City centre chief wants George Street traffic ban

Pedestrians enjoying the traffic-free sections of George Street. Picture: Jane Barlow

Pedestrians enjoying the traffic-free sections of George Street. Picture: Jane Barlow

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A RADICAL shake-up of one of Edinburgh’s flagship thoroughfares should be ordered, to hand over much more space to pedestrians, cyclists, al-fresco bars and restaurants and festival events, a city centre chief has urged.

Andy Neal, outgoing chief executive of Essential Edinburgh, has suggested making George Street traffic-free at certain times of the year or during the day to boost its fortunes.

We should be creating spaces for people to sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee or read a newspaper”

Andy Neal

Mr Neal said he believed there was “overwhelming” public support to make permanent moves to curb traffic levels, by reducing car parking spaces, having buses re-routed elsewhere and creating more outdoor seating areas.

Mr Neal, who leaves his post this month, has warned it would be a backward step if the city council scrapped an ongoing experiment which has seen some parts of the street closed to traffic since last summer and a one-way traffic system introduced. The 12-month pilot, which allows cyclists to travel both ways along the street, was approved following successful experiments during the Fringe.

Mr Neal said damage had been done to buildings and the road surface when buses were rerouted down George Street to accommodate tram works. He believed Princes Street will be prioritised as the city’s “main transport artery” in future.

His views have emerged as the council revealed figures showing three quarters of visitors to George Street think its overall appearance had improved over the course of its trial. Consultants found 79 per cent of pedestrians had an improved experience, while 70 per cent of cyclists said they had benefited.

Three quarters of all respondents were in favour of permanent pedestrianised spaces for seating, al-fresco dining or cultural activities. Less than half (42 per cent) felt car parking was important.

Mr Neal said: “George Street is a great place, but when you fill it with cars and buses the quality of the experience of being able to enjoy it is reduced.

“There should be much more emphasis for pedestrians and, to some extent, for cyclists as well. They have probably got more out of it just now than the experience for pedestrians.

“It should be a better place for pedestrians to walk along and dwell. We should be creating spaces for people to sit down and enjoy a glass of wine or a cup of coffee, or read a newspaper. I’m definitely in favour of more space and emphasis for pedestrians and cyclists versus traffic, particularly buses.

“I don’t see it all one way or the other. I think we’ll have some kind of mixed use, perhaps at different times of the day or year. But I don’t see it going back to car parking in the middle of the street and two lanes of traffic going in both directions as the future. Everyone’s seen a glimpse of a better way.”

City transport leader Lesley Hinds said: “After the trial is over and we’ve evaluated it fully, we look forward to consulting on permanent changes to make George Street attractive to residents, shoppers and tourists.”

newsen@edinburghnews.com