Closing some Edinburgh streets to traffic on one Sunday a month will demonstrate the impact on air pollution and make the city look better, writes Kezia Dugdale.
Edinburgh has become the first city in the UK to join the Open Streets movement.
On Sunday, streets in the Old Town, including the Canongate, Cockburn Street and Victoria Street, were closed to traffic between midday and 5pm in an effort to reduce air pollution in the city.
This was the first trial of the initiative that will now see streets around Edinburgh close on the first Sunday of every month for the next 18 months, to allow the city to measure the impact and effectiveness of reducing traffic on our streets.
Edinburgh is home to some of the most polluted roads in Scotland and air pollution is estimated to cause more than 2,500 early deaths in Scotland every year.
I’ve always been in favour of the introduction of Low Emission Zones in town or city centres where the most polluting vehicles are banned from entering. I hope this trial is the first step to making this a reality in Edinburgh.
Cleaning up the air we breathe in our city centres and making Edinburgh a healthier and cleaner place must be welcomed. It also just makes our city look better and more appealing, as the pictures of a traffic-free Victoria Street testify.
To mark the first trial, Edinburgh’s excellent cycle hire scheme was also made free all week to encourage people to ditch their vehicles and jump on a bike instead. With new bike hire locations continuing to spring up across the city accessing a bike is becoming increasingly easy.
At a time when the UK is facing a climate change emergency, Edinburgh is leading the way. I hope other cities will soon follow suit.
Shorter work week comes to fore again
Thousands of people across Edinburgh will returning to work today following yesterday’s May Day bank holiday and will now be looking forward to the prospect of a four-day week. To those who were still hard at work, thank you, I know not everyone gets the same luxury.
More than 150 years after the Trades Union Congress started fighting for a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work, and began securing workers’ rights to things like paid leave and holidays, ideas that seemed radical decades ago have now become reality.
The TUC has said that a four-day working week would be possible if businesses were forced to share the benefits of new technology, like artificial intelligence, robotics and automation with their workforce.
This might be too ambitious but it’s clear that many people are working too hard and we should be using automation and new technology to rebalance the relationship between work and life.
Workplaces around the country have trialled a shift to four-day working, with mixed results. Some have seen productivity and employee happiness go up, and others like The Wellcome Trust have decided against it, with employees concerned about workloads being compressed into four days and the impact on childcare or other arrangements.
Maybe it’s an idea whose time has come, but surely there’s no harm in inviting the Scottish Government to study whether this really could be the future model of work in Scotland.