Joined-up thinking on transport policy is needed to deal with the Capital’s gridlocked roads, says Kezia Dugdale
Edinburgh is used to prestigious accolades. We are regularly voted the UK’s favourite domestic holiday city; voted the best place to live in the UK; voted as the best city for quality of life.
A rather less salubrious designation was awarded to us by satnav manufacturer TomTom; Britain’s worst rush hour. Their research calls Edinburgh the UK’s most congested city.
Our motorists face the worst traffic queues and spend as much as 40 per cent longer on choked roads during the average rush hour journey, compared to the equivalent outside peak road use times. Our roads are even worse than London’s, somewhere renowned for its traffic jams, which puts Edinburgh in the top 30 cities for worldwide congestion at 27th.
To those who live and work in our city, this will come as no great surprise.
Our city is a magnet for international visitors, due in part to our vibrant cultural scene, amazing history and architecture and of course, the Festival.
This popularity has Edinburgh with the most Airbnbs in Europe, the shortcomings of which I have touched on before.
We now even have an Airbnb for parking, with commuters saving between £10 to £40 on parking spaces by using an app that allows homeowners and businesses to list their unused parking spaces for drivers to rent for a daily fee. If this is not a symptom of the snarl-ups on our roads, then I don’t know what is.
What is needed is a more joined-up approach to transport infrastructure in the Capital and a better understanding of how people move around the city.
There are now plans afoot to try to solve this puzzle. The recent trial pedestrianisation of some roads has vastly improved access and really opened up some of the most iconic spaces in the city. This comes along with proposals to make our streets more cycle friendly, with a segregated cycle route from George Street to the Meadows to help futureproof the Capital.
Plans have also been unveiled to improve the visitor experience of Waverly Station, to make it more of a destination station, able to take advantage of the amazing vistas our city has to offer.
The council is also flirting with the idea of putting congestion charges back on the table, an idea rejected in 2005. This in a move to challenge not only gridlock but the air pollution that comes with it.
What has really set the cat among the pigeons with many residents, though, is the planned extension to the trams. While I do understand that more roadworks and noise will be inconvenient, these inconveniences will be alleviated tenfold in the long run. This plan is essential to Edinburgh, and lessons have been learned from the mistakes made on the first phase, which is why I was the first to call for the public inquiry into the trams. If we want to improve our public transport network, an extension is required. Taking trams into Edinburgh’s most densely populated area will improve air quality, help grow the economy and reduce congestion.
Something that has been mooted, which I believe would in fact be detrimental to the city is an increase in parking charges. A further rise wont turn drivers away from town. It’s already extortionate, but it might stop people from parking for a 30-minute coffee or to make a quick purchase, hurting small business owners.
So there are projects under way to improve transport and it is important we can all get behind them. To get a transport infrastructure fit for the Capital, these changes are necessary.
We are not yet at the same congested, noisy breaking point of other places recognised by Tom Tom’s research, places like Bogota, but more needs to be done to improve the road network of Auld Reekie.
A city of our calibre deserves a transport system to match it. Let’s aim for a transport accolade we can be proud for.