Edinburgh medics sign open letter backing Spaces for People measures as 'potentially life-saving'

More than 140 leading doctors and health professionals in Edinburgh have written an open letter to the city council in support of active travel measures in the Capital.

Wednesday, 8th September 2021, 12:26 pm
Updated Wednesday, 8th September 2021, 12:57 pm

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The medics say changes to the city’s travel infrastructure to promote walking and cycling are potentially life-saving, with the twin benefits of improving public health and mitigating the climate emergency.

The council has recently decided to continue many of the measures brought in during the early stages of the pandemic under the Spaces for People programme.

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Closure of Waverley Bridge to general traffic is one of the measures which will continue

And the medics say reversing the changes would be “a retrograde and harmful step for the health of the population of Edinburgh. ”

Dr Laura McWhirter, consultant neuropsychiatrist at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and clinical research fellow at Edinburgh University, who prepared the letter, said: “As health professionals, we have a responsibility to protect and promote the health of the population. We have a responsibility to address inequalities and to advocate for the needs of the most deprived and disadvantaged members of the population we serve.

“We are concerned about the impact of the climate crisis on health, globally and locally. We support the retention, and further development and integration of infrastructures designed to support active travel and clean air for the whole population of Edinburgh, to mitigate inequalities in health, local mobility, and air quality."

The open letter was welcomed by the walking and cycling charity Sustrans and by the recently formed group Better Edinburgh for Sustainable Travel (BEST).

Sustrans deputy CEO John Lauder said: “All the evidence shows more cycling and walking is good for public health and has proven environmental benefits in tackling the climate emergency.

"It is clear that the way we travel, work, spend time with each other and enjoy our urban spaces have been changed by the pandemic. It is increasingly clear that there is no ‘old normal’ to go back to.”

And Stella Thomson, of BEST, a collective of community groups across Edinburgh promoting active travel, said: “The case for the rapid development of a safe active travel network across Edinburgh, and a significant reduction in vehicular traffic, is unequivocal.

“Everyone, especially children, should have the opportunity to walk, wheel or cycle if they are able, to breathe clean air, and to feel safe on our city’s streets.”

Administration councillors welcomed the medics backing.

Councillor Lesley Macinnes, Transport and Environment Convener said: “The collective voice of this wide range of medical and health professionals is incredibly welcome. We’ve been vocal about our commitment to encourage travel by foot, wheel or bike, and the benefits this brings, but to have the support of the medical profession demonstrates just how crucial investment in safe, protected routes is.

“Over the last year and a half we’ve introduced changes which have helped many people to feel newly confident about walking, cycling and wheeling safely. There are, of course, tens of thousands of people in Edinburgh who don’t have access to a car. We now have the opportunity to extend the lifespan of many of these measures and to improve upon them so that they work for as many people as possible."

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