TWO key thoroughfares in Edinburgh’s Old Town are set to be closed to traffic for the first time during the peak summer festivals period as part of a drive to improve public safety and ease transport congestion.
Cockburn Street and Blair Street will be sealed off between 10am and 5pm every day in August under a shake-up planned by Fringe chiefs and council officials.
The closures would be the biggest upheaval for traffic in the Old Town during the Fringe for around two decades, since part of the High Street between Cockburn Street and the High Court was closed off to accommodate demand from street performers.
The changes are planned to coincide with the proposed introduction of new security barriers which would prevent motorists from turning into the Royal Mile from the Bridges.
The plans have emerged months after an official council report warned of “a very real concern” about overcrowded pavements and the dangers of pedestrians stepping into traffic during the peak festival periods.
More recently, the city council has set out ambitions to hand over more space to pedestrians and cyclists, tackle some of the most “congested and cluttered” hotspots, and encourage a “shift away from private cars”.
Old Town residents have published their own dossier calling for new curbs on traffic in key thoroughfares.
City council leader Adam McVey said: “Our festivals are part of what makes Edinburgh such a special place to live and they contribute to our status as one of the highest quality of life cities anywhere in the world. Millions of visitors bring investment, diversity and energy to our city, but it is no secret this also brings challenges in terms of the impact on our core services.
“In an effort to track the experience of visitors and residents, we have also launched a reporting system to examine the liveability, sustainability and vibrancy of Edinburgh in August. As part of this we are reviewing levels of pedestrian space in central areas during peak times so that we can improve the pedestrian experience.”
Olly Davies, the Fringe’s head of marketing, said: “We’ve been speaking to the council and the police in recent months about possible changes in our licence this year.
“The thinking behind the proposed road closures is to reduce the possibility of conflict between pedestrians and vehicles.”