Edinburgh's Spaces for People: How SNP arrogance and incompetence have set back active travel in the city – Alex Cole-Hamilton

When I think about what the Spaces for People initiative could have been, it makes me want to cry.

Wednesday, 21st April 2021, 7:00 am
Hopes of encouraging an Amsterdam-style attitude to active travel in Edinburgh have taken a blow because of the city council's actions, says Alex Cole-Hamilton (Picture: Olaf Kraak/AFP via Getty Images)

On paper, it had the potential to answer the pandemic’s social-distancing requirements while reducing car use and meeting the surge in bike use and walking embraced by Edinburgh citizens in a way that could have changed the capital for good.

But the council administration has implemented several schemes so badly they may have turned thousands against active travel entirely. That’s infuriating and they’ve only themselves to blame.

The council leadership cites Waltham Forest as the inspiration for several Spaces for People initiatives.

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Waltham Forest is a borough in the north east of London, celebrated by active travel enthusiasts (of which I’m one) as being one of the UK's first “low-traffic neighbourhoods” (LTN).

A clever array of one-way systems and road closures make it a paradise for cyclists and pedestrians that has seen it dubbed "Little Holland”. It has been a resounding success that the SNP-led administration has sought to emulate in parts of our capital. They have failed in that attempt.

The problem is that the Waltham Forest plan was designed in co-production with residents, after five public consultations. In East Craigs and Craigmount, the administration attempted to use the pandemic emergency to ram through a similar LTN (which had little to do with social distancing) without so much as a by-your-leave.

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Had they bothered to ask local people at the start they would have learned that some of these schemes, like that at East Craigs, would actually increase car use in areas that had been historically low traffic to begin with.

Don’t get me wrong, in the main, a good number of the pavement-widening and cycle path alterations make sense in busier parts of the city and Liberal Democrats on the council have supported 75 per cent of them.

But that good work is being undone by those schemes that make no sense, that are impacting on people in a negative way and those that are actually increasing car use by forcing people to go the long way round when they have no alternative.

Take Wester Broom, for example. Last week, I witnessed an ambulance with blue lights flashing moving down Broomhall Road. Cars were unable to pull into the side of the road to let it pass due to the fixed bollards protecting the new cycle lanes on each side of the road.

Local residents told me this is a daily occurrence; they’re worried it could put lives at risk. They also pointed out that the gullies in the cycle lanes are becoming hazardous due to the debris collecting there and the fact that the council street sweepers are too wide to fit down them.

What frustrates me is that we need to change the way we move around the city. We need to dramatically reduce car use and increase active travel but when you embark on such a fundamental change in how we move around the city, then it’s important to bring hearts and minds with you.

The SNP leadership, through a toxic mix of arrogance and incompetence, has not tried to do that and I fear they may have actually set the active travel agenda back considerably.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is Scottish Liberal Democrat candidate for Edinburgh Western

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