Transport Convener: Are we doing enough for future generations?

Councillor Scott Arthur, Transport and Environment Convener, looks forward to some of the major changes to transport planned for the Capital.

Are we doing enough when it comes to delivering a safer, more accessible, and environmentally friendly city for future generations?

There will be a range of opinions on that, but the fact is that if we are to reach net zero for transport by 2030, we need to act 12 times faster than we have over recent decades.

Alongside tackling air pollution, congestion, road safety, poverty and rapid population growth, climate change, and our response to it, forms one of the key challenges for Edinburgh’s transport system.

Thankfully, public engagement shows that many of the people who live here share my love of Edinburgh and my opinion that changes need to be made to the way we move around the city. Whether it’s improving pavements to make it easier to get around on foot, expanding our cycle network for safer travel by bike or prioritising public transport, the appetite for cleaner transport is there.

That’s why I was so passionate about working cross-party to agree a package of ambitious measures to transform travel in Edinburgh at last week’s Transport and Environment Committee and was delighted when progress was made.

Thanks to committee approval we’ll now be able to accelerate plans to open up the heart of our city to make it truly people-friendly. On Thursday we heard from Peter Vansevenant from Ghent, who told us about the ‘Big Bang’ approach they took in the city, where they introduced restrictions over a single weekend and saw rush hour traffic drop and public transport levels increase.

Learning from others is invaluable but one size doesn’t fit all, and we’ll be carefully considering how any of our own changes to traffic flow could impact residents, businesses and public transport before implementing them. Our first action, a trial the closure of the Cowgate from this summer, will be part of the process for considering how to take forward a wider package of proposals to help create a calmer, safer city centre sooner rather than later.

Other cities across Europe have already done this, it is time for us to catch up!

Of course, these decisions aren’t easy, and a balance needs to be struck. We now recognise that streets like Morningside Road are so much more than transport corridors, they’re communities and retail and leisure destinations in their own right.

It’s essential that we allocate limited space in our historic city to best serve the communities and businesses that call it home, while also addressing the climate emergency, accessibility and issues like air and noise pollution, which disproportionately affect low-income households. To do this we need to get the balance right between different modes of transport, and that’s not straightforward. However, the framework sets out a clear and transparent set of guidelines for apportioning space on different kinds of streets, which is an excellent place to start.

Progressing aspirations to build a tram line between Granton and the BioQuarter and Edinburgh Royal Infirmary via the Western General and the City Centre may involve some tough decisions too, but last week’s vote to put the route to public consultation signals our intent to move forward.

The service would not only carry a million passengers per month and link key areas of growth and development to the city, but it would support local regeneration, boost economic growth and connect to educational and cultural venues along the route. This is a huge, transformative project and we need to get it right, which is why we’ll be presenting both routes to Granton – along the Roseburn path and through the Orchard Brae area - clearly and objectively for people to tell us what they think.

I am always being told that Edinburgh must be bolder and act faster in the face of the climate emergency. The choices we’ve made over the last week are our chance to show Edinburgh is serious.

Published: February 7th 2024