Campaigners say women's safety must be priority in Edinburgh's pedestrianisation 'revolution' amid fears fewer cars puts vulnerable people at risk
Women’s safety should be actively considered in plans to pedestrianise Edinburgh’s city centre, campaigners have said.
It follows the death of Sarah Everard, who disappeared while walking home in London earlier this year.
Her death sparked protests and vigils across the UK, with renewed calls for more to be done to end violence against women.
A man has appeared in court charged with Ms Everard’s murder.
Now Edinburgh councillor Jason Rust, who represents Colinton and Fairmilehead, has called for plans to revamp the heart of the Capital to take into account any potential risk to women and vulnerable people posed by the lack of car access.
He said: “If the city centre transformation, and indeed Spaces for People, is genuinely about public safety and about being inclusive, the council desperately needs to consider the wider implications of its measures for individuals and families.
"Whether that's individuals trying to get home after a night out or out-of-hours workers reliant on a lift home or nearby public transport.
"Any increase in perceived risk or vulnerability will affect decision making which could have wider impact."
George Street redesign plans
The calls come after the publication of the George Street and First New Town redesign plan last month, a proposal which will see cars banned by 2025 as part of the local authority’s wider radical ten-year transformation strategy.
The redesign involves opening George Street for pedestrians and bikes with outdoor seating areas creating a “European boulevard feel”.
The redesign report goes on to propose removing motor vehicles and instead adding widened pavements and landscaped spaces, all to create a "people-friending setting".
In response to the pedestrianisation plans, a Juniper Green resident - who asked to remain anonymous - said she is deeply worried about her safety, and the safety of her daughters if they have to rely on public transport.
The 45-year-old said: “I've had many conversations with local friends and some who run businesses in town.
“Something that's being asked - will a car-free city centre be safer for women or more dangerous? The consensus among those I'd chatted with is that it's more dangerous.”
While she feels safe in the hustle and bustle of the city centre, she said that safety slips away as the tourist season comes to a close.
She said: “When I was in my teens and twenties out in town, we always had the option of getting dropped off or picked up right outside the door of the restaurant by someone's mum or dad.
“My girls are only a few years away from heading out with their friends. If we can't take them and bring them back, or if they make the 'panic call' and we can't pick them up, then they won't be going out.
"This is when only a car will do - we're not going to cycle or bus four miles at 11pm to try to get them.”
As part of the revamp strategy, bus stops will be positioned at either end of the city centre and parking will be kept for blue badge holders and for loading access for local businesses.
Public space designed around men
Finalised plans for the George Street and First New Town redesign are expected to be brought before the council’s transport and environment committee in mid-April.
Emma Ritch, the executive director of Scottish feminist policy and advocacy organisation Engender, said: “Public space is too often designed around men as the ‘default human’, which makes women less likely to use and benefit from Scotland’s city streets.
“Women are more likely to be pushing prams and wheelchairs, more likely to be harassed in the street, and more likely to make multiple interconnecting transport journeys.
"It is vital that Edinburgh City Council develops these pedestrianisation plans by working with all groups of women to make sure our needs are met.”
The City Mobility Plan, a wider strategy being developed alongside the city centre revamp, hopes to “revolutionise” travel in Edinburgh.
The report acknowledges that “women and people from identifiable minorities fear being assaulted or harassed on the public transport network and are more likely to choose to travel by car or taxi because it is personally safer”.
It adds that the proximity of “high-quality” public transport and the option to “move around safely on foot, wheel and cycle” can offset gender inequality in the city transport network.
In response to the concerns raised about the impact of pedestrianisation on women and vulnerable people, transport and environment convener Lesley Macinnes, said that increased footfall on the streets is “likely to make women more comfortable” as they navigate the area.
Gender experience ‘top of council minds’
Councillor Macinnes said: “Recent events have brought into sharper relief the need to protect women in all walks of life, and our own transport policy recognises that.
"Our ten-year city mobility plan acknowledges the experiences of different genders and the fears of women and other identifiable minorities when travelling, and this will be at the top of our minds as we move forward.
“We’re on the cusp of delivering several, exciting schemes which will transform our city, providing a more welcoming, people-friendly setting.
"Issues facing women and any vulnerable members of society are, of course, extremely important to us, and will be carefully considered both as part of integrated impact assessments and right through the design process for each project.”
She added that public safety is a “key objective” of the George Street and New Town improvement plans, and that the council has been “working closely” with Police Scotland while developing the proposals.
Ms Macinnes added: “‘Encouraging more footfall and bike travel through the city centre will increase the numbers of people actually on the street, rather than being isolated in cars.
"This is likely to make women more comfortable in moving through those spaces.”
Edinburgh Council will consider the town centre revamp plans next month.