Clean air became an election issue today
Clean air became an election issue today... everywhere except Edinburgh Council.
In 2003 our Council miscalculated that air pollution wasn't important enough to pay attention to, when they ignored the fact that (weird but true) their tram vanity plan would make pollution in the city worse..... not better..
They ignored it most probably because they felt an already controversial project with a high ticket price would become impossible to schmooze past the public if the real costs of dealing with the increase became known.(If that was not the reason then it's hard to imagine what it could have been.)
All the main parties, SNP, Lan, Lib, Con and perhaps most of all Greens (as this IS meant to be their specalist subject) are compromised one way or another by the project. so all continue more or less to pretend it ain't so.
What was needed for the present looming disaster was a lot of hubris, a ton of ineptitude and a malfunctioning democratic system that has become unfit for purpose (One broken down council where the mindset of coalition means never having to say YOU were to blame.)
We have those three things (in abundance) and so the necessary conditions became sufficent to drop our city into the hole it finds itself today --- and when in a hole our Administration and councillors know exactly what to do:
Which is why, when the project's interest charge is around £8M every year..the payback of the loan itself another £9M and the operating loss another few £M on top.... making around £20M a year in total, our council spend their PR money on preparing us all for the decision to build more.
This despite the fact that the more they build the worse the pollution outcomes will be.
This despite the fact that this they know already.
Their arguments to keep people in the dark interestingly depend not on taking our group on openly but instead boild down to: "Because trams are widely accepted as *green* ,and because trams work in vast numbers of cities around the world then obviously, as we have built a tram and Edinburgh IS a city, they will work in Edinburgh and be *green.*"
Because trams in general are obviously *Green* it doesn't mean all Tram *projects* inevitably are, a tram is just an artifact that sits at the centre of a project that itself creates a cascade of changes across the cities in which they are built.
They are widely accepted as green projects and fit well into most cities where they are built, but it is not inevitable the project will be beneficial in all it's effects simply because we call the thing a tram and ignore all the specific and local conditions of the city into which they are casually dropped.
OUR problem isn't that trams are flawed and don't work elsewhere, because they do.
It is in OUR city, in OUR conditions, using the plan OUR council pushed on with, where the smaller *good* effects on life quality, air pollution, noise pollution and the rest are simply massively outweighed by the bad effects. It should be the other way round.
But it isn't.
In most other cities it IS the other way round-- just not in ours.
That is the major point of failure in our tram project which makes it not a life enhancing pollution reducer but a health damaging and life threatening pollution creator.
One argument, most often used, against our group is that *It's the traffic that causes the pollution NOT the tram* .. which of course is true as far as it goes and which is why it so impresses the credulous minds inside the Council administration and Chamber.
However in a court of law they don't ask for just the truth...the requirement is for the WHOLE truth and NOTHING BUT the truth.
The truth of our situation, the whole truth; is the tram took away the main cross city traffic routes and NOTHING has been done to mitigate the effects of that beacuse to do something would be costly or even to do something effective is simply impossible.
These effects are so large in our city with it's narrow roads, historic areas where no new road building is possible, and a general idea widely accepted that no new roads are worth building as they simply encourage more traffic and more congestion that the traffic displaced simply rat runs off on wider and wider diversions to avoid a central area more and more often reduced to crawl or even gridlock.
The very centre of the city where people mainly visit to shop, eat and be entertained slowly becomes the quietest area of the city traffic wise, while the problems spread out to the large areas where people actually live, more traffic heading down more streets that are less and less able to cope.
This was predicted in 2003 in the main report and it is happening..
The council are very content to encourage different areas of the city to see their own increased traffic problems as either *just one of those things*--that shows how necessary the tram is!! "Think how bad it would be if there were NO tram?!!"
Or that their own community's problems are the result of some other area getting *their way* t in reducing their traffic in their streets that now has no option but to go elsewhere.... down your streets: Thank goodness we have a tram, eh?!! "Think how bad it would be if there were no tram!!"
The fact is the predictions told them in 2003 that traffic would increase BECAUSE of the tram removing the old main, wide, straight through-routes from traffic use...and without any building, would leave the traffic to spread, like water from a burst pipe, often miles from the old course, as it struggled to find new routes.
So they simply are not surprised to see traffic levels growing in many residential areas that were until recently far quieter.
Why would it be a surprise?
They were told it would happen and it is...what is there to be surprised about?
But it isn't a problem that would have happened *anyway*
It's significant that the early claims of how great the tram would be are no longer heard and we don't hear, even from the council, "Isn't it great how much better the traffic is now the tram is up and running?" Instead we hear any counter argument brought back to that *Think how bad it would if there were NO tram?!!*.
A desperate attempt to pretend that we have a problem that would have existed anyway and which the tram serves to releive to avoid admitting the reality that we have a problem that would have existed anyway and which the tram serves to make worse---as we knew it would.
The reality is that the tram, our tram project; the inevitable and known effects it would create, mean *The tram* isn't the solution...it's the problem.
It could have been tunnelled...that would be the same tram in a different project and that tram project would NOT necessarily create the effects we are seeing in huge areas, and no doubt would have been predicted not so to do, and to be very much more expensive than the price originally placed by the Council on their pet project.
Tyneside tunnelled their very similar metro system in the city centre, mainly because like Edinburgh they have realtively narrow, winding streets, unlike the broad boulevards in a Reims or Budapest, (Both of have successful tram systems among many citys) or the flexibility offered by modern *grid-system* cities to accomodate trams AND traffic, which Manchester, to an extent provides.
But tunnelling would have made the project very expensive (no joke intended) and so wasn't really an option.
Admitting the pollution effects openly would also have increased the ticket price of course, while ignoring them and covering them up (all the initial pre-preoject publicity was about its bogus green credentials) meant a lower initial bill would inevitably face a higher ongoing one down the years, but only after it was all built and so when it would to be to late to do anything about.
So on the one hand tunnelling (or using different routes, smaller tramsets and so on) was discarded...and the terrible effects on traffic and so pollution, both air and noise, being spread to the former quiet outer areas of the city, was ignored.
The tram isn't reducing traffic in the city and it isn't even limiting the rise of traffic in the city....it isn't able to carry enough people to do that, and while traffic isn't *good* it is unfortunately necessary as things stand now and for a many years ahead in order that a modern city can function at all.
To encourage people to walk and cycle, to look at workable and sensible projects to limit traffic and it's effects, and ESPECIALLY limit them in residential areas where people have no option or choice but to be exposed to higher levels for longer...because that's where their homes are and the greatest part of their lives are spent; are all good policy aims and unarguable by anyone other than a lunatic.
But to pursue these aims it is not necessary to build something that makes the problems they address WORSE, not better, before then doing something about them... and waste Billions on doing so, to the point where the city's finances are unravelled by the weight of the costs.... even if by calling it a *Tram* we can all keep pretending it ain't so.
One possibility is the Council gambled in the early part of this century that perhaps this traffic pollution issue just wouldn't turn out so bad. They wanted a tram to set a mark on a *modern, cosmopolitan, European city* and a bit of traffic displacement probably wouldn't be too high an extra price to pay---especially if the public could be distracted and doubters questions drowned in the general noise of the applause and PR orchestrated shouts of approval.
They knew it was a problem but the calculated it wouldn't be a big one, and it would get lost in the bustle of an expanding Edinburgh.
But, and this is where we started in this piece.... "Clean air became an election issue today" the problem has become a big one, and it is becoming bigger all the time and that makes it something that even all the Edinburgh Council media management and PR spinning can't keep covered up for much longer.
For most other councils and authorities, and governments in Britain and Europe the mushrooming issue of air quality is a problem they want to at least try and improve...here in Edinburgh our council know that things can only get worse...because their stealth policy makes that inevitable
In every mini-series murder mystery the villain is often the least likely suspect because he or she is *above suspicion*, even when facts of their guilt emerge they can be easily misdirected to point at innocent people to keep the plot rolling along, because nobody can believe the person above suspicion, could actually be the one to premeditate the murder.
Our tram isn't the villain in our Edinburgh mystery, it's just the implement used, but it is a factor whose presence serves to misdirect attention away from the guilty party .
Th guilty party in our mystery is the council that knew the facts but decided way back that their project was too important to them to let the rest of us in on them, .because that would risk making it too pricey for us to let them build it.
They didn't want the facts to get in the way of their good story so they quietly ignored them hoping they'd go away- and they're ignoring them still.
Unfortunately as every new scientific report from anywhere in the world shows, and now even the reports from reluctant governments show, these facts haven't turned out to be samll side issues, they're big and getting bigger, and they aren't going away, and sooner or later Edinburgh Council are going to have to stop spinning PR fantasy and face up to the real world facts they have ignored for too long.