ALL suburban main roads in Edinburgh with a 40mph speed limit could see it cut to 30mph to help reduce the risk to pedestrians and cyclists who are physically distancing due to coronavirus.
The move is one of a series of measures approved by councillors to cope with the need for more space for people walking or cycling as they travel or exercise during the Covid-19 crisis.
Decisions on temporary road closures, bus gates, bus lanes, cycle segregation and pavement widening have been delegated to officials, but five-day consultations will now take place with ward councillors and community councils.
And the public will be able to send in their own suggestions to a dedicated email address.
New “low traffic neighbourhoods” will be created where residents can ask for road closures or a ban on through traffic.
And a new highway code for the city is to be drawn up to help keep all road users safe during the crisis.
In February he city council’s transport and environment committee approved a list of 21 roads, including Queensferry Road, Lanark Road and the West Approach Road, where 40mph limits would be replaced by a 30mph cap.
Officials will now look at bringing these forward and also consider other 40mph roads to see if they should have their speed limit cut too.
And there could also be more roads reduced from 30mph to 20mph.
A report to the council’s policy and sustainability committee said that as traffic levels increase when the lockdown is eased, the safety risk from people waking on the road to keep their distance from other people would rise. The council will use temporary traffic orders to bring in the lower speed limits because the normal process takes much longer.
But Tory group leader Iain Whyte said he hoped there would still be an opportunity for the public to comment on the changes.
He said: “Whether or not you agree the roads should be reduced in speed or not, it’s about allowing people to have their say and debating the merit of things in public.”
“I think we’d certainly approve of some of them but we would probably want to look at each one on an individual basis and see what the need was.
“One of our big concerns about speed reductions is that they have gone ahead with a whole of them without altering the road layout and that just causes confusion.”
He said drivers see saw a road that looked open and wide and thought it had a higher speed limit. “All it does is increase the number of people who are breaking the law rather than taking measures which reduce speed.”
The committee agreed a set of criteria for road schemes, including closures, which will be pursued through temporary traffic orders.
Cllr Whyte said his group had wanted proposals to be brought to committee for debate and potentially to hear from affected individuals or businesses.
“Instead, the other parties have agreed to go ahead with a scheme that gives all the power to the chief executive, just consulting the council leader and his deputy.
“It seems like madness and is completely anti-democratic. They seem to be using the emergency nature of some of the need for social distancing to push on with things without having the proper scrutiny.”
But council leader Adam McVey told the committee there was a need to move as quickly as possible to have measures in place for the city to be ready for restrictions being lifted and more people moving around.
He said he had been “terrified” by some of the scenes he had seen from London of people crowding onto the underground and on busy streets.
“That’s not a situation we want to get to. We want to cater for people to make the right choices so we are not swapping lockdown for gridlock.”
He apologised for the “not particularly pretty solutions” of traffic cones which may need to be used.
But he said: “That’s massively outweighed by the substantial public health requirement for us to act swiftly to put measures in place not when we see issues but in anticipation of issues.”
He said the council did not have the time or the capacity to engage in the normal level of public consultation if the changes were to be made as quickly as needed.
“These are temporary measures. Some of them may work, some may not, some of them we may want to turn into more permanent interventions once people change the way they live.”
Tory transport spokeswoman Susan Webber said the value of wider pavements and the need to take account of increased cycle use was not in doubt and called for pedestrians to be put at the heart of the plans.
But she said local high streets across the Capital should be the focus of the drive to create safe spaces.
“This will help them thrive and continue to be the beating hearts of our communities that have come together so brilliantly to support and keep us safe during this crisis.”
The Greens and Lib Dems backed the SNP/Labour administration’s plans after it agreed to take on board some of their suggestions, including “low traffic neighbourhoods” and a new travel code.
Green councillor Melanie Main said residents had told her the closure of Braid Road - which provoked controversy when it was announced two weeks ago, had made a massive difference to their lives and created a safe haven for people walking and cycling.
She said: “People see more pedestrians and cyclists out and about and they want the streets to be safe from speeding cars or speeding bikes.”
Areas close to main roads could be designated a low-traffic neighbourhoods with local access only, or other measures, to prevent them becoming rat runs.
And Cllr Main continued: “We have so many novice road users, we’re all having to learn new ways to use our streets and new ways to stay safe.
“It’s important we set out a new travel code - a sort of new highway code - so we know what is expected of us and what we can expect of others.”
Lib Dem transport spokesman Kevin Lang welcomed the new enthusiasm for walking and cycling. ”If we get this right it can become a more long-term positive trend towards active travel.”
And he said people should be able to put forward their own proposals. “There are bright ideas out there and we need to make sure we capture these.”
Community councils, traders’ associations and the public will now be invited to suggest schemes to be assessed against the agreed criteria through a webpage and a dedicated email: [email protected]