If air was as pure as an Alpine breeze, traffic will still grind back

Pollution levels in Academy Street have plummeted, but the traffic, as above, will soon be back.
by Colin Campbell                                                                                                                  Thursday, May 7

POLLUTION in Academy Street in Inverness has dropped by more than 60 per cent, it’s been reported.

 That’s interesting but not altogether surprising. There are virtually no cars there. I’m surprised it’s only 60 per cent. I’d have thought the air in Academy Street might by now be as pure as an Alpine breeze.

 Encouraged by this, council officials are now working on creating what is described as a network of “pop-up” cycling and walking routes criss-crossing the city.

 These will be temporary but officials claim they could provide “a template to promote the vision of permanently slashing city centre pollution and traffic congestion”.

 Such initiatives are well-intentioned. But as with so many “visions” I’ll believe it when I see it.

 There’s never been a better time to ride a bike around Inverness, and particularly on roads which are normally the busiest. Traffic levels seem to be rising, but mostly the volume of cars still looks less like a normal working week day and more like a quiet Sunday morning.

 It’s not clear where these “pop-up” routes will emerge or what kind of space they’ll involve. The plan is very sparse on detail.

 We can only wonder, if they could “pop-up” now why couldn’t they pop-up before? As someone who rides a bike daily in Inverness there’s nothing I’d like to see more than a network of routes which make it safer to get around town.

 The obvious answer must be it’s easier to devise this now because there’s so little traffic around.

 And that, of course, is not going to last. However slow the return to some kind of normality may be, it’s a certainty that the number of cars on the roads will rise steadily. It may be a while before it hits the logjam levels it was before, but eventually it’ll get there.

 And unless the council visionaries are seeing something they’ve not seen before, these pop-up routes will pretty quickly pop-down again.

 In these difficult times any actions which try to make life easier for people – even cyclists who so many drivers loathe – deserves at least one round of applause.

 But talk of the current situation evolving into a permanent reduction in traffic congestion and pollution levels in precincts like Academy Street seems to contain an excess of wishful thinking.

 In a few months time Inverness – Scotland’s so-called “cycling city” – will be as overwhelmed by traffic as it was before. It will be just as dangerous an environment for cyclists as it’s been up to now. Negotiating stretches of it, particularly those involving an abundance of roundabouts, will be as life-threatening as ever.

Ever-present dangers face city cyclists.

 That is not going to change on the basis of any pop-up template which appears at a time when the roads are more free of traffic than they’ve been probably in living memory.

 There’s no doubt worthwhile work has been done to improve conditions for bike users with some key new links established in recent times, and all credit to those responsible for doing that.

 But any further improvement in a city where the needs and demands of the mass of car users always hold sway will be gradual, yard by yard, one bike length at a time, as new routes are painstakingly developed.

 It’s difficult if not impossible to see any lasting network of routes emerging as a result of the current unique situation. That just doesn’t seem realistic. And unless traffic is banned from Academy Street – and good luck taking on the drivers with that – that 60 per cent reduction in pollution levels will be blown away by the inevitable return of an outpouring of exhaust fumes and smog.

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