Plan for monthly traffic-free days in Edinburgh hubs

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The Edinburgh city council will decide today whether to close main roads to traffic across the Capital for one day every month.

The Council’s transport and environment committee is set to agree to close “key parts of the city centre and town centres” on the first Sunday of every month under its Open Streets project.

The council’s eight town centres are Corstorphine, Gorgie and Dalry, Leith and Leith Walk, Morningside and Bruntsfield, Nicolson Street and Clerk Street, Portobello, Stockbridge and Tollcross. No plans to close any specific streets have been tabled at this stage, but the proposals would not be constrained to the city centre.

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Before any decisions are taken on which roads could be closed, consultation with residents, businesses, and emergency services would be required – as well as detailed discussions with stakeholders. If approved, the project could start by early next year.

Radical options for cutting the amount of traffic in the city centre are on the table. Picture: Ian GeorgesonRadical options for cutting the amount of traffic in the city centre are on the table. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Radical options for cutting the amount of traffic in the city centre are on the table. Picture: Ian Georgeson

In June, The Mound and George Street were shut to traffic for part of two days. Temporary landscaping and park benches were put out on the usually-busy routes for people to enjoy the summer solstice and try out electric bikes and yoga classes.

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Conservative councillors are set to oppose the Open Streets plans at today’s meeting after claiming the June trials failed to collect enough information, allegedly put down to the weather being too hot.

The Sunday proposals would operate from 10am until 5pm and are inspired by car-free days in Paris, which have taken place on the first Sunday of each month since 2016 as part of the Paris Breathes campaign.

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The Mound on the city's first car-free day. Picture: Lisa FergusonThe Mound on the city's first car-free day. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
The Mound on the city's first car-free day. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

A Summer Streets project is held on the first three Saturdays during August in New York.

Other plans to be discussed by the committee today include Edinburgh city centre potentially becoming a “largely traffic-free zone” under a radical proposal to be put to the public next month. One of three options put forward by the city council for the public consultation is for “a radical rethink of how the city moves and operates” where “key streets could be pedestrianised”.

Green councillors will also propose that bus lanes across the city revert back to operating seven days a week, from 7am to 7pm to help speed up bus journey times across the Capital.

Transport and environment convener, Cllr Lesley Macinnes, said: “If Open Streets days are approved in principle today, we’ll be able to set the ball rolling on scoping out how exactly these would work.

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“We want to make sure we take a collaborative, consensus approach to this, so we’ll be conducting research with a wide range of stakeholders, including the emergency services, local businesses and residents as well as other departments within the council, such as the events team.”

She added: “It’s very important that those who would be most impacted by the events are given a chance to help shape the way Open Streets days are delivered, including which streets might be included.

“A report setting out proposals for putting the idea into practice will come back to committee at the end of this year, once we’ve finished scoping and consulting, and we’d envisage the first Open Streets day being held in the early part of 2019.”

The council believes Open Streets Edinburgh would help citizens experience the city in a “quieter, more people-focused environment” and allow the council to monitor air quality, congestion and travel behaviours to inform future plans for the city. The days could also incorporate other events taking place across the city. Road closures are likely to be put in place through an experimental road traffic order (ETRO) unless linked to a specific event. If agreed by councillors, a progress update will be provided to the committee in October.

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To deliver Open Streets Edinburgh, funding of £50,000 has been handed over to the council by Paths for All to spend by March 2019.

Cllr Chas Booth, Green spokesperson on transport, said: “I warmly welcome the commitment to future car-free days in the city, which is an excellent opportunity to celebrate walking, cycling and other more sustainable means of travelling. The carnival atmosphere at the most recent car-free celebration shows what can be achieved and through following the examples of other leading European cities I hope this will be a regular celebration.”

Conservatives will oppose the move at today’s committee and will also call for no action on plans to introduce a £40 diesel surcharge for resident parking permits.

Conservative transport spokesman, Cllr Nick Cook, said: “It is disappointing that the SNP/Labour council administration seems intent on pressing ahead with regular car-free days when its own report admits that it failed to gather meaningful traffic data from its trial road closure in June.”