‘We want more pedestrianised streets,’ says Edinburgh public

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ALMOST six out of ten people are against moves to reduce the number of buses going through the city centre - but nearly as many are in favour of more pedestrianised streets, a survey has found.

The council consultation on wide-ranging changes to improve the city centre also found support for a workplace parking levy, strong backing for park-and-ride, integrated ticketing and investment in electric vehicle charging points, but divided opinion on extending controlled parking zones.

Pedestrians on traffic-free sections of George Street, Edinburgh. Picture: Jane Barlow/TSPL

Pedestrians on traffic-free sections of George Street, Edinburgh. Picture: Jane Barlow/TSPL

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More than 5000 people gave their views through the council’s online survey, taking part in workshops, drop-in events or submitting written responses. The views are not necessarily representative of the city population as a whole.

Around 73 per cent of survey respondents wanted to see a reduction in the amount of general traffic in the city centre.

The council believes the large number of buses travelling through the centre, especially at peak times, causes congestion, adds to journey times and detracts from the experience of the city centre. But a clear majority was opposed to reducing buses in the centre.

Traffic congestion in Morningside.. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach/TSPL

Traffic congestion in Morningside.. Picture: Malcolm McCurrach/TSPL

The report on the survey findings noted: “Almost 60 per cent of those surveyed disagreed with reducing services passing through the city centre, as did Edinburgh Bus Users Group, and this increased to more than 70 per cent for those identifying as having a disability.

“Focus group participants supported further limited stop services at peak times to reduce congestion and suggested re-introducing a city centre sprinter loop.”

The council said people did want fewer buses on Princes Street, but re-routing them along George Street or Queen Street was not popular.

The idea of contactless payment and integrated ticketing was “universally popular”, according to the report. “Current ticketing options were often seen as inflexible, but it was recognised that integrated ticketing requires national coordination and that over-reliance on technology can present social barriers.”

The council has recently unveiled plans for an 18-month trial of Open Streets, closing certain streets in the Old Town to traffic on the first Sunday of each month from noon until 5.30pm. But in the survey, temporary closures - with 62 per cent support - proved less popular than permanent vehicle-free streets, which were backed by 75 per cent.

Some 71 per cent backed a workplace parking levy to fund sustainable transport improvements, but opponents voiced fears it could force businesses out of the city.

The report said 75 per cent of survey respondents supported restricting access for the most polluting vehicles through a Low Emission Zone (LEZ), including 54 per cent of those who said car or van was their main mode of travel, although some said it would just displace the problem elsewhere.

And there were mixed views on the length of a lead-in period for people to upgrade their vehicles, with “more than four years” the most popular option.

Some 93 per cent of people said expansion of park and ride facilities was a good way of reducing traffic in the city centre.

The report said: “Focus groups comprising car commuters wished to see these linked by express bus routes into the city centre but also connected by walking and cycling networks to out-of-centre employment zones.”

And 90 per cent wanted the council to invest in electrical vehicle charging points. The locations of Edinburgh’s first 14 on-street electric vehicle charging hubs were revealed later this year. The council aims to provide 211 on-street charging points by 2023, but recently decided against a trial using the power from street lights to fuel electric charging points.

Opinion was split on extending controlled parking zones with 42 per cent in favour and 36 per cent against. “Focus group participants felt that CPZs play a useful role in stopping commuter parking in residential streets and that parking charge revenue should be clearly assigned or ring-fenced for measures to improve sustainable travel, such as cycle routes. There were, however, perceptions that it was simply the council generating additional income.”

Meanwhile, there was 91 per cent backing for reducing the impact of larger goods vehicles on the city centre by restricting their size, weight and delivery times. And 93 per cent supported investment in freight depots in and around the city to enable first and last-mile delivery by smaller, cleaner vehicles.

The report noted workshops liked the idea of electric vehicles and cargo bike deliveries to handle smaller business and domestic packages, but there were it could increase traffic levels and pose extra costs to businesses. “The promotion of local click and collect hubs to reduce congestion from door-to-door delivery was favoured.”

Stuart Hay, director of Living Streets Scotland, welcomed the findings. He said: “There is a massive appetite to change Edinburgh’s city centre so it’s less congested and polluted. Progress can only happen if traffic is reduced and new pedestrianised spaces are created.

“High levels of support for walking, bikes and buses aren’t surprising. People increasingly want the type of environment found in other European cities.

“Edinburgh’s one advantage is its well developed bus network and people want this built on, with fast frequent services serving the city centre. Changes to bus access will have to be carefully thought through, to reduce overall journey times, tackle congestion and maintain access for people with disabilities.”

Tory transport spokesman Nick Cook said the council’s city centre plans were “heavy on aspiration, but light on the crucial detail workers and employers require”.

He said: “Whilst talk of a city centre hopper bus may sound attractive, such a proposal rightly raises concerns that the regular bus services that thousands rely on to get to work every day will be heavily restricted from the city centre, or even banned completely.

“Lothian Buses cross-city routes literally drive our economy. Any reduction in services would be terrible news for workers and Lothian Buses, whose business is set to come under enormous strain from the tram extension.”

City Centre Green councillor Claire Miller said the Capital’s historic centre was not built with today’s vehicles or mobility needs in mind.

She said: “It’s important that any changes we make in the city centre are done for the benefit of everyone, particularly disabled people who tell me how inaccessible the city is at the moment and how desperately transformational change is needed.

“The most successful and attractive city centres around the world are experienced at a human scale, where cycling and walking are the norm, and where people mainly get around by public transport.”

Transport and environment vice-convener Karen Doran, said the council wanted to create a more welcoming and people-friendly environment.

“So it’s essential that we acknowledge public opinion. “We had an immense response to our consultation. What was clear was that things can’t stay the same – in fact, 88 per cent of respondents told us they wanted to see changes to the way the city centre operates.

“Amongst the scenarios discussed was a strong movement toward reducing traffic in the city centre to create a more relaxed atmosphere, as well as encouraging active travel by increasing pedestrian areas and improving public realm. We see public transport as a key element to this – it’s about ensuring the best way to approach the challenges of a growing city in a way that is inclusive and works for people.”