Euan McGrory: Tackling Edinburgh’s car conundrum

George Street closes to traffic during the Festival for outdoor dinning. Picture: Ian Georgeson
George Street closes to traffic during the Festival for outdoor dinning. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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If it feels like there’s a familiar ring to today’s front page story, there’s a good reason for that.

A squeeze on cars, greater priority for pedestrians, bikes and public transport - that’s been the mantra of the city authorities for many years. And it’s not just Edinburgh. Around the world, planners are chasing the same goal, of making our cities healthier and more pleasant places to live. We have seen a succession of plans - some more successful than others - aimed at inching Edinburgh slowly towards that goal.

The general principles are “motherhood and apple pie” stuff. Who doesn’t want a healthy lifestyle, pleasant pedestrian zones and efficient public transport? The problems come in trying to deliver the great potential benefits without causing significant downsides. As we have seen in the past, when mucking about with the traffic lay-out in the city centre, it easy to get it wrong and cause complete chaos.

There is an added urgency to the issue in Edinburgh as the city gets more crowded. The resident population is expected to grow to around 600,000 - a 20 per cent increase - within 20 years, with added tourist numbers expected on top. Something has to give.

Edinburgh is a great place to relax and enjoy, but it also a living, breathing city, where people work and need to get efficiently from A to B. Businesses need deliveries, trades people need to get to jobs, the less mobile among us need easy access to the city centre, and so on. That can be challenging at times as it is.

There must be better ways of doing things. Could empty trams, to take one example, deliver goods to city centre shops at night and take lorries off the roads? The private car, however, remains an important part of the city’s transport mix and that cannot be ignored in any plans.