Over the past fifteen years, I have been extremely fortunate to have lived in Mumbai, Singapore, London and Edinburgh - vibrant, dynamic, international cities. Cities that are unique in their identities and cultures, but face similar concerns around housing, infrastructure, air pollution, climate change and other markers of rapid and sustained growth.
Globally, it feels like the public discourse around identity and sense of place has become increasingly focused around evidence and knowledge-sharing. There is a lot to celebrate in the way the debate around the way we perceive 'placemaking' has progressed - whether it is the 'Equal Streets' movement in Mumbai, the success of the cycle superhighways in London or the incredible levels of modal shift in Groningen and Seville.
However, as we all know, these are not easy debates. Moving away from a car-dominated culture requires vision and strong leadership, an ability to take difficult decisions based on fact rather than heightened emotion.
On a national and local level, through the Sustrans Community Links Programme and the Community Links PLUS design competition, we have seen the design and delivery of transport infrastructure being integrated with creative approaches to placemaking. With our partners in local authorities, we are increasingly beginning to explore, understand and pull together the various strands that make a place unique. These projects, led by transport, planning and health at its heart, work with communities across Scotland to kick-start a change in attitudes and behaviours, bringing together the best in innovation whilst ensuring that we future proof our cities and towns for the next generation and beyond.
The Community Links PLUS competition showed us that there is an appetite for big, bold schemes - we have truly been inspired by the vision and ambition of everyone involved in the process: community groups, officials and decision makers across Scotland. The cross-sectoral expert panel that judged the five final projects ensured an absolutely brilliant, lively debate – one that lifted the projects from having a transport focus to acknowledging their impact across all facets of our lives. Increasingly we see urban transport infrastructure moving out of self-imposed silos towards decisions that integrate health, education, technical innovation, community engagement and empowerment.
Projects like the Edinburgh West-East Cycle Route and Bearsway in East Dunbartonshire have generated heated, impassioned debates. Sometimes these debates have degenerated into arguments that pit 'cyclist' against 'pedestrian' against 'motorist'. Traders have been led to believe that cycling infrastructure will destroy their businesses, despite innumerable international, national and local evidence that prove the opposite. The danger in all debates is that loud, sometimes irrational voices tend to drown out genuine, legitimate concerns that need addressed.
Time for big decisions
In Edinburgh, on Tuesday, 30th August, the Transport Committee will consider their options to progress the Edinburgh West-East Cycle Route. A project which has the potential to transform how people choose to move to and through our beautiful capital city. A well designed, direct, seamless and segregated route has the potential for a transformational change, attracting new people to cycling and being a catalyst for high-quality public realm design that benefits all users.
The Community Links PLUS expert panel commended the project on its vision, quality and its potential for significant modal shift. With extensive on-road segregated provision in a constrained urban environment, the project would plug the gap in the city centre, linking existing routes and help create a truly city-wide network for Edinburgh. We believe that this Option A proposal is the way forward for the city - one that we have been delighted to support through the Community Links Programme so far.
A decision in favour of Option B would still provide infrastructure that is better than what currently exists, but as a capital city, already with 12% of trips to work being made by bicycle and that trend increasing, Edinburgh should be leading the way in high quality, bold public realm decisions that develop the potential for a truly efficient, safer and less polluting transport network.
In terms of future bids by City of Edinburgh Council for funding through Community Links, both options will be scored against the Community Links Programme criteria and we will continue to work with City of Edinburgh Council to ensure the best outcome for the city. Going forward, greater engagement with residents and businesses will be needed to secure public support and ensure that the integrity of the proposals is protected, and in doing so create an active travel network worthy of the capital.
At Sustrans, we admire City of Edinburgh’s commitment to active travel and value our long-standing partnership work. We believe that the decision that is made on Tuesday is pivotal, not just for Edinburgh, but towns and cities across Scotland looking to Edinburgh for leadership.
Transformational change isn't easy and needs strong and determined leadership. We hope that Edinburgh continues to make decisions that move Edinburgh towards becoming a more vibrant, healthy, successful and dynamic global city.
On 30 August 2016 Edinburgh City Council’s Transport Committee voted in favour of the City Centre West to East Cycle Link and Street Improvements project. However, they postponed a final decision on the design of the Roseburn section. They plan to create a cross-party stakeholder group to review the options for the west end section over the coming months. Minutes of the meeting can be found on the Council's website or you can watch the webcast.
We are pleased that the Council remains committed to delivering Edinburgh’s West to East Cycle Link project. Whilst we are disappointed that a decision has not been made to move forward with the most direct route, we note the decision by the Committee and we welcome the steps being taken to further strengthen the consultation with stakeholders. Given the view of the Committee to back the project, it will be vital that all sides, particularly over Roseburn, enter into the engagement in a reasonable and constructive way.
We know from our experience across Scotland that with a good spirit all parties can ensure they gain something from an active travel development. We look forward to continuing to work with the Council and the project stakeholders to help realise the substantial benefits the scheme can bring to the city via efficient, healthy, active, transport.