TRAFFIC is set to return to Princes Street under plans being considered by transport chiefs to ease widespread criticism of the latest tram work diversions.
The U-turn is being considered after families in Albany Street, Abercromby Place and Heriot Row complained of an extra 1000 cars an hour being diverted down their formerly peaceful residential streets.
Council bosses had hoped that cars, taxis and HGVs could be rerouted along these New Town streets for the next 16 months.
However, within just days of the diversion being implemented complaints flooded in amid claims that the balance was wrongly set in favour of motorists and not local residents.
This was only reinforced when council bosses said they felt the diversion to move motorists from the west end to the east end of the city was “running very smoothly”.
In June, before the closure of York Place, council transport leader Lesley Hinds stated that Princes Street would not be opened to cars as a way of alleviating problems caused by the city’s tram works.
However, when asked if the option was now being investigated, she said: “A number of positive suggestions have been made regarding the use of Princes Street which we are looking into.
“The road surface along the completed section could be used for general traffic, including HGVs, if required.
“We are considering all options to reduce levels of diverted traffic through residential areas.”
MP Mark Lazarowicz welcomed the news and said: “The diversion in operation has caused a great deal of concern and anxiety for residents of Albany Street, Abercromby Place and Heriot Row and I therefore welcome any options or reasonable amendments to alleviate this.
“Allowing traffic on to Princes Street would serve as a suitable temporary measure while York Place is being finished.”
Residents’ concerns centre on rising traffic levels posing a safety risk to children, while fumes from the cars and lorries using the route are also sparking health fears.
City Centre councillor Joanna Mowat, who has been contacted by a host of irate residents, was relieved to hear that the Princes Street option was now on the table.
She said: “I’m very pleased to hear this. Albany Street and Abercromby Place are a lot narrower roads than York Place, the possibility of using Princes Street’s road space to reduce the amount of traffic being diverted through a residential area must be an option.
“The priorities have been all wrong on this from the start. I am pleased to hear of this more suitable use of road space and hope that it isn’t just considered but implemented.”
Albany Street residents have also lost 45 of 75 parking spaces and nose-in parking has been banned along the diversionary route.
As a result residents with parking permits are to be given dispensation to park in pay-and-display bays within their particular parking zone.
‘We weren’t consulted’
Alex Watts, has lived and worked on Albany Street for eight years.
He said: “The traffic is pretty much constant and we’ve lost a lot of parking spaces and also the ability to park nose-in. It is therefore much more dangerous to unload shopping or children.
“The rumble of traffic continues all day. This was once a quiet street now we regularly have big HGVs rumbling along it.
“We were also told that there would be no bus traffic but the number 8 now travels up and down the street all day.
“There was no consultation, the first anybody knew of it was when the preparatory work began. I can’t understand why they wouldn’t have just put all the traffic on to Princes Street rather than leaving us with it for over a year.”
Traffic was first banned from the north side of Princes Street in 1996, in an effort to reduce city-centre traffic.
In 1998, councillors pushed through moves to ban cars entirely from the street, despite fears of gridlock.
The proposal repeatedly stalled, but a public inquiry backed the move in 2003 and the ban was introduced in 2005. Following criticism and a News campaign however, council leaders performed a U-turn.
The thoroughfare was again closed to traffic in February 2009 as work began on the tram line. It reopened that November. However, within weeks workmen had to perform patch-ups as fractures were discovered in the road. In May 2010, contractors closed the road to repair the faults, and it was again closed to traffic in September 2011.
In June this year it reopened to buses, taxis and cycles west of Waverley Bridge.