Edinburgh is to become the first place in Scotland to introduce city centre car-free zones once a month in a move that councillors believe will “leave a legacy” for future generations.
The introduction of a pilot project that will see key roads closed to traffic on the first Sunday of every month between 10am and 5pm was agreed at a meeting of the city council’s transport committee yesterday.
No decision has been taken on which roads will be closed during the Open Streets programme, but they will include “key parts of the city centre and town centres” across the Capital.
There will also be an eight-week public consultation to help determine people’s views on plans to further restrict vehicles in the city centre.
After the meeting, vice transport and environment convener, Karen Doran, said: “There’s no doubt that for many years the city has been crying out for change - it definitely needs it.
“It’s a massive change, but it’s about what the citizens want and what they need. I’m incredibly proud and impressed. It will future-proof our city for generations to come.”
Daisy Narayanan, project director of Open Streets, said the monthly traffic closures would “help us understand what happens” when parts of the city are shut off to vehicles.
She said: “All these ideas have to be tested for when we come back with a more concrete package.
“Where we are today is hugely exciting and we are ready to go to the public with some bold and realistic ideas. This is something that’s essentially a trial that could allow people to get used to what the city could be like. It will be a legacy for future generations.”
However some Conservative councillors voiced concerns and urged that a “more cautious and data-driven approach” should be taken.
Yesterday’s meeting considered a prospectus for the establishment of a Low Emmission Zone (LEZ) that outlined three visions for the future of transport in Edinburgh, including one radical option which would see the city centre becoming ‘largely traffic free’.
Other elements of the prospectus set out plans for the pedestrianisation of key streets and areas such as Edinburgh’s town centres - Corstorphine, Gorgie and Dalry, Leith and Leith Walk, Morningside and Bruntsfield, Nicolson Street and Clerk Street, Portobello, Stockbridge and Tollcross.
Scotland’s first pollution-reducing LEZ will be operating in Glasgow at the end of the year when motorists will be fined for entering the protected area in proscribed vehicles.
Yesterday Green councillor, Chas Booth, welcomed the radical proposals, but urged the council to adopt a “hybrid approach” to the LEZ plans, so that areas outside the city centre are also included.
He was supported by Liberal Democrat councillor Gillian Gloyer who raised concerns that drivers could resort to “dumping polluting vehicles on the periphery of the city” to escape punshment.
The Conservatives voted against moving forward the plans for regular Open Streets days, citing a lack of evidence of road closures to air pollution levels.
Councillor Nick Cook called for a “high level of public confidence” in the plans and an “assurance that this is what the public and businesses want”.
He said: “We are in a situation where we are using anecdotal evidence. We are putting forward a full programme without enough data. We need a more cautious and data-driven approach.”
The council will bring forward proposals later in the year for which routes could be closed for the Open Streets project and widespread consultation will be held with interested parties.
The first open Streets events could take place early next year.
Transport and environment convener, Lesley Macinnes, said: “I’m immensely pleased that the committee has come together and recognised the need to take this next step.
“This report is an opportunity to really engage with the people of Edinburgh over the future of how this city runs and how this city serves them.”