Walking campaigners have hailed the City Council’s ban on vehicle traffic from two Old Town streets during the forthcoming August festivals. David Spaven, the Convenor of Living Streets Edinburgh Group, commented:
‘We’ve been pressing the Council for several years to tackle this growing problem of lack of space for pedestrians in the city centre during the peak summer season. So, we’re delighted they’ve taken up our idea. Banning traffic from Cockburn Street and Blair Street is an important step towards creating a civilised city centre which is safe and convenient for all pedestrians. But it should be just the start of a more ambitious programme – with growing safety concerns along Cowgate, we feel this traffic-dominated street should be an early priority for treatment.’
We were appalled to see how narrow the pavement is on the Castle side of Johnston Terrace, after the works to install a ‘rock trap’ to catch falling rocks from Castle Rock were finished recently. The pavement is only 1.5 metres wide – well short of the 2.5 metre “absolute minimum” required by the Council’s own (excellent) Street Design Guidance.
Having looked into the history of this, it is almost as appalling to read the report to the Development Management Sub Committee 14 January 2015, which states
“Whilst this width is below that recommended in the council’s …guidelines it is considered, given the relatively low use of this footway, to be an be acceptable departure from standards in this instance. However as two wheelchairs or buggies will be unable to pass each other on a footway of this width the applicant was advised that uncontrolled crossing points on either side of the narrowing were required.”
We have raised this with the Council – not only the inadequacy of this pavement (which is far from “low use”) but also the wider issue of how keen the Council appears to be to ignore its own guidance.
However, in the interests of taking placemaking seriously, we would like to see the proposal go further than simply creating a performance/gathering space in front of the NMS. Any placemaking project should surely consider the street as a whole, and not simply one short stretch.
We would like to see the widened pavement stretching at least the full block from West College St to George IVth bridge, and preferably the full length of the street.
This would provide a more balanced effect, rather than creating an uneven patchwork. It would also respond to the congestion that regularly occurs on the pavement around the new, tower entrance to the NMS building.
This buildout would provide a much enhanced pedestrian experience both for those travelling along the street, and for those visiting the museum. Similar consideration should also be given to the junction with South Bridge, which records very high footfall, but which is often an unpleasant experience for those on foot.
Finally, to enable pedestrians safer access to the Cowgate, we propose a zebra crossing across Chambers Street at West College St. This would link up NMS to the steps down to Guthrie Street, as well as making it easier for staff and students moving between George Square and University buildings on the far side of Chambers st.
Living Streets Edinburgh objection to planning reference 15/04445/FUL- Mixed use development comprising hotel, bar, restaurant, cafe, retail and commercial uses and alterations to India Buildings, 11-15 Victoria Street and Cowgatehead Church. | 1 -15 Victoria Street 18-20 Cowgate Edinburgh EH1 2EX
Living Streets Edinburgh has a number of concerns about this application, which lead us to object to it. Our reading of the application leads us to believe that the developer has not fully considered the implications of their proposal for pedestrians, and where they have considered them, they have ignored key issues.
Our main objection relates to the issue of loading/unloading in the Cowgate and Victoria Street, but we highlight below further concerns about access to bus stops, and general pedestrian accessibility.
Loading & Unloading
The planning application proposes that coaches and goods vehicles will use the Cowgate for loading/unloading of goods and people. They’ve included a very narrow loading bay to facilitate this. However, the Cowgate is simply not wide enough at this point to accomodate vehicle loading.
The proposed loading bay will take away valuable pavement space. The pavements in this area are already very narrow – and are on a busy road. They’re currently 1.8m (at the back of this site ), and yet the developers want to NARROW them further, which seems likely to take them to the very minimum advised in the council’s own street guidance, given that the Cowgate is demarcated as a secondary retail/high st.
At present, deliveries to the site use the lane at the back of the Central Library up to the back of ‘Espionage’. They do not use the street as in the current proposal. The Cowgate is one of the only east / west roads left in the city center open to general traffic. Any blockage would have major knock on effects through the Cowgate and Grassmarket. Any vehicle loading or unloading would cause severe congestion within minutes. The proposed narrow loading bay would not facilitate 2 way traffic.
As can be seen elsewhere in the Cowgate, delivery vehicles frequently park on the pavement, forcing pavement users into the road. The damage caused by delivery vehicles can be seen throughout the Cowgate. It would be extremely deleterious to the pedestrian experience of Edinburgh, as well as costly to the council, if this practice were to be expanded any further.
For example, at the back of the recently opened Soco development an attempt was made by developers to build a loading bay on the pavement. This has not worked as vehicles often take up the entire loading bay AND pavement, again blocking the pavement for legitimate users.
We also note that the site is within the night time road closures of Cowgate. There is no mention of this in the planning application. If a delivery vehicle or bus requires access 10pm till 6 am where do they park? If a vehicle does go through the no entry signs, parks on the Cowgate, how would it leave the site? Reverse out or drive through the closed road? Any of these options would again be disadvantageous to vulnerable road users such as pedestrians.
Narrow pavements and expanded footfall
This proposal will inevitably increase the number of pavement users on the Cowgate. No mention of this has been made in the application. To the east of this development the pavement narrows to just 85cm under George the 4th Bridge on both sides of the road. To the west pedestrians have to negotiate the very wide junction at the bottom of Victoria street.
With regards to Victoria Street the road narrows at the front of the development / behind the G&V Hotel. As can be seen in some of the photos in the application the pavements in this area have been badly damaged by delivery vehicles parking on them.
Victoria st junction
Any hotel guest trying to travel north will have to cross the 2 lanes of traffic at the top of Victoria Street. During the rush hour it can be difficult to cross this junction on foot. The increased number of vehicle movements on this street as a result of this development will only make the issue worse.
We are also concerned about the knock-on effects on Victoria St, which is likely to be used by coach or other delivery vehicles, especially those relying on SatNav. The street runs the risk of being overwhelmed if large vehicles attempt to negotiate this narrow street and become blocked.
Bus facilities- George IV bridge
The planning application makes note of the bus facilities nearby for use by its customers. It does not mention that you have to cross 4 lanes of heavy traffic on George IV bridge to get to them.
Our advice would be that if the development is approved, it should be on the condition that
An off-street loading / unloading / drop off point should be created off the Cowgate. The site is big enough for this. There’s an example of an off road delivery bay at the Smart City Hostel further along the Cowgate.
The pavements should be widened along this part of the site to at least the far side of the George the 4th Bridge.
A pelican crossing should be installed on George the 4th Bridge at the top of Victoria St to allow people to cross the road without having to walk up to the junction with the Royal Mile to be able to cross the road safely.
All pavements surrounding the site should be protected by bollards to prevent vehicles parking on the pavement. The upkeep and maintenance of these bollards and the paving stones should be met by the development.
During construction pedestrian traffic should be maintained on both sides of the road.
The bottom of Victoria Street at the junction with the Cowgate should be narrowed to allow pedestrians to cross the junction safely.
Along Victoria Street and the Cowgate more crossing points should be provided to allow pedestrians safer access to the development.