MOTORISTS have been warned to expect traffic snagging points as Edinburgh’s city centre comes to grips with its new post-tram road system.
Drivers from today will face the enviable prospect of a road network in the city’s heart free from closures and traffic diversions linked to the £776 million tram project for the first time in six years.
The reopening of the stretch of road from Shandwick Place to Manor Place – allowing buses to again travel up the key West End route – signals the end of tram civil engineering works in the city centre.
Delighted traders, particularly around Shandwick Place and Haymarket, have welcomed the lifting of roadworks, but transport specialists warned tailbacks and delays are still likely as early teething problems become apparent.
A traffic flow map produced by Edinburgh City Council showing new one-way routes and streets restricted to bus, tram, taxi and bicycle access only has been obtained exclusively by the Evening News.
The network shows Shandwick Place itself will pose one of the potential sticking points for drivers.
Buses, taxis and cyclists will be able to move in both directions along the busy thoroughfare, but general traffic will face an 8pm-7am window when it is allowed to use the stretch of road.
West Maitland Street will be restricted to buses and taxis travelling in one direction only.
Only trams and bicycles will be allowed to access Princes Street from South St Andrew Street at another tricky junction.
Conservative transport spokesman Councillor Joanna Mowat said the reopening of Shandwick Place would be a relief for residential areas that had been forced to put up with diverted double-deckers roaring past their homes.
But she said Hope Street on the western edge of Charlotte Square remained a bugbear, adding: “I think the disappointment, which is the same disappointment as a couple of years ago, is that Hope Street isn’t open to general traffic, nor the bus gate. This means it’s a difficulty for getting from the west to the east without going through residential areas. I think we’re going to have to monitor that and see if there’s capacity there.
“I pressed for two-way traffic on Hope Street and for that route to be available to general traffic. We’ve lost that linkage, but I think we still have to press for that link to come back because it makes it quite a convoluted route to go from west to east in a car.”
Cyclist and Green Party councillor Gavin Corbett said flexibility with traffic plans would be the key.
He said: “The opening of the tram system should be an opportunity to overhaul thinking about city centre traffic. It is not just about taking a bus out here and adding a tram in there. The overall balance must be shifted much more towards pedestrians and cyclists and away from too much space allocated to car parking.
“But at least one thing is certain – however sophisticated the modelling, some of it will be wrong in practice. So we need to avoid getting locked in to traffic flows which cannot adapt and we need to carefully monitor the impact on traffic from day one and adjust the plan where necessary.”
The council has warned there will still be some isolated works over the next two months to reinstate the road network back to pre-tram arrangements and to allow for live tram testing.
Trams are being tested at the moment from the Gogar depot to Edinburgh Park, but the commissioning programme will step up a gear from December when trams will run through Haymarket and along Shandwick Place and Princes Street for the first time.
Automobile Association spokesman Luke Bosdet said motorists should approach tackling Edinburgh’s city centre just like they would if they were driving in a foreign city for the first time.
He said: “They should take it slowly and carefully until they learn the new routes because it’s not going to be the same as they were used to.
“The plus side is that they’re not being held up by roadworks and other disruption. Yes, they may have to take it slowly for a couple of weeks until they fully understand the new routing, but they ought to thank their lucky stars that they’re not being held up by the roadworks that were blighting their journeys for quite some time.”
And Mr Bosdet urged the council and police to go easy on drivers who made mistakes in the initial weeks. He said: “We have to hope the signage is good enough to direct them properly. Until you put it into practice, the authorities will not know where there may be problems – for instance, if there’s a sign that constantly gets hidden behind lorries.
“I would hope the authorities will give drivers the benefit of the doubt and some leeway on getting their heads round the new system rather than seeing it as an opportunity to issue some fines.”
On the Shandwick Place milestone, city council leader Andrew Burns said: “Traders along that stretch have clearly had a challenging time and I’m not belittling the problems they have had.
“But I’m delighted that this weekend this section will be open and it should be a big boost to the traders that are there and I’m sure they will welcome it.
“I do acknowledge the problems. The major roadworks are all going, but there might be localised line painting and tweaking here and there over the coming weeks, so it’s not that you will never see a workman in Shandwick Place ever again – there might still be people doing bits and pieces.
“That will ensure the whole route is open in terms of road closures and then you’ve got testing now functioning from the airport into Edinburgh Park, which is about 5km of the track – about a third of the route.”
The reopening of Shandwick Place comes a fortnight before the new set of tram by-laws go live on November 1.
Under the by-laws, the selling of tickets between passengers will be banned.
Cycling, skateboarding and roller blading on tram stops will not be allowed, with passengers to face fines of up to £1000 and year-long bans if they misbehave.
A total of 52 ticket inspectors are being employed by the council to catch fare-skippers.
The “revenue protection officers” will also have powers to ban drinking, loud iPods, musical instruments and T-shirts bearing offensive slogans when the trams start running.
The eight-mile long tram route from Edinburgh Airport to York Place is due to go live by May next year.
Transport Minister Keith Brown predicted Edinburgh would soon have a modern transport system it could be proud of.
He said: “The investment at Haymarket, Waverley, the Gateway and in electrification takes us one step closer to revolutionising the rail network in central Scotland.
“We cannot forget the disruption that those living and working in the West End have had to endure for too many years, but we can welcome this step forward in a tram project which is gathering pace.
“Transport Scotland has played a key role in supporting Edinburgh City Council and contractors to get the tram project back on track and we will continue to work with them to bring the May 2014 delivery date forward at every available opportunity.”