Edinburgh congestion: Eco-zealots fired up about 'climate emergency' are wrong about car traffic – Iain Whyte

It is always interesting when a piece of information challenges an orthodoxy and makes us think again about what is really happening.

The City of Edinburgh Council count on 5 May 2017 -candidates elected

Ward 5, Inverleith results: 

Iain Whyte (Con) - 1
The City of Edinburgh Council count on 5 May 2017 -candidates elected Ward 5, Inverleith results: Iain Whyte (Con) - 1

Last week a chart from an Edinburgh Twitter user challenged everything the council has been saying about congestion for the last five years. The story from the SNP, Greens and Labour has been that our city is increasingly congested because more people are using more cars. This justifies massive, costly and so far undeliverable change to our city centre and transport system through multiple glossy strategies.

It is, apparently, why all our buses are held up and is used to suggest that we constrain traffic even more because the theory goes that it will just ‘evaporate’ rather than divert elsewhere. Intuitively, I have never believed this. I know I’m not alone in walking and taking the bus far more than I did ten years ago. At certain points I’ve cycled too.

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I have also noticed a great deal of our traffic isn’t “private cars”, as those who would love to see them banned call them, but business vans and lorries keeping our economy moving and delivering goods and services.

Lots of the things the council has done over a 20-year period have massively contributed to congestion: road closures, narrower junctions, far more traffic lights, 20mph limits on many main roads, and almost permanent roadworks, often on adjacent routes.

The tweet I saw highlighted Department for Transport data showing that annual average daily traffic flow has fallen between 2000 and 2019 at four out of five key points leading into Edinburgh. Using a 2019 pre-pandemic timepoint is important because people still aren’t travelling so much.

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Some of these figures are startling. For St John’s Road and Morningside, the reductions are over 20 per cent. Completely contrary to council orthodoxy.

The increased traffic narrative is popular because it feeds into alarmist calls by eco-zealots who want to change everything about our modern society overnight because it’s a “climate emergency”.

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Edinburgh Council is partly to blame for the city's traffic congestion problem (Picture: Lisa Ferguson)

For these people, a move to public transport and electric vehicles isn’t enough. They want to force down vehicle use and numbers by cutting road and parking space, taxing parking at workplaces and considering a toll regime. Buses will only go to the edge of the city centre, not through it, and taxis won’t get you in even if you have mobility issues.

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Never mind, because afterwards you can stay near home in a “20-minute neighbourhood” that we won’t leave because it has “everything you need”. I’m afraid this sounds far too much like a mediaeval village to me with its incumbent social strictures and all types of poverty.

One piece of data doesn’t clinch an argument, but it does suggest a lot more scrutiny is needed. It’s certainly likely that the council is promoting policy-led data rather than implementing the data-led policy we need.

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If vehicle numbers have reduced while the population has grown, they aren’t causing increased congestion. We need to cut the artificial congestion and use the space to make our increasingly green and popular bus fleet more reliable and efficient. Evolution rather than revolution, with a carrot, not stick, approach, that allows us to retain the cultural and economic advantages of living in a city, not a village.

Councillor Iain Whyte is Edinburgh Council’s Conservative group leader