HIGH death rates in the heart of Scotland's capital have prompted plans for an overhaul of traffic systems.

Mortality rates in Edinburgh's Old Town and parts of the west end are higher than the average for the entire city and the Lothians. Previous attempts to reduce city-centre pollution have failed, including plans for a congestion charge.

Now – after the revelation of high death rates for areas such as the Royal Mile, Chambers Street, Haymarket, Holyrood and Tollcross – the city council will put together new plans for reducing traffic, with a complete review of the one-way systems, and a rethink on how pedestrian crossings work.

The so-called Southern Arc, which runs from Haymarket to Holyrood, has been identified as having a high mortality rate that could be reduced by better health care and environment.

The study of Government figures also showed slightly higher instances of respiratory diseases across the Southern Arc, which the council found surprising given the area is relatively affluent.

In the Southern Arc, the rate of deaths from 2004 to 2010 that "could theoretically have been averted by better health care" was 160 per 100,000, compared to 115 per 100,000 for Edinburgh as a whole and 112 per 100,000 across the Lothians – a difference described as "significant".

A report, to be presented to the council on Thursday, states: "The data suggests the health of people living in the Southern Arc area is poorer than the city or Lothian average across a number of indicators. This is unexpected given the deprivation profile of the area.

"Poor air quality has a direct relationship with health problems. An increase in average levels of small particles is associated with an increase in mortality. Road transport is responsible for about one-third of these small particles.

"This is higher in parts of the Southern Arc, where the combination of high traffic volumes and the canyon-like effect of tall buildings and narrow streets trap exhaust emissions."

The council has identified areas for improvement, including the route from Haymarket to Holyrood, the Haymarket area, Chambers Street, The Royal Mile and Tollcross.

The road to Holyrood would include prioritising pedestrians and bikes over cars, changing one-way systems in the Lothian Road area, and a vehicle-free access from the Grassmarket to the Union Canal.

The Royal Mile would have greater restrictions on cars. Tollcross and areas towards the canal could have widespread pedestrianisation.

A spokesman for heritage watchdog the Cockburn Association said: "Encouraging more people to walk and cycle will have broader societal benefits than just an improved public realm, but this must be carefully balanced with needs of servicing city centre businesses."

A spokesman for Sustrans, which promotes greener travel, said: "Increased passenger numbers are predicted at Haymarket over the coming years. An increase in pedestrian space immediately outside the station will be necessary as many pavements are already crowded at peak times."