Safer roads

The latest tragic deaths on Edinburgh roads and footways is yet another wake-up call says Alison Johnstone.

The number of accidents involving cyclists and pedestrians on our streets is deeply alarming, and in the cases where people have been killed, tragic.

As lockdown eases and the country gets moving again, we’ve known for a while that there would be increased traffic on the roads at a time when more people than ever before are walking and cycling.

And with people still advised to keep two metres away from each other, they need the space. Scottish Greens have repeatedly warned that there was a risk we could straight from lockdown to gridlock. Unfortunately, that risk carries a human cost too. At a time when people might be apprehensive about leaving the house anyway, they should not be worried for their lives from traffic.

Pedestrians and cyclists are not a nuisance, they are road users who every right to be there without risking their lives.

We’ve seen that around a third of cars travelling during lockdown were speeding, according to Transport Scotland figures. Meanwhile my colleague Mark Ruskell’s proposal to reduce speed limits was rejected.

Edinburgh’s Green councillors have been working hard to identify roads which could benefit from extra space for pedestrians and cyclists and there has been some progress there, albeit temporary and in small patches across the city. But even there, I have seen pictures of vans driving through these spaces and onto pavements. Every space gain is hotly contested.

Space for people to go about their business safely is not a new idea, and it is not restricted to this public health crisis. In most historic European cities it is completely normal. Edinburgh is abnormal among European capitals in having virtually no dedicated pedestrian spaces. Why has Edinburgh continued to get this so wrong?

Back in 2012, after cyclists were killed on our roads I called for a capital road safety summit to be held. I was then kindly invited along with other campaigners to raise these concerns at the Scottish Government’s road safety group.

That was eight years ago, and I’m distraught that those same campaigners and I are still mourning cyclists killed on our streets. We need to see urgent action on the ground to make streets safer for people walking and cycling. It’s time for Edinburgh to become a normal European city which doesn’t have traffic jams cutting through its medieval centre. Even without the huge crowds the festival brings, our pavements can be narrow and crowded, especially when you are trying to maintain safe distances from others. It’s time to make way.

If we cannot afford basic safety for people merely cycling to work or walking on a pavement we fail a basic test of leadership. Edinburgh has been proactive in some regards – introducing the 20mph speed limit, introducing traffic-free zones around primary schools, but there is still clearly a cultural barrier to overcome, one which makes the private car king of the road.

The grim fact of the matter is that congestion, air pollution, accidents and sadly lives are the cost.