A safer, healthier and happier city

Today is the deadline for responses to the city council’s consultation on city centre transformation. Claire Miller sees growing appetite for radical change. 

Early in 2017 there was a tragic fatality in the city centre. A young woman, Zhi Min Soh, was killed when a bus collided with her during her morning commute. She was crossing the tram tracks on her bike when her wheel became stuck.

Like other residents in Edinburgh, I had been keenly aware of incidents where people had fallen off their bikes and sometimes been quite badly injured, and I’d always cycled around the tram tracks with caution. But even so, I was unprepared for this, and I was deeply shocked by her death.

To me, this was a wakeup call. The council needed to take action to make it safe to get around the city centre.

That’s why I’ve been spending so much time this autumn talking to residents across the city and encouraging them to participate in the consultation that closes today: “Connecting our City, Transforming our Places”. Behind that title lies a range of transformative ideas that I believe could genuinely make our city a safer and healthier place to live and work. Ideas that go far beyond safe cycling: changes such as linking up different kinds of transport with single tickets, designing our streets and paths for people of every age and ability, and re-thinking what people want to use public spaces for.

It’s been fascinating listening to residents telling me what they’d like to see changed. People have told me they want the city centre to have clean air, be a place they can walk around easily, have way more emphasis placed on residents’ needs, and be a place that reflects our history and our culture.

I’ve also heard an exciting range of new ideas and possibilities for the city too. We’ve talked about the future of city centres, now that traditional retail models have been disrupted, and the need for strong small local businesses and social enterprises. Talking about high streets has led to discussions about greater citizen control and ability for residents to use their public spaces: the kind of place where communities make the most of their own city centre. And we’ve also discussed environmental concerns and the urgent need to maintain Edinburgh’s amazing green spaces while making opportunities for more greening in new ways, such as living walls.

The challenge, however, is just about to start, and I’m looking forward to what comes next. After today, when the consultation closes, the results will be reviewed in detail and the council will start looking at all the different options in front of us.

There are a large number of projects already planned which will change the city’s landscape, and the council needs to make sure these projects are in tune with this feedback gathered from residents.

Plus, any changes we make in Edinburgh will affect people who work and visit from the Lothians, Borders, Fife, the Forth valley and beyond. Edinburgh depends on the whole of the city region for its success, and we must ensure any big changes we make are in harmony with our neighbours.

Despite these big challenges, I’m filled with a sense of excitement and optimism. During workshops, I’ve heard residents asking for transformative Green policies to be delivered: switching the balance of road space to walking and cycling, getting heavy freight out of the city, boosting public transport, and reviving the small businesses which are the heartbeat of our local high streets.

The best cities in the world to live and work are already 10-20 years ahead of us. I sense genuine appetite to make the radical changes needed here at home in Edinburgh.