George Street is set to be closed to traffic while the Capital’s tram network could be extended across the north and south of the city under a radical 10-year vision to create a mass transit system for Edinburgh.
Edinburgh City Council has published its draft city mobility plan in a bid to meet a pledge to become carbon neutral by 2030 amid a growing population – by encouraging more people to use public transport in a bid to cut congestion across the Capital.
Under the ambitious plans, which are yet to be funded or costed, Edinburgh’s tram network could be extended to the waterfront at Granton and could even include a spur from Haymarket that could take in the Craigleith Retail Park and the Western General Hospital. Another proposed tram line could see the controversial transport taken across North Bridge and down to Cameron Toll and on to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and the BioQuarter.
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Council leader, Cllr Adam McVey, said: “Within the timescale of this plan, we have the permissions that we need to go ahead with the Granton line – even though the counci’s not expressly yet agreed to do that.
“The BioQuarter is now going to market as a development so there are things happening in the south of the city that we would want to be better connected into sustainable, high-capacity public transport because the number of people living and working there is going to increase quite substantially. It’s something the city is going to have to talk about within this time-scale.
“We are not going to be starting any work on a tram extension until we finish this tram extension and then the city will have to decide whether that’s about the south of the city or probably more likely, the Granton line, which is crucial for enabling some of the development at the waterfront and some of the social and economic gains could be huge.”
Another flagship intervention in the council’s strategy is a plan to shut George Street to traffic, including buses. The idea was not contained in the city centre transformation – which will see part of the Royal Mile and Old Town routes including Victoria Street and Cockburn Street opened up to pedestrians – but has now been put back on the table.
Depute council leader, Cllr Cammy Day, said: “When you look at George Street, it just encourages people to come and park on both sides and the middle. Yes, it will cause some disruption. I think most people park there for shopping and aren’t there for the whole day.
“I think it’s the right thing to do to make the city centre more liveable. It won’t stop people from going to George Street – it will encourage people to use it because you will be able to walk freely, to cycle and enjoy it – rather than be just fighting in traffic jams with buses and cars.
“It’s not about stopping cars using the city. Opening up George Street will make it more enjoyable for the businesses. I’m sure they might have some concerns that taking the traffic away might be an issue, but I think they will see a pedestrianised area full of people because it’s safe to walk along, like Rose Street.”
Other measures included in the strategy are a review of the city’s bus network – which could involve halting the vehicles from Princes Street by creating hubs at either end of the city centre – while a “seamless” integrated ticketing system could allow passengers to use all modes of public transport, including the bike hire scheme, with contactless payment.
The council also wants to up its investment in cycling infrastructure – with an aim that by 2030, “arterial routes will be being used for mass commuting by bike”. Edinburgh’s seven park and ride sites will be upgraded to support “fast and frequent public transport along strategic bus lanes and mass rapid transit routes” into the city centre.
The strategy will be considered by the council’s transport and environment committee next week. If approved, a public consultation will be carried out before being brought back for approval by councillors later this year.