Transport and Environment Convener Councillor Lesley Macinnes writes in today's Edinburgh Evening News on the need to continue Spaces for People measures - and how we can learn from them long term.
We all saw 2021 as a fresh start after an immensely challenging year but, while there is plenty to be hopeful about, we’re clearly not out of the woods yet.
It’s fundamental that we do everything we can to limit the impact of this terrible virus, and the new and virulent strain.
For the last nine months we have worked extremely hard to introduce an ambitious programme of measures to help people to safely physically distance when moving around the city.
Through Spaces for People we’ve already installed and developed designs for 39km of segregated cycle lanes, created safer spaces around almost 100 schools and widened footpaths in nine key shopping streets across Edinburgh, amongst other changes. These respond directly to pinch points highlighted both by the public and our own officers and have helped a great many people to exercise, get to work and school and spend time in their local high streets safely on foot, bike or wheelchair.
We introduced these measures on an emergency basis with support from the Scottish Government. While this urgency means we have not been able to carry out our usual level of engagement for long term projects we have followed a process agreed by councillors in May. We have endeavoured to respond to feedback from residents and community groups, tweaking schemes so they benefit as many people as possible. Thanks to more than 4000 comments on our interactive Commonplace map we’re going to be able to make even more improvements resulting directly from residents’ suggestions.
Now, as we enter a new lockdown, we remain 100% committed to continuing the roll-out of measures that will help people to make essential journeys safely. In the coming weeks we’ll begin implementing several key schemes to create safer cycling routes, increase pedestrian space and connect communities.
Over the last year we’ve seen what an impact safer, more convenient cycling and walking infrastructure can have. Amongst feedback we’ve heard from families who love being able to walk along Braid Road to Hermitage of Braid at their leisure, new cyclists travelling by bike to work at the Western General on pop-up cycle lanes and parents delighted by safety measures outside their children’s schools.
We have an opportunity to harness this enthusiasm as we look towards a sustainable future here. We simply must adapt in response to the challenges we face – from climate change, poor air quality, unsustainable modes of transport. That 2020 was the hottest year on record is no coincidence and it’s essential that we act now to avoid further, irreversible damage to our planet and ourselves.
Our pledge to become carbon neutral by 2030 will involve several strands but transport is key to achieving this. By providing better routes for people travelling by foot, bike or wheelchair, alongside excellent public transport services, we want to give people a range of attractive alternatives to private car use, in turn bringing down carbon emissions, congestion and air pollution. Helping people to make the choice to leave the car behind and get around our city by different, healthier ways is something that can benefit us all.
Of course, the changes introduced through Spaces for People are temporary and under constant review, but they give us an idea of what could be achieved in the long term.
By learning from and building upon this experience to create a truly people-friendly city, we can gain some benefit from this extraordinary year.