‘Glasgow has 301km of extremely well spread out cycle infrastructure’, says Frank.
Last night (Wednesday 27 November 2013, for those from the future) saw Frank McAveety, the Glasgow council Cycling Tsar, talking at the Go Bike! annual general meeting. Go Bike! are the Strathclyde Cycle Campaign, focusing particularly on infrastructure. The Cycling Tsar is a position set up by the council (which probably works better with the Serbian spelling of ‘Csar’), and seems to be intended to act as the liaison between the hive minds of the council and the great unwashed of the cycling community.
Here’s what happened.
Go Bike! business
Go Bike! said some vaguely interesting things as part of their annual roundup;
- It was mentioned that cycle infrastructure concerns can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org (land and environmental services, in case you’re wondering…), where they’ll at least be logged, if not actually dealt with.
- The council have canned funding for the ‘Trailblazing rides’, which were intended to investigate key routes and highlight barriers to cycling.
- Eight of the nine committee members are male, and the overwhelming majority of people in the room were male and over forty.
However, I’m mainly interested in what Frank said. At the moment he’s positioning himself as the key voice for cycling in Glasgow, so it’s vital that we understand what he’s shouting for.
If you’re short on time, the gist is that much of what Frank says is excellent. Segregation. Arterial routes. Dutch-style infrastructure. Living streets. Regeneration. The issue is that what’s actually being done is a gulf away from the words. Frank’s either not shouting loud enough, doesn’t have the political weight to push things through, or cycling just isn’t seen as important enough to bother with across the council.
Right, details. Stuff in single quotes are direct quotations – I properly got my journalist on, making notes and everything. There are no photos. Sorry.
Intro to Frank
Frank is a Scottish Labour councillor for Shettleston (Glasgow East End). He’s been in and out of parliament a few times over the past decade, with the outs following unfortunate incidents with a pie and an ‘attractive girl in the second row’ (sadly separate incidents, rather that one amusing combination). However, Frank Got Stuff Done as the leader of Glasgow County Council (GCC) in the late 1990s and has decent achievements in leading regeneration within the East End, increasing investments in sport infrastructure, and securing funds for schools.
It’s not all bad, by any means.
What Frank said
Lot’s of stuff, most of it promising. He described himself historically as an enthusiastic cyclist, but one who had recently ‘drifted away due to other commitments’. He spent a chunk of time earlier this year cycling around Glasgow, and came away with the conclusion that lots more needs to be done. He also visited the Netherlands and mentioned Dutch infrastructure examples repeatedly. He sees his current role as Cycling Tsar as ‘gingering up key decision makers’.
Frank’s plan boils down to this: create a network of high quality arteries leading people on bikes in and out of the city centre quickly and safely, then branch them out to allow the suburbs easy access to their nearest artery. It’s not a particularly insightful plan, but it’s pretty sensible. He went on to claim that this arterial routes could be ‘markedly changed’ from their current state with ‘not a lot of money’, but admits that this whole concept needs a lot of attention.
On to segregation (so that’s having some kind of divider between the cyclepath and motorised vehicles/pedestrians, rather than sharing the same lane). Frank likes segregation. Lots. Segregation is apparently a big debate in GCC at the moment, which Frank ‘wants to win’. Where good infrastructure is put in, ‘benefits are seen’.
We’re right alongside you there.
However, widespread rollout of segregated cycle routes requires lots of cash, which GCC doesn’t like. In fact, GCC doesn’t like putting any of its transport budget towards cycling, instead preferring to spend other people’s money and donations. Frank mentioned ten year borrowing plans, and that he was already in dialogue (which admittedly could mean anything) with the convenor of Land and Environment Services about acquiring funds. The current estimate is that a metre of good segregated path comes in around £450, which isn’t bad value at all compared to other investments Glasgow has gone for in recent years…
One of the exciting suggestions was that of completely redeveloping Sighthill into an active-transport community, forcing cars right out to the extremities. Ambition indeed. Although he then immediately talked about cars ‘interconnecting’ with kids.
It’s called a crash. People die when this is done wrongly. Let’s use the scary words.
There was some more padding, but that’s covered the key messages. We then had some rather penetrating questions, which was nice. I’ve summarised the answers I jotted down, as in the main I can’t actually remember the questions now. Clearly not quite a journalist..
- Magnatom pounced with the statement that GCC spent none (or at best a negligible amount) of its overall transport budget on cycling, and that it was becoming a growing embarrassment for Glasgow when compared to other cities. Frank replies: ‘[Glasgow is good at] responding to opportunities being made available’. Lose ten points for unnecessary politician-speak, and a few more for trying to wordsmith around the massive elephant in the room.
- Frank agreed that without good arterial routes we won’t get the ‘substantial social shift’ towards healthier transport options. Tick.
- 20mph throughout Glasgow should be ‘the standard rather than the exception’. Have some more points back.
- Signage for existing facilities is a known issue (viz.: it’s crap). It’ll be looked at, apparently.
- Everyone complained about parking, either just generally inconsiderately, or illegally and particularly on to of cycle routes. Discussions are ongoing about trying to allow the police to prosecute for this.
- Frank is supportive of strict liability and thinks ‘its time will come’. Let’s hope it’s soon, eh?
- There was also a big divertissement about the Glasgow cycle hire scheme. It’s effectively stalled until after the Commonwealth games, has shrunk from 1000-odd bikes to around 150, and won’t be funded by a big corporate sponsor. Expect that to be quietly smothered in the corner over the next few years.
The problem with what Frank said
It just doesn’t match up with what Glasgow County Council are doing. At all.
Let me demonstrate – here is Glasgow’s current official map of infrastructure.
Some quick caveats:
- The big yellow jobs that look oddly like arteries are Streamline Corridors – roads that have been designed to allow buses to travel at high speeds. This is almost the opposite of a cycle lane. Ignore them.
- Almost all of the red stuff is advisory and therefore covered in parked cars. Or might not actually exist. Or only be below the minimum allowable width to actually count as a cycle lane.
- Notice how there’s nothing going south or east.
Glasgow recently published their shortlist of cycling infrastructure projects for the next financial year (we can only pick a couple, because the budget is so laughably small). Now, given how vital Frank has told us the arterial routes are, you’d expect that to be where we’re focussing out attention, yes? Something big and bold to really start that modal shift?
Not quite… The scale is clearly completely different, but notice how the only two schemes which are even close to creating new arterial routes are 13 and 14. These are dotted because they’re just feasibility studies – a chance to spend a few hundred grand on biscuits for consultants and not even have to set foot on the tarmac. Excellent.
Talking of which, do you want to know how the shortlisting research was done? Through a ‘desk study’ and ‘using Google street view to assess potential routes’. No, really. That’s how much effort went into this. One immediately wonders whether it was just an entertaining project lobbed to the work experience student for a week.
Totting up the rest, two of the twenty mention segregation (Frank’s gold standard, remember); four are leisure paths in parks; six are cycle/pedestrian mashups; four are cycle-safe streets (not defined within the document…); and the remainder are bits of paint, looking at isolated junctions, and general faffing around the edges. And remember we can’t afford to pick more than a couple.
I’ve gone on far longer than I meant to, so I’ll come to an abrupt halt. The overall impression I covered at the start; Frank talks a great game. If he can persuade the council to deliver it, Glasgow will leap from it’s current position as the laughing stock of the active-transport world (do you know that we have the street with the worst air pollution in Europe?) to pretty close to best in class (for the UK at least).
However, actions speak louder than words, and at the moment all the Council are proposing is to give the bloated, chair-bound body of Glasgow a haircut and pedicure as the arteries clog up with dust, fumes and engines and we grind to a wheezing halt.
It’ll end up being a pretty corpse, with many nice, isolated, superficial features. But it’ll be a corpse just the same.