Holyrood Park – for everyone to enjoy

Enjoyment of Edinburgh’s beautiful historic park is marred by the noise and disruption of traffic. Car Free Holyrood is campaigning to make it a place for people, not cars.

In the first of our series of public space interviews, Siri Pantzar talks with Car Free Holyrood campaigner Sarah.

I meet Sarah on a sunny Saturday morning. We set off for a walk around Holyrood Park alongside hundreds of Parkrun participants, finishing their run on the traffic-free roads. One of the highlights of the Car Free Holyrood campaign so far has seen road closure extend from only Sunday to both days of the weekend.

Car Free Holyrood is a campaign by local residents, calling for the permanent closure of Holyrood Park’s road network to private motorised through-traffic throughout the week.
Sarah recounts an experience that inspired her to start the campaign:

“I was watching a group of kids struggling to cross the road. They were old enough to go around the park unsupervised but the stream of traffic blocked them from getting across the road to join their families.”

This encounter prompted her to imagine how the park might be without cars. Talking to other locals she found that many shared her vision, and it became clear that this campaign isn’t the first to suggest the park be car-free:

“We have correspondence given to us going back 20 years. People still care about it.”

A key theme of the campaign is equitable access. The campaign promotes the extension of accessible parking, and is working with Cycling Without Age Scotland to bring e-trishaws (see below) to the park. The trishaws were successfully trialled on the ascents and descents of the park a year ago; and, since the trial, the campaign has an outstanding request for storage to be set up for two trishaws in the park. So far, the request hasn’t been granted.

Older man riding a Trishaw with passenger along a road in Holyrood Park
Trishaws are three-wheeled, primarily pedal-powered carts with electric assist.

We discuss traffic displacement. There are some concerns about the impact of closing the roads on traffic in surrounding areas. Sarah points out that the consequences will be nuanced:

“It’s more complicated. Some people will choose another form of transport, some choose not to travel, and some people choose a different route.”

Carbon reduction commitments at various levels of government require major car traffic reductions. A car free Holyrood Park both reduces emissions and increases urban green space at the same time.

“We all know what the direction of travel is. Ultimately this is going to benefit not just the park but the city – you’ll have more people using public transport and active travel to move around the city, which will benefit everybody.”

The next big moment for the campaign is Historic Environment Scotland’s consultation for the new Strategic Plan for Holyrood Park, due any time now. In the meantime, the campaign encourages people to write to the park rangers in support of the campaign generally, and specifically to request storage for the two e-trishaws, and to write to their local councillors.

Supporters can also join the campaign Facebook group to follow the latest developments.

As we walk along the High Road, we see park users enjoying the Saturday traffic closure – kids and adults cycling, a man wheeling up the hill in a powered wheelchair, even a pheasant leisurely crossing the road. Four years on from the start of the campaign, the High Road is now closed most of the week. And as people get used to the car-free roads, Sarah is optimistic that progress will continue, made all the more pertinent by the climate crisis.

For anyone inspired to take a similar action in their local area, Sarah highlights what has helped her and the campaign:

  • Finding others who care about the same issue – you need to have a strong group of people who are well-versed in the issues and want to take action.
  • Becoming familiar with relevant laws and regulations – this has been especially true in Holyrood Park where the roads are unusually managed by Historic Environment Scotland.
  • Increasing awareness by getting in touch with local and national politicians and make your case.
Graphic showing bike with carrier on the front, trees and park bench