Trams put the squeeze on city's streets

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NARROWING the pavement on Princes Street and moving the famous Sherlock Holmes statue on Picardy Place are among the changes needed for the city's new £594 million tram line.

Click here for the latest trams map >>Tram chiefs today outlined some of the practical implications of changing the city's road layout to accommodate the tram lines, stops and bus interchanges.

Drivers will also have to get used to more traffic lights on the route which links Newhaven to the airport, as the trams will be given priority at junctions.

Leith Walk will be reduced to one lane of traffic each way, with the tram line in the middle. And the plans also include relocating Leith Walk's bronze pigeons.

And a section of road on the corner of York Place and St Andrew Street will have to be completely re-engineered as it is currently too steep for the trams to get around.

In addition, many parking spaces along the route will disappear to make way for lines.

Work to move and protect utility pipes and cables begins in earnest on August 6 at a section of Leith Walk from McDonald Road to Duke Street.

The first work on Princes Street will now happen in October, with the busy Haymarket junction to follow in November, and Edinburgh Park in December. Construction will take place from 7am to 7pm weekdays and 8am to 1pm on Saturdays.

Contractors working for TIE - the council-backed transport firm in charge of the trams - will have to apply to the council to work outwith these hours.

It is not clear how much pavement on the shopping side of Princes Street will be lost. Tram critics today said it would be a backward step, but TIE insisted it was one of many changes needed to make the project a success.

Graeme Barclay, TIE construction director, said: "Releasing the schedule of works is the culmination of years of work but we have still some way to go in terms of the precise dates.

"There has been a huge amount of work gone into this, but communication is crucial. We want to keep disruption to a minimum."

Trams chiefs also revealed archeologists have been hired in case any sites of interest are discovered along the route. And workers have also been trained to spot old ordnance such as unexploded Second World War bombs.

The narrowing of Princes Street, which was only widened in 2005 when a ban on cars was introduced, is likely to prove controversial.

Last week, a new blueprint for the redevelopment of Princes Street included a "cultural quarter" - with al fresco dining areas - west of Frederick Street. Deputy council leader Steve Cardownie said these plans would fall short if the pavement was significantly reduced.

He said: "There are a lot of things, including road closures and things moving, that people will not have realised will be happening when the trams come in.

"If you take Princes Street, the pavement was only widened a few years ago, but now you will be pushing them up against the bus and tram lanes.

"I think the idea of introducing the outdoor dining areas within a cultural quarter on Princes Street is great but it is impossible if you only have a sliver of pavement to put tables and chairs on."

Graham Bell, spokesman for the Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, said: "For the tram to do what it is designed to do there has to be some level of disruption.

"The pavements on Princes Street are already particularly wide and I think the street is going to benefit enormously from the fact you will have a reliable and rapid transit system bringing people to the area."

TIE officials have identified Lothian Road and The Mound junctions with Princes Street, in addition to Haymarket and St Andrew Square, as the potential congestion hotspots during construction.

Neil Greig, head of policy in Scotland for the Institute of Advanced Motorists, said: "There is no way you can have this scale of activity in a city as congested as Edinburgh without delays.

"The crucial thing is to let people know what is going on - it would be great if they used a bit of imagination on this in terms of possibly having electronic signs to have live updates on the situation.

"There is nothing more frustrating for a motorist than getting stuck in jams and knowing they could have avoided it if they had been warned three blocks back."

Full details of the utilities work will be released as the project unfolds over the next 18 months.

However, TIE has announced it will be working at the Gogar tram depot and a section of Russell Road to Roseburn Street next month, as well as Leith Walk.

October will see roadworks begin at the Gogarburn roundabout and between the Edinburgh Park train station and Carrick Knowe.

Work on a stretch of Princes Street from South St David Street to The Mound will also get underway during that month.

In November, contractors will be working between Haymarket Yards and Russell Road, before turning their attention to the stretch of the line between Edinburgh Park and the Gyle in December.

Haymarket Station saved from demolition as public slams plan

HAYMARKET Station has been saved from possible demolition and instead is likely to see a giant glass roof built over a new public concourse.

Moves to demolish the grade A-listed station and neighbouring Ryries Bar to make way for a transport interchange have been abandoned after failing to win public support.

The controversial scheme was one of three options put forward by the council to transform the junction and improve access.

A public consultation found overwhelming support for the much-needed revamp of station facilities. But just 15 per cent of respondents were in favour of demolishing the 164-year-old station.

Council officials have now backed Option A, which is seen as a mix of the old and the new. Costing between 150 million and 200m, it would see the station and Ryries retained but the land around them developed.

A ground-level concourse would form the "focal point" of the new interchange, with a glass roof extending over the tracks and platforms.

Councillor Phil Wheeler, the city's transport leader, said: "These plans will create a modern transport hub which will act as an effective and attractive gateway into the city."

The public consultation, which attracted more than 400 written responses, was part of a 900,000 Transport Scotland and council feasibility study.

Option A was supported by 40 per cent of respondents but a third option, which involved building the transport interchange and carrying out a smaller station refurbishment was backed by 43 per cent of people.

Among the common themes was the desire to retain the listed buildings. Another typical plea was for the city to "avoid the mistakes of the past" and develop intrusive buildings. Under Option A, pedestrians navigating the busy Haymarket road junction would also benefit from more simplified crossing places.

Improvements to the station would include a refurbishment of both platform and concourse levels.

With almost four million people passing through each year, Haymarket has become one of the busiest train stations in the country.

The definitive preferred option for Haymarket will be known when the feasibility study is completed in December.

Council chiefs say the scale and style of the current plans may change slightly, following consultation with bodies such as Network Rail and tram firm TIE.