Edinburgh will become the first UK city to join the global Open Streets movement on Sunday – following in the footsteps of Paris and New York when traffic is temporarily barred from key streets for the afternoon.
The Open Streets event will take place on the first Sunday of every month in an 18-month project.
On Sunday, May 5th, a number of streets will close to motorised traffic, letting the public enjoy the historic area on foot or by bike.
At the first event, most of the Royal Mile will be closed between 12pm and 5pm – although Castle Hill and the Holyrood roundabout at Canongate will remain open.
Also being closed on Sunday is Victoria Street, part of the Grassmarket, New Street, Cockburn Street, Cranston Street, Niddry Street, Old Tolbooth Wynd, St Giles’ Street and West Bow.
The council’s ambition is to gradually shut a loop of the Old Town by the end of the 18-month trial which could include Cowgate, Holyrood Road and Johnston Terrace.
The closures will be in place between noon and 5pm on Sunday.
A group cycle and walk down the Royal Mile will kick off proceedings followed by a tree planting in Dunbar Close Gardens to mark the occasion, before those taking part are directed to the Humans of the Walk photography exhibition in Museum of Edinburgh’s courtyard, organised by sponsors Paths for All.
Special guests on the day will include Scottish and British championships-winning cyclist Lee Craigie and Olympic gold medal-winning cyclist Chris Boardman, who is now cycling and walking commissioner for Greater Manchester.
Here is a list - from Edinburgh City Council's Open Streets webpage - of everything that is happening on Sunday;
Tai Chi on the High Street
Festival volunteers guided walks
Hire a bike from the City Chambers
Picnic space and toilets
Electronic bike trials on Victoria Street
Free use of Just Eat hire bikes
Play on Pedals and bike displays
Grassmarket Community Project
Displays and Demonstrations
Jazz performances in Dunbar Close Garden
"Humans of the Walk" exhibition at the Museum of Edinburgh
A garden reading area at the Scottish Storytelling Centre
A place for art and drawing
The Writers' Museum
Open Streets Edinburgh: What are people saying about it?
Transport and environment convener, Cllr Lesley Macinnes, said: “I’m delighted that Edinburgh will very soon be joining cities around the world to reap the benefits of Open Streets. We’ve seen how successful similar schemes internationally have proved by encouraging active travel, improving air quality and creating a safer, more relaxed atmosphere so I can’t wait to see this take shape in the Capital.
“Climate change is a real threat to society, it’s clear that we have to act, and Open Streets is undoubtedly a step in the right direction. We are wholeheartedly committed to creating an accessible, sustainable and people-friendly city and I look forward to seeing lots of residents and visitors enjoying all that’s on offer on Sunday against a cleaner, more welcoming traffic-free backdrop.”
But opponents have warned the event could impact the trade of local businesses and push polluting traffic to other parts of the city.
Conservative Cllr Scott Douglas said: “The Open Streets initiative has the potential to have a hugely negative impact on our city centre. Not only will it make it harder for residents to access local shops, it will also likely lead to an increase in congestion elsewhere in the city.
“That’s why it is important that the SNP-Labour administration carefully and truthfully analyse all of the consequences of these closures.
“Unfortunately it seems as if they are ready to call it a success regardless of the impact it has on local businesses and the increased congestion and pollution that it pushes elsewhere.”
Taxi operators are willing to see how the first event goes before judging it.
Les McVay, company secretary of City Cabs, said: “I think we will just have to give it a go and see what happens. It might actually attract more people into the city centre, but we will just have to wait and see.
“If we can survive the trams, we can survive anything.”
Grace Martin, deputy director of Sustrans Scotland, said: “The Open Streets scheme showcases Edinburgh as a city that puts people first. Helping make the city centre more accessible to users of all abilities to walk, wheel, cycle, relax and
“Evidence is very clear that vehicle dominance of our urban environment is a major cause of air pollution. In areas where pollution exceeds legal limits, 80 per cent of harmful nitrous oxide gas comes from
“Closing streets to traffic does have a big and positive impact. As an example, last year’s London Marathon, which includes road closures across the city, coincided with an 89 per cent drop in air pollution in central London.
“Open Streets is a great initiative to make our city centres healthier, greener and safer places for everyone.”
Friends of the Earth Scotland Air Pollution Campaigner, Gavin Thomson, said: “Opening up our streets to people will show us what we are missing by allowing cars to dominate and pollute our public spaces. By giving more people the freedom to walk and cycle safely, we can cut air pollution, reduce our climate emissions and make Edinburgh a better place to live and work.
“Edinburgh council should be praised for leading the way in tackling air pollution by getting to the heart of the problem, which is traffic. It would be great to see other councils in Scotland introduce these ideas which are now commonplace across Europe.”