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TORMENT FOR
EDINBURGH ROAD USERS

A combination of long-term and extensive road works and increased parking restrictions has caused consternation amongst taxi drivers and other road users in Edinburgh recently. Add to this some frequent and torrential downpours that caused slow moving traffic to virtually grind to a halt and the picture of misery is almost complete.

The pouring rain has persuaded many would-be walkers to take to their vehicles instead. This has led to the already busy roads becoming positively clogged with traffic. And with new and seemingly endless miles of road works reducing the available carriageway, more traffic is crammed into less space with the inevitable result — gridlock. Monday morning always seems to be the preferred time to start new road works, catching out the unprepared and the ill informed — in short, most people. Of course, advance warning in the form of road signs that tell of trouble ahead would help — but this would spoil all the fun. Instead, drivers find out about the road works when they hit the back of the queue, by which time it’s far too late. Road works at Lothian Road are a typical example, with Morrison Street being reduced from four lanes to two, while Lothian Road has two lanes instead of the usual one.

The road works extend from the top of Morrison Street, around the corner and down to the Filmhouse and are scheduled to last for 31 weeks. The result of all this disruption is that east-bound traffic backed up past Haymarket while vehicles going west queued through the Grassmarket, along the Cowgate and down almost to the foot of Holyrood Road. It is hardly surprising that drivers took other routes to avoid the chaos, only to fall victim to road works on the alternative roads. The road past the Commonwealth Pool, for example, was partly reduced to one lane, causing traffic to queue back into Holyrood Park. But this wasn’t the total extent of the misery, with road works throughout the city adding to the effects of the rain. And the problems were compounded by the introduction of new controlled parking zones. These were launched with exquisite and sadistic timing to coincide neatly with the Monday morning rush hour and the road works.

The council's new rules require thousands of people in Hillside, Broughton, Marchmont and the Grange to pay 80 a year to park outside their homes. The aim of these new parking permits is to prevent non-residents from parking in these streets. And in that respect, the scheme achieved its aim. But like most well meaning ideas, it succeeded only in transferring the problem elsewhere. The non-resident drivers simply moved to the next street with free parking. The effect was often to fill a previously available lane with parked cars, further reducing the usable carriageway and making the congestion even worse. And in addition to upsetting residents and general road users, traders weren’t too impressed with the arrangements either. With the new restrictions on parking severely restricting their activities, it was a shock to learn that acquiring a permit to park in the newly zoned streets could take up to eighteen months. Another triumph for free enterprise!

One organisation that seems likely to benefit from the ensuing chaos is the company that runs the city's rickshaws. The ability of these vehicles to thread their way through the congested traffic has led to increasing trade and rumours of bumper profits. This, in turn, has attracted several drivers to the job, despite its backbreaking nature. It is thought that around 40 pedicabs are busily ferrying tourists and revellers around at weekends. This compares to just two vehicles in 2000, with the drivers making between 150 and 300 on an average busy weekend. Another distinct advantage is that, rather than sitting around putting on weight as the average cabbie does, these operators actually become fitter as they toil up and down Edinburgh's hills. One group of drivers who are not so happy are those running private hire firm Festival City Cabs. Some of their vehicles have had their windows smashed and tyres slashed, with no obvious motive for the attacks. But, at least this keeps them off the road for a while, away from the grid locked chaos of central Edinburgh.

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