Like any other city, Edinburgh needs some radical reform of many streets clogged by motor vehicles.
Although Edinburgh may be unique to historic European cities in having effectively no pedestrianised areas at all, it's basically a great city to walk around - because of its size, history, architecture and green spaces. However it also suffers from two problems common to many cities - pavements are too narrow and they are full of clutter.
In December 2019, the City of Edinburgh Council agreed to ban advertising ‘A-boards’ after years campaigning by Edinburgh Living Streets Group and a number of partner organisations. Encouraged by this move, we decided to see if we could get more ‘pavement clutter’ removed, to raise awareness of the problem if causes and to try to understand why it is so common?
We have launched a new report and video as part of our ‘Cut the Clutter’ project, and it was fantastic to be joined by more than 100 people at our virtual launch event on 11 December.
We were fortunate in securing grants from Paths for All (which promotes active travel and especially walking in Scotland) and support from the council, firstly to do surveys to identity obstacles on city pavements and secondly to produce a video and report about the problems of pavement clutter - and what we can do about it. The project originally aimed to identify 100 items of clutter to ask the council to remove; we quickly found 290!
The top four problems we found were: signs/signage poles, bins, guardrails and hedges/vegetation. We found plenty of other problems such as roadworks signs and semi-derelict phone kiosks. We had great support from many council staff and especially from the Edinburgh Access Panel which is very active in working to make city streets more accessible for disabled people.
What did we learn from the project? Apart from the fact that clutter is everywhere, we came to understand the pressures which council roads staff face from all directions to put things on pavements - from utility boxes to parking signs to cycle racks. We also found out, unfortunately, that it is easier to identify the problem than to get it fixed. While we did have some successes and ‘quick wins’ (especially from cutting back hedges), most of the clutter we found is still there.
However, we’re confident that the project has put the spotlight on pavement clutter and especially the problems it causes older and disabled people. It has emphasised the need for ‘everyday walking’ to be genuinely at the top of the travel hierarchy, not only in Edinburgh but throughout Scotland and the UK. We hope that our resources will show that, while fundamental change is often needed to public spaces in the longer term, we can make them better now, if we seize the opportunity to ‘cut the clutter’.