Leader: Driven to distraction by traffic congestion

IT WILL come as no surprise to motorists to learn that Scotland's capital is one of the top ten most congested cities in Europe and the frustration felt by those behind the wheel of a car will be shared by bus passengers as even with special lanes the gridlock which often grips Edinburgh has a winder impact on traffic movement.

The scale of the problem afflicting Edinburgh is illustrated by the fact that the new figures in a survey we report today show the capital it is more congested even than Paris, which might have been thought of as the gridlock capital of Europe. This stark international comparison illustrates the growing problem - but the reality is that congestion is nothing new in Scotland's capital.

For decades there have been complaints that the city was congested and there were frequent calls demanding that "something must be done", resulting in a number of projects - some more successful than others. At one point there was a plan to run a mini- motorway through the Meadows but, thankfully, that was never built as the planners saw sense.

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Despite their not being omnipresent, the "green ways" for the buses have made some difference and there was the far more ambitious plan for a congestion charge, which was rejected by the voters in a referendum, though the project which the levy was intended to fund, the trams, are still with us - just about.

Although they are not the complete answer, the trams do at least provide some scope for decongesting the capital's roads, by taking more buses off them and hopefully encouraging more citizens - bus-averse men in particular - to travel in them. It is perhaps significant that the biggest year-on-year improvement on congestion has been in Dublin, which has built a tram system.

Other initiatives, such as the increased cycle lanes - have also had some impact, though there are sill not enough of them. They do not spread right across the city as they should if they are to make a substantial difference and many of them are perceived to be dangerous places to cycle at night.

Beyond that, we have to hope that the various park-and-ride schemes that have been introduced across the capital are expanded.

But there is one other policy which could make a huge difference in Edinburgh and that is if the various utilities which have the power to dig up our roads are dissuaded from doing so too often, or are forced to co-ordinate their excavations so as to minimise the impact on the flow of traffic. How many times have we seen one piece of road dug up for water mains work, filled in and then dug up again for, say, gas pipe work?

Reducing congestion in Edinburgh will not happen overnight, and it will only happen if we employ an imaginative range of policy carrots and sticks to get the traffic flowing more freely where it needs to, and to get people out of their cars on to buses, trams and bicycles.