Edinburgh to transform city centre for pedestrians and low emission travel

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EDINBURGH’S tram line could be extended to Granton and south to the Bio Quarter while many of the city’s iconic streets could be pedestrianised under radical new plans being considered by councillors.

The Draft City Mobility Plan (CMP) was published on 10 January and sets out a ten-year vision for mobility and transport in the city, reinforcing the Council’s ambition of making Edinburgh carbon neutral by 2030 and responding to the evolving demands of a growing, modern Capital city.

The draft plan, to be discussed by members of the Transport and Environment Committee on 16 January, rethinks the way people, goods and services move around the city and is closely aligned to the forthcoming City Plan 2030, the Council’s second Local Development Plan, which aims to transform the city’s development to manage Edinburgh’s growth sustainably.

Council Leader Adam McVey commented on the plans: “We’re already making great strides towards reducing carbon emissions in Edinburgh but, if we are to achieve our 2030 target, now is the time to be even bolder and more ambitious.

“The City Mobility Plan offers a radical, ten-year plan to transform transport in the Capital, achieving the kind of change we need by expanding use of bus, tram, rail, walking and cycling to provide the best quality of life for everyone.

“What’s crucial to any strategy, however, is buy-in of our residents and those who travel into the Capital to work and visit.

“Everyone needs to play their part and I look forward to engaging with the public as we progress a finalised City Mobility Plan, alongside the development of the City Plan 2030.”

Proposals have garnered support from sustainable transport organisations Sustrans and Living Streets.

Sustrans Deputy CEO John Lauder commented: “The launch of City of Edinburgh Council’s Mobility Plan is the start of an exciting conversation for residents about how they want to get around the city. This is a topic that is high on the agenda of everyone who lives, works and visits the city, but it is also of importance across other Scottish cities.

“We are pleased that this ambitious and long-term plan not only looks at the city centre, but the suburbs too and addresses how we travel in and out of the capital on direct, fast, convenient routes by walking, cycling and public transport.

“This is vital if Edinburgh is to tackle congestion, accommodate the growth of the city and jobs and meet its laudable target of becoming carbon neutral by 2030.

“We look forward to taking part in the consultation and urge everyone to have their say on Edinburgh’s plans.”

The CMP, which replaces the Local Transport Strategy 2014-2019, centres on four strategic priorities: enhancing public transport, people-friendly streets, planning new developments and managing demand.

New policy measures focusing on public transport provision, improved cycling, walking and electric vehicle infrastructure and reducing the volume of polluting traffic in the city have drawn on feedback gathered during public engagement carried out in 2018.

If approved by committee, a public consultation will be carried out on the draft City Mobility Plan, in parallel with the City Plan 2030 (pending its approval by Planning Committee), before a finalised plan is brought back to Transport and Environment Committee later this year.

Stuart Hay, Director of Living Streets Scotland, illustrated: “It’s vital that Edinburgh matches the efforts of European capitals, including Paris, Brussels and Oslo which have taken bold measures to prioritise pedestrians instead of traffic.

“A largely car-free city centre by 2030 is essential if Edinburgh is to tackle air pollution, congestion and health issues associated with inactivity.

“The fresh thinking in the mobility plan offers a brighter future for Scotland’s capital, offering citizens more attractive options to travel around; by foot, bike and public transport.

“Walking underpins travel throughout the city and much more space is needed to make this a safe and pleasant activity, particularly in the city centre.

“Creating space by removing traffic will need further development of Edinburgh’s well-regarded bus service and more strategic tram routes.

“Substantial investment is needed, so new funding sources such as the workplace parking levy are vital.

“Experience from other cities suggests the inevitable challenges of transition, from a city focused on cars to people, will be worth it.”

In addition to the City Plan 2030, the City Mobility Plan is interlinked with a range of local and national initiatives aiming to bolster environmentally-friendly travel and manage population growth and development sustainably.

These include Edinburgh’s City Centre Transformation Strategy, the update of the National Transport Strategy and the emerging Edinburgh and South East Scotland Region Growth Framework.

The ten-year plan seeks to tackle the varied transport and mobility challenges posed by significant congestion, carbon dioxide emissions generated by traffic, pockets of poor air quality and areas of lacking public transport provision, among other issues.

A three-stage approach outlines a package of measures to be implemented during the lifespan of the plan, building on progress made by the Council in recent years to develop and promote sustainable and accessible transport.

The first phase will incorporate several game-changing projects already underway in Edinburgh, such as the construction of the tram route to Newhaven, the delivery of a Low Emissions Zone and the City Centre Transformation programme, which will revamp the way in which people move around the city centre.

2022 – ‘Delivering today, planning for the future’ measures include: 

  • Tram route to Newhaven will be largely complete
  • A comprehensive review of bus routes in the city will have taken place
  • The current generation of major active travel schemes will be delivered
  • The Low Emissions Zone will be in place
  • A plan for the investment of the resources generated in public transport improvements by a workplace parking levy will be complete
  • The City Centre Transformation Programme will have identified the transformational redesign of city centre places and space
  • Working with Transport Scotland and Network Rail, the Waverley station masterplan will have a full implementation plan

2025 – bolder actions. Measures include:

  • A comprehensive mass rapid transit plan for the city and region will be completed. This will include new bus and tram systems, as well as park and ride and edge of city logistics hubs
  • The business case for a north south tram line will be agreed, linking Granton to the Bio Quarter and beyond
  • A comprehensive new bus strategy will be agreed, including stops, routes, and public transport interchanges. Bus congestion will be reduced and bus penetration of key streets like Princes Street will be addressed
  • George Street will be transformed
  • Income from the workplace parking levy will be delivering public transport improvements, focused on quality, innovation and affordability for those in greatest need
  • Air pollution levels will have been significantly reduced following the introduction of a low emission cordon around the city centre and the city boundary
  • A data driven approach to mobility needs will be in place, working with the taxi trade, public transport providers and the commercial sector
  • Conditions for pedestrians will be much improved, thanks to the delivery of the Edinburgh street design guidance policy and a rigorous approach to enforcement

2030 – a city transformed. Measures include:

  • The mass transit network, including tram, will have been extended west to Newbridge and will have been developed to connect the Waterfront in the north to the Royal Infirmary in the south and beyond.
  • The city region’s seven park and ride facilities will be upgraded to support fast and frequent public transport along strategic bus lanes and mass rapid transit routes travel from these interchanges into the city.
  • Arterial routes will be being used for mass commuting by bike.
  • The city centre will be largely car free, with the workplace parking levy reducing in revenue as car use to commute declines.
  • Iconic streets will be progressively pedestrianised. Elsewhere pavements widths will have been significantly widened with obstacles removed.
  • Seamless pricing, ticketing and accessibility will allow passengers to move between different forms of transport, from their cars to trams and local buses at these interchanges, without having to pay at different access points.

If approved by Transport and Environment Committee next week, an eight-week public consultation on the draft plan will begin in February.

This, alongside a comprehensive travel behaviour survey to be completed by the end of February, will form the basis of a finalised plan to be brought to committee later this year supported by a delivery plan packaging and phasing the implementation of actions and policy measures.

Depute Leader Cammy Day added: “As we reach the midpoint of this administration, our forward-thinking approach to sustainable transport and development has seen the progress of projects like tram, City Centre Transformation, the introduction of a Low Emission Zone and significant investment in public and active travel.

“I’m confident that we’re doing the right things to help tackle the increasing threat of climate change but it’s clear that we need to act with even greater pace and urgency if we are to protect the city, while creating a greener, healthier, better connected environment for generations to come.”

The full report, City Mobility Plan – Draft for Consultation, is available on the Council website.