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Edinburgh City Centre Transformation

Lothian Road before and after

Edinburgh City Centre Transformation is about putting people and place at the heart of city design.  A city centre which works for everyone, through attractive, liveable public spaces, with sustainable and active travel made as easy as possible and with people’s overall health, wellbeing and happiness centre-stage.

February’s Interim Report for City Centre Transformation (PDF, 9.6MB) sets out progress to date, including:

  • Data gathering and benchmarking with international cities; 
  • A policy review of relevant international, national and local policies 
  • Initial examples of what transformation could mean for the High Street, Lothian Road and Cowgate; and
  • How different approaches to change will be tested before a preferred draft City Centre Vision Strategy is reported to Transport and Environment Committee in May.

Your views have shaped a set of principles to guide City Centre Transformation.

  • The unique character of Edinburgh’s built and natural environment will be retained and enhanced.
  • Priority will be given to people travelling on foot, bicycle and public transport, providing enhanced connectivity and permeability, whilst minimising negative impacts of traffic displacement;
  • Through traffic will be reduced within the city centre, improving air quality, creating a better environment for city centre residents and enhancing town centres;
  • Inclusive design and management of our streets and places will be embedded across all actions impacting on our city centre;
  • Green areas, open spaces and street networks will be linked to get the best from existing assets for the community; and
  • Policy objectives and project delivery will be integrated, creating a consistent approach to city centre planning and management

Key Facts

Could closing streets in the city centre to traffic cause more congestion through traffic?
Evidence from other parts of the UK and around the world have highlighted that selective, carefully planned street closures, along with other pedestrian priority measures, can help reduce car journeys.
When Oxford restricted private car access to the city centre, traffic levels dropped by an average of 20 per cent over a 12-month period without displacement or congestion in outer areas. In Wolverhampton, where roads were closed to vehicles going through the city centre, traffic reduced by 14 per cent and ring road traffic was cut by 1 per cent, while public transport increased from 23 to 26 per cent. A bridge closure in Warsaw led to four out of 10 people who previously drove a private car over the bridge switching to public transport. Early evidence from road closures along the Seine in Paris has led to displacement of some vehicles but half the traffic has ‘disappeared’ and there has been a 30 per cent reduction in pollution.
Edinburgh’s Open Streets programme will allow the Council to test the impacts of potential closures on the first Sunday of each month and will help us take an informed view of the impacts before implementing any permanent closures. The impacts of any potential longer-term reductions in capacity for vehicles on selected streets are also being tested through three appraisal scenarios using our transport model.

Could closing streets in the city centre to traffic cause air pollution through displacement?
While closing streets has the potential to displace traffic, it does encourage people to use alternative forms of transport to the car, such as public transport, cycling and walking. This is further supported through wider measures, such as investment in active travel, park and ride and public transport.
Restrictions on traffic introduced as a result of the Edinburgh School Streets programme is one example which has led to 2,259 fewer vehicle movements. At the same time, walking has increased by up to 12 per cent and nitrous oxide levels have reduced by more than 50 per cent around the schools. The full evaluation is available online.
In Edinburgh, there are a number of pollution ‘hotspots’ where tall buildings limit the dispersion of emissions and mean the only way to avoid exceeding legal limits is to reduce the volume of traffic or close the road. Reducing the use of private cars and helping people travel more sustainably will help Edinburgh meet its climate change objectives.
When Nuremberg closed several city streets in the 70s and 80s, traffic congestion did increase for a few months until people got used to the changes. This eventually led to nitrogen dioxide decreasing by about 30 per cent and a 15 per cent reduction in carbon monoxide.

Is it possible to link air pollution to vehicles by reviewing one off events?
While measuring air quality and meeting legal standards is complex, there is considerable evidence to show that reducing traffic will have a positive impact on air quality. We can demonstrate this through our air quality models and on-street testing, which can further enhance the importance of people changing their travel behaviours to help the city meet its air quality requirements. 
Six years of collecting data during Ride London have consistently demonstrated a drop in nitrous oxide in the Putney area which coincides with the period when the road is closed to cars. 
During the London Marathon in 2018, when road closures made large areas of the city tricky to access by car and people tended to take public transport, there was an 89 per cent reduction in Central London air pollution.
In July 2017, Newcastle exceeded ambient nitrogen oxide pollution levels for at least 18 hours a day – except when the HSBC British Cycling City Ride was under way and five miles of city centre roads were closed, leading to nitrogen oxide levels falling to almost zero.

Could closing streets to traffic in the city centre mean people with disabilities will be excluded from the city centre?
The changes proposed are to ensure the city centre is a much more pleasant and safe place to be for people with physical and sensory impairments, including those who need to drive. 
We will be working to improve city centre access for people with disabilities through the Integrated Impact Assessment process – which ensures global best practice – while also making the city centre and mobility choices more accessible for people on low incomes.
We are aware that people might be naturally wary of change but we take account of that in the strategy being developed.

Will pedestrianisation have a negative impact on businesses?
There is considerable evidence to suggest that pedestrianisation will lead to an increase in footfall for businesses and there will be extra support to encourage footfall. Pedestrianisation of Times Square in New York led to a 22 per cent increase in economic activity between 2007 and 2011.
There has been a 25 per cent increase in footfall in Coventry on Saturdays around a civic square.
A review of London schemes demonstrated that improvements for pedestrian and cycling access – rather than pedestrianisation – increased the number of people visiting a street by 93 per cent, reduced empty shops by 17 per cent and people on foot, bike and public transport spent 40 per cent more in a month than those in cars. 

What will be the impact of making all these changes?
The strategy aims to deliver a wide range of positive impacts for residents and users of the city centre while looking to limit or mitigate any adverse outcomes.
The benefits of the strategy are outlined within the Emerging Principles and fundamentally seeks to improve accessibility for all (in its broadest sense) to the city and all it has to offer.  

How will the projects and interventions be introduced? 
The measures and interventions identified in the strategy will be phased over a 10-year programme.  The sequencing will consider practical implementation issues, the need to allow users time to adjust to changing operations in the city centre and funding requirements.  

How will the changes be funded?
The strategy will feature a wide variety of measures and interventions and it is expected that some of these will involve changing how we currently do things – improving operations or delivering additional value which, in some cases, might not have an additional cost implication.
Other interventions will either require increased capital or revenue funding over the 10-year delivery timeline.  A wide range of approaches will be looked at to fund these measures, which could include a mix of Council funding, match funding and third-party investment.
Innovative procurement approaches will also be considered to identify opportunities to drive down delivery costs, such as through market competition and efficiency.   

How will the strategy be evaluated?
Wellbeing and economics – business case expectations (including the cost of doing nothing)? 
The Outline Business Case, which is the first stage in the development of a business case, will consider in broad terms the costs and benefits the strategy could deliver.
Central to this will be consideration of how the strategy could deliver improvements in overall well-being and in the distribution of that improvement amongst the population, in line with the theme of Fairness as set out in the 2050 vision.