The full length of the Royal Mile should be pedestrianised during next year’s Edinburgh Festival as a traffic-free experiment, according to the city’s main heritage watchdog.
The Cockburn Association wants action taken to ease pressure on key parts of the Old Town, including the Canongate and Lawnmarket, where access is unrestricted.
“Would it be desirable and a good thing for the city to do? I believe it would.”CLIFF HAGUE chair of the Cockburn Association
They are said to have to become too unpleasant to walk around in August because of the sheer volume of pedestrians and vehicles competing for space.
Cars, tourist coaches, taxis, open-top buses and lorries are only excluded from part of the High Street, between Cockburn Street and George IV Bridge after 10am when the street theatre arena opens.
The Cockburn Association has thrown its weight behind a proposed radical rethink of how traffic is allowed to move around the city centre and has advocated the Royal Mile experiment as “an obvious starting-point.”
Under proposals approved by for consultation on Thursday, cars, buses and taxis could be banned from certain major thoroughfares. Among the ideas are having regular “vehicle-free” days in the city centre and only allowing vehicles to “go to, but not through” the heart of the city.
An official report published earlier this year warned that parts of the city centre did not have enough pedestrian space to meet demand during peak tourism periods.
Cliff Hague, chair of the Cockburn Association, said: “There are sections of the Royal Mile which are very congested at certain times and have ceased to be a pleasant experience to walk around because of the sheer volume of traffic.
“In principle, I’d like to see it pedestrianised for next year’s Festival next year. There would have to consultation with local residents and it would be important to get the fine detail right, including services for local businesses and emergency vehicle access. But would it be desirable and a good thing for the city to do? I believe it would.
“It’s the kind of thing that’s been done in plenty of other places and its effects would be more beneficial than negative.
“The narrowness of the Royal Mile lends itself to pedestrianisation, it’s a really important showcase for the city centre and there are health risks with traffic jams on it. It’s an obvious starting-point.
“You’d have to look carefully at where the traffic that currently uses the Royal Mile goes, as you couldn’t just do it in isolation. However, I’m all in favour of carrying out limited and marketed short-term experiments in the city centre.
“It’s about trying something out, monitoring carefully what happens and taking evidence-based decisions. Sometimes you have to really push the idea. If they don’t work then you don’t repeat them.”
Council transport convener Lesley Macinnes said: “Our ultimate goal is to create a welcoming and connected capital, tackling air quality, reducing congestion and encouraging people to choose walking, cycling and public transport wherever possible.
“While we’re still looking at ways of achieving this, our plan to hold regular ‘open streets’ events will let the public experience a quieter, more people focussed city, as well as helping us to measure air quality, congestion and, importantly, public opinion.”