A series of city centre events is being planned to celebrate an initiative to close some of Edinburgh’s most historic roads to motorised traffic.
The international Open Streets movement is designed to make some of the most congested areas of cities more accessible to tourists and pedestrians and reduce pollution levels.
Edinburgh will become the first city in the UK to join the global movement this Sunday along with Paris, Bogota, New Orleans and many others worldwide.
Under proposals unveiled by the council, 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.
A series of events has 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.
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.
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.
- Jazz in Dunbar Close Garden
- “Humans of the Walk” exhibition, Museum of Edinburgh
- Scottish Storytelling Centre, garden reading zone
Grassmarket and Victoria Street
- Displays and demonstrations
- Try an e-bike
- Grassmarket Community Project
- Play on Pedals and bike displays
- Festival Volunteers Guided Walks
- Hire a bicycle, City Chambers
- Grafitti art
- Hula Hoops
- Tai Chi
- Picnic Space and Toilets
- Place for art and drawing
- Writers Museum