Edinburgh Accessible Streets Initiative (EASI): Proposal from Living Streets Edinburgh Group

Council officials have estimated that there are 17,000 inadequate or missing dropped kerbs in the capital. This makes pedestrian movement for many people difficult or impossible and is at odds with the ‘Equal Pavements Pledge’ signed by the Council in 2021 https://www.transportforall.org.uk/campaign/equal-pavements-pledge/. Step-free pedestrian surfaces have a crucial role in not only making a city inclusive for disabled people, but one which makes walking and wheeling easier and more attractive for everyone else too.

The ‘dropped kerb programme’ has been designated as a ‘high priority’ action in council plans since at least 2010, when the first Active Travel Action Plan was produced. However it is only in the last year that systematic progress has been realised on the ground, and it currently has the capacity to deliver no more than 20 – 30 new dropped kerbs each year. (It is recognised that in addition, an increasing number of missing dropped kerbs are also being installed through routine maintenance and major capital schemes.)

However, Council action to improve pavement accessibility is not at present of sufficient scale to make the improvements needed, faced with the city’s historic legacy of inaccessible footways. The recent experience of installing dropped kerbs has also highlighted the need in many places to not only ‘drop’ the kerb at side roads, yards, vennels and such like but to make other improvements. In many cases, especially where the side road carries little traffic, a continuous footway is a better solution than a dropped kerb and these have begun to be installed in Edinburgh (for example Lauriston Place). Many side road junctions would benefit not only from step-free kerbs, but also ‘tightening’ the splay, to reduce the distance which pedestrians have to cross, and to slow down turning traffic. This also helps other high priority road users such as cyclists.

The current programme budgets are not sufficient to fund interventions like continuous footways and improvements to junction geometry at scale. It is therefore proposed to develop a much more ambitious programme to elevate the current ‘dropped kerb programme’ efforts to a major initiative to improve pedestrian accessibility. The Mobility and Access Committee Scotland (MACS) has advocated such initiatives through its guidance ‘Small Changes Can make a Big Difference’ bit.ly/3zrT4AG.

The new programme could set a number of strategic goals, along the lines of to ensure that…

• within x years, all Retail High Streets and High Density Residential Streets (as defined in ESDG) are step-free;
• within y years, all (major) bus routes are step-free;
• designated ‘town centres’ will be step-free as part of 20 minute neighbourhoods.

The programme would need to operate at multiple levels, co-ordinating activity from different sections of the Council. It would include ensuring step free pedestrian space is included as part of major projects (like CCWEL), but also that small scale (and cheaper) improvements continue to be delivered as part of capital maintenance programmes and on demand, in addition to the more strategic goals such as those suggested above. Ensuring that developers pay for improvements where appropriate would be another important element, which would require significant change from the Planning department.

Monitoring will be another important aspect of the programme, so that accurate information is maintained on how many kerbs have been improved, and what still needs to be done. Comprehensive online maps should show step-free pedestrian routes. The programme could also be further extended to engage with the public for example through joining ’Project Sidewalk’ which enables citizens to comment on and evaluate accessibility through direct lived experience (see for example, Amsterdam: https://sidewalk-amsterdam.cs.washington.edu/ )

Implementation on a programme like EASI will almost certainly require external funding – for example from Sustrans, or directly from the Scottish Government either through direct Active Travel grants or associated with the Strategic Transport Projects Review (STPR2). With a sufficiently high budget and scope, this programme could not only make a tangible impact on improving the experience for disabled – and indeed all – pedestrians in Edinburgh, but also act as an exemplar to raise the bar in our expectations for walking and wheeling across Scotland.

David Hunter
Living Streets Edinburgh Group

November 2022