Could we see a more people-friendly Leith?

Green councillor Chas Booth welcomes the council’s plans for a Leith Low Traffic Neighbourhood and says they could be even better.

Steve Robson, a small business owner in Jesmond, Newcastle, is a fan of his local low traffic neighbourhood (LTN). Launched in 2014, the scheme has introduced restrictions for motor traffic, widened pavements and added new cycle lanes. “Since the changes, Acorn Road has become more vibrant,” Robson says. “With bike racks nearby, we get more cyclists coming in.” His business is booming.

But Steve wasn’t always a fan of the LTN. When the proposal was first mooted, he helped raise a petition against the scheme, organised meetings to oppose it and told the local paper the proposed changes would be “devastating”. Now that he has seen the benefits of the LTN with his own eyes, he’s a convert. He admits that he got it “completely wrong” at the time.

And Steve is not unusual. In London, where LTNs have been introduced, surveys have found that they have widespread public support, as residents see the benefits: less traffic, cleaner air and safer streets.

And, of course, here in Edinburgh we already have dozens of LTNs – some created decades ago before the name was ever invented – where roads have been closed off to through traffic to allow quieter, safer streets.

In Leith, we could see some of those benefits very soon. The council has launched their detailed proposals for a Leith Low Traffic Neighbourhood as part of a wider scheme called Leith Connections. The proposal would retain motorised access for residents and deliveries, but would cut out rat-running through most of the core area of Leith, bounded by Great Junction Street / Duke Street and Commercial Street / Salamander Street. The aim is to reduce the volume of motor traffic, create more pleasant streets, and to create conditions where more people want to walk, wheel and cycle.

I strongly support the aims of this project. Cleaner air and lower greenhouse gas emissions are urgently needed in Leith, as are safer streets and more opportunities to walk, wheel and cycle. I love the increased freedom and autonomy this project could give to our kids, as they are able to cycle on the roads a lot more safely. I think the detail of the scheme is good, but I also think it could be even better with a few small changes which would improve road safety for primary school kids in the area, and for people who would like to cycle, but who currently don’t.

Firstly, I believe the proposal to remove the ‘Spaces for People’ closure at Links Gardens is a step backwards. This scheme has reduced traffic on Links Gardens considerably, has improved road safety for kids at St Mary’s Primary School, and has provided much-needed hard-standing for local people pursuing outdoor activities like dodgeball and inline skating. In the market research on the Spaces for People schemes, 33% favoured retaining it, while 25% supported removal. In the consultation responses, only 1.9% favoured removal. Crucially, there was overwhelming support for measures to improve road safety around schools, which the Links Gardens scheme does, for the neighbouring St Mary’s Primary.

For all those reasons, I’m urging the council to retain the Links Gardens scheme, and I’m encouraging those who have benefited from it to share their stories on social media with the hashtag #SaveLinksGardens. Have you, or your teenage kids, used your hoverboard or skateboard there? Have you used it for dodgeball or roller hockey? Let everyone know about it on social media, and that way we can build a case for the scheme to be retained and the space better used for the good of the community.

The second way the Leith LTN proposals could be improved is by stopping motor vehicles passing through John’s Place. Under the current plan, rat-running will still be possible along Duncan Place and John’s Place, past Leith Primary School. I’ve already had parents from Leith Primary tell me they’re worried about the volume and speed of traffic on these streets. The council has an opportunity to improve road safety here by closing the loophole which allows rat-running. They should take it.

And finally, the council should use the LTN scheme to provide a vital missing link in the traffic-free path network, from the Water of Leith path at Sandport Bridge to the Leith Links path at Links Gardens. This is currently part of Quiet Route 10, but unfortunately that’s a misnomer: it’s all on-road and it’s not at all quiet. Those who have tried to cycle it with children or more hesitant or less experienced cyclists will know it can be very heavily trafficked. A segregated cycle path along Queen Charlotte Street and Tolbooth Wynd would create safer cycling facilities for all, and would open up traffic-free paths to get from Joppa nearly all the way to Cramond.

It’s also essential that the council work with Lothian Buses to improve access to buses across the LTN area, and especially in the area north of the Links, since the service 12 no longer runs here. And the council should consider installing new bus lanes or extending existing ones, to make those buses quicker and more reliable.

Let me be clear: I support the Leith Low Traffic Neighbourhood proposals as they stand, since they’re a big step forward for cleaner air and liveable streets. But I also think they could be a lot better. We will only get the improvements to the scheme if enough people ask for them. So please, respond to the consultation, say that you support the proposals, but you want them to go further. With your help we can create the safer streets in Leith that we so desperately need.

You can respond to the consultation on the Edinburgh Council consultation hub until 4 July.

Chas Booth is the Green councillor for Leith