Disability charities demand rethink on Edinburgh's Spaces for People scheme

Two of Scotland’s leading charities today joined disabled campaigners in the Capital in a plea to the city council to review its controversial Spaces for People roads programme.

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Spaces for People was introduced in the wake of the Covid outbreak to create more space for people passing each other on pavements and with the aim of making the city safer and more attractive for people to travel by bike and on foot.

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Some aspects have, however, proved controversial with local businesses and disability campaigners among its strongest critics.

Floating bus stops were a major concern for some users
Floating bus stops were a major concern for some users

Today, Edinburgh City Council’s Transport and Environment Committee will consider the findings of its recent Retaining Spaces for People consultation.

The consultation offers a review of how the council has implemented the Scottish Government's push during lockdown to reduce the number of vehicles on our roads by creating more cycle-lanes and pedestrianised areas.

But campaigners have written a joint letter to the committee reiterating concern about the impact making temporary Spaces for People (SfP) measures permanent will have on disabled people.

They are asking the council to put the scheme on hold to allow it to be independently audited.

Lesley Macinness said the council will respond to any concerns raised

The letter, which has been signed by members of Edinburgh Access Panel and the sight loss charities RNIB Scotland and Guide Dogs Scotland, was sent to council officials thismorning.

It warns that council measures put in place too hastily and without adequate consultation could inadvertently make going outdoors more hazardous for wheelchair users and pedestrians with other disabilities.

Some parts of the scheme have proved highly popular in some areas with new cycle lanes credited with encouraging more people to take up cycling and parents have warmly welcomed more safe street initiatives outside schools.

However, the disability campaigners are concerned that some of the measures introduced have made things more challenging and potentially dangerous for blind and partially sighted people and wheelchair users.

Guide-dog owner Ian Drysdale of Corstorphine said the places he feels safe are getting smaller due to Spaces for People.

Among their criticism they cite poorly designed 'pop-up' cycle lanes which incorporate 'floating' bus-stops that do not take account of disabled people getting on and off buses.

One guide-dog user said the changes had made the areas of Edinburgh where he feels safe “smaller and smaller”.

Ian Drysdale of Corstorphine said “The changes have taken away my independence and mobility.

"Before the Spaces for People changes, I had no problem getting out and about. But now the areas I feel safe in are getting smaller and smaller.”

Disabled campaigners are urging the Transport and Environment Committee to postpone making any decisions this week and to support having an independent, third-party national review of the Spaces for People initiative.

Catriona Burness of RNIB Scotland said: "We are concerned that momentous decisions about changing the way we walk, wheel and cycle are being made before any of us know what the future, post-Covid, Edinburgh will look like."

Anne-Marie Barry of Guide Dogs Scotland said the council must fully consider the safety of vulnerable pedestrians before determining any permanent changes.

She added: "The current wave of temporary measures show a greater regard for the interests of cyclists than those of pedestrians.”

Transport and Environment Convener, councillor Lesley Macinnes insisted that the needs of vulnerable road users, in particular those with mobility issues, have been of utmost importance in considering Spaces for People measures for retention.

She added: “In fact, the impact of projects on disabled road users was one of the eight key assessment criteria used in this process.

“All of the stakeholders mentioned were personally invited to a briefing as part of the consultation and their responses have been important to recommendations on the future of these changes. As summarised in the report on proposals, for any scheme we progress longer term we will be taking extra care to mitigate the impact on disabled road users, amending the designs where needed.

“Thanks to the experimental nature of the traffic orders we’re proposing to use, we’ll be able to continue monitoring the changes once in place, so we can respond to any concerns.”

Council officials are recommending that councillors agree to scrap Spaces for People measures around the city’s shopping districts - but retain some of the more controversial schemes for a further 18 months. Among the schemes recommended for retention are the pedestrianisation of Waverley Bridge, Cockburn Street and Victoria Street, and the protected cycle lanes on Old Dalkeith Road, Crewe Road South, Lanark Road and Comiston Road.

The closures to general traffic on Cammo Walk and Silverknowes Road North are recommended .They have also recommended the removal of the pedestrian and cycle infrastructure on Forrest Road and George IV Bridge.

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