A KEY stretch of the city centre is set to be reopened to traffic in a bid to ease the burden on the packed streets of the New Town.
Tram chiefs are to clear on-street works from the east end of Princes Street from November, allowing all vehicles a route through central Edinburgh. Drivers will be able to turn right from Waverley Bridge and head east to the junction with Leith Street, in a move designed to improve traffic flow for those travelling from the south to the north of the Capital.
It is also expected that motorists will be allowed to turn left from North Bridge and right from Leith Street and move along Princes Street before turning onto Waverley Bridge heading south.
Current diversions put in place after York Place was closed have seen cars and HGVs forced through the residential areas of Albany Street and Abercromby Place. Works blocking off Broughton Street, which force drivers travelling north to take the same detour, will also be lifted from the middle of next month.
The plans were revealed at a meeting last night between city transport leader, Lesley Hinds, and New Town and Broughton Community Council members – who had submitted the idea to transport officials at the city council for traffic modelling tests.
Community council chair Ian Mowat said: “This news has been overwhelmingly welcomed. We are impressed that the city council has not only listened to local concerns but have gone away and thought about a solution.
“There are still some issues in the short term regarding the lack of parking on Albany Street, but on the big Princes Street and Broughton Street proposals everyone was very pleased.”
Lesley Hinds, the city’s transport leader, said the move would not cure heavy traffic overnight but would result in fewer cars in the area.
She said: “We realise this is a frustrating situation and that’s why we’ve been working hard with the community council and local residents to come up with a solution.
“These two proposals, which have come from residents themselves, will take the diverted traffic away from the New Town, according to our officials’ traffic models.
“There are always going to be busy periods, especially while the crucial work at York Place is carried out, but we are aiming to minimise the impact as much as we can.”
Councillor Hinds, pictured below, said one of her main aims since being appointed in May had been to improve communication, and that residents would be closely involved in decision making.
The Labour member said that the changes had been drawn up after negotiations with contractors, who agreed to alter certain work patterns to free up some of the road space without falling behind schedule.
She added: “The input of local residents has been invaluable and we will continue to liaise with them as we focus on the delivery of Edinburgh trams.”
As the Evening News has reported in recent weeks, the current diversion route has upset residents after cars, taxis and HGVs were directed via Broughton Street, Albany Street, Abercromby Place and Heriot Row.
After 13 days of the diversions being in place workers had to be brought in at night to patch up Albany Street, which had become potholed from an extra 1000 vehicles an hour passing through at peak times.
From September, York Place – one of the main routes through the city centre – will close to buses until December 2013, having been shut to other vehicles in June.
It is hoped that the new system will ease traffic flow.
At the public meeting last night, Cllr Hinds and transport project manager Alasdair Sim faced claims that communication with residents had been poor.
One member of the audience, who said he owned two offices in York Place, said there had been no notice of the road being dug up when work began in June.
“No-one knows what is happening,” he said. “Apart from the mess, I cannot understand why York Place will be closed for so long.”
SHANDWICK Place in the West End may be reopened to pedestrians and buses early to give struggling traders a boost, it emerged today.
Transport officials and contractors currently laying tracks are examining whether work on one side of the street could be done first, allowing half of the road to be reopened ahead of schedule.
Businesses in the area have suffered huge drops in footfall as a result of the diversions, with some folding in recent years.
If the move goes ahead it would mean pedestrians and buses could access the area by spring next year instead of waiting until 2014.
However, contractors are weighing up whether the move can be put in motion without falling behind on the project and causing traders more trouble in the long-run.
Lesley Hinds, the city transport leader, said: “It’s only a possibility at the moment but we are looking at whether this could be done.
“We want to help businesses in the West End and opening the area up to pedestrians and allowing buses through would give them that boost. But we would have to be sure it could be done without falling behind schedule, which the contractor is currently trying to establish.”