Huge drop in cars using Edinburgh city centre

Lothian Road. Picture: Greg Macvean
Lothian Road. Picture: Greg Macvean
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THE number of cars driving on the streets around the city centre has fallen to its lowest level in 10 years, according to a new survey.

The traffic count by cycling group Spokes found the number of cars on Lothian Road and Forrest Road had fallen 28 per cent compared to a decade ago, to just 3152 in November compared to 4082. They found that more people than ever before were taking to bikes, noting a 34 per cent rise at the same locations, to 448.

Neil Greig, head of policy for Scotland at the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM), said he was a little surprised by the results.

He said: “It’s interesting because the overall traffic figures are going up so there’s more cars in general and people are using them more – traffic has been increasing since the end of the recession.

“Having said that clearly there are locations, and obviously Edinburgh city centre is one of them, where having a car isn’t a huge advantage so you are getting these car reductions.

“When it’s just two locations it’s hard to draw firm conclusions but it would seem to suggest that the council policy and focus on cycling in Edinburgh is starting to pay dividends and people are starting to use their cars less.”

Mr Greig said it was clear that Edinburgh was starting to see more investment in its cycling and public transport facilities, which he said was the best way to get people out of their cars.

He added: “If you really want to get people out of their cars and on their bikes you have to make it as safe as possible and sharing the road next to large vehicles isn’t safe.

“We are starting to see more investment in cycle lanes and that’s a more positive way to get people out of their cars – not make it hard for drivers, make it easier for cyclists.”

Spokes has found a long-term decline in car use across the city centre, with the total number counted having gone down almost every year. In November, bikes made up 16.4 per cent of all vehicles counted, their highest level in that month to date.

Professor Christiane Bielefeldt, strategic transport manager at Edinburgh Napier’s Transport Research Institute, said: “The policy Edinburgh council has in encouraging the use of public transport really works. An additional trend in the last ten years is that more people are working from home so that’s one factor that contributes to less car traffic.

“Another measure which is also probably reducing car use is the parking charges are very high. Traffic wardens are everywhere so it’s a difficulty parking cheaply and that has increased a lot over the last 10 years.”

Spokes representative Dave du Feu added: “The cars are down by about a third from when we began counting which is phenomenal when you think that’s not happened in other Scottish cities.

“Edinburgh as far as we know is unique in Britain in that it’s allocating 6 per cent of its budget to cycling, and as of next year it will be 10 per cent.”

Green city councillor Gavin Corbett said it was “reassuring” to see people choosing cycle but added Edinburgh had some way to go before it could match other European cities.

He said: “The increase in the number of cyclists is evidence of the growing appetite people in the city have for leaving in the car at home and beating the queues by bike.

“As a cyclist in the city for 25 years I’ve seen that first hand. It’s reassuring to see growing numbers of people take to two wheels, and it feels safer too. But other cities have been forging way ahead of Edinburgh.”