Edinburgh roads: Ban on through traffic on major city centre roads to go ahead

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Councillors have voted to go ahead with controversial plans to ban through traffic from major roads in the centre of Edinburgh, including the North and South Bridges corridor, The Mound, the Cowgate and Canongate.

The changes will leave Lothian Road as the main north-south route through the city, forcing a rethink of plans to turn it into a "boulevard". The scheme also includes pedestrian priority in Victoria Street, Waverley Bridge, Cockburn Street and Grassmarket. The ban on through traffic on the Bridges ties in with plans for that to be the route of the new north-south tramline. And many of the proposals are geared to improving journey times for people travelling by bus.

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The moves are part of a traffic blueprint for the Capital intended to improve the city centre and help achieve the council's ambition of reaching net zero emissions and a 30 per cent reduction in car kilometres by 2030. The proposals are set out in two hefty documents, Our Future Streets and the overarching City Mobility Plan, which were both endorsed by the council's transport and environment committee on Thursday.

An experimental closure of the Cowgate to through traffic will begin later this year. And there could be quick action on the Bridges too, if modelling shows it can be done without impacting on public transport.

Welcoming the Cowgate ban, SNP transport spokesman Danny Aston recalled being there during the Festival in August. "It was absolutely terrifying seeing folk on the tiny narrow pavements and traffic going past. Even outwith August it's petty harum scarum on Friday and Saturday nights.  But I feel the same considerations apply on the Bridges and Nicolson Street, bus stop queues spilling out into oncoming traffic."

The SNP urged an experimental closure of the Bridges corridor to some or all through traffic in 2024. But the Lib Dems took the opposite view, calling for the Bridges scheme to be delayed until it was decided whether traffic was to be banned from Holyrood Park and the results of other experimental closures could be scrutinised.

North and South Bridge will be closed to through traffic under the city's transport blueprint.North and South Bridge will be closed to through traffic under the city's transport blueprint.
North and South Bridge will be closed to through traffic under the city's transport blueprint.
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Lib Dem Sanne Dijkstra-Downie said: "We have concerns that by closing the Bridges to through traffic in addition to the closure of The Mound that was agreed several years ago, as things stand we are putting an unacceptable strain on the only other major north-south route, Lothian Road. And our fear is that by closing North Bridge we create the city's largest car park from Queen Street to Tollcross.

"This plan says that longer travel times by private car are part of what will encourage people to switch to other modes and we get that - but there's a difference between longer journeys and daily gridlock. And this could be exacerbated if vehicle access through Holyrood Park is further restricted."

Tory councillor Christopher Cowdy said the transport blueprint was a radical approach which was not achievable and was going to cost a lot of money. "The chances of us hitting net zero or 30 per cent reduction in car kilometres is zero. It's not going to happen by 2030. We've got a  plan here which is based around these unachievable targets."

And fellow Tory Marie-Clair Munro said she had "grave concerns" about the proposals. She said: "We need to get the basics right for residents - that's fixing the roads, fixing the pavements for all users. The amount of money required to implement these proposals is billions and I think residents would maybe prefer that money spent elsewhere."

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But Green councillor Jule Bandel said she was excited by the proposals. "This plan shows we know what needs to be done, we just need to do it."

Transport convener Scott Arthur said: "It is tempting just to do nothing and focus on getting what we've got already working better and perhaps fill a few potholes along the way."

But he said he had recently been shown a 1989 Edinburgh City Council flyer which was highlighting the need to deal with congestion in the city centre. "Since then Nottingham has built a whole tram network and we have got one tramline, so I think we've got a lot of catching up to do.

"It's about tackling congestion, hitting net net zero and accommodating the quite extensive population growth we're expecting.  They're not easy to meet but I think it's good we have a target we really have to stretch to meet."

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