As first reported in Issue 269, the Council is looking carefully at how to redesign George Street and the First New Town (Hanover, Frederick and Castle Streets) ‘with a people friendly, walkable, public life focus’.

To that end, they employed HERE+NOW Landscape Architects to research the current situation. These findings will have informed the first draft of a new design which we expect to see next month. For that reason, it seems worth revisiting them now.

HERE+NOW’s Public Life Street Assessment has been published in two formats. The first is an executive summary for laypeople with an average understanding of legs. The second is a more detailed and technical document aimed at dyed-in-the-wool trottoir-wonks. You can download either HERE.

Below we summarise the executive summary, following a convenient editorial desire line between parked concepts and across the prevailing flow of research traffic.

Where and when

Research was conducted at  8am, 12.30pm and 5pm in 15 spots on 3 different days of the week in July and September 2017.

  • Locations of tracing studies of pedestrian movements  are shown in the plan below by a solid circle.
  • Pedestrian counts (footfall volume and direction) are shown by a dotted circle.
  • Behavioural mapping (e.g. window shopping, waiting to cross a road, smoking, talking on a mobile phone while standing talking to someone next to you talking on a mobile phone) are indicated by an oblong.
  • Place function assessments, using Gehl’s 12 Quality Criteria, were combined with the previous three study methods for each street.

Overall findings

  • There is a general lack of public seating throughout the area.
  • Pedestrian desire lines are frequently located away from existing pavement or crossing infrastructure.
  • The comparatively high-quality public realm and pedestrian-priority approach on Castle Street is the most successful in terms of public life and pedestrian movement in the study area.
  • Hanover Street (south) has the highest footfall and functions as a necessary pedestrian route.
  • There is a need to improve conditions for east–west pedestrian movement along Rose Street, and to better connect sections of Hill, Young and Thistle Streets over road junctions.
  • Junctions of George Street with Hanover and Frederick Streets create particular problem spots for pedestrian movement.
  • There is a need to rationalise (remove or reposition) street clutter.

Potential opportunities

Based on the research, the report blushes, avoids eye-contact and tiptoes forward with ‘some suggestions for consideration only [which] may constitute just one way of solving the issues’. These suggestions are:

  • Reconsider the balance of street space from favouring vehicles (moving or parked) toward pedestrians/cylclists to better enable public life and pedestrian movement.
  • Consider introduction of additional pedestrianised or shared space streets (building on lessons learned at Castle Street) to improve walkability and enable more diverse activities, evens and public life across the full street width.
  • Better facilitate existing pedestrian desire lines going east-west.
  • Increase quantity and frequency of public seating throughout the area.
  • Improve pedestrian movement at George Street’s junctions with Hanover and Frederick Streets.
  • Rationalise street clutter (e.g. unnecessary poles, phone boxes, badly positioned bus stops and bins) to improve walkability.

Admirable start

In this article, we have barely scratched the surface of what is a fascinating and complex body of work.

We found much in it that reflects our own experience of the area, particularly its disappointing amenity in terms of a vehicle-dominated layout resulting in unpleasant exposure to traffic fumes and noise.

The area’s poor rating as ‘a place to stop and stand’ – a quintessential social and political prerequisite of city life since ancient Greece – speaks volumes about how far our modern Athens of the North has degenerated.

We applaud HERE+NOW’s contribution, and sincerely hope City of Edinburgh Council won’t kick it into what little remains of the First New Town’s long grass.

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George Street
55° 57' 11.0772" N, 3° 12' 1.2204" W