Edinburgh City Centre Transformation would create a vibrant city that puts people first

By John Lauder,
Shared spaces, cycle lanes and traffic calming proposals for Lothian Road. Image credit: Jacobs

Artist's impression of what Lothian Road could look like.

Street full of people on Edinburgh's Cowgate. Image credit: Jacobs

Artist's impression of the proposals for The Cowgate.

Led by Sustrans Deputy Director Daisy Narayanan, City of Edinburgh Council is launching proposals for an ambitious City Centre Transformation.

Daisy has been seconded to Edinburgh for the past year and Sustrans has been delighted with the close relationship we enjoy with the City Council. The transformation is a large scale project that aims, as the name suggests, to transform Scotland’s capital, putting people first in the heart of the city.

Residents should feel justly proud of Edinburgh as a global city and international tourist destination. It’s also where I live and where Sustrans Scotland has its head office. However, as with so many old cities that have grown organically over hundreds of years, it’s also a dense and sometimes confusing place when it comes to street layouts and priorities. In addition, we feel that over the past 60 years the city has given way too much priority, time and planning to private motor use.

Cities can’t stand still: they need to change and adapt. Especially when you take into account that Edinburgh is the fastest growing city in Scotland with a projected population of 600,000 (up from just under 500,000 today) by 2040.

Proposals that prioritise people over vehicles with pedestrianised thoroughfares, quiet and open spaces and wide-scale traffic calming measures would make the city safer, healthier and greener. Creating a more welcoming environment for everyone. 

Starting in May 2019, initiatives like Open Streets are a great stepping stone. Following other cities around the world Edinburgh will be the first in the UK to close selected streets to traffic on the first Sunday of every month making them 'open' to people.

The examples shown in the Edinburgh City Centre Transformation report are exactly the type of changes that need to happen if Edinburgh is going to improve its transport network and return the city to its citizens and its visitors, making it a pleasant and vibrant place to be. We not only want to be learning from other great cities worldwide but to be leading the way.

This is the first step in what can be a long and complicated process. The evidence certainly suggests residents want change (of the over 5000 people responding to the consultation as part of ‘Connecting our City, Transforming our Places’, 88% said they wanted to see changes to the way the city centre is managed of which 51% said they wanted radical change).

Our own Bike Life Edinburgh report, published in 2017, revealed that 80% of residents support building more protected roadside cycle lanes, even when this could mean less space for other road traffic. And if people come on board and engage with the consultation process, together we can make a city for the future rather than being mired in the past.

Funded by the Scottish Government, Sustrans is a key partner with City of Edinburgh Council providing skills, knowledge and experience in developing the City Centre Transformation.