Traffic ban on Princes Street in shake-up

Princes Street is set for a radical traffic shake-up. Picture: Greg Macvean
Princes Street is set for a radical traffic shake-up. Picture: Greg Macvean
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TRAFFIC is to be banned from the north side of Princes Street and George Street to help revitalise the city centre.

A one-way loop is to be created allowing more room for pedestrians, allowing bars and restaurants to spill out onto the pavements.

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The current set-up is stunting the growth of the Princes Street which will be freed from the current planning shackles. It’s hoped the revamp will be the catalyst to create a vibrant commercial quarter and a “living city centre”.

The radical scheme, which involves creating pedestrian-only areas and expanding the night-time economy, is set to thrust the Capital to “the cusp of a new era”.

The unprecedented shake-up – expected to be approved by council chiefs next week – would see all traffic banned from the north side of Princes Street and George Street, with a looping one-way system introduced to create space and help cultivate “a living city centre”.

Buses, taxis and cyclists would travel westbound along Princes Street and eastbound on George Street in a one-way network.

Set to coincide with launch of
Edinburgh’s trams, the masterplan relies on reduced bus movements and opening up “public” zones that will reconfigure the heart of the Capital.

The number of buses on the boulevard will be halved. It is hoped a bicycle lane along the pedestrianised section of George Street would improve cycle safety and further reduce travel demands.

There are no plans to cut car parking spaces on George Street.

The ground-breaking proposals would see Princes Street transformed from a retail corridor into a leisure destination, peppered with bars and restaurants aimed at breathing life into the thoroughfare.

Business chiefs described the concept as a new dawn for the city centre.

David Birrell, chief executive of Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce, urged people to grasp the opportunity to make Princes Street shine again.

He said: “The city is on the cusp of a new era. Change in the city centre is inevitable. Trams are, in effect, a catalyst for that change. There is a clear opportunity to enhance how Edinburgh centre works for all those who use it – businesses, residents, shoppers and
visitors. We would urge members to have their say in a consultation. Let’s make the most of this opportunity.”

The vision draws on blueprints by Gehl Architects – hired by the council in 2010 – that branded Princes Street “a big bus station” and proposed drastic action to reverse its declining fortunes.

Although in their outset, the plans include scope to extend north side pavements at both Princes Street and George Street.

New pedestrianised districts on the “sunny side” of both city centre arteries would encourage a cafe culture to spill on to the pavements, with bars and restaurants offering alfresco dining similar to continental European cities such as Barcelona.

Planning chief Councillor Ian Perry said: “This is a major change for the city centre and one of the biggest changes since we removed cars from Princes Street.

“The two bottom storeys of Princes Street are zoned for retail but we want to have more mixed use, with restaurants and cafes. At the moment, it’s a shopping option and we have got to make it a place for people to go where it has another dimension, not just for shopping.

“We want to make Princes Street similar to George Street in terms of mixed use. You can see at six and seven o’clock at night George Street can be mobbed but Princes Street is all but deserted.

“The idea is to get people using Princes Street again. It should be an experience – a place to go.”

.One of the key things I’m interested in is creating a more ‘mixed use’ Princes Street, with more residential properties and a variety of restaurant, cafe and bar spaces at ground level, so that the street is bustling at night as well as by day. “The proposed scheme is just a starter for ten – we’ll make the final plans for the trial once the consultation feedback has been reviewed.”

Councillor Lesley Hinds, transport and environment convener, said the plan was a next step in the “public transport integration” that would be ushered in “early next year” to coincide with the official launch of the trams.

She said: “The challenge is to make sure we cater to everyone’s needs and encourage people to come into the heart of the city by enabling them to choose a variety of ways of travelling there,

“We’re doing this consultation now so that any changes can be brought in a joined-up way so that they’re in place ready for the start of tram passenger services.”

Andy Neal, chief executive of Essential Edinburgh, said: “Working together, the public and private sectors can create a much more vibrant and exciting future for our city centre.

“We will be working hard with all interested parties in ensuring that our levy-payers – around 600 businesses in the city centre – have a strong voice in shaping that future, in this case through improving
access and the pedestrian spaces.

“Everything that is being discussed, in particular around mixed use on Princes Street as opposed to its present state of being hugely focused on retail, and bringing the street to life at night and in the evenings, is very much in line with our vision document.”

The report, dubbed Building aVision for the City Centre, is recommended for approval and will bediscussed by transport chiefs on Tuesday. If given the go-ahead, which is likely, it will spark a public consultation before the project is trialled for one year.Earlier plans for Princes Street were stymied by failed attempts to form consensus among the large number private firms which hold title deeds to properties.

However, it is thought by creating new traffic management infrastructure and removing planning restrictions on retail use, agreement can be reached among stakeholders.

‘Around the clock’ destination

THE planned transformation echoes many of the recommendations made by the world-renowned firm Gehl Architects, which branded Princes Street a “big bus station” and George Street “a big car park” in 2010.

Credited with turning Copenhagen into one of the world’s most pedestrian-friendly cities, Gehl devised a series of proposals to curb traffic congestion and boost trade for businesses.

Director David Sim, who studied architecture at Edinburgh College of Art, previously said there should be a “cultural change in how Princes Street is used, with pubs, cafes and restaurants opened up to give it life at night-time, temporary closures for special events and more cyclists instead of buses”.

Poor pedestrian conditions were also highlighted as a flaw.

Writing in the News, Mr Sim said: “New uses need to be introduced to make Princes Street live round the clock – hotels and dwellings, cafes and restaurants. Princes Street is the nation’s High Street – it should be a place for everyone.”

ALL CHANGE IN THE CITY CENTRE

THE ground-breaking vision complements a series of ongoing council steered projects aimed at creating

a more attractive city centre for residents and visitors.

By lowering its fleet’s carbon emissions, Lothian Buses is already making headway towards boosting air quality – particularly along Princes Street. The move to halve bus traffic will further lower pollution levels, while enhancing the outdoors dining experience for

city-goers and tourists.

Proposals to cut city centre speed limits to 20mph are also being explored following successful trials in south Edinburgh.

Traffic-flow changes

would tie in with agreed alterations to improve

access to Waverley station. Cyclists would be encouraged to travel along George Street – currently part of a designated cycle route – to restrict traffic concentration on Princes Street and to segregate them from trams/tram lines.

As part of the plans, transport chiefs have indicated they intend to minimise the loss of car parking spaces in George Street.

Traffic travelling eastbound along George Street would be able to turn right from Frederick/Hanover Street

on to Princes Street – rather than follow a large circuit of the city centre.

A four- to six-week consultation period has been allocated for the plans.