Inverness roads will be able to handle the fallout from drastically cutting the number of cars on Academy Street, Highland Council has said.
Controversial plans to ban most private cars from the city’s main thoroughfare won the backing of councillors by a narrow margin last month.
Supporters of the scheme have welcomed it as a chance to progress towards a greener, more pedestrian-friendly city centre.
But opponents claim they were not properly consulted and are furious about the effect it might have on footfall.
Some have also raised concerns that cutting the daily traffic volume on Academy Street from around 9,000 vehicles to under 2,000 will simply pile pressure onto some of Inverness’s worst bottlenecks.
However, the council has now moved to ease some of those traffic concerns.
Where will the traffic go?
According to Highland Council, vehicles will be distributed around Inverness’s main “circulatory routes” when the Academy Street changes take place.
These roads include the A9, the A82 – particularly along Longman Road – the Southern Distributor Road and the West Link.
Our map below shows where the traffic is likely to be moved.
Other roads near a new-look Academy Street, like Harbour Road, Bank Street and the the Crown area, would also likely see an upturn in traffic numbers.
That has raised some eyebrows, but a council spokesman told the Press and Journal they will be able to handle it.
She said: “Highland Council collates data on the network continuously.
“Current figures indicate that the network could absorb displaced traffic numbers.
“More detailed study will be part of the scheme development.”
‘The city did not grind to a halt’
The history books may also give reason to believe this could all work out fine.
The spokeswoman added: “Academy Street has been closed in the past, notably for a gas main replacement in 2006.
“Traffic volumes through the city centre were far higher then and the city did not grind to a halt.”
A quick comb of the P&J archives shows that indeed, Inverness did not grind to a halt.
Once things were back to normal, some businesses reported that it hadn’t been as bad as they expected.
However, some business leaders did report a drop in trade over the five-week closure.
Police were also forced to station officers on Fraser Street and Queensgate and ticket anyone trying to use a shortcut to bypass the closure.
Opponents still hoping for an Academy Street trial
Ultimately, the planned changes to Academy Street are part of a bigger picture.
They are a small cog in a long-term tilt towards promoting active travel.
But while a lot of people support that, some are still worried that this is not the best time to introduce is while the public transport network is struggling so badly.
At the recent city committee that examined the plans, Inverness Ness-side councillor Alasdair Christie put forward a motion to trial the changes rather than make them permanent.
His idea was defeated by 12 votes to 10.
That was after some councillors said a trial could put some of the funding for this project in doubt.
Councillor Christie said: “Since I suggested that trial, I’ve had 15 city centre businesses tell me they’re behind me.
“It would identify the problems within a week and you could mitigate.
“This plan is something you’d want the whole city to be taking forward as a good idea.
“But we’re not there yet.”
Why is Academy Street changing?
There are currently around 8,500 to 9,500 cars, vans, lorries and buses on Academy Street every day.
Analysis of the traffic has shown that 50% of these vehicles are using the street as a through route – rising to 75% in the morning rush hour.
The initial consultation on the plans brought positive results.
Feedback from the online portal set up for it showed that 68% of 521 responses viewed the plans favourably.
But a legal challenge is likely from businesses who say they were not consulted on the plan.
Whatever way you look at it, this issue is not going away anytime soon.