Following the recent reveal of City of Edinburgh Council’s transformational 10-year mobility plan, transport and environment convener Lesley Macinnes explains why the Scottish capital’s famous streets must be remodelled…
Edinburgh is not alone in the challenges it faces. But as a historic, compact capital city, with a unique landscape and – under normal circumstances – a world-beating cultural scene, the response to these must be custom-made.
In Edinburgh, transport accounts for 31% of carbon emissions, and that’s rising. Poverty rates vary considerably across the city, yet the cost of travel averages at more than £80 a week – 14% of average weekly budgets. Congestion significantly impacts daily journeys, adding up to 41% to travel time during peak hours. And our population continues to skyrocket, with a forecast growth of 12% to 600,000 by 2043.
The city simply must adapt if it is to address these issues head on, to achieve its net zero carbon goals by 2030, to improve air quality and provide inclusive, accessible transport options while creating a better place to live. The next steps will be crucial as Edinburgh works to make a green recovery from the Covid-19 crisis, helping citizens to return to normality while supporting local businesses to flourish.
In direct response to this, the council’s City Mobility Plan sets out a 10-year programme to deliver a better connected, carbon-neutral transport system, a healthier environment and a thriving, inclusive future.
The council has spent the last three years honing this strategy, engaging closely with the people who live and work here, with partner organisations and with accessibility, active travel, transport and business groups. It’s analysed Edinburgh’s specific travel patterns and data as well as drawing from pioneering cities around the world. A major public consultation received significant support for proposals to overhaul movement to and around the city.
For that reason, the council knows it has created a plan that meets people’s needs but also pushes forward with the kind of changes society must make if it is to address the climate emergency and create a better quality of life for everyone.
Of course, as society emerges from the pandemic, it will remain in a period of uncertainty, so the plan will be flexible to take account of longer-term impacts as they become clearer.
However, over the next decade the City of Edinburgh Council has committed to delivering a bold programme of policy measures to meet these goals. By encouraging a change in behaviour towards environmentally friendly transport, while providing flexible and affordable public transport fares, the council will help people to make sustainable choices.
Plans to expand the tram and mass rapid transit network and improve bus routes will further support the transition from private car journeys while introducing ‘mobility hubs’ in communities and a city operations centre to monitor traffic will be pivotal to reducing the impact of polluting vehicles and congestion.
The council has pledged to create more liveable places less dominated by motor traffic and to build on Edinburgh’s network of walking, wheeling and cycling routes. It’s already a compact, walkable city, where 45% of households don’t own a car – the council wants to make getting from A to B by foot, bike or wheelchair even easier.
This people-focused approach was brought to life with the publication of new concept designs for the George Street and First New Town public realm improvements project. The £32m scheme is central to the broader transformation of the city centre and a key element of the City Mobility Plan, and the new designs offer a glimpse of how to create more liveable places in the city.
Under the proposals, this car-dominated street would be turned into a largely pedestrianised area, with a cycling thoroughfare and places to sit, play and hold events. The designs, which conserve the street’s heritage, have already been well received, and if approved by committee, will be delivered by 2025.
The council’s commitment to support 20-minute neighbourhoods as part of the plan will help to create great, liveable places to spend time in too. Thanks to the compact make-up of the city the council wants to go even further to facilitate 10-minute neighbourhoods, helping people to shift away from longer journeys to active travel and to meet the city’s net zero carbon target.
The City of Edinburgh Council isn’t starting from scratch with the City Mobility Plan. Edinburgh is recognised as one of the most liveable cities in Europe and since the 1990s great strides have been made to enhance transport systems and invest in streets and public spaces.
This ranges from the completion of 95km of off-road cycleways and walkways between 1995 and 1999 to the launch of Edinburgh Trams in 2014 and becoming the first Scottish city to implement a citywide network of 20mph routes in 2018. Ongoing projects, such as the completion of trams to Newhaven and the introduction of a low-emission zone, puts Edinburgh at the forefront of sustainable transport development.
These have all been ambitious ventures that have either already been achieved or soon will. Regarding the next 10 years of transport and mobility in the Scottish capital, Edinburgh needs to be just as bold, for the sake of its future and for the generations of people who will live, work and visit it.