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Inverness Covid-19 routes could be made permanent

By Alasdair Fraser

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Norman MacDonald of Café 1. Picture: Gary Anthony
Norman MacDonald of Café 1. Picture: Gary Anthony

Controversial Covid-19 routes designed to ease social distancing and promote active travel in Inverness could be made permanent, the HN can reveal today.

Plans to create a permanent network of walking and cycling paths through the Highland capital will go before councillors in February.

The temporary routes have split local opinion, but Highland Council officials are now drafting detailed proposals it hopes will lead to a lasting transformation in how people move about the city.

While the initial focus is on Academy Street and Millburn Road, officials have left the door open to other temporary routes – including, controversially, Castle Street and Castle Road – becoming permanent.

A one-way system around Inverness Castle has provoked local dissent, with traffic congestion and fears for pedestrian safety.

Currently, the “pop-up” paths stretch across the city from Culloden to New Craigs Hospital, guided by red and white water-filled barriers and traffic cones.

The permanent vision would feature a more sophisticated streetscape, with up-to-date cycle lane technology, signage, markings and barriers.

Back in May, the local authority secured an initial £750,954 in Scottish Government funds under the Spaces for People scheme.

Officials immediately made it clear the temporary measures could be a template for permanent change, tackling issues such as Academy Street’s soaring pollution levels.

At the time, Malcolm MacLeod, the council’s executive chief officer for infrastructure and the environment, said: “We have the opportunity here to be transformational in how we use our spaces.

“Although it will start as temporary, we hope it will lead to something more permanent.”

Measures in Academy Street.
Measures in Academy Street.

The council’s new planning blueprint, to be considered by councillors today, seeks to “embed walking and cycling as the logical choice and easiest way” to travel in Inverness.

Highland Council was asked by the HN when decisions would be made on the temporary network’s future and whether any part of it would become permanent.

A spokeswoman said: “It is important to remember that several of these temporary measures are actually the rapid deployment of more permanent schemes which will include further detailed design and public engagement.

“This includes public realm improvements for Academy Street, and the delivery of a segregated bike lane on Millburn Road.

“It is intended that these issues will be discussed [at February’s city of Inverness area, and economy and infrastructure committees].”

Asked to clarify whether more of the temporary network – including Castle Street and Castle Road – might be made permanent, the spokeswoman said: “At this time, there is no equivalent scheme for the castle, however this could be subject to change over the coming months.”

She said the temporary measures had been constantly reviewed by transport and road engineers, with “unacceptable impacts” dealt with – including a shortening of the Millburn Road cycle lane to ease vehicle queuing onto the A9.

The spokeswoman insisted: “The road network is functioning well, with slight delays at peak times… an acceptable compromise for the benefits being derived.

“The measures (allow us) to welcome people to our busiest areas to access local businesses and move around in a safe, active way.”

Talk of making the paths permanent split local opinion.

David Traill, owner of J Graham & Co angling and shooting store, said: “That’s been my problem with this all along. We were told it would be a temporary measure and then assessed.

“Once these clowns start the process there’s very little chance of it being reversed.

“We’re left with a situation where the town centre is just not fit for purpose.

“Castle Street is still the most dangerous street to cycle on in Inverness.”

Café 1 owner Norman MacDonald said: “I suspected from the very start they were ghosting this in on the back of Covid.

“I have serious concerns for the safety of people given the way mixed space is working between bikes moving at high pace, pedestrians and people coming out of shops.”

But Colin Lyon, owner of Craigdon Mountain Sports in Academy Street, said: “Traffic still seems to be flowing fine through Academy Street.

“However, I’m very concerned about the number of times I’ve almost gone over my ankle on the kerb..

“To my mind, it would be a great step to create proper width pavements for pedestrians.

“We need to realise we are a tourist destination. We need to make it more attractive for folk walking up and down our streets, reducing pollution as well.”

Inverness resident Brendan Dougan, senior development officer for the lobbying charity Cycling UK, said: “Creating an enduring walking and cycling network would be a really positive step.

“We’ve seen first-hand that riding a bike is great for people’s physical and mental health. Evidence from elsewhere in Scotland and beyond shows that these measures are good for local businesses and help to create a vibrant city centre with cleaner air.”

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