Edinburgh set to open its streets to the people

Edinburgh will make history this weekend when it becomes the first city in the UK to join the Open Streets movement.

On Sunday, 5 May, a number of streets in the Old Town, including the Canongate, Cockburn Street and Victoria Street, will close to motorised traffic, letting the public enjoy the historic area on foot or by bike.

The initiative has seen cities around the world temporarily opening streets to people by closing them to cars, vans and other motorised vehicles on a regular basis.

First agreed by Transport and Environment Committee in February, Open Streets in Edinburgh will take place on the first Sunday of every month as part of an 18-month trial, with closures based on a loop of streets in the Old Town, beginning with a short section of the loop and gradually building in scale over time.

On 5 May, a series of events have been organised 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, Councillor 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 5 May against a cleaner, more welcoming traffic-free backdrop.”

Grace Martin, Deputy Director, Sustrans Scotland, added: “The Open Streets scheme showcases Edinburgh as a city that puts people first. Helping make the city centre more accessible to users of all abilities to walk, wheel, cycle, relax and connect.

“Evidence is very clear that vehicle dominance of our urban environment is a major cause of air pollution. In areas where pollution exceeds legal limits, 80% of harmful nitrous oxide gas comes from transport. Closing streets to traffic does have a big and positive impact. As an example, last year’s London Marathon, which includes road closures across the city, coincided with an 89% drop in air pollution in central London.

“Open Streets is a great initiative to make our city centres healthier, greener and safer places for everyone.”

The scheme aims to replicate the success of similar events in cities like New York, Paris and Brussels, where regular car-free days have revolutionised the way people use their streets, encouraging healthy, active travel, inclusivity and cultural appreciation.

Open Streets will also help reimagine how spaces can be shared and re-configured in the future, in line with City Centre Transformation, a long-term vision to create a connected, sustainable and people-friendly centre.

The concept was trialled in Edinburgh on 21 June 2018 as part of the Edinburgh Summer Summit, when the Mound, Hanover Street and a section of George Street were closed to traffic. Marking Clean Air Day, the event saw a range of activities staged along the route, including yoga, cycling classes and dance sessions.

On 5 May, a series of diversions will be put in place for motorised 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.

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 participants are directed to the Humans of the Walk photography exhibition in Museum of Edinburgh’s courtyard organised by sponsors Paths for All. Amongst guests on the day will be Scotland's first Active Nation commissioner, Scottish and British championships-winning cyclist Lee Craigie, and Olympic gold medal-winning former racing cyclist Chris Boardman, who is now Cycling and Walking Commissioner for Greater Manchester.

The following streets will be closed to cars and other vehicles between 12pm and 5pm on 5 May:

Blackfriars Street (between High Street and New Skinner’s Close)
Canongate (between St Mary/Jeffrey Street and the west side of Reid’s Close)
Cockburn Street
Cranston Street
Grassmarket (pedestrian zone between West Bow and King’s Stables Road) 
High Street 
New Street
Niddry Street 
Old Tolbooth Wynd
St Giles’ Street
Victoria Street
West Bow

Full details of road closures and event activities on 5 May are available on the Open Streets web page.

Additional quotes

Ian Findlay, Chief Officer at Paths for All, said: “We’re proud to be involved in the launch of the Open Streets project. Creating cleaner, walkable, safe spaces for people to meet and enjoy, away from loud and busy traffic will bring significant benefits to the local community.
“Edinburgh is leading the way in inspiring other cities to join in and help make Scotland a world-class walking-friendly country for both residents and visitors.
"We're launching our Humans of the Walk photography exhibition on the same day to celebrate the positive impact that regular walking can bring to improve social, physical and mental health in Scotland.”

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