of the financial crisis, the Edinburgh Orbital Bus Route. Using a segregated lane around the bypass, a fleet of buses would operate every five minutes between the suburban park and rides, allowing commuters to park their cars out with the city and travel to work by bus. The route would run from as far west as the new Queensferry Crossing to as far east at Queen Margaret University. It would provide Penicuik and District’s public transport users with the ability to go west without having to go via the city centre, creating a viable alternative to the car. To enable this project (which is already fully costed) several infrastructure projects are required. First a hard shoulder needs to be established all the way around the bypass, this was supposed to have been implemented by 2012 but Edinburgh City Council became preoccupied with the tram fiasco. Second the remaining Park and Rides need to be constructed at Lothianburn and by the Dalkeith A68 bypass. Finally the additional segregated bus routes need to be built, including between Lothianburn and Straiton P&Rs and in the eastern end by the University. Documentation suggests that the EOBR would also utilise double doored buses with pre-bought tickets (or perhaps and Edinburgh “Oyster” style card) to minimise stopping time, much like the trams. This project has the real opportunity to change how people travel and could not only reduce journey times but promote greener travel.
A second more immediate possibility would be to create a smart lane on the City Bypass, using the Active Traffic Management (ATM) Scheme, increasing its capacity by a third during peak hours. It may be the case that it need only be implemented in certain segments, like Straiton to Dreghorn westbound and Baberton to Calder eastbound. The hard shoulder already exists in these areas and the only outlay would be to erect signage, change road markings and perhaps resurface in places. This model has been tried and tested on England’s M42 and should be a serious short term contender to alleviate congestion.
To consider the second problem of the Hillend junction now and the concerns relate to the priority of the A703 and Seafield Moor Road. These two secondary roads join the major trunk route of the A702 and have become a ‘shortcut’ for some commuters. However due to the volume of traffic already on the A702, these routes also become congested and motorists feel obliged to let in the other routes. A simple and fair solution here would be to implement peak hour traffic signals which retain priority for the A702 but allow for small numbers of vehicles to enter from the A703 and Seafield Moor Road at set intervals, much like peak hour traffic lights on slip roads. The removal of northbound parking on the A702 at Lothianburn should be considered to allow one City or eastbound lane and one westbound City Bypass lane, allowing the queues to be separated. Parking would be redundant there should the park and ride be constructed anyway.
We need innovative thinking and we need to make ourselves heard. We, the people of Penicuik, Roslin, Bilston, Loanhead and indeed those in southern Edinburgh are fed up of the dithering. Whilst housing continues to be erected and the roads problem is ignored, commuters will continue to waste time and money in pointless queues, stifling the amount of time they have to work. Ultimately all this will only harm the economy, in times when we drastically need to continue on our recovery. If you’ve read this and agree that we have a problem, write to your local councillors or MSP’s, badger the administrations on social media, even take to the streets. The time for action, is now.