Edinburgh roads: Through traffic to be banned from key routes across city centre

Dramatic changes could be introduced in 'big bang' one weekend next year
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Major roads through the centre of Edinburgh will be closed to through traffic under a blueprint to cut car use in the Capital.

The North and South Bridges corridor and The Mound - key north-south routes across the city - are both set to see restrictions which would allow only public transport and local access. The Cowgate and the lower part of the Royal Mile would also be closed to through traffic. And other streets in Edinburgh's Old Town would be made pedestrian priority.

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An experimental closure of the Cowgate is planned for later this year. The rest of the changes could all happen in one "big bang" over a weekend in 2025. The blueprint, Our Future Streets, will go to the city council's transport and environment committee on Thursday, February 1, for approval.

An artist's impression of the bottom of the Canongate closed to through traffic.An artist's impression of the bottom of the Canongate closed to through traffic.
An artist's impression of the bottom of the Canongate closed to through traffic.

The plans go further than the previously agreed City Centre Transformation proposals. Committee convener Scott Arthur said the extra measures had been prompted by a consultation showing strong public support for reducing traffic. He said: "Residents want us to be bolder, they want us to go further and they want things to move faster."

A report to the committee says the proposals would result in "an extensive area between Lauriston Place, Lothian Road, Queen Street and Holyrood Park without through general/car traffic" and pave the way for pedestrian priority in the Canongate, Victoria Street, Waverley Bridge, Cockburn Street, Grassmarket and Cowgate.

The closure of The Mound to general traffic was already planned under the council's Meadows to George Street improvement plan. And the removal of through traffic from the Bridges ties in with plans for Edinburgh's new north-south tram route to run along that corridor towards the BioQuarter.

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A key benefit of removing general traffic from the Bridges would be improved bus journey times on that route. But with The Mound also closed to through traffic, it will mean increased pressure on Lothian Road as the only remaining major north-south route across the city. The report says extra traffic could create delays of up to 10 minutes for buses there, even if the council meets its target of cutting car kilometres by 30 per cent.

Plans were being developed for Lothian Road to become a "boulevard" with wider pavements and segregated cycle lanes, but officials now admit more capacity will have to be retained for general traffic than originally envisaged, though they say improvements can still be made.

The city centre measures could be introduced in a stepped plan or a "big bang". Cllr Arthur said the original City Centre Transformation scheme had been a 10-year programme. "What we're talking about now is moving much faster. We'll start this summer with closing the Cowgate on an experimental basis and if that works it will never open again to through traffic.

"Then next year we'll start with the wider scheme. There is an idea we could do it over a weekend in 2025. The problem is the modelling shows there would be instant improvements in public transport on some of the routes, but it predicts an increase in delays to public transport on the Lothian Road route of about 40 per cent."

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However, he said the Belgian city of Ghent had brought in similar measures all in one go at and Easter weekend and it worked well. "There's uncertainty about how long it's going to take here, but it won't be 10 years - it might be that one weekend, or 10 days or 10 weeks or 10 months."

Cllr Arthur said: "We’re lucky to live in a beautiful,historic city, and Edinburgh’s rapidly increasing population is testament to that. But as our city continues to grow, so too do the challenges posed by congestion, air pollution and carbon emissions.

“We need to be bold and move faster if we are to support the people who live, work and visit here to move around the Capital sustainably and safely, while protecting Edinburgh’s unique heritage. By making it easier to walk, wheel, cycle and use public transport we can create better, healthier transport links, supporting net zero 2030 goals and helping to drive down car kilometres travelled."

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