Transport Convener: Open Streets is a signal of our intent

Transport and Environment Convener, Councillor Lesley Macinnes, writes in today's Edinburgh Evening News, about the inaugural event, and how it will inform plans for the city centre.

This weekend we made history in Edinburgh. On Sunday we became the first city in the UK to join the international ‘Open Streets’ movement.

The High Street is free of cars, vans and buses and thronging with visitors throughout August, but to experience the Canongate, Victoria Street or Cockburn Street as peaceful, pedestrianised spaces is something else entirely.

I’m sure anyone who ventured into the Old Town will have been struck, like me, by the noticeable sense of calm that had descended upon the loop of Open Streets, even though thousands were strolling through the area. Instead of traffic-dominated thoroughfares they became places for conversation, enjoyment and play.

The beautiful, colourful backdrop of Victoria Street was revivified in the absence of queues of traffic, the Canongate, usually filled with cars and buses, was the site of open-air yoga and the Lawnmarket became a place to stroll and enjoy the beautiful, historic buildings.

Of course, this was a wonderful experience to which so many have responded very positively. Over the next year and a half these monthly events will bring a new vibrancy to Edinburgh’s Old Town, letting people experience our historic centre in a completely new way. But what does it mean to the future of the city?

This is about so much more than closing roads to cars. Open Streets is a signal of our intent to create a people-friendly environment, taking a holistic rather than purely transport-led approach, incorporating placemaking, well-being and economic growth.

Over the next 18 months we will be able to monitor the changes that will gradually develop in response to the initiative, learning from that understanding as we grow and develop our vision for the city centre.

Later this week we will publish a suite of reports which significantly moves forward our ambition for change, in particular reports on City Centre Transformation, Low Emission Zones and the City Mobility Plan, all of which are designed to re-negotiate the contract we have, as citizens and businesses, with the Capital. 

We want to step into the future with confidence, a future where transport and environmental choices help to support continued economic success at the same time as improving people’s lives.
We know, from extensive consultation, that many understand clearly that the status quo is no longer an option, that radical change is needed to build resilience.

Like other cities, we face enormous challenges from population growth, air pollution, increased car use and the fast-paced tempo of modern life.

I want to be clear that the forthcoming changes are for the people of Edinburgh – we want to equip future generations to face these challenges, to improve quality of life and to conserve the city’s heritage for centuries to come. 

As part of this we want to ensure a truly inclusive, accessible centre. This isn’t about putting up walls – we know that many people with mobility issues rely on cars and taxis and, as was the case with Open Streets, we want to make sure that this continues. 

But, for our own sakes, we can no longer ignore increasingly urgent conversations around the climate change, air pollution and public health – and we want to be part of the solution.

Sunday’s Open Streets event was an illustration, an initial sketch, of what we want to do, and it’s thanks to the extremely hard work and support of Council officers, partners, community groups and residents that it was able to take place.

Over the coming months I look forward to many more citizens and visitors joining us to reclaim the streets, helping us to better understand how we can reshape and transform the city for everyone’s benefit – and for other cities to follow suit.

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