FORTH ROAD RAGE

As com­muters face the on-go­ing bat­tle of nav­i­gat­ing the Queens­berry Cross­ing, Rosie Morton asks why the ‘old’ Forth Road Bridge re­mains bliss­fully free of stressed com­muters

Scottish Field - - CONTENTS -

The new Queens­ferry Cross­ing has done lit­tle to al­le­vi­ate con­ges­tion

Ev­ery day, sev­eral of my col­leagues at Scot­tish Field drive across the Queens­ferry Cross­ing from ru­ral Fife. It is a uniquely stress­ful ex­is­tence. From mid-af­ter­noon on­wards they fever­ishly check the sta­tus of the bridge. If all is well, they will be home in time to tuck the chil­dren into bed. If things go awry, they can sit in their cars wait­ing to get over the bridge for lit­er­ally hours. And things go awry far more often than non-com­muters could ever sus­pect. It has long been thus, but now com­muters no longer just have to bear the in­jury of sit­ting in traf­fic as they at­tempt to cross the Forth, they also have to en­dure the added in­sult of gaz­ing across at the vir­tu­ally empty – but use­able – old bridge. Per­haps it is just me, but I find it hard to re­sist look­ing long­ingly at the now-re­tired Forth Road Bridge where the quiet roads are bliss­fully free of the 65,000 ve­hi­cles which used to carry stressed com­muters across it each day. The Forth Road Bridge’s motto, ‘Guid Pas­sage’, now hold­ing an un­bear­able irony, has never been so true. The ques­tion begs to be asked, though: why? Why, when the Forth Road Bridge is still ap­par­ently safe to use for

years to come, is it not be­ing em­ployed to ease at least some of the traf­fic? Fig­ures sug­gest that south­bound wait­ing times have only im­proved by five min­utes since the new bridge opened, while rush hour cross­ing times head­ing north­bound have not im­proved at all. Surely, the per­fect so­lu­tion would be to open the old bridge to pre­vail­ing traf­fic head­ing into Ed­in­burgh in the morn­ing and out of it in the evening? Or how about us­ing the old bridge while de­vot­ing some of the ca­pac­ity of the Queens­ferry Cross­ing to traf­fic which is seek­ing to head to the M8 or the by­pass and has no de­sire to come into Ed­in­burgh at all? This would un­doubt­edly ease some of the traf­fic flow at a stroke. Of course, there were con­cerns that the Forth Road Bridge would no longer sup­port high-sided, heavy goods ve­hi­cles, and re­pair­ing the ex­ten­sive cor­ro­sion of the ca­bles on the old bridge is not eco­nom­i­cally vi­able – it would take around seven to nine years to com­plete, and clos­ing it for that length of time would cost busi­nesses be­tween £0.54 and £1.3 bil­lion. A few years ago, the clo­sure of just a sin­gle car­riage­way on the Forth Road Bridge cost the econ­omy £650,000 a day. But imag­ine, then, what the eco­nomic gain would be if both bridges were open. As it stands, only pub­lic trans­port, mo­tor­cy­clists, pedes­tri­ans and cy­clists can use the bridge. Why is it still closed to cars? While the al­most de­serted 2.5 kilo­me­tre stretch re­mains, it is hard to see the new Queens­ferry ar­rival as an im­prove­ment on the daily grid­lock faced by com­mut­ing Fifers. As it stands, it is ridicu­lously dif­fi­cult to di­vert traf­fic across the old bridge should the new bridge be closed for any rea­son. It’s only a mat­ter of time be­fore an ac­ci­dent closes the new bridge and drivers are left to sit in a traf­fic jam while star­ing at the empty old bridge. In­sult is added to in­jury if we look across the pond, where ex­am­ples of con­ges­tion be­ing suc­cess­fully re­duced are com­mon­place. From ex­pe­ri­ence, ev­ery­thing is in per­fect mo­tion in Mon­treal and the stress of rush hour is more or less re­moved. Driv­ing from Laval into Mon­treal, the flow of lanes is re­versed, al­low­ing more traf­fic in and out of the city at peak times. Ad­mit­tedly, a few horns still blast and some tense mo­ments re­main. But, for the most part, the num­ber of an­gry red faces and white knuck­les are much di­min­ished. It is a sys­tem that could eas­ily have been mim­icked on the Queens­ferry cross­ing, but hasn’t been. It seems al­most com­i­cal that a city of over 1.7 mil­lion peo­ple can man­age rush hour bet­ter than Ed­in­burgh, a city of less than 500,000. Que­beck­ers have mim­icked this traf­fic man­age­ment sys­tem across their Vic­to­ria, Jac­ques Cartier and Que­bec Bridges. So whether they are hur­ry­ing to reach a 9am meet­ing in town, or are rac­ing home to be in time for their favourite tele­vi­sion drama, it is plain sail­ing. The same can be seen across the globe. The iconic Golden Gate Bridge, for ex­am­ple, would un­doubt­edly be the epit­ome of in­tol­er­a­ble con­ges­tion if it weren’t for their re­versible lane sys­tem. Two of the six lanes con­nect­ing San Fran­cisco and Marin County are open to south­bound traf­fic in the morn­ing, then north­bound traf­fic in the evening. Sim­i­lar set ups can be seen in Van­cou­ver, Syd­ney, New Zealand, and even in other parts of the UK such as Birm­ing­ham, Sh­effield and Ply­mouth. So why are we un­able to fol­low suit? The Queens­ferry Cross­ing is a re­mark­able feat of en­gi­neer­ing, but as it stands we have spent £1.3bn with­out mak­ing the jour­ney to work ap­pre­cia­bly bet­ter for le­gions of com­muters. The worst thing is, it doesn’t have to be this way.

minute“Rush hour wait­ing times have only im­proved by five s

Above: The new Queens­ferry Cross­ing (on the right) over the Firth of Forth with the older Forth Road Bridge (on the left) and the iconic Forth Rail Bridge (far left).

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