THE preservation and enhancement of Edinburgh’s Old and New Towns has been one of the great achievements of urban conservation in the last half century.
From a time in the 1950s and 1960s when they were threatened with population loss and decay as the population moved out to suburban housing with garages and gardens the inner city has witnessed a remarkable resurgence as it has attracted back population groups of all ages and substantial investment that have fully merited its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
One measure to the success of planning policies in this respect is that Edinburgh has one of the highest rates of people walking to work of any UK city. One in five walking to work is a considerable achievement which is only rivalled by smaller cities such as Norwich and Dundee.
North American visitors to Edinburgh are often surprised to discover how it is possible lead a civilised urban existence without the use of the car.
The role of the car in the city centre still continues to be a bone of contention for residents, visitors and passing travellers.
The Edinburgh New Town and West End were built when walking and horse and carriage were the main means of urban transport. As the costs of running a car continue to fall and more and more of our social and economic life is organised around its use the pressures of intensified car use increasingly build up in the central city as workers, shoppers and visitors still drive to the city centre and increasing proportions of central city residents expect to have use of a car.
The build-up of these pressures has led the council to bring in numerous measures to curb the impact of the car on life in the city centre. The second phase of its traffic management scheme will soon see the removal of all car and lorry traffic from Princes St during the day time. And, of course, city electors will next week vote about whether to approve the proposed congestion charging scheme.
Traffic management improvements will enhance the pedestrian and shopping environment of Princes Street, Charlotte Square and George Street. and increase the attractiveness of these areas to shoppers and visitors but at the cost of diverting traffic to nearby streets.
Measures to encourage commuters to use means of transport other than the car would seem to be in the general social interest and in the interest of central city residents to ensure that the environment of the city centre does not deteriorate further with increased car use.
Increased bus and train use, bus lanes, park and ride, have all helped in this respect and the prospect of trams may assist in the longer term.
Congestion charging should also help moderate the pressures for increasing car traffic in the city centre. But it also imposes burdens on some of the two in three households in the West End that have a car. The inner cordon will even hit shoppers going on mid-afternoon trips to Sainsbury’s at Blackhall.
For these reasons the West End Community Council is finding it difficult to reach agreement on congestion charging proposals but on balance I am supporting them because they should help moderate the growth of traffic that needs to be contained in order for the city centre to continue to be one of the most desirable urban centres in which to work and live in Europe.
Norman Bonney, chair, West End Community Council, Afton Town House, Grosvenor Crescent, Edinburgh
Reasons for traffic flow not so sinister
DURING the congestion charging debate it has been interesting to see how paranoid some people are in their belief that the council and those working on its behalf are trying to make individual lives a misery.
Recently people including Robert Rae (Letters, January 31) appear to believe traffic signals are tweaked at peak times just to frustrate them.
If, as these people say, signal timings and other traffic management schemes are the cause of congestion; why, on Queensferry Road, from Barnton to Blackhall, are there still major queues during the peak hours despite all signals and banned turns at major junctions being designed to favour main road traffic? Oh and remember - there isn’t a bus lane or road narrowing in sight. As for Mr Rae’s ‘alternative route’, the one via Cramond Road and Whitehouse Road, with no traffic calming whatsoever, it always tails back a considerable distance in the evening peak. If more signal time was given to this traffic, then the queues on the A90 would be even longer.
As with many traffic management schemes, the signals may not be ideal but they are certainly better than the notorious Barnton double roundabout that existed previously.
Miraculously all these queues disappeared the other week when the Forth Bridge was closed due to high winds. Could it be that congestion is caused by something as simple as a large numbers of vehicles all wishing to head to or from the Forth Bridge at the same time?
Kevin McMahon Barnton Park Avenue, Edinburgh
Edinburgh scheme is way off target
WHILST reading the News’ road toll referendum special, I was tempted to do a few sums to compare the London congestion scheme with the proposed Edinburgh one. For Edinburgh’s scheme to produce its target figure of 65 million will require 32.5 million charges per annum - or, put another way, approximately 130,000 vehicles on each chargeable day are expected to pay.
London’s latest figures show that in a year they raised 68m (target 200m) with a toll of 5 per vehicle. This represents 13.6m vehicles or about 54,400 charges per day. This disregards the significant late payment penalties which are part of this total.
Is it credible that Edinburgh will generate over two-and-a-half times the number of charges that central London manages to generate?
Will Edinburgh be able to resist breaking the pledge to index link the congestion charge? Very unlikely as whatever happens the installation and running costs will have to be met and the only source of revenue is the charge.
London is already on the verge of a 60 per cent increase despite the claim that congestion has been reduced by more than was planned.
The London scheme more than pays for itself and its goal has been achieved - have we moved on from simply trying to remove congestion to creating a new income stream for our ever voracious councils?
DK McGregor Pilrig Street, Edinburgh
Journey to work really takes its toll
IF anyone thinks that congestion in Edinburgh is not a problem, I would ask them to attempt travelling down Gilmerton Road any weekday morning, as I do.
As a bus user, I am heart-sick of being stuck in traffic coming in from Midlothian. Too many times this is driver-only cars.
Then there are the parents taking their kids to Liberton Primary School, who not only add to the tailback of traffic generally but exacerbate it through parking and turning either side of Gilmerton Road adjacent to the school.
On the approach to Liberton Primary, we not only have a lollipop lady at the pedestrian crossing but another has recently been employed just before Double Hedges. Ironically, this is due to increased traffic, largely caused by parents driving their kids to school.
As a user of public transport, I feel this is grossly unfair. For what should be a 30-minute journey to my work, I find it is safer to allow one hour.
The average double-decker bus will carry 82 people at any given time. These people are doing their bit for the environment, both locally and globally, whilst selfish motorists are destroying the same.
Whilst I agree that it would have been better for the council to provide better public transport before instigating road tolls, this was never going to happen. And if it alleviates my transport time to work, before the city grounds down to gridlock and slows down the planet choking to death, I would introduce road tolling today.
Leslie John Thomson Moredunvale Green, Gilmerton
No fair trade for inner-city residents
AS regards Councillor Andrew Burns’ comments, assurances and compromises, the fact remains that there are no proposals for exemption for those Edinburgh residents and businesses trapped within the day-long inner cordon.
Cllr Burns assures your readers that no tax is to be levied on the outward journey, only the inwards. But is it not usual on going out to do the shopping at, let us say, your local Tesco, that you return home with it?
Our local Tesco is just outside the inner cordon, as is Sainsbury’s, Safeway, B&Q, Boots, Homebase, etc. If Cllr Burns and his colleagues are prepared to make exemptions for a thousand and one other Edinburgh citizens why not those to be ghettoised within the inner cordon?
Everybody else can get around the tax, we cannot.
Oh, I see. We’re to do our shopping at night?
Alistair Stein, convenor Central Edinburgh New Town Association Heriot Row, Edinburgh
Legislation needed to change our habits
WHILE I acknowledge that air traffic control is an even bigger necessity than car control to reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emission, we must start somewhere and take responsibility for our actions.
The congestion charge has vastly enhanced the pleasure of visiting London.
Edinburgh needs not to copy blindly, but to start showing a real commitment to the environment in which we live and in which children growing up now will have to live for much longer. Changing habits doesn’t come easily, but if we don’t do it of our own free will, then legislation is the only answer.
Pat Bryden Dunrobin Place, Edinburgh
Will Burns do the honourable thing?
WHO will carry the can if Edinburgh folk say ‘No’ to congestion charging in the referendum? Will Councillor Andrew Burns resign after wasting over 9million of ratepayers’ money on these ill-thought-out proposals?
Thom McCarthy High Street, Edinburgh
Councillors should get on with the job
THE whole idea of a vote on road tolls is ridiculous.
We don’t ask thieves if there should be a law against theft. Why, then, should motorists be able to decide the fate of a measure designed to limit the harm caused to our health and buildings by traffic?
We elect councillors to take such decisions for the common good; they should get on with it, and not bend to the motoring lobby and political parties who cynically exploit the personal greed of those who don’t wish to pay their 2.
It is, after all, little more than the price of cup of coffee.
C Wilson Pentland Drive, Edinburgh
Public won’t forget broken promises
THIS council never ceases to amaze me. Now they promise to abide by the decision of the auditors who will be monitoring the congestion charge if we stupidly vote it in.
This is the same council that promised to abide by, but didn’t, the decision of the review committee that looked at the congestion charge and advised them that to be fair all residents should pay.
The council want this charge in and will promise heaven and earth to get it. It would also appear they think the public don’t remember their broken promises.
Charles McGhee Easter Road, Edinburgh
Hole in logic behind Capital’s ‘doughnut’
AS a resident in the so called "doughnut", why should I have to pay when entering the outer cordon - ie, when returning from holiday between 7am and 10am; whilst some others living in Edinburgh but outside the outer cordon are apparently being granted an exemption to the same charge?
Are extra laybys with comfort facilities to be constructed for "doughnut" residents to wait in until 10am arrives if they have the temerity to wish to return home?
Charles H Harvey Gyle Park Gardens, Corstorphine
Reassurance on concerns ahead of the referendum
I WELCOME Bill Furness’ balanced contribution to the transport debate ("Tolls vote masks real concerns", News, January 28) and want to respond to some of his specific queries directly.
Firstly, I want to assure Bill that there is indeed a comprehensive vision of transport provision for the city as a whole - it’s called the Local Transport Strategy and this is exactly what residents will vote on in a few days’ time.
There has been a huge amount of debate around this overall strategy over the last five years and I would encourage everyone to look at its totality (see www.transport-edinburgh.org.uk) for full details) before casting their vote.
Secondly, I want to confirm that Edinburgh City Council is investigating the provision of an underground car park at the West End of the city centre. This facility could lead to a hugely beneficial rationalisation of parking provision in the centre of town and early studies have indicated that the project is entirely feasible.
More detailed study is now progressing and the project could be delivered through projected revenue from the congestion charging proposals.
Thirdly, Bill asks about general parking in the city centre - a full-scale review of parking is currently under way and will report later this year. Medium-term measures are already being taken forward, with a report agreeing to promote "shared-use" residents/visitor parking bays agreed just this week at the Council Executive.
Some short-term measures have already been implemented after direct discussion with retailers - such as the changes to parking time-limits in St Andrew Square.
Fourthly, Bill mentions promotion of the city centre to offset any ‘potential’ loss of retail trade - discussions are ongoing with city centre retailers about a potential package of measures with this exact aim in mind.
A specific retailer group, chaired by the City Centre Management Company, will report soon on an agreed package of such measures - retailers are being fully involved in structuring this package.
Finally, Bill mentions the independent review mechanism for the transport strategy. This commitment is now a formal act of council and such a review body is being established to amend and/or revoke the scheme given the experience of its first two years of operation.
All of these measures are formal commitments and are being implemented. I hope they do give some reassurance to those concerned about the detail of the current scheme - many of whom, as Bill Furness rightly identifies, are supporters of the principle of congestion charging.
Councillor Andrew Burns Executive Member for Transport & Public Realm, Edinburgh City Council, City Chambers, High Street, Edinburgh
Give other authorities input
THE Court of Session gave Fife, Midlothian and West Lothian Councils the authority to serve a writ on Edinburgh City Council’s plans for congestion charging in Edinburgh (News, January 8).
In allowing a legal challenge to go ahead on one part of the road tolls scheme, does this not open the door for the three neighbouring councils to challenge the legality of the whole scheme? Should they not have a right to at least be included in the referendum?
Whatever the outcome of their challenge, the three councils, some of whose citizens contribute to the economy of Edinburgh, should be considered. They are not being given the opportunity to have a say in Edinburgh City Council’s road charging scheme. It is unfair, unjust and undemocratic. Consider that when you cast your vote. Otherwise, at some later date, it might cost you 2 or more to cross their boundaries.
W Gray, Oxgangs Avenue, Edinburgh
We're taken for granted
SO the tolls rally were ecstatic when they learned how all the ordinary people in London have been priced out of driving in their own city and have been relegated to the public transport systems they should never have slithered off in the first place.
London must be a great place to drive provided you have a 30k-plus car, loads of money or an MP’s expense account.
Tough if you’ve scrimped to save up for a second-hand car - you won’t be using the toffs’ roads and they will make sure by charging a fiver if you dare try.
Is this the kind of class system Edinburgh wants?
Dump the ludicrous tolls now!
The council should take the Scottish Executive’s grants and money currently raised through tax and get a proper rail and road system in place.
GD Robertson, Belgrave Terrace, Edinburgh
Hard to believe in offer
HOW magnanimous of Councillor Andrew Burns to offer to reverse road tolling if he is found to be wrong and it is a disaster for Edinburgh (News, January 26).
A genuine offer? I don’t think so. It has the smell of abject panic about it. And it has the all-too-familiar sound of a Labour politician willing to do or say anything in an effort to win over the public.
The Labour group on Edinburgh City Council are hardly ever honest enough to step forward and admit when they have made mistakes.
One just has to look at Councillor Kingsley Thomas and the fiasco over the Caleb Ness tragedy within the social work department as an example of the lack of moral courage that so often marks this group within the council.
George Deevers Murrayburn Place, Edinburgh