Friday May 10th 2019
Written by Local Democracy Reporter, David Bol
Edinburgh transport chiefs have revealed a radical and highly ambitious strategy to “create a city centre that truly puts people first” in the biggest overhaul of how people will move around the Capital in living memory.
The 10-year city centre transformation project includes setting up a free hopper bus which would take people around the city centre with a longer term ambition to extend the tram route over North Bridge to the BioQuarter and the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. A city centre tram loop cold also be constructed between Haymarket and the university quarter. The council hopes to reduce city centre traffic by up to 30 per cent by treating cars as “guests” in a “pedestrian priority zone”.
Prominent parts of the Old Town will be completely closed to traffic, including Victoria Street, Cockburn Street and a longer stretch of the Royal Mile. Waverley Bridge could become a vehicle-free plaza and a “centrepiece” bridge could be built for pedestrians and cyclists, connecting the Old Town and the New Town.
Car parking would be gradually reduced across the city centre, with George Street, Victoria Street and Cockburn Street losing parking space altogether. There are also plans for remaining parking areas to be subject to a trial of a “parking free day” – where existing spaces are used for alternative uses one day per week.
The proposals will go out for a public consultation for approval, subject to the thumbs up by the council’s transport and environment committee next week.
Transport and environment convener, Cllr Lesley Macinnes, said: “This is a serious approach to how we equip the city for the future and how we meet the emerging challenges from the climate change emergency, population growth, changing expectations of our city centre and air quality.
“This is a clear statement of intent about what we want to achieve in the city centre. This is our strategy for a city centre that is truly fit for purpose.”
As part of the blueprint, there are plans to construct four lifts, situated across the city centre, to help people access Edinburgh’s two levels with more ease.
The lifts will be provided from Market Street to the top of The Mound, Waverley Station to North Bridge, Cowgate to George IV Bridge and Grassmarket to Edinburgh Castle and will be used by cyclists and those with wheelchairs.
Cllr Macinnes added: “You will come out the back of Waverley Station and take that lift up to North Bridge.
“Instantly, you have got public transport with buses instantly connected with the train. It’s about collapsing the city centre to be able to access both levels.”
Improvements will be made to make key routes more attractive to pedestrians and cyclists but key bus routes will remain across North Bridge and South Bridge and up and down The Mound.
Cllr Macinnes said: “This is an exciting and ambitious strategy, one which will deliver transformative benefits across the city and for a whole range of people travelling to and within Edinburgh.
“We want everyone to share in Edinburgh’s success and re-imagining our city centre and its purpose will help make this happen.
“Here we have a blueprint to move the city forward. The proposals are designed to prompt debate – they aren’t finalised designs or ideas. They are examples of what we could do to deliver the city centre that residents are telling us they want.”
Extended tram line
The council’s long-term ambition is to extend the tram line to create a city network. Following the extension down Leith Walk to Newhaven, permission would need to be approved from the Scottish Government before proposing to take the tram over North Bridge towards the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and the BioQuarter.
Another tram loop is also proposed, which would connect Haymarket with Morrison Street, Lauriston Place, Potterrow and Edinburgh University.
Project director Daisy Narayanan said: “We are proposing a tram loop at some point.
“If tram line three goes ahead to the Bio Quarter, wee would have a true public transport corridor that does exactly that.”
Indicative images show that tram stops could be provided at the university, Newington, the Chalmers Hospital and the EICC.
The strategy document states: “A potential tram loop around the city centre, in association with further expansion of the network, will provide fast, reliable and high capacity access to the city centre on appropriate radial routes.”
The current timeline points to a business case being drawn up for the tram extension between 2024 and 2026.
Waverley Bridge, which is currently used by taxis and airport buses, would be closed off to all traffic.
The council hopes the plaza will provide an attractive welcome to the Capital for passengers arriving from Waverley Station.
Transport convener Cllr Lesley Macinnes said: “Can you imagine if you were a new visitor to the city or a commuter coming up onto that bridge and having the entire view of the city? The impact that would have is enormous.
“We do not have that, because you are faced with buses, you do not get to see the beautiful panorama. It’s delivering something that people will come to love enormously.”
The council says any plans will fit in with Network Rail’s overhaul of the station in the Waverley masterplan. The time-scale for potentially pedestrianising Waverley Bridge indicates it could happen from 2022 to 2023.
Waverley Valley bridge
A former route over the Waverley Valley will be re-built with a dedicated bridge for pedestrians and cyclists.
The new route over Waverley Station from Jeffrey Street to Calton Road would connect the Old Town and New Town. It is estimated that it could be open between 2023 and 2024.
Transport convener Cllr Lesley Macinnes said: “I’m particularly excited about that. If we are able to deliver it in a way that adds enormously, it’s a modern stamp on this centrepiece that truly delivers a safe route for cyclists and walkers.
“We will be adding something really special into it is of enormous importance.”
The bridge concept has been born from a similar idea in Copenhagen – the bicycle snake.
Project director Daisy Narayanan added: “We will reinstate a cycling and walking bridge, the old footbridge that was across the Waverley Valley as a 21st century, north-south traffic free connection to rival Copenhagen.”
Pedestrianisation of streets
As well as plans to open up Waverley Bridge as a plaza, the council has published proposals to permanently close Cockburn Street and Victoria Street to traffic – while the Royal Mile will be shut between North Bridge and St Mary’s Street.
Bank Street will be closed, except for buses and taxis while Candlemaker Row will only remain open to buses.
Closure of the Old Town Streets are likely to be one of the first visible interventions in the strategy – with a draft time-scale putting it between 2021 and 2023.
Lothian Road would remain open to traffic but be transformed into “an urban boulevard” – with the council keen on “taking some of the space back”.
Project director Daisy Narayanan said: “There will be a network of car-free streets, essentially Victoria Street, the Royal Mile from Lawnmarket down to St Mary’s Street, down Cockburn Street and Waverley Bridge.
“This is the essence of what Edinburgh should be. it’s a medieval heart of a city centre and it’s a pedestrian wonder of the world – it’s a jewel.
“We are not doing a car-free city centre because that is not deliverable. What we have is the historic core of the city centre will be car free and a zone where cars have access but very much as a guest.”
Under the proposals, Princes Street will remain accessible by buses, but the volume of services will be reduced and fewer bus stops could line the famous route.
Proposals also indicate that investigations could take place to open up Princes Street Gardens to create a plaza across Castle Street.
Project director Daisy Narayanan added: “We have proposed three interchange points and we are working with Lothian Buses to see which of the key city centre buses still need to do that and which buses can just kiss the city centre.”
Changes to the layout of Princes Street and North Bridge are likely to take place towards the end of the 10-year strategy – with an initial time-scale set between 2025 and the summer of 2028.
The council’s strategy states there will be a “reduction in volume of buses stopping on Princes Street”.
Four transport hubs would be set up across the city centre at the West End near Haymarket, Tollcross, Picardy Place/St Andrew Square and Potterrow/Nicolson Street.
Free hopper bus
Integral to the strategy of fewer bus journeys taking place through the city centre, the council intends to set up a free hopper bus to allow people to connect to public transport services.
The draft route of the service takes in Picardy Place, St Andrew Square, George Street, Shandwick Place, Haymarket, Morrison Street, Lothian Road, Caste Terrace, Grassmarket, Newington, Pleasance, Market Street and around Waverley Station – before heading down Leith Street back to Picardy Place.
The hopper bus could be in place by the first half of 2023.
Transport convener Cllr Lesley Macinnes said: “That expectation that people hop on and hop off is something we see all the time in other cities.
“Yes, it is demanding some changes how people interact with it and how the services are provided.”
Project director Daisy Narayanan added: “We are proposing free city centre hopper bus, which connects interchanges.
“We’re very keen that the hopper bus is about connecting the communities.”Tweet Share on Facebook