CAMPAIGNERS are calling for George Street to be pedestrianised so Edinburgh can match the people-friendly atmosphere of other key European cities.
They said the Capital risked being left behind unless city leaders took a bold step and completely closed the New Town’s grandest thoroughfare to traffic.
The city council already has plans for George Street, which include greater pedestrian and cyclist priority, pavement cafes and more space for festivals and events.
But campaign group Living Streets is urging the politicians to go all the way and make it car-free. And it pointed out that new London mayor Sadiq Khan had committed to pedestrianise Oxford Street – “a far more ambitious project”.
Its proposal is included in manifesto it has published ahead of the council elections in May next year.
David Spaven, convener of Living Streets’ Edinburgh group, said: “Edinburgh lacks a landmark pedestrianisation project – in stark contrast to any other peer city in the world.
“There is a clear case to return George Street to people, rather than traffic, through an ambitious pedestrianisation scheme which would make the city a more enjoyable place for people to live, work and visit.”
He said 53 per cent of all trips in the city by residents involved travel on foot yet walking was bottom of the political priority list.
“Walking is vital for the local economy – not least in the tourist sector, for public health and for harnessing a genuine sense of community,” he added.
A trial scheme in George Street from July 2014-August 2015 saw partial pedestrianisation along with a one-way traffic system, cycle lanes and decking and marquees for outdoor eating and drinking. That helped pave the way for a revised scheme based on a “shared use” vision which includes cycling lanes, extended pavements on either side of the street, parking spaces on either side of the street, access for buses and pavement cafes, though the glass-covered pavilions, installed during the trial, will be dropped in favour of temporary “jumbrellas”, which can be removed during colder weather. Living Streets say a fully pedestrianised George Street should be designed with places providing shelter from sun and wind and pleasant places to sit, possibly small play areas for children, and should have focal points like statues and fountains.
Stuart Hay, director at Living Streets Scotland, said: “Politicians need to embrace the need for change to deliver an environment which meets the expectations for locals and visitors. Competitors such as Paris, Dublin and Barcelona are all taking traffic away from their city centres; Edinburgh should not be left behind.”
City transport and environment leader Councillor Lesley Hinds said the principles of what should happen in George Street had already been agreed, taking into account views expressed by residents, businesses and others.
She said: “The George Street proposals have gone through a long process, we had the trial, a lot of comments have been taken on board and we have agreed a way forward.”