Adam McVey: We need ‘active travel’ like cycling to keep people healthy

Pic Greg Macvean - 03/09/2017 - HSBC City Ride cycling event round the Meadows
Pic Greg Macvean - 03/09/2017 - HSBC City Ride cycling event round the Meadows
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Quite bluntly, our city, our NHS and our social care services need all of us to live healthier, more independent lives into our old age, writes city council leader Adam McVey

Edinburgh is regularly ranked one of the best places on the planet to live, work and study. It’s easy to see why if you live here and enjoy the full range of opportunities open to us in the Capital. Our annual cultural offering is second to none, we’re the greenest city in the UK and economically one of the most successful cities in the country.

In this context, the latest forecasts suggesting the number of households across the region will rise by more than 100,000 in the next 25 years should give all of us pause for thought. Hopefully the projected dramatic increase, backed up by on-the-ground figures, also helps explain the rationale for many of our council’s policies and decisions as we plan for a future Edinburgh.

Realising our plan to build 20,000 affordable homes will be crucial to prevent further housing issues.

READ MORE: Adam McVey: Don’t believe conspiracy theories about Edinburgh’s trams

Our existing infrastructure will also need to change to cater for more residents if we’re to avoid gridlock. We need investment in expanded pedestrian space, cycle lanes and high-capacity public transport like trams. There are some in Edinburgh who are selling the lie that “the changes being progressed are just the big, bad council being hard on motorists and really there’s no need to invest in cycling, walking, trams or change our behaviours in any way”. It’s an easy lie. And those telling it are relying on people in the Capital buying it.

With limited space, we need to utilise it as best we can. One of the best ways of doing it is to find alternative ways to travel, attracting more onto public transport, onto bikes and to walking. All three options help the environment but that’s not the only concern. The space we all share is limited and we simply can’t afford to buy into the lie that there’s space for us all to drive from home to work and back again. By using more road space for bikes, trams and pedestrians, we can use our space more effectively and maintain (or even improve) our fantastic quality of life even as our city grows.

READ MORE: Adam McVey: Edinburgh’s message to EU nationals: You are home

With our neighbouring council areas set to increase by as much as a third, we’re also alive to the joint working that’ll be required across the Lothians and Fife to achieve the same behaviour change and keep our city moving. Working with rail partners and exploring expanding park-and-rides and other policies will be key to make sure our policy agenda to protect Edinburgh isn’t undermined.

Cycling and walking aren’t just important for making the most of the limited space we have in our city centre and along key transport routes. In the next 25 years, the number of households in the Capital with someone over the age of 75 is going to increase by 71 per cent. Quite bluntly, our city, our NHS and our social care services need all of us to live healthier, more independent lives into our old age. Active travel is one of the easiest, cheapest way to use exercise to help tackle a multitude of conditions we’re all likely to experience as we get older.

A bigger city doesn’t necessarily mean a better city. But if we stick our head in the sand and kid ourselves about the challenges growth presents us with, it will mean we’re a worse city. By growing at more than twice the Scottish average we have an opportunity to build on our success and welcome many more citizens to be part of our wonderful Capital. The big ideas being taken forward by this Administration will help that journey of growth remain a positive one.