2005 congestion charge plan has nothing on this Edinburgh road revolution – John McLellan

Judy Garland rides the trolley in Meet Me in St Louis. Picture:  Mgm/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock
Judy Garland rides the trolley in Meet Me in St Louis. Picture: Mgm/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock
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Clang, clang, clang went the trolley, sang Judy Garland, but never mind Meet Me in St Louis, meet us in Edinburgh for the great road revolution. The latest city council transport extravaganza is almost worth a Hollywood musical, such is its dreamlike quality... or maybe the latest in a line of comic operas.

A new tram could whisk you through Tollcross and Lauriston to Newington while cyclists whizz over the bridge to Calton and the elderly tourists get the lift from the Grassmarket to the Esplanade. Cars will be banned from Waverley Bridge, Bank Street, Forrest Road and George Street in a low emission zone. But the 2005 Congestion Charge referendum has nothing on this because apparently you asked for it.

Perhaps this slipped your mind, but transport convener Lesley Macinnes was in no doubt earlier this week when she explained: “Residents have told us that they want to see real change in the way we use our city, and that’s exactly what city centre transformation sets out to do.”

So there you have it, this Waverley Valley-vaulting ambition to transform the city centre is not the pet project of local politicians dreaming of streets being named after them in a new development in Granton, but humble public servants meeting public demand.

Tosh. Some who took part in the consultation leading to the city centre transformation proposals being discussed at today’s transport and environment committee may well have asked for changes, but that was far from definitive and in any case another consultation will follow.

Framing the plan as a response is to be expected, given most council consultations are designed to produce previously-reached conclusions and are open to manipulation from allied pressure groups. Not so the newly-published Edinburgh People Survey; independently conducted and largely based on door-to-door interviews in all parts of the city and therefore a better snap-shot of public opinion.

What did it have to say about transport? City centre transformation wasn’t in the survey but it demonstrated high satisfaction with public transport but much unhappiness with the state of Edinburgh’s roads.

That 88 per cent of people are satisfied with public transport indicates a little room for improvement, but a lot of room for risk. Squeezing the road network as the administration proposes could be catastrophic for Lothian Buses when it is already expected to subsidise the tram to Newhaven.

The survey also found that while 72 per cent of people use the bus (57 per cent at least once a week into town), only 9 per cent of people (including me) cycle, yet perversely the strategy prioritises cycling improvement ahead of the impact on buses.

Dissatisfaction with road conditions is at 45 per cent, while 39 per cent are unhappy with the pavements and 31 per cent are not impressed with the street cleaning. In a city of 500,000 that’s lot of people to be cheesed off with a basic council responsibility.

To get down to the real fundamental of council services, 50 per cent of people think dog fouling is a problem in their area and 38 per cent are not happy with the way the council tackles it. These are the things which bother people, not how nice it would be if there were no cars on George IV Bridge.

“Bold and innovative” is one way of describing the proposals, “uncosted and impractical” another, because there is no price estimate or any real attempt to address the implications for the bus service or general traffic displacement.

It’s doubtful a Haymarket-Newington tram line will be built in the lifetime of anyone starting school in August, but at least it’s a useful distraction for the administration and the Place department while 27 per cent of people wonder why the bin service isn’t better.

Chug, chug, chug went the motor, bump, bump, bump went the brake...