Leading health professionals and doctors in Edinburgh have sent an open letter to The City of Edinburgh Council supporting the retention and expansion of changes to travel infrastructure in the city to make active travel an easier choice.

The medical professionals say that during the first lockdown the infrastructure alterations to allow physical distancing encouraged walking and cycling. The experts say that any changes made now are potentially life threatening, and that active travel benefits both public health and in mitigating the climate emergency.

Dr Laura McWhirter

Dr Laura McWhirter, Consultant Neuropsychiatrist inEdinburgh, prepared the letter which has been welcomed by cycling and walking charity Sustrans and the recently formed Better Edinburgh for Sustainable Travel (BEST).

She said: “As health professionals, we have a responsibility to protect and promote the health of the population. We have a responsibility to address inequalities and to advocate for the needs of the most deprived and disadvantaged members of the population we serve.

“We are concerned about the impact of the climate crisis on health, globally and locally.

“We support the retention, and further development and integration of infrastructures designed to support active travel and clean air for the whole population of Edinburgh, to mitigate inequalities in health, local mobility, and air quality. We are concerned that suggested steps to reverse active travel measures introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic would be a retrograde and harmful step for the health of the population of Edinburgh.”

Sustrans Deputy CEO John Lauder said: “I fully support what these leading medical professionals are calling for. All the evidence shows that more cycling and walking is good for public health and has proven environmental benefits in tackling the climate emergency. There just isn’t a logical argument to prevent making it easy to get about actively.

“It is clear that the way we travel, work, spend time with each other and enjoy our urban spaces have been changed by the pandemic. It is increasingly clear that there is no ‘old normal’ to go back to.”

Stella Thomson at the BEST Lanark Road cycle protest. Photo: © 2021, Martin P. McAdam www.martinmcadam.com

Speaking on behalf of Better Edinburgh for Sustainable Travel (BEST), a collective of community groups across Edinburgh that promote active travel, Stella Thomson said: “We welcome this vital letter to councillors from medical professionals. The case for the rapid development of a safe active travel network across Edinburgh, and a significant reduction in vehicular traffic, is unequivocal.

“We cannot afford further delays. Everyone, especially children, should have the opportunity to walk, wheel or cycle if they are able, to breathe clean air, and to feel safe on our city’s streets.

“As the signatories point out, well designed active travel infrastructure will reduce inequalities and improve access for all. We hope the letter will encourage all councillors to make the bold and transformative decisions required to address both the climate emergency and public health. It is time to end the domination of traffic in so many of our streets and neighbourhoods.”

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