New trams will be streets ahead
Edinburgh’s revolution on the roads is now in heart of the city, Brian Donnelly reports
ANYONE who knows the capital knows that getting around by car can be frustrating, to say the least. One solution to the increasing levels of traffic in Edinburgh has been the instigation of the city’s ambitious £500m tram scheme.
Although construction began last year, arguably the most significant phase of the work got under way this week with the closure of a main arterial route in the city’s west end.
With Shandwick Place now shut for the next five months, the patience of drivers will be tested to the utmost as work gathers pace.
The disruption has focused attention on the headache of worsening traffic congestion and whether trams will deliver the solution as so many hope.
Yesterday many drivers caught up in the new diversions heading into the city were not sure.
Daniel Kyle, 24, an estate agent from Linlithgow, West Lothian, said after the detour: “I don’t have a clue where I’ve just been. Edinburgh’s bad at the best of times, but this is ridiculous. I’m not quite sure how bringing in more large vehicles is going to help the motorists.”
Yet he admitted the rerouting added only 10 minutes to his journey.
Arno Watson, 47, a shop worker who lives in Stockbridge, usually 10 minutes from the city centre, forgot the works began yesterday.
He said: “My usual bus was 15 minutes late, it took me on a magical mystery tour, and then I had to walk for 10 minutes to get to work in Princes Street.”
Trams are seen as an old solution to a new problem, but Edinburgh is hoping to emulate the success of similar schemes around Britain in recent years, including Sheffield and Manchester. Across the Irish Sea, Dublin turned to trams as a way out of gridlock.
In Edinburgh, many businesses believe it is necessary to tackle traffic since the former council's congestion charge was rejected in a referendum.
Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce said nearly 80% of its members want the trams, which will run from Leith to the airport.
A second phase, costing £87m and running from Roseburn to Granton, may be built at a later date, and another phase could eventually stretch out to Newbridge.
The business community’s optimism follows the success of other systems. Dublin's Luas - Irish for ‘speed’ - tramway, which opened in 2004, has brought in 35% more shoppers with a 25% increase in sales.
Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive said its scheme, built in 1992, has attracted £60m in private sector investment and created 3800 permanent jobs.
The Edinburgh scheme is expected to create 590 permanent jobs.
Tie Limited, which is responsible for the £500m project, said the complete closure of Shandwick Place would be quicker than keeping the street open during works, which would have meant the work would have taken up to a year.
Traffic will be diverted through Melville Street, and George Street will become an important route for traffic flowing through the centre.
Rates relief may be available for companies adjacent to some of the works, and small businesses can claim compensation if they can prove hardship caused by the project.
Graeme Barclay, Tie construction director, said the first morning of works had gone smoothly as traffic management was in place.
He said: “Tie is constantly monitoring the traffic situation and we are pleased that the early stages are flowing as planned.
“We will continue to monitor the traffic as works continue but we do appreciate the ongoing patience and co-operation of drivers.”
Willie Gallagher, executive chairman of Tie Limited, said: “We have identified the optimum traffic management solution that ensures optimum vehicle flow for both public transport and other traffic.
“The citizens of Edinburgh and its business community expect this work done to be done safely, quickly and to budget. Our approach to diverting the utilities, coupled with the traffic management measures, is the best way to achieve this.”
It is not only Edinburgh that believes trams are the transport of the future. Since 1985, 11 French cities have either upgraded or developed new light rail systems.
Germany now has 50 networks, while the Netherlands has five. Worldwide around 50 countries operate 422 trams and light rail systems, with another 120 under construction.
Tie said research shows 20% of peak hour and 50% of weekend tram passengers in the UK previously travelled by car.
A spokesman for Glasgow City Council said yesterday: “Recognising the impor tance of a good public transport system to the economy of Glasgow, it is possible that at some point in the future some form of light rapid transit system could be introduced.
“One example of this is the Clyde Fastlink proposal being developed by the City Council in conjunction with Strathclyde Partnership for Transport.
“Fastlink is a proposal to develop a dedicated tram-like bus rapid transit system, running for the most part on dedicated private roadways, with state-of-the-art public transport vehicles.”
That system would run along the north bank of the river between the central station and Glasgow Harbour.
It has already received planning permission and studies are under way on extensions to the Southern General Hospital, Renfrew and Clydebank.
The importance of tackling congestion is acknowledged nationally as well as locally.
Across Scotland conges- tion is seen as such a problem that solutions such as bringing in a hovercraft commuter service between Fife and Edinburgh and a water bus service for the Clyde are being floated.
By 2006 there were more than 2.5 million vehicles in Scotland. Some 68% of households have at least one car available for private use, up from 63% in 1999, and 24% of households have two or more cars, compared with 18% in 1999.
A Scottish Government spokesman said it is “investing substantially in our bus industry to the tune of some £260m per year, and giving local authorities record levels of funding to allow them to invest in local priorities”.