A large-scale redevelopment project for George Street has set off complaints and divided opinions among residents and pedestrians of Edinburgh.
The project, initiated by the design consultation firm Ironside Farrar, began in October 2013, when the firm received a 12-month trial permit from the Edinburgh City Council’s Transport and Environment Committee.
Their mandate was to develop a one-way traffic system and two-way bicycle lane for George Street. The permit included the expansion of pavements in favour of easier pedestrian travel and outdoor seating for the restaurants and businesses of George Street.
However, two years later, residents are still unhappy with the plans.
Carolyn Reed, an office worker on George Street recounted that she has experienced various frightening encounters with cars that have been diverted by construction and traffic changes along the street’s various cross sections.
“I am mostly just confused about [the proposal] because I just want it to be permanent”, she told The Student.
“There have been so many changes over the past two years, and as a pedestrian the construction makes everyday travel incredibly confusing and slightly dangerous at times. I’d just like it all to settle down, more than anything.”
Reed is not the only one confused about what the project plans to do with the street. In response to rising scepticism among local residents, Ironside Farrar held a general interest meeting last Friday.
During the meeting, attended by The Student, project directors Julian Farrar and Janet Pope met with various consultants to answer questions and elucidate the project’s aims and operatives.
Drawings and blueprints of the redesigned street, complete with traffic pattern diagrams and colour-coded graphics, were laid out around the room for visitors to view and peruse.
Post-it notes were available for attendees to leave comments on sections of the layout they were concerned with or had misgivings about.
By the second hour of the meeting, the long table was covered with pastel squares.
“I like to think of those who question the project not as objectors but as people who are just not yet convinced of the merits of the project,” Julian Farrar, Project Director, told The Student.
“Streets are very complex places, there are many, many stake holders all with an interest. There are retailers, shoppers, pedestrians, cyclists, regulators who want to put up signs and control things. There is a huge breadth of view. So the main controversy I see is with the quality of the scheme. We need to make people feel confident that we won’t get it wrong.”
The biggest “design principles” the project is most adamant about is the re-establishment of George Street as the centre of Edinburgh’s New Town neighbourhood. Key to that vision is the re-establishment of the Georgian architecture and renewed homage to James Craig’s New Town design, Farrar explained.
“George Street needs to re-express the grandeur, scale and distinctiveness of what Edinburgh is,” Farrar told The Student.
She continued: “Edinburgh is a world-class destination city. You come and visit it because of world-class Georgian architecture. George Street needs to reestablish its distinctiveness of place, recapture the original spirit of the James Craig plan.”
But the Edinburgh residents present at the project’s open meeting on Friday were not overly concerned with the proposed design principles.
Instead, the bulk of the issues have been found more in the specific changes being proposed for George Street.
Questions were dominated by logistical issues that might arise with the larger pavements, narrower roads and more parking marquees.
Another Edinburgh office worker, Stefan Mortise, expressed concern with the proposed idea of expanding pavements for outdoor seating and shrinking roads in favour of bike lanes.
“If you look at these drawings, they look very nice but they only look nice because none of the cars or buses or bikes are actually drawn in”, he told The Student.
“Once you add these into the equation, people will park on the pavements, and double park, and disobey signs and that just doesn’t seem to be being taken into account at all. Presumably they will say that they will just reinforce parking laws more but I’ve heard that said many times and it never works.”
Image: Ross G. Strachan