Living Streets Edinburgh Group is the local voluntary arm of the national charity, Living Streets, which campaigns for better conditions for ‘everyday walking’. In LSEG our key aim is to promote walking as a safe, enjoyable and easy way of getting around the city.
We welcome many aspects of the proposed design, which are way overdue: for example, removal of general parking, reduction of traffic space widening of pavements, removal of street clutter, and introducing seating. We append our general statement of preferences for street design, which the proposals generally meet well.
LSEG has a long-standing ambition to pedestrianise George Street – which we were told has widespread public support through the consultation. Edinburgh – perhaps uniquely for a European city of its size and history? – lacks any properly traffic-free space and George Street (and the Royal Mile) are the obvious candidates for this in the New and Old Towns respectively. The form that pedestrianisation should take depends on the type and volume of traffic that will use the street. Which parts of the street will be used by buses? Taxis? Private vehicles? The answer to these questions will determine the scale and type of appropriate pedestrianisation: for example, if buses are to continue to use the eastern section of George Street, then it would only make sense to pedestrianise the western two blocks.
We therefore believe that the design should follow decisions on the purpose of the street in terms of its ‘movement’ function, without of course undermining its crucial ‘place’ function. The emphasis on the ‘flexibility’ of this design (so that the street can accommodate traffic which is currently permitted, as well as options for reduced traffic levels) is a mistake and makes it hard to comment on the suitability of the proposed design. Decisions to restrict traffic should therefore be made now.
Having said this, we have the following comments on specific aspects of the design:
We welcome and give unqualified support to the removal of general on-street parking. We note that a 1,600 space (?) car park will open soon in the St James Centre (regrettably). Careful consideration is needed for the provision of space for loading, service vehicles etc, and the management of such provision (see also ‘Enforcement’ below).
Blue Badge parking:
This should be provided ‘as appropriate’. To determine what is appropriate, detailed surveys of current Blue Badge parking patterns should be carried out, along with consultation with relevant disability groups. Provision is likely to consist of parking both on or near George Street (eg at the top of the steeply sloping streets like Castle St, Frederick St, etc) and also at the bottom, because some drivers/passengers will be heading for Princes St, rather than George St, and may be unable to manage the slope.
It is essential that all pedestrians can cross George Street easily, safely and with confidence. This should be both at the junctions with adjoining streets and also mid-block. We are not convinced that the design achieves this, as the ‘plazas’ do not appear to offer any formal pedestrian priority. Although we generally welcome the use of zebras to provide this, we doubt that the current crossing provisions adequately cater for the needs of people with visual impairments. Our understanding is that there are only three signalled crossings – at the east and west ends, and at the Hanover St junction.
The cycleway as currently designed means very tight pavements on the south side of George Street at junctions, especially with Frederick St. It is essential that all pavements on this ‘flagship’ street fully meet the Street Design Guidance’s ‘desirable minimum’ width of at least 4 metres; this does not appear to be the case at these points. However more fundamentally, a 4 metre cycleway conflicts with the principle that George Street should be about ‘place’ not ‘movement’. If general traffic is restricted, as we advocate, this would remove the need for a separate cycleway at all, as cycling on the carriageway would be attractive and safe. This would also be more convenient for cyclists joining and exiting along George Street than a bi-directional cycleway.
We support provision of a safe and attractive cycling environment in the city, including to and on George Street. However, we question whether George Street is the right place for the major segregated west-east route catering for a range of cyclists including commuters, delivery cyclists etc as well as people arriving to enjoy George Street itself by bike. Alternative, more direct options for a cross-city route include Queens Street or Princes Street. We therefore think that further consideration should be given to the best route for a segregated section of the National Cycle Network, as part of the ‘city centre transformation’ and the overall reduction in traffic in the city centre.
Management and Enforcement:
It is vital that plans for management and enforcement – of parking, waiting, loading, blue badge spaces, speeding, bins, ‘A-boards’, etc – is fully planned at the outset. Shops, bars and restaurants will need deliveries and waste collection etc and these need to be organised in a way (and at times) that does not result in vans, bin lorries, etc outwith designated times. Edinburgh does not have a good record of managing existing pedestrian priority spaces (eg Grassmarket, Castle Street, Rose Street). Without robust enforcement measures (which are likely to reduce with the removal of current pay and display parking), the intention to create people-friendly spaces will be defeated.
We agree that attractive spaces should be provided for both formal and informal events, social activity etc so that the vitality of the street is maximised as a lively place where people want to visit and stay at all times of the day, and year. However we need to have more detail on how such spaces will be managed – especially during the festivals (see also ‘Enforcement’ above) – to comment on whether the proposed design is suitable.
We understand that tree planting on George Street is likely to be controversial, especially on ‘heritage’ grounds. However, we tend to favour the introduction of appropriate greenery which makes the space more attractive without compromising the historic and architectural appeal of the street.
Appendix: ‘Standard’ LSEG key principles relevant to George Street
A fundamental point is that all proposals and designs must explicitly conform to the Edinburgh Street Design Guidance (ESDG) for the category/categories of street affected. Until the adoption of finalised Detailed Design Sheets for the ESDG, the latter’s Design Principles (as already adopted by the Council) should be adhered to, for example with regard to:
1. An increase (or no net loss) of pedestrian space.
2. Footways meet recommended widths.
3. Conflicts with cyclists are avoided, with dedicated and well-defined space provided for pedestrians (including separated ‘tiger’ crossings).
4. Junctions make foot crossing easier by being raised, with radii of corners and widths minimised
5. In busier areas, controlled crossings are provided in convenient places, with acceptable waiting and crossing times.
6. Pedestrian priority is made clear at all the key crossing points of the cycle routes, eg with continuous footways across side streets at junctions.
7. The design meets the requirements of the 2010 Equality Act by including the reasonable adjustments that the Council is legally required to implement in order to make the streets accessible to people with disabilities such as dropped kerbs (where continuous footways are not feasible), seating and tactile paving.
8. The footway is made free from clutter.
9. Guardrails are avoided / removed.
Impact of traffic:
10. If the area is a residential or shopping street or busy pedestrian route the speed limit is 20mph and the design helps to achieve this as a maximum speed in practice.
11. The level of parking and access to motor vehicles is appropriate and does not dominate the space.