Jim Lowrie: Putting the Capital on the road to a healthier future

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Ahead of another city centre traffic shake-up, planning leader Jim Lowrie explains how it will keep us moving on foot, bike or car

IN all city centres there are challenges in balancing the needs of pedestrians and cyclists against those of motorists.

Leading a healthier and fitter lifestyle should be an aspiration for everyone in this fantastic city of ours.

But the area known as the Southern Arc – between Holyrood and Haymarket and from the inner suburbs of Marchmont, Sciennes and Tollcross to the city centre – poses some particular challenges.

The main arterial roads are key routes into the city but can also act as barriers for pedestrians and cyclists.

So a balance needs to be found and the Area Development Framework (ADF) provides a way to investigate how best to achieve that.

As has been reported, the ADF promotes a review of the one-way systems and to consider the changes that would be necessary to create two-way traffic on Morrison Street and other streets in the area, and the cost implications of doing so.

The aim is to improve the “walkability” of this area, while also providing improved facilities for cyclists. This has the potential to contribute to a reduction in car journeys that could help combat traffic delays and pollution along the city’s streets.

Of course, the other major benefit is the positive impact it will have on the health and wellbeing of people who live in the area.

A worrying characteristic of the Southern Arc is that despite the majority of its population being of working age – approximately 85 per cent – the rates for mortality and amenable mortality (deaths that could theoretically be averted by good healthcare) are higher than the city in total and across the Lothians. On the same basis, there are also higher than average hospital admission rates for coronary heart and respiratory diseases. By improving the built environment we can contribute to improving the health and wellbeing of residents through greater participation in physical activity.

The ADF seeks to capitalise on major new development plans at Haymarket, Chambers Street, King’s Stables Road, Fountainbridge and the canal basin, Edinburgh University campuses and Caltongate. At these locations opportunities exist to create new connections or links to the existing footpath/cycle network and improve the public realm.

The framework also promotes a series of projects at key locations – some of which are aspirational and may take a while to develop and implement, others which will progress over time, while some are small-scale and focus on the installation of architectural street lighting, changes to traffic light sequencing, reducing traffic speeds and widening pavements.

The projects and actions identified by the ADF will require further discussion and development with interested parties and the preparation of more detailed proposals before being progressed.

Indeed, the collaboration with key partners, particularly the NHS, and the community through the use of design workshops has led to the preparation of an Area Development Framework that is broadly supported by the local community.

It has allowed the council to meaningfully engage with a wide range of stakeholders and has helped shape and inform the content of the final ADF and action plan.

The ADF has identified issues that are of importance to local communities and provides a range of new projects and initiatives. These focus on an improved public realm that encourages walking and cycling to benefit the health and wellbeing of all those that live, work and visit the area.

If we all work together we can meet the tough but exciting challenges ahead that will lead to a more livable and healthier city.

What’s happening where

Haymarket to Holyrood

• Improve generally east-west movements for pedestrian and cyclists including improved crossing facilities on Lothian Road.

• Undertake a review of the one-way traffic systems.

• Basic improvements to crossing details such as traffic light sequencing and traffic speeds.

Haymarket

• Develop walking and cycle links from Haymarket to the conference centre, the Exchange, Fountainbridge and canal.

• Develop a public realm strategy.

• Improve signage.

Chambers Street

• Develop the street as a space for events with elements of “shared space” and progressively reduce car parking spaces.

• Take advantage of opportunities to improve access to the Cowgate through new development, for example via Cowgate fire site.

• Improve conditions for pedestrians and cyclists at junctions.

Royal Mile

• Develop the Royal Mile Project in collaboration with all interested parties to address how the street is used and managed.

• Reduce vehicle speeds and consider extending areas of restricted access.

• Develop a rationale for street signage in area.

Tollcross

• Create strong pedestrians/cycle connections from Tollcross to Union Canal.

• Improve connections for pedestrians and cyclists from Marchmont, Sciennes and Tollcross to the city centre, via the Meadows.

• Create improved conditions at Tollcross junction for pedestrians and cyclists.