Transport and Environment Convener Cllr Lesley Macinnes has written for the Edinburgh Reporter on plans for Travelling Safely.
If there’s anything the last 18 months has taught us about ourselves, it’s our capacity to adapt to change. Now, as we look, hopefully, to the end of the pandemic, we need to make helpful changes in how we move around the city.
In the spring of 2020, we were given money by the Scottish Government to implement measures helping people to walk, wheel and cycle safely during a period of great uncertainty. We had no idea of the way the Covid virus would affect us, how it would spread or impact on a return to normality.
These interventions had to be on the ground fast if they were going to help us limit the spread of infections and provide a safe space for those avoiding public transport at the height of lockdown. That’s why we developed a shortened consultation process, approved by committee, so we could do just that.
Since the beginning of the Spaces for People programme, we’ve paid attention to the needs of communities and businesses, as well as stakeholders like Lothian Buses, the emergency services and accessibility groups. As a result, we’ve tweaked and redesigned elements of many of schemes in place, improving traffic flow, making sure businesses can get deliveries and providing access for those with mobility issues, amongst other adjustments.
We’ve listened to what many people have told us they like about the changes too. That, along with concerns and comments raised during 2020 and 2021 and the significant response to a major public consultation carried out earlier this year, has formed the basis of our plans for the future of these measures.
Retaining infrastructure introduced to help people walk, wheel and cycle during the pandemic is a national matter. Both the UK and Scottish Governments have called for local authorities to make as many of these schemes as possible permanent in recognition of the real boost they’ve brought to travel by foot, wheel or bike – and the knock-on positive effect on our environment.
This is about the bigger picture: we’re facing a serious climate emergency. Private car journeys simply can’t continue to dominate our streets - we need to encourage alternative modes of transport if we are to reduce congestion, improve air quality and cut carbon emissions. We must do this.
Creating more people-friendly streets, protected cycle routes and space for people to relax and stroll is key to achieving that and is central to our City Mobility Plan. This, alongside initiatives like improved public transport provision and promotion of cleaner vehicles will create the greener, safer, net zero carbon city we want to live in, where we bring up our children and plan for the future.
Of course, we need to strike a balance, and we know that some of the changes introduced through Spaces for People aren’t needed anymore or haven’t worked for everyone. That’s why we’ve agreed to remove a number of schemes or engage further with communities to refine designs.
But as we look to make a green recovery from the pandemic one thing’s for sure: we can’t return to the status quo. We’ve been given the opportunity to take these temporary changes and make progress now, rather than years down the line. The Travelling Safely programme, renamed to signal our renewed approach for these schemes, is the first step towards making our city a happier, healthier place to be for everyone.
This opinion piece was published in the Edinburgh Reporter newspaper, which you can read online.