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Inverness bus and taxi operators seek urgent talks with Highland Council on radical changes to city centre roads in response to coronavirus risk

By Alasdair Fraser

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Academy Street could be closed to traffic in the evenings under new proposal.
Academy Street could be closed to traffic in the evenings under new proposal.

Transport groups want to talk to Highland Council about plans that could see evening pedestrianisation across Inverness city centre.

Highland Council is applying for a share of the Scottish Government's Spaces for People active travel plan to implement a range of measures in response to the Covid-19 crisis.

It is understood that, as part of the plans, council officials are considering moving all or part of the Academy Street taxi rank behind the railway station, while evening buses would be diverted.

Andrew MacDonald, chairman of Inverness Taxi Alliance, said: “I’d favour complete town centre pedestrianisation, provided they allow taxis in.

"It works very well in Fort William and Elgin.

"If they re-open the High Street to allow through-flow, they could easily close off Union Street, Queensgate, Church Street and even Academy Street to general traffic.”

To combat city centre pollution, Mr MacDonald is installing hydrogen units in his fleet of seven cars, mothballed during the lockdown.

Stagecoach, which runs the majority of city bus services, said: “Inverness has needed new traffic measures for years.

“Our services frequently suffer delays through city centre gridlock. We would fully support any changes that maintain access for people by bus. We operate in shared spaces in a number of UK cities which are proven to provide a safe and vibrant city centre.”

But Greig MacKay, Scottish director of the Bus Users lobby group, feared the plan would make bus travel less attractive by further slowing journey times.

He added: “Academy Street pedestrianisation after 6pm would have a detrimental effect for those with mobility needs. Public transport needs to be seen as part of the transformational change, not penalised.”

A charity is also urging Highland Council to take care in ensuring blind and partially sighted people are kept safe on any new routes.

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) welcomed plans for temporary “pop-up” cycling and walking paths to aid social distancing.

But a spokesman cautioned against “hurried” solutions that stoked danger for those with disabilities.

Roughly 1250 Highland people are registered as blind or partially-sighted, with many others unregistered.

RNIB’s Ian Brown said: “The idea is fantastic in principle, but our concern is making sure that if these cycleways are put up very hurriedly, the correct precautions are made.

“A blind or partially-sighted person can’t see or even hear a bicycle coming. Cyclists will quite reasonably assume they can. We need clear delineation between pavement and cycleway, as well as safe, well thought out crossing points.”

More details of the proposals and the chance to comment are available here

Related articles: Have your say on Inverness roads revolution

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