Radical measures to improve public safety during Edinburgh’s summer festivals are to be rolled out across a huge swathe of the city’s Old Town.
Road closures, relocating bus stops and taxi ranks, suspending parking spaces, altering the timing of traffic lights and new counter-terrorism measures are being planned for this summer.
They are likely to affect routes in and out of some of the city’s leading attractions, including Edinburgh Castle, the National Museum of Scotland and St Giles’ Cathedral, as well as dozens of venues.
Market Street, the Cowgate, the Pleasance, the Lawnmarket, the High Street, George IV Bridge and Victoria Street will be targeted to ease crowd congestion and reduce the risk of people “spilling” into traffic.
Hotspots have been identified at the busiest areas for festivalgoers on the High Street, the Pleasance and around Bristo Square, as well as on routes used by walking tours and “silent disco” parties.
Council officials have admitted that although the shake-up is aimed at benefiting “pedestrian movement,” the changes are likely to “impact on the way the city moves” and could lead to a rise in noise disturbance and antisocial behaviour complaints.
10 proposed measures
1. Road closures, part time or permanent
2. Managed vehicular access for disabled users and to ensure emergency access is maintained.
3. Introducing banned turns.
4. Altering streets to become one way.
5. Increasing footway widths/reducing carriageway widths.
6. Removal of street furniture.
7. Parking suspensions, limiting loading times.
8. Altering traffic signal timings to increase pedestrian phases.
9. Relocating bus stops and taxi ranks.
10. Introduction of new counter terrorism measures.
However they say a key aim will be to minimise the impact on bus services “by careful planning of route diversions or temporary stop changes.”
The plan are being drawn up in response to growing concerns from councillors, community groups, heritage organisations and environmntal campaigners about the impact of heavy traffic and congested streets in August.
Councillors agreed in November to press ahead with plans to “ensure the safe movement of both residents and visitors to the city during the peak summer season” amid warnings from officials that maintaining public safety was becoming a “growing issue.”
Lothian Buses, Police Scotland, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, the Scottish Ambulance Service and representatives of the taxi trade have been involved in talks so far. However full details of the plans for each hotspot are not due to be revealed until May.
Place director Paul Lawrence, who will report on the plans to the council’s transport committee today, said: “The main purpose of developing a temporary street operations plan is to address the observed pavement crowding, and related safety and access issues, that occur in the Old Town during the summer.
“The locations are those where officers consider that greater pedestrian space or priority will reduce the potential for pedestrian overspill into live traffic, or where changes will improve access for all pedestrians regardless of their level of mobility.
“Any changes that impact on private vehicle, public transport, or taxi access to or through the city will disproportionately impact on those who depend on those forms of transport.
“The development of detailed proposals will prioritise the needs of public transport services and seek, with key stakeholders to identify how best to minimise these impacts, such as through by careful planning of route diversions or temporary bus stop changes.
“Improved conditions for pedestrians will make moving through Old Town streets much safer and easier for a wide range of pedestrians, in particular those with disabilities, including physical, sensory or mobility impairments and long-term conditions, those with small children and those who are frail or elderly.
“Although changes to the level of vehicle access in some areas may deliver temporarily improvement to air quality conditions at some locations, detailed proposals may lead to temporary worse air quality, noise and congestion on diversion routes or other streets and areas, as vehicle drivers choose alternative routes.
“For local communities, there is some potential that in some very specific localised sites that there may be an increase in noise disturbance and anti-social behaviour.”
Council transport leader Lesley Macinnes said: “We’re extremely lucky to live in such a vibrant, bustling festival city, benefiting from a world-class calendar of events. But with this status comes the added pressure of managing the safety and security of the many thousands of residents and visitors who take to our streets every day, especially during the busy summer months.
“These proposals, which are at an early stage, will create calmer, safer environments on some of our busiest streets during the summer festivals, while maintaining access to the Old Town where possible.”
The Edinburgh World Heritage trust has previously warned that the city was at risk of suffering “the same fate” as Venice if it it did not bring its tourism industry under control and take steps to “understand the capacity limits of our fragile, historic city.”
Director Adam Wilkinson said: “We welcome the measures to improve the pedestrian experience within the World Heritage Site at peak times during the year.
“We know that heavy traffic detracts from people’s enjoyment of our historic city, can cause damage to the fragile environment, and can lead to safety issues during the festivals.
“Longer term, we would expect to see an overall significant reduction in traffic entering the Old Town at all times during the year, in line with other busy European historic cities.”
The council is taking action four years after the Living Streets Edinburgh campaign called for the “widespread closure” of streets during the summer festivals because so many of them in the Old Town had become “uncomfortable and unsafe.”
Don McKee, convener of the group, said: “We’ve been calling for restrictions on private traffic and management of our streets during the summer festivals for several years.
“We believe that the experience for pedestrians, hemmed into narrow streets surrounded by traffic has become intolerable. It is great to see that this view is shared by the council.
“The festival experience would be hugely enhanced - and made much safer - by excluding much motor traffic from city centre streets during August in particular. We look forward to full detailed measures being brought forward and implemented in summer.”
A spokeswoman for Lothian Buses, the city’s biggest transport operator, said: ““We have been made aware of the proposals being discussed at the transport and environment committee and await more information on the next stage of this process.”