A reconfigured George Street was officially opened today that gives cyclists a safe East-West route across the city centre, free of tram lines and free of motorised traffic. The conversion is being trialled from September 2014 to September 2015.
The upmarket, New Town street has seen the conversion of one of its two roadways into a separated two-way cycle lane while the other remains a one-way system for general traffic and buses.
The year-long trial follows experiments during the past two festivals, when pedestrian areas were installed on George Street to allow for outdoor seating for cafes and restaurants, in addition to Fringe venues. The Council owned Assembly Rooms for example sprawled out across the road. The Council hopes to encourage "an emerging café culture" all year round by allowing for outdoor dining facilities, exhibitions and public art.
“As we have seen over the Festival, opening up George Street for pedestrians and cyclists can result in a much more relaxed, enjoyable atmosphere for everyone," said Councillor Lesley Hinds, Transport and Environment Convener.
“We want to create an inviting city centre, showing off what local businesses have to offer as well as creating an accessible space for residents, visitors and commuters. However, we will continue to cooperate with stakeholders to ensure this works for all those involved,” added Hinds.
In spite of the reduction in lanes for cars, the street retains extensive car parking down the centre of the street from Charlotte Square down to St Andrew Square. The parking spaces are separated from the new cycle lanes by rubber kerbs and decorative planters.
While cyclists and pedestrians will probably enjoy the calmer street, diverting traffic off George Street and limiting traffic on Princes Street has meant residents and businesses along Queen Street, which runs parallel to George Street, are suffering from heavy traffic, with gridlock at busy hours of the day.
The 12-month trial will be overseen by a monitoring and evaluation group, allowing the Council to review the impact on residents, visitors, business and movement in and around the city centre before considering a more permanent solution. More than 1000 people will be interviewed on George Street throughout the trial, seeking to find out what the public would like to see happen with the street in the long term.
Proposals to develop George Street were first agreed as part of a wider city centre vision at October’s Transport and Environment Committee and built on a review of city centre public spaces by Gehl Architects, which identified traffic-dominated streets and the quality of the pedestrian experience amongst the challenges faced.
Final designs were drawn up after a six-week public consultation.
Edinburgh cycle lobby group SPOKES welcomed the George Street trial although it said more needed to done to improve the "permeability" of the route, so that city centre cyclists could easily exit and enter the new route safely onto other cycleroutes. It also urged the Council to consider a safe Princes Street cycleroute as a priority for cyclists.
One of the leading advocates of George Street pedestrianisation has been Essential Edinburgh.
“We are delighted," says Andy Neal, Chief Executive of the organisation. "The aim of the part-pedestrianisation is to create a space that attracts even more people to enjoy all that the city centre has to offer – its shops, bars, restaurants, attractions and public spaces."