Edinburgh roads: Cowgate improvement for pedestrians now likely to see one-way street rather than closure

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Plans to improve safety for pedestrians in Edinburgh’s Cowgate now look likely to mean making the road one-way rather than a complete ban on through traffic.

Full or partial closure of the road was part of wide-ranging proposals approved by councillors in February for removing through traffic from several key roads in the city centre as part of the drive to cut car use by 30 per cent by 2030.

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The Cowgate - where pavement widths were described as “wholly inadequate” - was among a handful of streets where changes were to happen this year, with the rest due to follow in 2025. But uncertainty over funding has led to a delay on the main project, though there are hopes the Cowgate can still proceed within months.

A report to the city council’s transport and environment committee on Thursday said initial work suggested one-way operation of the Cowgate was the “most workable option” for a trial improving conditions on the Cowgate in the short term.

The move would reduce traffic and create a safer environment for walking and cycling, the report said. “Monitoring of the experimental works would inform the approach for a more comprehensive redesign of the street.”

And it added: “It is considered that certain premises and facilities on/accessed from the Cowgate - including a mortuary, operational access and car parking - mean that a full closure is best considered as part of the wider City Centre Implementation Plan, giving significantly more time for appropriate engagement to take place and then the development of workable operational proposals.

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“Complete removal of through traffic from the Cowgate would require further technical work and careful consideration of the operation of Blair Street, Niddrie Street, Blackfriars Street, Guthrie Street, High School Wynd, Infirmary Street, High Street and Chambers Street.”

The routes where through traffic faces a ban include the North and South Bridges corridor and The Mound, leaving Lothian Road as the one main north-south route through the city centre. The Canongate, Victoria Street, Waverley Bridge, Cockburn Street and Grassmarket would all be pedestrian-priority streets.

And another project expected to go ahead before the rest is in the Lawnmarket, which is due to be closed to all but essential traffic as part of the council’s Summertime Streets programme from July to September 2024. Work is then due to start on replacing the setts in the carriageway, with and estimated completion date of June 2026 and pedestrianisation would be carried through at the same time.

But transport convener Scott Arthur acknowledged that changes on the major routes would not happen next year, as hoped. He said: “Funding uncertainty from the Scottish Government means these are now subject to delay. We’ve got a huge ambition for the city, but the funding we need from the Scottish Government is just not aligning to it.”

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