It’s too easy to view the publication of the “Edinburgh World Heritage Management Plan” as the most recent skirmish in the battle between the car and active transport. Indeed, this battle is not without its skirmishes. On the table right now we also have the tram extension, the Picardy Place development, the George Street “Public Life Street Assessment”, the nebulous North Bridge public realm proposals and the much awaited “Central Edinburgh Transformation” plans.
Cynics would suggest that these projects are not sufficiently connected and promise a revolution at the planning stage but only, at best, deliver incremental change when it comes to implementation. I won’t test that argument or the one that says the best way to respect the World Heritage status we inherited from our ancestors is to empty litter bins and fill potholes. Nor will I question those that virtue signal about reducing car use whilst simultaneously cheerleading for the St James development and its corpulent car park (1000 extra spaces). I will, however, take issue with how the argument is framed.
Firstly, this is not really about car users fighting pedestrians and cyclists. It’s about us Edinburgers and how we get around our city. It’s not just about copying what works in other cities. It’s about getting our city the way we want it.
Yes, that means fixing the roads and getting the clutter off our pavements. It also means, however, recognising that making it safer to cycle and walk around our city will make it a better place for everyone. Indeed, businesses know that somebody walking or cycling past their door is far more likely to stop and make a purchase than a motorist. The health and community benefits are also clear.
Secondly, we have to remember taking cars off one road simply to overload another is not the answer. We also have to think about how those with mobility problems get around our city.
Lastly, we have to recognise that improving our city has to be about changing culture, not just publishing reports and erecting signs. This is a process that must start outside central Edinburgh. We need to make it easier for our children and grandchildren to walk and cycle safely to school and other community facilities. Rather than transforming central Edinburgh, we need to be bold and transform our Capital.