Edinburgh to Open Streets this Sunday

Friday May 3rd 2019

Written by Local Democracy Reporter, David Bol

An Olympic gold medallist will join celebrations when Old Town streets are handed back to the public this weekend.

Edinburgh will become the first UK city to join the global Open Streets movement on Sunday – following in the footsteps of Paris and New York when traffic is temporarily barred from key streets on Sunday afternoon.

The Open Streets event will take place on the first Sunday of every month in an 18-month project. At the first event, most of the Royal Mile will be closed between 12pm and 5pm – although Castle Hill and the Holyrood roundabout at Canongate will remain open. Also being closed on Sunday is Victoria Street, part of the Grassmarket, New Street, Cockburn Street, Cranston Street, Niddry Street, Old Tolbooth Wynd, St Giles’ Street and West Bow.

The council’s ambition is to gradually shut a loop of the Old Town by the end of the 18-month trial which could include Cowgate, Holyrood Road and Johnston Terrace.

A series of events will take place on Sunday to celebrate the launch, including jazz performances in Dunbar Close Garden, Tai Chi on the High Street, electronic bike trials on Victoria Street and the free use of Just Eat hire bikes.

Transport and environment convener, Cllr Lesley Macinnes, said:

“I’m delighted that Edinburgh will very soon be joining cities around the world to reap the benefits of Open Streets. We’ve seen how successful similar schemes internationally have proved by encouraging active travel, improving air quality and creating a safer, more relaxed atmosphere so I can’t wait to see this take shape in the Capital.

“Climate change is a real threat to society, it’s clear that we have to act, and Open Streets is undoubtedly a step in the right direction. We are wholeheartedly committed to creating an accessible, sustainable and people-friendly city and I look forward to seeing lots of residents and visitors enjoying all that’s on offer on Sunday against a cleaner, more welcoming traffic-free backdrop.”

But opponents have warned the event could impact the trade of local businesses and push polluting traffic to other parts of the city.

Conservative Cllr Scott Douglas said: “The Open Streets initiative has the potential to have a hugely negative impact on our city centre. Not only will it make it harder for residents to access local shops, it will also likely lead to an increase in congestion elsewhere in the city.

“That’s why it is important that the SNP-Labour administration careful and truthfully analyse all of the consequences of these closures.

“Unfortunately it seems as if they are ready to call it a success regardless of the impact it has on local businesses and the increased congestion and pollution that it pushes elsewhere.”

A series of diversions will be put in place for traffic, though access will be maintained for blue badge holders and events staff will be on hand to ensure people with disabilities can enter the closed streets without difficulty.

Taxi operators are willing to see how the first event goes before judging it.

Les McVay, company secretary of City Cabs, said: “I think we will just have to give it a go and see what happens. It might actually attract more people into the city centre, but we will just have to wait and see.

“If we can survive the trams, we can survive anything.”

A group cycle and walk down the Royal Mile will kick off proceedings followed by a tree planting in Dunbar Close Gardens to mark the occasion, before those taking part are directed to the Humans of the Walk photography exhibition in Museum of Edinburgh’s courtyard, organised by sponsors Paths for All.

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