Edinburgh’s Future Transport

This blog from Cllr. Scott Arthur, the city’s transport leader, who spoke to CRAG in October 2023, will be of interest to anyone following the development of the City of Edinburgh’s transport system. Here is the eext from the blog that outlines the many improvements underway.

As we enter 2024 I have been reflecting on the progress Edinburgh has made in 2023. Last year was my first full one as interim Convener of the Transport and Environment Committee, and I have used it to work cross-party to focus on getting the basics right whilst also showing ambition for the future.

Our roads and waste staff do a fantastic job, but for too long they have not had the resources  needed to do the job. I hope that’s now changing. Having inherited a situation where road and footpath maintenance was underfunded in Edinburgh, I was proud to have secured £11M of additional funding to fix the problem in our capital. We have even invested in a state-of-the-art “pothole killer” machine. We are listening to the public, and will resurface whole streets rather than take a piecemeal approach. We won’t get footpaths and roads back to where we want them to be in one year, but this investment will help halt the decline.  

Around £1m is also being spent giving the Capital a long overdue deep clean, including establishing a graffiti task force, to make sure Edinburgh continues to look at its best for residents, visitors and businesses. Partners such as Police Scotland and business leaders will be invited to discuss how as a city we can come together to improve the situation for residents and businesses.

We also saw the completion of the tramline to Newhaven, and Lothian Buses placing a £24M order for electric buses. To boost public transport, we have also won £2.3M of funding to look at installing bus priority measures on key arterial routes, with the aim of cutting journey times by 25%. I’ll publish more details at the end of the month on how these routes will look and operate.

In 2024 this pace will increase as we move towards the implementation of plans to cut congestion, reduce climate emissions and accommodate the tens of thousands of homes which will be built in and around Edinburgh in the coming decade.

Before the end of January we should see the pavement parking ban come in to force, and no street will be exempt. This will be transformative for those that use wheelchairs or buggies, or those that have visual impairments. I accept, however, that this will be a change which will take time to get used to.

Soon after that, I will table plans to cut the amount of non-essential traffic in the city centre. A key challenge will be improving public transport and accessibility whilst also supporting businesses and city centre residents.

Also in the spring we will consult on a new tramline which will link Granton to the Bioquarter and beyond. This line perhaps should have been Edinburgh’s first – it will have stops at the Western General, Edinburgh University, Cameron Toll and the Royal Infirmary.  If this route comes to pass it will double the capacity Edinburgh Trams operate at.

I am absolutely passionate about public transport, and I am always proud of how both Lothian Trams and Lothian Buses define our city. Edinburgh Trams is exceeding all expectations, with the staff delivering a service which carried over 1 million passengers in August 2023. This complements the 2 million or so passengers  carried by Lothian Buses every week. We can be proud of all that the staff in these companies do. The need to ensure the continued growth of public transport in Edinburgh, however, means that these companies must integrate their services more. That’s why in 2024 I hope we will see these companies merge… perhaps into an entity formally known as Lothian Regional Transport! Does that sound familiar?   

This year, on June 1st, we will also see enforcement of Edinburgh’s city centre Low Emission Zone begin. Essentially, reducing the most polluting vehicles from the city will benefit everyone. Air pollution harms both our physical and mental health, so the LEZ we will help create a healthier place for everyone, reducing inequalities and making the city centre a more welcoming place. I have been speaking to NHS Lothian about the benefits it will bring, particularly to the youngest and oldest in Edinburgh. Dona Milne, director of Public Health, NHS Lothian, said: “Reducing air pollution has clear long and short-term health benefits for everyone. Our hope is that improved air quality will also encourage people to take advantage of more sustainable and active ways of travel, such as walking, cycling and public transport, which is beneficial for individuals and communities alike.”

In terms of active travel projects, spring should also see the completion of the City Centre West to East Link, and the Roseburn to Union Canal scheme taking shape. This year we will also see progress on the Western Villages project on Granton Waterfront, and the West Edinburgh Link will get underway. We will start the statutory consultation on Meadows to George Street, and the Lothian Road public and business engagement exercise will report. All of these schemes will improve walking, wheeling and cycling for everyone, whilst also providing  good connections to our excellent public transport network.

Although this pace of change is incredible and is stretching the available staff and budget resources, there will always be those that urge us to go further and faster given the climate emergency and Edinburgh’s congestion problem. I will try not to disappoint them!