The way people, goods and services move around a city is not only important to the local economy but key to meeting local and national climate targets. With this, Edinburgh is no exception.
Edinburgh has set an ambitious target of net zero emissions by 2030 – 15 years ahead of the national goal. And as a historic, compact capital city, with a unique landscape and a world-beating cultural scene, our response to the climate emergency must be custom-made and meet the needs of everyone who lives and works here.
Edinburgh faces a number of challenges:
- Transport currently accounts for 31% of Edinburgh's emissions. If things carry on as they are, that figure will keep on going up.
- Poverty rates vary considerably across the city, yet average weekly travel costs are more than £80. That's 14% of a typical weekly budget.
- Congestion also hugely impacts daily journeys, adding up to 41% to travel time during peak hours.
- Edinburgh's population is set to keep on rising, with a forecast growth of 12% to 600,000 by 2043.
Creating a climate resilient city
Encouraging more people to choose active and sustainable travel for their daily journeys will be key to Edinburgh addressing these issues. It will also have the added benefit of improving local air quality, enhancing biodiversity, encouraging wildlife along traffic-free routes and creating a greener, safer, net zero, climate resilient city to live and work now and for future generations.
We also need to think about the bigger picture.
We know that tackling the climate crisis will take an immense collective effort, requiring systemic change to build a fair and sustainable future for all. We also know that our travel patterns are shifting as we recover from the pandemic. We have an opportunity now to address these twin challenges.
Edinburgh's City Mobility Plan to support net zero emissions
People's travel choices are largely determined by ability, affordability, accessibility, safety, and convenience. So both local and national governments need to make it as safe, easy and affordable as possible for people to move away from private, fossil-fuelled cars and to other forms of travel.
In Edinburgh, this means that creating more people-friendly streets, protected cycle routes and spaces for people to relax and stroll. These ambitions are central to our City Mobility Plan, and, alongside initiatives like improving public transport provision, introducing flexible and affordable public transport fares and promoting of cleaner vehicles, will help people to make sustainable choices.
Investing in active travel solutions and infrastructure
Edinburgh has pledged to create more liveable places less dominated by motor traffic and to build on our network of walking, wheeling and cycling routes. We're already a compact, walkable city, where 45% of households don't own a car – and we want to facilitate 20-minute neighbourhoods, helping people to shift away from longer journeys to active travel and to meet our net zero target.
Introducing a Low Emissions Zone later this year, with enforcement set to start in 2024, will help to improve the air quality and congestion in the city centre and encourage people to think about other forms of travel. This will be helped by the completion of the Trams to Newhaven project in 2023, which will provide sustainable, rapid, mass transit transport to one of the most densely populated parts of the city.
Meanwhile, work is already underway or soon to start on a series of major projects to encourage and support travel by foot, wheel or bike. Construction has already started on the City Centre West Edinburgh Link (CCWEL) as well as projects such as Meadows to George Street and George Street and First New Town. These routes will help make active travel easier and more accessible to people in the city, by providing a series of safe, direct links across town.
Net zero action for a cleaner, greener and healthier city
Edinburgh is already well known for being one of the most liveable cities in Europe. Since the '90s we've made great strides to enhance transport systems and invest in our streets and public spaces. From the completing 95km of off-road cycleways and walkways between 1995 and 1999 to launching Edinburgh Trams in 2014 and becoming the first Scottish city to implement a citywide network of 20mph routes in 2018, we're at forefront of sustainable transport development.
And as we move forward with the next ten years of transport and mobility in the capital, we want, and need, to be just as bold, and invest in net zero action and ensure our young people inherit a thriving, resilient city which is a cleaner and healthier place to live and work.
Daisy Narayanan is Head of Placemaking & Mobility at The City of Edinburgh Council, and a member of the Scottish Transport Awards judging panel.