Can Edinburgh truly lead the green transport revolution?

With half a million residents, Edinburgh is one of the fastest growing cities in the UK – and one of the finest. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Old and New Towns of Edinburgh boast stunning architecture and a unique setting framed by the Pentland Hills and the Firth of Forth. Home to The Scottish Parliament and some of the nation’s biggest financial organisations and highest achieving academic institutions, it’s no wonder that so many people are attracted to living, working and visiting this great region.

Getting around Edinburgh

Getting around Edinburgh
The problem is that Edinburgh’s transport network often fails to live up to the promise held out by the rest of the city. First impressions - whether from being bussed to the international arrivals hall at Edinburgh Airport, stepping off the train at a chaotic Waverley Station or waiting in queues of traffic to get to the city - are of a city heavy with congestion and with transport systems that are often subject to delay. If the Scottish capital is going to succeed in truly rivalling the world’s other major cities as a business and tourism destination, then transport routes into and getting around Edinburgh need urgent review.  

Edinburgh already benefits from an excellent bus network, with numerous stops all around the city. Combining and integrating this with new and improved pedestrian areas, segregated cycle routes and the extension of the tram network will make a major difference for people getting around Edinburgh. To maximise the benefit of these investments, smart technology should be integrated into the roads and junctions to get the efficiency benefits of data analysis and interventions such as ‘digital roads’.

Active and Electric Transport Solutions for a Greener Future

With environmental concerns increasingly coming to the fore, the rise of electric vehicle technology could hold the key to cementing Edinburgh’s status as a ‘Smart City’ and having some of the best transport solutions in the UK.  The positive impact on air quality and health that comes from reducing vehicle emissions is well known, but is Edinburgh going to hold its own, especially when the First Minister at the SNP Conference stated that the first "Low Emission Zone" to be set up by the Scottish Government will be in Glasgow?

Nicola Sturgeon has already made some bold claims, outlining plans to massively expand pilot projects to encourage the uptake of electric vehicles across Scotland. Clearly the SNP recognise the political and economic value inherent in embracing green technology, but a question mark remains over whether the electric vehicle roll-out can actually be delivered at the scale Sturgeon has envisaged.  This would be expecting Scotland to phase out petrol and diesel cars eight years ahead of the UK Government target. This is a massive challenge but, if successful, would put Scotland a step ahead of other UK cities, and on a par with other global cities such as Paris, Mexico City and Madrid.  

For the plan to be effective, the city will need significant investment in the electricity grid to cope with the shift to electric power. The likely increase in demand for electric vehicle charging points around cities and remote areas will present a funding and logistical challenge but is just one hurdle to overcome to respond to future expectations of a city’s transport solutions.

What’s next for Edinburgh’s transport network? 

One of the many benefits for people living and working in Edinburgh is its relatively compact size. The city naturally lends itself to walking and cycling, and embracing active transport solutions as part of a range of healthy lifestyle options will make getting around Edinburgh far easier in the long term.

The Edinburgh 2050 City Vision sets out a blueprint for how Edinburgh will evolve. Clearly there is much work still to be done but, from a mobility perspective, increasing overall accessibility through improvements to Edinburgh’s transport network will not only provide major economic benefits, but also reduce the dependence on private vehicles and improve the quality of the environment. 

The Scottish Government’s award-winning ‘Place Standard Tool’ emphasises the importance of mobility for creating a place that people want to live. As Edinburgh’s population continues to grow and the ‘City Deal’ stimulates the creation of tens of thousands of new homes, it is essential that the planning and design is approached with the resident’s mobility front of mind.

Undeniably, the quality of life on offer in Edinburgh is amongst the best in the country. By making the most of what it has and by actively embracing opportunities for transport improvement, from green infrastructure and electric vehicles through to more active travel options, Edinburgh has the potential to be truly world-leading.   

Look out for the launch of the Arcadis Urban Mobility Report on the 31 October to find out how well you really know your city. 

Graham Hill

Cities Executive for Scotland Ask me a question
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