Architect calls for ban on non-essential traffic from Edinburgh city centre

One of Edinburgh’s leading architects has called for all non-essential traffic to be permanently banned from its city centre and public transport to be operated free of charge as part of a radical rethink of its future.

The normally-bustling Royal Mile has been virtually deserted during lockdown.

Malcolm Fraser, who has previously advised on the Scottish Government on how to overhaul town centres, said the city’s residents had effectively “reclaimed” the streets from traffic during the lockdown.

He called on Edinburgh’s political leaders to follow the example of other cities around Europe and handing over more of its main thoroughfares for people to walk around.

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He said a traffic ban would help bring people together and out of isolation in a post-lockdown Edinburgh, as welll as improve the health of its population in the longer term.

Victoria Street has already been lined up for new restrictions on through traffic and parking.

Fraser, designer of the Scottish Poetry Library, the Scottish Storytelling Centre and Dancebase buildings in the city, was speaking during an online debate organised by Edinburgh World Heritage.

Controversy flared this week when it emerged that plans to introduce Edinburgh’s first low emission zone by the end of this year were being put on hold by the pandemic.

However the city council is fast-tracking a series of emergency measures to create more space for pedestrians and cyclists while social distancing restrictions are in place.

Victoria Street, Cockburn Street, Waverley Bridge and East Market Street have all been earmarked for new traffic restrictions, which could be kept in place permanently if they are deemed successful.

Mr Fraser said: “We need to get back to a place where we bring people together.

“But there is a positive in what has happened in the city. It’s fantastic out there. People have reclaimed the streets. They’re now walking up the middle of the road. That’s because we don’t have inessential transport on the roads.

“Let’s just say: ‘Never have inessential transport on our roads, have greatly improved public transport and make it free.’

“It would benefit everybody in terms of their health and wellbeing. We’d get the city walking and cycling and we’d get inessential traffic off our roads. We can now live without traffic choking our streets and indeed we can live much better without that.

“In Edinburgh, we’ve been congratulating ourselves for shutting down two or three roads one Sunday every month. That’s great. It’s a start.

“Last year my family was in Bologna, where they shut down the whole city to cars the whole weekend every weekend.

“The place was absolutely hoaching, the shops were making tonnes of money and people were enjoying themselves, walking together,embracing friends and listening to the birds sing.”

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