The council can't just ignore the answers it doesn't want to hear - John McLellan
“Believe it or not, and contrary to what you might read in some newspapers,” a senior Edinburgh council officer said to me last week, “we don’t sit here every day trying to think of ways to make life more difficult for people.”
Perhaps so, but the problem the council’s administration faces as it begins to reveal the next phase of its plans to revolutionise the city’s roads network, is that’s precisely the impression it has created.
The evidence is everywhere: stockades of rough timber planters half-blocking junctions, dodgems for disabled people accessing buses or cars parked in the idle of busy carriageways and lane dividers forcing cyclists closer to heavy traffic or red plastic barriers across once elegant tree-line avenues that now look like Checkpoint Charlie.
None of these are figments of people’s imaginations, any more than the queues of traffic being funnelled onto arterial routes by road closures in adjacent streets, but as people remain reluctant to return to public transport in any number and fail to embrace the over-night conversion to battery-aided bikes the council seems to expect, congestion is the inevitable consequence.
To make matters worse, those concerned about unwelcome changes to their areas have regularly been characterised as the victims of misinformation, as if they are incapable of making up their own minds about what is unfolding before their very eyes, or that being told they are misguided will somehow make them change their minds.
Sure, the administration said the temporary Spaces for People schemes would be reviewed, but if objections hadn’t been raised, and raised forcefully, then nothing would have been done.
Now, whether it’s the strength of opposition expressed in the recent public consultation, the realisation that local critics are not resistant to change but effective campaigners for common sense, or the fact the council elections are less than a year away, or a combination of all three, there are signs of a limited re-think.
Having patronised shopkeepers by telling them that cutting off their customers and suppliers was good for business, the schemes in shopping streets are to be abandoned because of the number of complaints. Nearly a year after hundreds of people gathered to oppose the East Craigs low traffic project despite the pandemic, it too is being halted.
The consultation received 17,600 responses, largely unfavourable, but it was augmented by a survey of 583 people –conducted by the Social Marketing Gateway, a company styling itself as “the behaviour change people” – which concluded that retention was “broadly” favoured.
However, this is only leading to contradictions, in particular the removal of schemes designed to benefit pedestrians in the places where footfall is highest like shopping streets, but retaining them where it is lower and opposition is significant, like Lanark Road, using “experimental” orders to keep temporary schemes in place for another 18 months.
The only element which appears to have unquestioned support is to make the roads around schools safer, which hardly needed market research to discover.
The result is that views of residents about unpopular schemes are being over-ridden by the “broad principle” of non-residents. Once again, the council is straining to avoid the answers it doesn’t want to hear and listening to the ones it does.