Published: 8th SEPTEMBER 2021

Edinburgh medics call on City Council to keep active travel measures

More than 140 leading doctors and health professionals in Edinburgh have written an open letter to the City Council. The letter shows their support for the retention and extension of changes to the city’s travel infrastructure.

Two people cycle within a separated cycle way on a busy road as part of Spaces for People measures in Edinburgh city centre.

The medics say the changes are potentially life-saving. The letter says they have the twin benefits of improving public health and mitigating the climate emergency.

The open letter has been welcomed by Sustrans and by the recently formed group Better Edinburgh for Sustainable Travel.

During Scotland’s first lockdown, The City of Edinburgh Council made a host of changes to paths, pavements, walkways and cycle lanes to allow for residents to exercise whilst maintaining physical distancing.

The council has said that the project saw a surge in people walking and cycling.

Protecting the population's health

The letter has been prepared by Dr Laura McWhirter, who is a Consultant Neuropsychiatrist in Edinburgh:

"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.

"We are concerned that suggested steps to reverse active travel measures introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic would be a retrograde and harmful step for the health of the population of Edinburgh."

Blockquote quotation marks
As health professionals, we have a responsibility to protect and promote the health of the population. We are concerned about the impact of the climate crisis on health, globally and locally. Blockquote quotation marks
Dr Laura McWhirter, Consultant Neuropsychiatrist in Edinburgh

Cycling and walking is good for public health

Sustrans Deputy CEO, John Lauder said:

"I fully support what these leading medical professionals are calling for.

"All the evidence shows that more cycling and walking is good for public health and has proven environmental benefits in tackling the climate emergency.

"There just isn’t a logical argument to prevent making it easy to get about actively.

"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."

Good active travel infrastructure will reduce inequalities

Speaking on behalf of Better Edinburgh for Sustainable Travel, a collective of community groups across Edinburgh that promote active travel, Stella Thomson said:

"We welcome this vital letter to councillors from medical professionals.

"The case for the rapid development of a safe active travel network across Edinburgh, and a significant reduction in vehicular traffic, is unequivocal.

"We cannot afford further delays.

"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.

"As the signatories point out, well designed active travel infrastructure will reduce inequalities and improve access for all.

"We hope the letter will encourage all councillors to make the bold and transformative decisions required to address both the climate emergency and public health.

"It is time to end the domination of traffic in so many of our streets and neighbourhoods."


Take a look at the findings of a new Scottish academic study which shows the health and economic benefits of active commuting.


Find out more about our work to make it easier to walk and cycle in Scotland.

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