Some of the additional spaces granted for walking and wheeling during the pandemic in Edinburgh were met with polarised debate, but it’s clear that while people need to keep safe distances from each other and to allow safe cycling, they were absolutely necessary.
They should also have a future too, as we redesign our urban spaces so they are safe for people and promote small businesses.
That’s why it was so disappointing to see politicians of other parties oppose them on principle, and now despite rising traffic on our roads, to see the SNP and Labour with support of the Tories capitulate to begin to remove them.
It seems for these parties, and for flip-flopping Lib Dem representatives, Edinburgh must remain choked with traffic. For them, congestion on the city’s key arterial routes must be a mark of success, with all the toxic pollution and climate emissions that come with it.
Of course, I welcome that many Spaces for People schemes are to be retained for the time being, but it is frankly embarrassing that proposals to retain some key cycle lanes were opposed by the other parties. While Paris is investing £225m to transform the iconic but car-choked Champs-Élysées boulevard into an “extraordinary garden”, Edinburgh councillors have voted to take away cycle lanes on a four-lane residential road.
Remember Lanark Road the next time you hear these politicians waxing lyrical about the climate emergency. This is effectively a dual carriageway, but cycling infrastructure is now set to be removed in favour of more parking.
We can talk about reducing traffic pollution, making streets safer and tackling the climate emergency all we want, but without the political will it is just hot air.
Only the Scottish Greens came up with a plan to fully embed Spaces for People into Edinburgh’s green recovery. Councillor Claire Miller has taken a positive approach of calling for the measures to be retained after the pandemic, but adapted based on feedback and changed to ensure accessibility for disabled people.
If Edinburgh is going to meet our commitments to lower emissions and provide greater accessibility for walking and wheeling, we need Spaces for People to be improved, not removed.
That would just the start of redesigning our public spaces. The long-delayed Low Emission Zone (LEZ) could make a real difference in cutting pollution, but there are areas of very poor air quality outside the city centre too, so Claire’s proposals to look at citywide measures too should be considered.
Holyrood Park, for example, is to be outside the LEZ, but the roads through this green space are already used as a bypass, causing noise and pollution as well as a risk of accidents in a public park.
In fact, that is another reason why taking away cycle lanes flies in the face of other priorities. You don’t get a safer, sustainable and inclusive future by turning back the planning clock by half a century.
Of course, not everyone can walk or cycle, which is why It’s important that disabled people are consulted in new designs, and why we need integrated and affordable public transport. Edinburgh’s streets are for all of Edinburgh’s people, whether they own a car or not.