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Inverness city centre traffic measures could become permanent

By Scott Maclennan

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Here to stay?
Here to stay?

CONTROVERSIAL routes designed to ease social distancing and promote active travel in Inverness are to stay in place for the time being and could be made permanent.

The possibility of making the Spaces for People measures, introduced in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak last year, permanent was first raised in November.

Now members of Highland Council’s Inverness city committee are to be told funding has been identified for permanently embedding three of the four main city centre schemes.

Measures in Academy Street.
Measures in Academy Street.

Councillors will be asked to approve moves by council officers to develop design options for the schemes, which have sharply divided opinion.

Many drivers have said that the use of red and white barriers and cones to create one-way systems and widen pavements and space for cyclists many has made journeys longer and more difficult, while some business owners have complained of a negative impact on trade.

They were also responsible for tailbacks on a number of major routes, including around Inverness Castle and at Millburn Road, but have been subject to change based on monitoring by council officers.

Traffic gridlock in Castle Road. Picture: Gary Anthony
Traffic gridlock in Castle Road. Picture: Gary Anthony

Others have praised the measures as an improvement on provision for pedestrians and cyclists.

Funding to make measures in Academy Street, Millburn Road and Riverside Way permanent has been identified via Sustrans and its Places for Everyone scheme.

Under the proposals, pavements in Academy Street would be widened while in Millburn Road, new segregated bike lanes would be created, connecting the city centre to the Inverness Campus.

For Riverside Way, funding is available to create enhanced pedestrian and cycle connections.

Measures in Castle Street.
Picture: Gary Anthony
Measures in Castle Street. Picture: Gary Anthony

While a report to councillors does not include proposals for making the one-way system around Inverness Castle permanent, it does suggest changes could be made in the future.

“The temporary one-way system, whilst primarily a response to the public health crisis, has provided a pilot project that demonstrates that it is possible to redistribute the available space to people walking, wheeling and cycling, and vehicular traffic,” it said.

“It has also provided on-the-ground data and experience of the issues and priorities that would need to be considered in any future scheme.”

Claiming the measures could provide a boost to business, the report stated: “Whilst there are genuine concerns about the interventions from some businesses, it is important to consider the wider evidence available about the effects of active travel interventions.”

Officers cite a Transport for London study from 2018 that suggests active travel improvements can increase retail sales by up to 30 per cent as less traffic encourages people to stay in areas for longer.

They also say a studies in Dublin and, more recently, Glasgow, showed retailers overestimated how many customers travelled by car.

Mike Smith: Public and businesses need a positive message from councillors. Picture: Andrew Smith.
Mike Smith: Public and businesses need a positive message from councillors. Picture: Andrew Smith.

Inverness Business Improvement District (Bid) manager Mike Smith said the organisation supported pavement widening in Academy Street “as long as the operational needs of businesses regarding access for deliveries are guaranteed” and as long as a new cycle lane was not added.

On Millburn Road, he said businesses could see little sense in the current scheme, with a Bid survey showing just 250 cyclists using the current cycle path against 10,000 vehicle movements daily in total.

He called the one-way system in Castle Street confusing and bad for business and added: “As we plan for the reopening of the city centre, Bid calls upon the councillors to give a positive message to the public and businesses by committing to withdrawing the Millburn and castle area schemes.”

Inverness South councillor Andrew Jarvie said: “The report claims that making these changes permanent are essential to the city’s recovery. If that is so, why are so many city businesses telling me they want them gone?

“Why is a three-year-old report for London more important than what Inverness residents and businesses are saying?

“We don’t need spaces for people, we need to listen to them.”

David Traill: Customer feedback suggests system is off-putting.
David Traill: Customer feedback suggests system is off-putting.

David Traill, owner of J Graham & Co angling and shooting store, also in Castle Street, said: “We know from customer feedback how off-putting the system is.

“It is a horrendous system.”

Related article: City centre barriers are still dividing opinion

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