Thoughts about the need for good Urban Transport

Achievements and prosperity in a city like Edinburgh depends on an efficient and sustainable urban transport system and the Edinburgh Light Railway Company Limited (ELR) concept of a light rail train network explores exactly how this type of transport would contribute to city success by linking in with other modes of transport.  One of the challenges is to plan transport which not only contributes to a sustainable city economy but also to benefit, improve the health and welfare of the population.  It is important that leaders and decision makers in both central and local Government at all levels have a shared agenda and vision for the future of urban transport.  The ELR proposal attempts to set out what a future integrated transport system may look like in Edinburgh and its environs.

The ELR initiative underlines in a way why the city of Edinburgh needs an effective transport system as an essential part of making it successful.  One of the main considerations was how the ELR transport proposal could affect different areas across the city and region, in terms of connectivity, future economy, health and the urban environment.  The proposed ELR transport solution could produce positive outcomes across many areas of the city even although some areas might not be served as well as others, although the provision of alternative linked in services by other transport providers, should close any gap in a proposed network.

As I say, this is not an individual crusade by any means as further steps will be required to fully achieve the vision, including shared strategies and both ownership and leadership.  The economic benefit and impact of a city on the local environment and community may spread well beyond its boundaries.   It has to be recognised that the importance of cities to the national economy and the importance of transport to the achievement of that success, requires a series of positive initiatives. These initiatives should encourage local authorities in city regions to identify shared strategic goals and work together with central government to deliver them.

These initiatives also need to recognise that good transport is vital to how cities work. If people cannot travel easily within a city they may miss opportunities to access employment, education, health, cultural and recreation facilities, or they may simply find it difficult to meet each other socially.  If their transport choices are restricted, they may waste time and suffer aggravation and stress in travelling.  Employers in cities depend on effective transport for their workforce, supply chains and customers. When the business community is asked about how cities could be improved, you will find that transport links are always their first and highest concern.

In terms of transport and land use, improved alignment of spatial planning with transport has the potential to significantly affect the demand for, and patterns of, travel over the longer term. Travel patterns are not only influenced by the transport network, but by the location and choice of destinations where people and goods need to travel. This in turn influences the ease with which people can change modes of transport.  Spatial planning could play a much more central role in affecting travel demand and balancing the needs of different users of urban land, including transport users.

We need to go forward with a clear shared plan to enhance the alignment of transport strategy and delivery with other transport providers and then deliver.  The impact of transport on the success of cities is often complex and challenging.  The car has undeniably played a key role in urban transport as the negative impacts and over-reliance on cars are felt in many ways. The congestion which occurs when demand for road space exceeds supply has traditionally been the prime focus for transport change and the economic consequences of congestion are well documented. In doing nothing we’ll be managing road space in the worst way, by congestion.  Of course, the effects of the transport choices we make go much wider than the delays and unreliability suffered by road users. The way in which transport is planned is critical to our ability to enjoy the urban environment around us and to the easy access of neighbouring areas.  Over the long term, the way in which we plan and undertake travel, especially in cities, will be vital to our efforts to better tackle climate change.

The planning of transport and the choices we make can significantly affect the quality of urban space and whether people enjoy and want to be there, or not.  In the longer term, the environment will be seriously affected by continuing carbon emissions.  The impacts of transport on the success of cities are widespread but not always obvious. Transport has both positive and negative impacts on the prosperity of cities.  Individuals and businesses benefit from reductions in either the costs of travel and shorter or more reliable journey times, which can lead to improved productivity, increased trade, greater labour markets and much more efficient logistics for businesses.  For individuals it results in more choice, better access to services and better prices.

Good connectivity is vital to the future economic growth of urban areas and poor connectivity in urban areas limits access of people to jobs and public services and access of businesses to people and customers.  It should be remembered that transport is itself an important part of the economy as transport takes up a significant proportion of land in urban areas.  Interventions that increase cycling, walking and the use of public transport in our cities have great potential so those responsible for planning and managing roads also need to work closely with those managing footpaths, cycle routes and other walking routes as prudent organisation can secure positive modal shift.

A strategic vision for the future of urban transport has to be endorsed and promoted by local authorities and other stakeholders to create that vision and work together with Government to achieve it.  The vision is that people and businesses benefit from enhanced mobility through a wider choice of journey, reduced congestion and increased journey time reliability, better health as a result of improved safety and much greater levels of walking and cycling and streets and public spaces which are enjoyable places to be.

Transport strategy needs to be integrated with other strategies particularly on economic development and land use planning, including policies to reduce carbon emissions and increase resilience to the impacts of climate change.

Without a willingness and sense of purpose to work together to achieve and deliver a long term vision for urban transport, cities like Edinburgh are unlikely to achieve their full potential.  It is hoped that the ELR proposal will stimulate new debate on this subject, especially as it is intended to provide joined up transport in Edinburgh (JUTIE).