THE closure of York Place has led to fears of fresh traffic chaos. Ian Mowat says the council must act on the concerns of residents.
On Monday, June 25, I heard the startling news that York Place will be closed to general traffic for tram works. First from July 14 to mid-August and then from late September for at least nine months to all traffic, along with the bus station, which will be dispersed round the city centre.
The proposed diversion route for all traffic except buses runs along Broughton Street, Albany Street and Abercromby Place, and additionally eastbound down Queen Street Gardens West and Heriot Row.
Buses are remaining on York Place in July, but will use the reopened east end of Princes Street from the end of September. New lights are being installed at either end of Albany Street and the “end on” parking in Albany Street has already been turned lengthways – losing 45 places.
The short notice of the July closure was a shock, but fortunately we had a community council meeting scheduled for July 2 at which senior tram officials were booked to address us on the next stage of the tram works.
I hastily spread the word while City Centre councillor Joanna Mowat collated residents’ concerns on late notification, provision of alternative parking and whether HGV traffic could be diverted down Princes Street after September, especially at night, and submitted these to council officials.
At the meeting, tram spokesman Colin Smith, perhaps emboldened by the presence of council transport convener Lesley Hinds, took a refreshingly up-front approach. He bluntly told us that the construction contract had serous shortcomings, chief of which requires the council to hand over roads for tram construction “utility free” on specified dates, with huge daily penalties for delay.
The July reduction of York Place to one bus lane either way is to ascertain where the utilities are, but complete closure is needed to move them as experience has shown that keeping a lane open made it much harder to move utilities which straddled the road. I heard a sharp intake of breath from the room that anyone had thought that would not be so.
I also sensed the room becoming impatient with background to the tram project with which we are all sadly familiar, so I moved to questions. One useful answer elicited that the eastbound diversion along Heriot Row is thought necessary to configure the junction at Queen Street/Queen Street Gardens East to take two lanes going right, though the community council would prefer a long overdue right filter at this notorious junction.
What was refreshing was that his team accepted that residents may sometimes know what will work better than traffic engineers, and he agreed to model some of the community council proposals – the main one being diverting HGVs with the buses along North St David Street and Princes Street from September – to see if they were viable alternatives. He even offered to bring the computer model to a special community council meeting in a month’s time – an unprecedented move.
Encouraged, I asked why Princes Street, on which work is due to be finished by mid-November, could not then become the diversion route for all York Place traffic, or at least that going to the Bridges. This might mean that the diversion through the residential streets of the second New Town need only be in place for two or three months, rather than nine.
Cllr Hinds asked the officials if this could be modelled, and they agreed. However, I added that this was my personal idea – as I was aware that some residents fear a knock-on effect on Regent Road.
All in all, it felt we had achieved something – the council acknowledged its communication had been inadequate, and answers to questions about speed reduction measures and provision of alternative residents’ parking were promised in a few days. However, fine words butter no parsnips. Residents and businesses in the New Town and Broughton facing months of tram work pain expect the council to show it means it by its actions.