Lesley Hinds: Everyone has a right to a little breathing space

Edinburgh has won armfuls of awards for its quality of life in recent years, something we're extremely proud of and which we obviously want to maintain for generations to come.

Taking the bus or tram to the shops instead of the car will help improve air quality in the Capital. Picture: Getty
Taking the bus or tram to the shops instead of the car will help improve air quality in the Capital. Picture: Getty

But that’s not enough.

One of the main threats to Edinburgh – and the planet – is poor air quality. Air pollution is a major challenge for all cities and the Capital is no different. Poor air quality damages our health and impacts negatively on the environment, harming plants and animals and affecting biodiversity.

While data gathered across the city in 2015 shows an overall improving trend – and early figures from 2016 suggest this trend is continuing – there is absolutely no room for complacency.

Council transport convener Lesley Hinds. Picture: Neil Hanna

It’s something we can all tackle together, whether that’s walking your child to school or taking the bus or tram to the shops instead of the car. As a council, we’re working extremely hard to improve Edinburgh’s air quality. We’re committed to making active travel and public transport as attractive as possible, helping people stay healthy and save money while reducing air pollution and congestion.

A thriving and fully integrated public transport system is absolutely essential in a modern capital city and particularly for Edinburgh, where the latest Census figures showed more people walk, cycle and take public transport to work than anywhere else in Scotland.

Edinburgh bucks the trend in Scotland in achieving growth in walking, cycling and public transport use between the censuses of 2001 to 2011. We’re incredibly proud that both Lothian Buses and Edinburgh Trams remain in public ownership. Lothian Buses carried over 121 million passengers in 2015, while nearly 5.4m passengers used Edinburgh Trams in its second 12 months of operation.

We’re also blazing a trail with our annually-increasing investment in cycling infrastructure (nine per cent of the transport budget in 2016/17, or around £1.4 million).

Council transport convener Lesley Hinds. Picture: Neil Hanna

Car ownership is falling, while cycle use is now estimated at over 7.3 per cent of journeys to work, up more than 50 per cent from 2011. Meanwhile, our counts suggest that walking is also continuing to grow as a way of getting around the city.

We want to continue to build on this success across the board, but we think that the biggest potential for growth lies in cycling.

We want ten per cent of all journeys in our city, and 15 per cent of commuting trips, to be made by bike by 2020.

We are committed to redesigning our streets to favour walking, cycling and public transport as we carry out necessary road renewals.

Another part of the jigsaw slotted into place when a final route was agreed for the City Centre West to East Link, which will create more than two miles of protected two-way cycle track into and right through the city centre to Leith Walk.

Increasingly, residents and businesses in Edinburgh are turning to electric vehicles to slash their costs and cut emissions. Like the council, bus operators across the city are investing in their fleets – and in our shared future – by incorporating more energy-efficient vehicles.

Improving traffic flow by monitoring and adjusting signalling is another key part of our Air Quality Action Plan and we’re delighted to be working with our partners to deliver both the Sustainable Edinburgh 2020 Action Plan and Edinburgh Adapts 2016-2020, our Climate Change Action Plan.

There’s a lot of great work going on to boost Edinburgh’s air quality by the council, its partners and city residents through their transport choices.

Small changes to your routine can make a real difference. Air pollution affects all of us and we all have our part to play. What will your contribution be?

Councillor Lesley Hinds is transport convener at Edinburgh City Council