Analysis: Better public transport can unjam city

ONE of the top tens that any city wants to avoid is that of the ten most congested cities in Europe. Unfortunately Edinburgh has crept in at number seven ahead of every other British city except London.

On the one hand congestion is as sign of success, with traffic clearly linked to economic activity. On the other, congestion leads to a loss of quality of life, pollution and high stress levels.

Reducing delays and uncertainty on the road does not come cheap and those cities that have invested in superb public transport systems and good roads systems to keep traffic out of the city centre appear to have the answer - unfortunately most of them seem to be elsewhere in Europe. Even Glasgow, with some of the most congested motorways in Europe, shows that drawing traffic on to good through-routes can have benefits for the city overall.

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Ironically the only current solution to Edinburgh's traffic problems has probably also been the main cause of most of them in recent years and months. The tram debacle rolls on but the chaos caused by the construction works will almost certainly have been a major contributing factor to the poor showing of the city in this new survey.

Today's city dweller wants to get around and across the city for a myriad of individual work, leisure, health and shopping needs. Does Edinburgh's public transport system really meet these needs?

This survey also points to a failure to deliver the better management of Edinburgh's roads that was promised by decriminalised parking and the use of new technology. An army of parking attendants continues to issue tickets but this survey suggests the key reason for their existence - keeping the traffic moving - is just not happening. Road works, redevelopment work and renewal of ageing infrastructure all need tight control to ensure a traffic system already at full stretch is not totally disrupted.

We reluctantly have to accept that large scale road improvements will not now happen around Edinburgh to relieve pinch points. The answer therefore must lie in attractive public transport and making much better use of what we have.

The IAM still believe that there is a role for the tram in attracting drivers out of their cars in a way that the bus can never hope to do. Allied to the completion of the tram project are small-scale changes that incrementally can deliver improvement: better cycle facilities, more flexible bus services, stringent control of utilities when they dig up the roads, priority for traffic control rather than issuing tickets for parking attendants and encouragement of car clubs.

None of these will get Edinburgh out of the most congested category, but they will at least stem the tide and help return it to its more usual position as one of the most attractive places to live and work in Europe.

• Neil Greig is director of policy and research, the Institute of Advanced Motorists

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