Edinburgh’s Circulation Plan aims to “develop and deliver a strategic approach to allocating street space between modes of travel to define the degree of priority to be given to different modes on different streets”. This sounds a bit dull, but it is key to us transforming Edinburgh into a climate ready capital that sets economic development and resident wellbing as key priorities. The plan has already been before Councillors twice (October & December), and will (hopefully) go to consultation after the next iteration in January.
It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that the Circulation Plan is needed to both help protect key routes in the city, and also define which transport modes should be prioritised on these routes. The Leith Walk and Picardy Place designs show why this approach is so important. The last Council administration tried to please everyone by endlessly compromising, and ended up making nobody happy. Pedestrians, disabled people, cyclists, car owners, public transport providers and businesses have all raised concerns with me.
As we plan to move to a more sustainable transport system in Edinburgh over the next decade, it is important that we learn lessons from Leith Walk and show leadership in applying them in our other town centres to solve their problems. Right now places like Morningside Road are awful for pedestrians, and the congestion there delays thousands of people using buses every day.
For many routes in our city, we have to accept that there is only room to accommodate two transport modes to the highest standard. With the Circulation Plan consultation, we shall be asking residents and businesses about how this can be done and how ambitious we should be. In central Edinburgh and our town centres we shall need to ensure we have a world class pedestrian environment with first-class public transport connectivity and cycle access.
Doing this will come at a cost. In recent days at the Leith Walk/London Road junction I have seen first-hand how a minority of people are willing to put personal convenience before the safety of others when changes agreed by the last administration were enacted. The fact that many people are not aware of what the changes at these junctions are trying to achieve tells me that we need to engage with residents better.
We shall have to work with residents and businesses in places like Brunstfield/Morningside, Corstorphine, Gorgie/Dalry, Leith/Leith Walk, Nicolson Street/Clerk Street, Portobello, Stockbridge and Tollcross to better manage parking and loading to cut congestion, and sustainable transport access for all. This will not be easy, but we will learn from similar cities which have made this transition. We’ll also learn from the Spaces for People scheme failures in areas like this, and make all of these places more welcoming in order to support local traders.
I also recognise that for Edinburgh to thrive, goods and services must be able to freely move around our Capital – Labour in Edinburgh is not ashamed to say it supports economic prosperity and good employers. We will ensure key routes connecting to the city centre have the capacity to ensure Edinburgh goes from strength-to-strength, whilst also working with companies like Farr-Out-Deliveries on “last mile” logistics. At the same time we will see city centre parking reducing as public and active transport connectivity improves.
I want to be clear that the Circulation Plan won’t just help us manage town centres and key routes, it will also help us deal with the “rat running” traffic which blights many communities. We will start by using the framework the Circulation Plan provides to protect zones around schools (“School Zones”) from the unwanted invasive traffic many communities struggle with.
So far I have been pleased with the response to the Circulation Plan from all political parties, businesses, residents and key stakeholders. Indeed, I feel there is enthusiasm for going further. With this in mind, the next iteration will be more ambitious and will start to show how the plan can be used to reduce congestion and cut traffic by 30%, and we will test the appetite for this via the consultation process.
There will be those who oppose Edinburgh moving towards a more sustainable transport system, but they often do this without proposing an alternative. Edinburgh is already a congested city and land has just been set aside to build 37,000 more homes by 2032. Inaction will not solve Edinburgh’s congestion crisis, but it will make it harder to tackle.