Edinburgh city centre could become ‘relatively traffic free zone’

'Less impactful' forms of transport would take over the city centre. Picture: Neil Hanna
'Less impactful' forms of transport would take over the city centre. Picture: Neil Hanna
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Edinburgh city centre could become a “largely traffic free zone” under a radical proposal to be put to the public.

One of three options put forward by the city council is for “a radical rethink of how the city moves and operates” where “key streets could be pedestrianised”.

The document, called ‘Connecting our cities, transforming our places’, explains three approaches to potentially overhauling the future of transport in the Scottish capital.

City centre routes such as Princes and George streets on which cars, buses and taxis could be banned have not yet been specifically identified in a report that proposes what would be the greatest transport shake-up of Edinburgh’s Old and New Towns.

But the report does say: “The city centre would become a largely traffic free zone, with controls in place to allow for essential traffic and with pedestrian priority in the city, town and local centres.

“You would be able to go to, but not through the city centre.

“A series of hubs could be developed where buses would drop off and other forms of less impactful transport would take over.

“Pavements would be significantly widened and public spaces improved. Key streets would be pedestrianised.”

The report adds: “There would be strategic walking routes and segregated cycle routes across the city, with a citywide wayfinding network to guide pedestrians around the city.

“Public transport could be fully integrated with smart contactless payment for use across all public transport services. New park and ride interchanges could be provided at key points around the city, with a series of new bus priority corridors linked to them.” Another ‘prospectus’ option to be put to the public includes a “business-as-usual approach”, although the Scottish Government is requiring the council to establish a Low Emission Zone (LEZ).

Scotland’s first pollution-reducing LEZ is to be set up in Glasgow at the end of this year, with fines for motorists who enter the boundary in proscribed vehicles after a certain date.

The third option is a “strategic approach” that highlights possible “controls on the levels of general traffic, with restrictions on through traffic within certain areas”.

The report adds: “Priority would be for people on foot and bicycles on specific streets, including George Street and the Royal Mile. Gaps in the existing walking and cycling networks would be completed.” The report points out the three options are not mutually exclusive.

Subject to approval from the council’s transport and environment committee, the eight-week public engagement will start next month.

City council transport convener Councillor Lesley Macinnes said: “We are very conscious that we have a city centre residential population in marked contrast to many other cities. We need to take care of their needs and expectations of where they live. It’s also about those who visit and those who come into the city centre.

“Health is a key aspect of this and it’s about air quality. It’s about providing more opportunities to walk and cycle and better use of public transport.”

Cllr Macinnes added: “What is really exciting about the prospectus is the vision that it represents. The status quo is not enough for this city.”

Other transport plans mooted in a bid to ease congestion could involve bus lane operating hours returning to seven days a week.

The council’s transport committee will also consider installing more automatic cameras to make sure motorists keep out of bus lanes.

Some bus lanes in the city only operate during peak times, but bus operators have told the council they would like the hours to be extended to speed up journey times. The public transport routes could operate from 7am to 7pm, seven days a week.

Since being introduced in 2012, Edinburgh’s bus lane cameras have tallied up £4.4 million in fines.