What it feels like to ride along the 'worst cycle lane in the world'

The bike lane might be 'moronic' and an 'accident waiting to happen' - but one howler shouldn’t make you swerve from the beauty of the act, writes Emmie Harrison-West

Emmie Harrison-West next to the worlds worst cycle lane
(Image credit: Emmie Harrison-West)

Slamming on my brakes, I slowly wobbled my bike around the mass of pushchairs, school kids and wide-eyed dogs waiting at a temporary bus stop. Right in the middle of the bike lane.

Then, zig-zagging my way around parked cars, the open doors of delivery vans, loading bays, and even giant copper planters full of dead plants, cigarette butts and dried up vomit, I tried to recall the last time I breathed. I’d taken breathing for granted, I thought.

"I tried to recall the last time I breathed"

On my left was a pedestrian footpath, no wider than 6ft - and past the shallow kerbs on my right were tram lines, a main road and bus lane. All jam-packed into one. There were miniature zebra crossings to bus stops and tram platforms dancing around me, as well as the occasional traffic cone left by either a drunken student or traffic warden. Who knows.

Suddenly, a woman darted in front of me to catch the tram that was mere inches from my body and I nearly found myself under it. I had nowhere safe to swerve so I braked. Hard. I didn’t need to worry about there being an e-bike behind me as the lane was empty of cyclists - it always is.

Emmie Harrison-West's view of the worlds worst cycle lane

(Image credit: Emmie Harrison-West)

Sighing, I did what I did most days, and got off my bike to take the 'shoelace express'. Again.

This is what it feels like to cycle along the worst cycle lane in the world - and, sadly, it’s my local.

I live in Edinburgh, Scotland, and while it’s a beautiful city - with easy cycling links to the beach, rolling hills and snowy highlands - it made the list of the 13 worst cycle lanes in the world three times. My local bike lane was awarded the top spot, and I wholeheartedly agree that it deserves it. It’s an accident waiting to happen.

Urban cycling publication, Discerning Cyclist, aptly described the city’s Leith Walk zig-zagging cycle lane as "moronic". "This one gets our goat," it added, rewarding it with first place. "It’s not something you’d expect to deal with when driving a car along the road, so why do cyclists have to put up with this kind of ill-thought-out infrastructure? Heaven only knows.

"The design is thanks to the route needing to pass bus stops and loading bays, apparently!" it added.

And though it only opened last summer as part of a £207mn transport project, the council submitted plans to make improvements to the ‘worst’ of it within weeks. Apparently, the lane’s sharp turns failed to comply with the council’s street design rules (well, duh!).

Emmie Harrison-West's bike on a more picturesque ride

Emmie's 'questionably squeaky' Pendleton

(Image credit: Emmie Harrison-West)

Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn't call myself a 'serious cyclist' by any means. I have a questionably squeaky Pendleton named Jeanie, and I cycle as a commuter, or in effort to protect my mental health and wellbeing. Getting lost along winding bike paths to immerse myself in nature in my own time is one of my favourite pastimes, so poor infrastructure like this just makes me upset for ‘would-be’ cyclists. I feel like a disappointed older sister, shaking her head with furrowed brows.

Cyclists, new and old, should feel comfortable and confident enough in their own city to hop on a bike, and explore the place they call home. It’s the healthiest, most eco-friendly way to travel and poorly designed infrastructure like this lets them down. Lets everyone down.

The designers behind Leith Walk’s wacky, windy cycle path seemed to have prioritised cars and public transport, though the city wants to be Net Zero by 2030. As a result, footpaths have shrunk, and pedestrians - on wheels or foot - are a second thought, and have to fight for space. It's a conflict that doesn’t need to happen.

Even if you did decide to cycle down Leith Walk - a major connection between Edinburgh city centre with its looming castle, and the trendy, cobbled streets of Leith Shore - it’s not fun. Cyclists, of any age, gender or ability, deserve to take up space - and a safe space at that.

Thankfully, I've found that for every terrible cycle lane, there's usually two phenomenal ones. That cycling can mostly be safe and fun, if you know where to look. If you let yourself get lost, on your own terms, and in your own time.

"Forgive the bumps in the road, the journey only gets better"

One howler shouldn’t make you swerve from the beauty of the act - just like that one bad boyfriend you had at 17 you thought had broken your heart for, like, ever.

Emmie Harrison-West on a ride by the sea

"One howler shouldn’t make you swerve from the beauty of the act", says Emmie

(Image credit: Emmie Harrison-West)

Because, after I cycle down Leith Walk - the worst cycling lane in the world - within minutes I end up down a peaceful, disused railway path. It’s been transformed into a bike path, and it’s truly beautiful. It’s my happy place, with its serenity linking me to the sandy cycle paths of the beach and into the open arms of my husband. With a coffee for me in one hand, and a croissant in the other.

Forgive the bumps in the road, the journey only gets better. Promise.

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