Since I launched our campaign to stop the £120m redevelopment of the Sheriffhall roundabout, quite a few things have happened.
Firstly, thousands of people have objected to the proposal, which even Transport Scotland admit will make traffic in and out of Edinburgh worse. That is a fantastic response, underlining the public desire for alternatives to traffic jams. The consultation runs until this Friday, so there’s still time to object at act.greens.scot/no-spaghetti-junction.
Secondly, the Scottish Government’s Infrastructure Commission published its report, which advised ministers there should be “a presumption in favour of future-proofing and maintaining our existing road network, rather than building new capacity”, because of the climate emergency.
Inconveniently for ministers, that’s more or less what the Scottish Greens in both Edinburgh Council and the Scottish Parliament have been saying for the last decade. We’ve known since the 1960s that building more roads only increases traffic, yet it’s a model the Scottish Government seems determined to repeat again and again. For example, they told us the Queensferry Crossing would make more people use public transport, yet we’ve seen a million more car journeys over the Forth.
For places like Dalkeith, getting into Edinburgh shouldn’t have to be about sitting in traffic jams. Things like segregated bus and cycle lanes could turn things around far more effectively.
The third thing to emerge since I launched the campaign was the new report on air pollution. The Centre for Cities report shows Edinburgh has the highest proportion of air pollution-related deaths in Scotland. Tackling our toxic air must be a public health priority.
It was interesting to read this week about how Birmingham, once dubbed the UK’s ‘motorway city’ has radical plans to get people out of their cars and onto bikes and buses. Birmingham’s transport plans were published on the same week I launched the Sheriffhall campaign, and they are quite eye-catching. Road-widening, they say, is ‘off the table’, while businesses will be encouraged to contribute through a workplace parking levy. The speed limit on residential streets will be reduced to 20mph.
These are ideas brought to Scotland by the Greens, but Birmingham has taken its inspiration from Ghent, a Belgian city which actually shares more characteristics with Edinburgh than the Midlands sprawl.
Like Edinburgh, Ghent has a historic medieval town centre. But measures to discourage short car journeys in the city have made trips by bus and bike the quickest route to your destination. The results have been dramatic. With fewer cars on the road, those journeys have become safer and much more enjoyable. There was a 60% rise in cycle use, and nitrogen oxide levels in the air have dropped by 20% since the plans were introduced in 2017.
The now cleaner and quieter town’s economy has had a boost too.
It won’t surprise you to hear that Ghent has Greens in leadership positions. The scheme was the brainchild of its deputy mayor Filip Watteeuw. He told the Guardian the secret was to implement the changes in one go.
“In Ghent, we implemented the plan as a whole overnight,” he told the paper. “It was technically and politically the easiest way.”
Now, how Edinburgh wants to implement its own plans is of course a matter for councillors, but the Scottish Government could get the ball rolling by cancelling a £120m throwback to a bygone era and investing that money in a truly transformative vision for our capital.