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Plans for safer walking and cycling in Edinburgh

Coronavirus: Proposals to create safer spaces for walking and cycling while maintaining physical distancing

Mark Moran
12 May 2020

An action plan has been drawn up for creating safe and accessible spaces for walking and cycling in Edinburgh during the coronavirus outbreak, and when the city emerges from the crisis.

On Thursday 14 May, members of City of Edinburgh Council’s Policy and Sustainability Committee will consider a report setting out criteria for temporary walking and cycling infrastructure, as well as a package of short and long-term measures to establish safer routes for cyclists and pedestrians.

The council had already begun implementing changes to help those making essential journeys and taking daily exercise by foot or bike to stay 2-metres apart, with road closures in Greenbank, Leith and Silverknowes.

Additional improvements are proposed for other ‘pinch points’ across the city, such as road closures, the introduction of bus gates and temporary cycle lanes. As restrictions are eased and traffic increases, further changes to facilitate safe movement are likely to include pedestrian priority at signalised road crossings, extended bus lane hours, widened pavements and a review of speed limits.

To provide extra space in the city centre, and as residents return to a ‘new normal’, it is also intended that key proposals from the Edinburgh City Centre Transformation plans are being brought forward to prioritise pedestrians and cyclists. In particular, Bank Street, East Market Street and East Princes Street would be closed to car traffic while on Victoria Street and Cockburn Street through traffic would be eliminated and parking provision reduced.

Since the implementation of restrictions in March, it is estimated that cycling and walking has increased by 15 to 20%, while travel by car and public transport has dropped. During this time, we have seen a rise in reports of congestion on pedestrian and cycling routes, with people finding it difficult to maintain physical distancing.

The council expecting to see a change in the way people move around the city. By facilitating a growth in walking, cycling and public transport use, it wants to sustain improvements to air quality seen during recent months as well as contributing to meeting the capital’s target to be carbon neutral by 2030.

The Policy and Sustainability Committee will be asked to approve the submission of an application for funding from the Scottish Government’s £10m ‘Spaces for People’ scheme supporting local authorities to deliver temporary improvements for walking and cycling. Our own criteria for making improvements would be in line with the Spaces for People objectives and measures would seek to:

  • Make space for people to exercise.
  • Make space for people to travel safely around the city.
  • Reduce risk to people who use the carriageway for travel or exercise.
  • Make space for people in shopping streets and in the city centre.

The city council is currently reviewing its existing active travel programme to identify routes. It has been working with key stakeholders and Police Scotland to highlight other streets that are not part of the programme but where changes could improve the safety of pedestrians and cyclists. These include:

  • The closure of Waverley Bridge to traffic.
  • Temporary footway widening on Morrison Street, Morningside Road and Easter Road.
  • Temporary footway widening and cycle segregation on George IV Bridge
  • A 24-hour bus gate with loading and parking restrictions on Liberton Road, Craigmillar Park and Minto Street
  • The closure of road on East Fettes Avenue
  • Installation of bus gates on Dundee St at Fountainbridge and closure of Viewforth, as well as some temporary cycle segregation on Dundee Street.
  • The introduction of a bus lane on Queensferry Road.

Measures would be subject to a detailed design and risk assessment process, which may result in an alternative approach. Officers will consult with local ward members and other public services to prioritise routes and changes for implementation.

Details of proposals are available in the report, Creating Safe Spaces for Walking and Cycling, which can be downloaded from the Council website.

Council Leader Adam McVey said: “We’re leading the way with our approach to safer, more accessible streets and we’ve received a huge amount of support for our plans to create more room for pedestrians and cyclists. It’s clear that people want and need to make essential journeys and take daily exercise by foot or bike safely and we need to give them the space to do so.

“It’s no secret that we face many months of upheaval as we work to emerge from this crisis, and this will no doubt impact on the way we move around the city. As we return to a ‘new normal’, our citywide strategy will support people to make journeys by foot, bike or public transport while continuing to observe physical distancing.

“We’ve been working closely with the Scottish Government and Sustrans to make improvements such as these easier in the long term. By bringing forward more permanent plans to prioritise these modes of transport, we’re also looking to a cleaner, greener and more sustainable future for Edinburgh.”

Depute Leader Cammy Day said: “We’re already seeing the benefits in areas where we’ve implemented changes and we’re working to introduce improvements to other pinch points across the city, helping people to reach nearby open spaces, essential services and to get to and from work safely. We’ve already identified several streets but we’d also welcome any suggestions from the public.

“It’s crucial that these measures work for everyone living on or near the streets concerned. We’ve been engaging closely with local communities to make sure access is maintained for deliveries, those with mobility issues and emergency services, and these conversations will help us as we continue to roll out changes.”

David Hunter from the Living Streets Edinburgh Group said: “With the need for physical distancing continuing, and more people walking and cycling, it’s vital there are safe ways for people to get around. Walking should be the top option for people to get around their local community.

“Living Streets Scotland and the Living Streets Edinburgh Group welcome the council’s intent to help people walk and cycle safely. We’re especially keen to see practical measures which give adequate space to pedestrians in congested streets.”

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