Edinburgh city leaders face demand to make streets ‘traffic-free’ for festivals

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City council chiefs are facing demands to ban traffic from key thoroughfares during the main Edinburgh Festival season amid claims they are now “intolerable” for people to walk down in August.

Campaigners want the Canongate, the Cowgate and the Lawnmarket to be among the streets targeted for pedestrianisation next August.

City council chiefs are facing demands to ban traffic from key thoroughfares during the main Edinburgh Festival season amid claims they are now 'intolerable' for people to walk down in August. Picture: Neil Hanna Photography.

City council chiefs are facing demands to ban traffic from key thoroughfares during the main Edinburgh Festival season amid claims they are now 'intolerable' for people to walk down in August. Picture: Neil Hanna Photography.

Their calls have emerged after crush barriers were put in place in some of the most congested areas to reduce the risk of festival-goers stepping into traffic.

Senior councillors have revealed a full review has been ordered that will examine how different parts of the city centre coped with the festivals, tackle the most acute congestion problems and explore how events could be better spread around Edinburgh.

The announcement was made after final-day box office figures revealed a record 2.8 million Fringe tickets had been sold – an increase of a million in less than a decade.

Heritage and environment campaigners have thrown their weight behind a new pedestrianisation drive in August ahead of a number of expected traffic-free trials that are being explored by the council as part of a long-term city-wide initiative.

In an open letter to council leader Adam McVey, Living Streets Edinburgh has urged him to take “urgent” action to improve the safety of the city. It also wants the council to ensure more late night bus and train services are in place next August.

Adam Wilkinson, director of Edinburgh World Heritage, said: “In addition to the well-known negative health effects, heavy traffic and congestion has been shown to damage the fragile historic fabric of our city, and prevent its full enjoyment and appreciation by both residents and visitors.

“Many European cities operate far more restrictive traffic regimes within their historic centres, including extensive pedestrianisation, appropriate public transport solutions, as well as restrictions on deliveries – both in terms of time of day and size of vehicle. We look forward to working with the council on a range of long-term solutions.”

Terry Levinthal, director of the Cockburn Association heritage watchdog, said: “The events in Edinburgh in August allow for a degree of experimentation. As long as the appropriate review mechanisms are put in place to understand the pros and cons it could be a really good opportunity to look at how things may develop in the city centre in future.

“There are clear challenges in having festival-goers promenading around and enjoying the city’s fantastic townscape and those who are trying to get to places or on with daily life. There are dangerous pinch points where people are walking into bus lanes to get away from the maddening crowds.”

Living Streets Edinburgh’s David Spaven said: “We’ve been calling for restrictions on private traffic during the summer festivals for several years. The experience for pedestrians, hemmed into narrow streets surrounded by traffic, has become intolerable.

“The festival experience would be hugely enhanced – and made much safer – by excluding much motor traffic from city centre streets during August. Each year, this becomes more urgent – it’s come to the stage that new barriers have been widely used to keep pedestrians off the road.”

Councillor McVey said: “We’re already taking positive strides towards improving the balance for residents. This summer festival activity spread further afield to Leith while Cockburn Street was pedestrianised to help ease congestion, and public transport increased in frequency. In addition to 24-7 buses, Edinburgh Trams introduced a late night timetable, which clearly proved popular – this was their busiest August yet.

“In the longer term, we’re committed to improving pedestrian access, not just during August but throughout the year. We want to make travel by foot or by bike as safe and enjoyable as possible. Opening up the city to create welcoming, accessible public spaces and transport will be central to this.”