Alison Johnstone: Taking to the open streets as cars were barred was brilliant

I welcomed the announcement last week that Edinburgh City Council has unveiled a radical ten-year project which includes proposals such as extending tram routes, providing a free city centre hopper bus, pedestrianising certain parts of the Old Town and reducing car parking in the city centre.
Children play with bubbles on the road during the Open Streets event earlier this month. Picture: Neil HannaChildren play with bubbles on the road during the Open Streets event earlier this month. Picture: Neil Hanna
Children play with bubbles on the road during the Open Streets event earlier this month. Picture: Neil Hanna

The council has said that it hopes these proposals will have economic, social and environmental benefits and, if approved, they will certainly be a step in the right direction. Air pollution causes 2500 early deaths in Scotland every year and bold action is required if Scotland is to meet its climate emergency targets and responsibilities.

I was also heartened by the success of ­Edinburgh’s first Open Streets event on Sunday, 5 May 5, which saw families, visitors and cyclists able to move freely about the centre. I believe that a badminton match or two even took place on the Royal Mile!

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It was wonderful to see so many people out on the streets, whether taking part in activities, shopping or just going for a stroll. The council has said that it wants to continue this trend and treat cars as “guests” in a “pedestrian priority zone”.

This is encouraging as fears about safety are a well-known barrier to people walking and cycling, often due to the presence of speeding motor vehicles nearby.

One of the proposals is to create new segregated and safe cycle routes and I am hopeful that initiatives such as these will encourage more people to walk and cycle on a regular basis. Edinburgh will benefit from reduced air pollution, but it will also have a healthier, more active population.

The council will launch a six-week public consultation on the proposals on 20 May, after which it will ­consider next steps, and I for one will be eagerly awaiting the outcome.

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While the council’s plans make for exciting news, there have been other issues related to travel affecting people in Edinburgh and beyond in the past few weeks.

I have received several reports from staff at Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary, concerned by recent changes to ­parking provision at the hospital.

One of the main reasons for reversing the rise in traffic in recent decades is so that there is space for those for whom a car or van is necessary: essential trades, for example, people with serious illness or disability or working shifts without public transport.

Those vehicles, in the near future, will need to be non-polluting and, overall, will strike a much better balance between cycling and walking, public transport and individual vehicles.

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At First Minister’s Questions last week, Nicola Sturgeon said that the Scottish Government would investigate the problems Royal Infirmary staff have been experiencing. I sincerely hope that this investigation is under way.

Alison Johnstone is a Green Party MSP for Lothian.