Spaces for People scheme could make Edinburgh safer for women

A walking and cycling charity has lauded Spaces for People and low traffic neighbourhood schemes as an innovative way to improve women’s safety in public spaces.

Friday, 9th April 2021, 5:17 pm

More than 70 per cent of women of all ages, and 97 per cent of women aged 18-24, have experienced sexual harassment in public spaces in the UK, according to a UN report.

According to Sustrans, one of the principle consultees of Edinburgh City Council’s Spaces for People programme, many public green spaces and public paths have reduced sight lines and overshadowed places, which can make them dangerous for women, particularly at night.

Tierney Lovell, inclusive design manager at Sustrans, said: “While inclusive design alone cannot remove the structural issues that cause male violence, it can help to provide environments that are less tolerant of violent crime; spaces that are more comfortable for everyone to use.”

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Concept designs for George Street have been praised for their striking appearance, but attracted criticism from some local councillors regarding their potential safety, with motor traffic being reduced and parking being largely removed.

Ms Lovell continued: “The aim of George Street isn’t to remove all traffic – taxis, space for people to pick-up and drop off and disabled parking bays will still be there for everyone that needs them.

“Wider pavements, spaces for businesses to host customers on the street and areas which encourage friends to gather and chat mean there will be a lot more people on the street than there were before the pandemic.

“Encouraging activity, making sure people are seen and can be seen is a really important part of making safe spaces for everyone.

Car free areas like George Street could improve personal safety for women

“A particularly big safety issue for everyone is having enough space to feel protected from cars and motor traffic.

“Spaces for People has provided more space around very narrow pavements – some places you would struggle to be able to have enough space for people to walk alongside prams or might be forced to walk uncomfortably close to someone else.

“Segregated cycle lanes also mean that people cycling don’t have to compete with fast moving traffic. Edinburgh has a fantastic opportunity to develop these schemes further, by taking on board suggestions, making them more accessible and making some of them permanent.”

At Edinburgh City Council, seven of the eleven transport and environment committee positions are held by women, including the convener and the vice convener.

No cars could reduce the level of threat to women on Edinburgh's streets

In contrast, only two of the 16 public transport bodies in Scotland are led by women.

City Centre councillor, and Labour vice convener of the transport committee, Karen Doran, said: “We want Edinburgh to be a truly welcoming and inclusive place, where all members of society feel safe to spend time and travel through.

“We’re working hard to achieve this through schemes to bring our historical streets up to date and connect outlying communities, whether it’s the transformation of George Street to create well-lit, animated spaces or delivering safer, more open routes and public places under the West Edinburgh Link project.

“Shorter term, our Spaces for People programme has been about quickly bringing into place measures to help people from all areas make essential journeys and exercise by foot, bike or wheel safely.

Councillor Karen Doran wants women to feel safer in Edinburgh

“As women, the transport convener [councillor Lesley Macinnes] and I, along with many of the officers working on these projects, have lived experience of feeling vulnerable or unable to walk or cycle worry-free on city streets.

“We know that far fewer women than men cycle regularly and, sadly, we continue to hear from women and other members of minority groups or those with mobility issues who feel afraid to walk or use public transport for fear of harassment, and opt instead for private car journeys.

“We want everyone to share in the social, financial and health benefits of walking, cycling and wheeling as well as creating better places for people to spend time and interact.

“As Tierney Lovell says, and as studies have shown, inclusive design can help provide environments that are less tolerant of violent crime, and this will be foremost in our minds as we move forward with plans across the city.

“We have bold ambitions for the future of Edinburgh, which respond to challenges posed by climate change, population growth and poor air quality, amongst other issues.

“But we will only gain from these ambitions if we consider the needs of everyone as we develop and design better streets, routes and spaces for the future.”

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