Green cities: How Edinburgh is making transport more sustainable

 

City of Edinburgh Council’s transport and environment convener, Cllr Lesley Macinnes, discusses how its transport plans will help create a thriving, successful and sustainable capital of Scotland.

As the city’s population continues to grow at speed, it’s essential that we shift the transport balance – single occupancy car use simply cannot dominate the way we travel any more.

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Cllr Lesley Macinnes

Establishing an integrated, sustainable transport system is at the heart of our local transport strategy, which envisions a green, healthy, accessible and connected city of the future.

Public transport is crucial to achieving this. In addition to the many external bus operators serving Edinburgh, including Stagecoach, Borders Buses and First, we have the award-winning Lothian Bus company. It is the largest publicly-owned bus service in the UK and is something that we’re immensely proud of.

That patronage continues to rise year-on-year, and customer satisfaction remains consistently high, is testament to its value to the city. As well as providing a reliable alternative to the car, catering to users of all abilities, the company clearly demonstrates green credentials, introducing its first all-electric vehicles last September as part of the ongoing upgrade of its fleet to electric, hybrid and lower-emission buses.

An efficient, integrated transport system is essential to any plan to create a truly green, sustainable city. Since being introduced in 2014, the successfully operating Edinburgh Tram has worked in tandem with Lothian Buses to provide excellent transport links and an effective, low emission option for those wishing to travel from Edinburgh Airport and through the city centre.

We recently completed six weeks of consultation on major infrastructure proposals for extending the tram line to Newhaven in the north of the city. This is by no means a done deal – there is still a degree of public engagement and detailed planning to be carried out before any final decision is made. But we can’t ignore the fact that Edinburgh is growing faster than any other city in Scotland. A modern, sustainable public transport system is critical to ensuring quality of life for residents and visitors alike.

Encouraging people to walk and cycle is key to this ambition too. Active travel is central to our commitment to improve air quality, along with the multitude of health and social benefits that journeys by foot or by bike can bring.

But these benefits will not be felt unless we back commitments up by creating a safe, welcoming environment for pedestrians and cyclists. This year we’ve again allocated 10% of our transport budget to cycling provision - the highest proportion of any Scottish council - meaning we can make real progress in this area.

We’re beginning to feel the effects too, with more and more people taking to two wheels – over 11,700 bike journeys were made daily last year, according to Sustrans’ latest Bike Life report.

Ongoing projects like the City Centre West to East Cycle Link, the West Edinburgh Active Travel Network and the Meadows to George Street route, which will each create safer and mostly segregated cycleways through Edinburgh, alongside significant pedestrian and public realm improvements, are part of our aspiration to make cycling a more attractive option for those who may be less confident.

One exciting development, which is certain to increase cycling further in the capital, is the introduction of a bike hire scheme by Transport for Edinburgh later this summer, bringing us in line with many major cities around the world and allowing a whole new group of people the opportunity to explore Edinburgh on bike or e-bike.

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The pioneering roll-out of 20mph limits across Edinburgh – making us the first 20mph city in Scotland – was completed earlier this year, and this is bringing a more relaxed atmosphere to the streets and communities of Edinburgh and helping more people to cycle or stroll.

However, it’s essential that our efforts are not piecemeal, and Central Edinburgh Transformation will address this by pulling together the variety of projects taking place across the centre of Edinburgh, creating an ambitious action plan for a sustainable, healthy and safe future.

Our ambitions lie in tackling congestion and vehicle-dominated spaces, which will deliver a range of benefits, encouraging healthy and active travel, enhancing the environment and, importantly, reducing harmful and polluting emissions.

Still in its early stages, our plans for a Low Emission Zone (LEZ), funded and encouraged by the Scottish Government, will be pivotal to improving air quality for city-dwellers and visitors. Once in place, this will prove a significant tool to reduce harmful emissions.

We’re also focusing on improving the efficiency of motor travel for those who need to use a car. Our Enterprise Car Club lets motorists hire cars and vans as and when they need, in turn driving down car ownership. For those who do own a car, our parking permit scheme encourages less polluting engines, with lower charges for efficient vehicles and a forthcoming diesel surcharge, designed to discourage the use of diesel cars, which are known to produce higher emissions.

Perhaps most significantly, our Electric Vehicle Action Plan sets out an ambitious vision to expand eletric vehicle infrastructure across the city through the development of strategic charging zones linking with other future transport infrastructure. Getting the infrastructure in the right place to service a variety of needs in the city will be the key first step.

It is fundamental that our vision prioritises pedestrians, cyclists and public transport. Like so many other successful, forward-thinking European cities, we can and will create a city centre that is truly enjoyable to wander around, in which it’s easy to walk or cycle from A to B and that boasts a world-class, integrated public transport system.

We need to get things right so that future generations of residents and visitors can enjoy the excellent quality of life the capital has now become so synonymous with. While there is work to be done, we know that we are moving in the right direction and hope, in time, other cities will be able to look to us as an example of an effective, efficient sustainable transport hub.

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