Motorists are facing a raft of new restrictions on where they can drive in the historic heart of Edinburgh in the next few years under a move to hand over more space to pedestrians and cyclists.
City leaders have revealed that a major “shift away from private cars” will transform key thoroughfares in and around its World Heritage Site.
Radical measures are set to be drawn up to make it much safer to walk or cycle around the city centre to encourage a “change in behaviour”.
Some streets may become completely car-free or one-way only, while lanes for private traffic may be reduced on others under plans to tackle the most “congested and cluttered”roads. Pilot projects could start during this year’s Edinburgh Festival.
Bus companies are already in talks about the possibility of re-routing some services to help tackle growing over-crowding problems on roads and pavements. Officials have warned that “the city needs to take action now” to protect quality of life in the city and its natural and built environment.
A report for councillors states: “As a compact, walkable city, Edinburgh’s public realm does not always provide the best pedestrian experience. Congested historic streets, narrow footways, increased footfall, street clutter, the variable quality of materials and long-wait times at crossings, frustrate safe and convenient movement. Edinburgh has an active and growing cycling culture with more people benefiting from this healthy, accessible and pollution-free way to get around. However cyclists must negotiate conflicts with cars, public transport and pedestrians.
“The public transport system is the envy of many other cities, yet its high patronage results in several thousand bus movements per day on Princes Street and crowded bus stops across the city.”
Council leader Adam McVey said action was needed now to tackle “acute pressures” during peak tourism periods.
He added: “We’re taking a fundamental look at how the city centre works in terms of transport. That could mean quite a lot of change. I would expect us to look at having fewer private cars and better public transport. We need to make sure people can still access the city centre, but in a way that maximises space. Other cities around the world have managed increasing numbers, whether driven by population or tourism.
“We can’t increase the size of the city centre. We’ve spent a lot of time with Lothian Buses looking at Princes Street, George Street and Queen Street and how their routes across the city centre work. You can’t just drive where you want in other cities. They’re all the better for it. They have better spaces and better public realm. We’re not aiming to eradicate private cars, that would be ridiculous. Everybody has to acknowledge that you cannot drive everywhere all the time.
“This isn’t about the council deciding what will happen. It’s about engaging with transport operators, businesses, residents and everyone else with an interest in the city centre.”
Council transport leader Lesley McInnes said: “We’re absolutely committed to making Edinburgh a better place to live, work and visit and looking at what improvements can be made to achieve this from an environmental, social and economic perspective.
“We believe the key is creating a better quality of public space, enhancing the pedestrian experience and reducing congestion. This project aims to improve conditions for access for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport.”
A council spokeswoman said an official consultation would begin in May.