Saving Shawlands

I wrote recently about a certain newspaper’s campaign to save the Shawland’s high street (Pollockshaws/Kilmarnock Road) from its slow decline [citation needed…] by opposing an increase in parking charges. My points were based around specifics to Shawlands, but Suicyclist on the CityCyclingGlasgow forum also pointed out this article on the CounterCyclic blog, which gives a nice broad argument why cheap parking does not a thriving high street make.

As it’s easy to criticise the suggestions of others, instead of just pointing out that lowering parking is a daft method for improving a shopping area, I thought I’d have a bash at actually working out what the problems were. You know, with evidence and measured assessment, rather than charging off in a dubious direction with confident shouts and bold petitions based on a bit of gut feel and finger-in-the-air-ness.

The first step in any good analysis is declaring early any shortfalls in your knowledge (says Rob Williams, Master of Mathematics and two-time winner of the Mount Florida all-comers tiddley-winks championship). In this case, I know nothing about how to design a successful shopping street. Shameful, isn’t it? However, rather than pushing on regardless, I’ve taken the liberty of reading through the current Scottish documentation for the design of successful streets; the somewhat obviously-named Designing Streets.

Before I really get started, I should mention that the planning officer for Shawlands (a certain David Dunlop) got in touch after the first article and asked to meet up for a chat about cycling in Shawlands as part of the local Action Plan to improve the area. We’re in the process of sorting out a date, but to keep this article open-minding I haven’t yet read through the proposals of the regeneration project. As it happens, this article is about pedestrians rather than cyclists anyway.

Designing Streets

Quick overview then of what this document is (again, big PDF alert). As well as being the best aid to a good night’s sleep since Horlicks, Designing Streets covers in pretty fine detail the principles that Scottish local authorities should consider when, er, designing a street. ‘Streets’ are distinct from ‘roads’ – the former is basically anything within a city, town or village, whilst the latter covers your motorways, A-roads, country lanes and anything that exists solely to shift traffic around. Certainly anything within Glasgow that isn’t a motorway or a flyover A-road should be following this document – the doc says ‘all thoroughfares within urban settings and rural boundaries should normally be treated as streets’.

It only came into force in 2010, so there’s clearly a lot of catching up to be done. No excuses though for anything laid up or re-designed since then. The document is also a little light on the kind of commercial areas we’re talking about here – the examples are mainly residential. However, given the upper three floors in every four-storey building in Shawlands are flats, we should still be able to apply the same guidelines.

There are five policy statements within Designing Streets, of which I shall highlight the first right now: street design must consider place before movement. Come the revolution, this shall be our cry…

Moving on.

Six qualities of successful places

Another of the policies is that successful places must be:

  • Distinctive
  • Safe and pleasant
  • Easy to move around
  • Welcoming
  • Adaptable
  • Resource efficient

In addition; ‘street user hierarchy should consider pedestrians first and private motor vehicles last‘ and ‘street design should be inclusive, providing for all people regardless of age or ability’. Public transport and cyclists drop into the middle. The document is quite clear – if you base your decisions for successful neighbourhoods around the private motor vehicle, you’ll fail.

Armed with these guidelines (and I’ll drag in additional details as we go), let’s have a gander at Shawlands high street and see if we can spot some problems.

Shawland’s specifics

Through all of this we’re trying to find issues that are reducing the number of  pedestrians. If you’re not on foot, you’re not going to walk into a shop and spend your hard-earned pennies. Remember, if it get’s too unpleasant I’ll just nip ten minutes into town and use the completely pedestrianised Buchanan Street (you know, the best place in UK for shopping outside of London…).

I talk more about the ‘edge’ that Shawlands needs at the end, so if you’re not fussed about the detail then skip ahead.

Shawlands Cross

Let’s start with the easy one; the 4-way (6-way, if we count the extra junctions immediately off the side roads) junction slap in the middle of the high street.

The 'high street' is labelled as the A77. The line in red is the route that a pedestrian on the pavement has to follow on the western side, including two pedestrian crossings.
The ‘high street’ is labelled as the A77. The line in red is the route that a pedestrian on the pavement has to follow on the western side, including two pedestrian crossings. Shortcuts aren’t possible as you’re railed off – can’t be having shoppers interrupting cars, can we?

Ouch.

Page 12 of Designing Streets; ‘junctions should be designed with the considerations of the needs of pedestrians first‘ and, on the next page, ‘street layouts should be configured to allow walkable access to local amenities for all street users’. A bit later on we’re told about trying to provide pedestrian routes as close as possible to the ‘desire lines’, ie the ideal route that someone would take given the choice. Compare the red route above with the desire line which would effectively run straight down the centre…

On page 36 we’re told that multi-armed junctions of this type are one of the most hostile options for pedestrians. Definitely prioritising the movement of vehicles over our shoppers.

Turning to ‘pleasantness’ (remember the policy requirements from above?), let’s see how it looks from ground level.

The same junction, looking south down the A77.
The same junction, looking south down the A77.

Well blow me if it’s not hideous. Endless expanses of tarmac, long  sightlines encouraging high vehicle speeds, and railings keeping our shoppers caged tight against the walls (page 52, ‘guard railing should not be provided unless a clear need for it has been identified’. Improving traffic flow is specifically mentioned as not being a clear need).

In fact, is impressive quite how unpleasant it is, given the attractive Shawland’s Kirk (church…) on the right and the distinctive, slender Granary pub directly opposite. What could be the focal point of the entire area is instead completely lost beneath tyres and exhaust.

By the way, savour the sight of that tree, as it’s the last green thing we’re going to see. I’ll strike out the sections of Designing Streets that refer to planting, ecological stuff, and other ‘my, isn’t this nice’ elements.

Moving on.

Tarmac. So much tarmac

Having persevered and continued southbound, here’s a lovely shot of how easy it is to cross the road.

Because it's slightly tricky to spot the pedestrians in between the horde of vans, I've used a subtle red highlight...
Because it’s slightly tricky to spot the pedestrians in between the horde of vans, I’ve used a subtle red highlight…

Is that an environment you’d want to take a child anywhere near? Or for that matter spend any time in at all?

The longer people can be encouraged to stay in an area, the more cash you’ll prise out of them. Shawlands excels in persuading people to hurry up and leave.

Talking of which:

Where do I linger?

I’m a stereotypical male in that I find shopping more tiring than wrestling bears. After a solid twenty minutes of being indecisive you either need to give me somewhere to take a breather, or I’m going to give up and leave. Designing Streets says ‘Seating is necessary to provide rest points for pedestrians, particularly older people or people with mobility or visual impairments, and extra seating should be considered where people congregate, such as squares [and] local shops’.

Unless you’re in Shawlands! Here we only want you if you’re fit enough to stay on your feet. Those who need breaks are weak, and should leave. Right now. There are no free resting places (ie benches) anywhere on the high street.

Partly this is because we’ve decided that five lanes of traffic is more important than appropriately wide pavements, but even where there is space we haven’t bothered. Exhibit A:

Available public seating highlighted in flashing neon pink.
Available public seating in this wide expanse of pavement highlighted in flashing neon pink. Photo is looking towards Carment Drive.

I could fit a small but functional Roman amphitheatre in that space. Probably not lions, but I could certainly stretch to large cats. Why is there not a bench? Or for that matter, some cycle parking?

Just to show I’m not picking isolated examples:

This time, public seating emphasised through the rather fine animated dancing elephants. Appreciate them; they weren't cheap.
This time, available public seating emphasised through the rather fine animated dancing elephants. Appreciate them; they weren’t cheap.

This is at the other end, looking down the dead-end Abbot Street onto the high street. As well as the poor use of space, why on earth have we still got these railings on the left and at the end? Two bike racks make a lonely appearance (hidden behind the last bollard on the right.

The lack of seating and ‘lingering space’ makes it quite clear – spend what you must, then go.

Sweeping corners

I’ll finish on a subtle one. Firstly, let’s all recite highway code rule 170; ‘watch out for pedestrians crossing a road into which you are turning. If they have started to cross they have priority, so give way’. We want our junctions with minor roads to encourage this rule, making it clear that cars should crawl round these junctions and be prepared to stop, and that pedestrians have priority. Pedestrian routing should be as direct as possible – time spent waiting to cross is time not spent passing money over to local shopkeepers.

Designing Streets gives the following handy diagrams (page 16):

The two on the left are 'good', the two on the right 'bad'. Copyright appears to be Devon County Council, oddly enough.
The two on the left are ‘good’, the two on the right ‘bad’. Copyright appears to be Devon County Council, oddly enough.

Now let’s pick a junction from Shawlands.

Back to Googlemaps, this time looking down Regwood St.
Back to Googlemaps, this time looking down Regwood St. One way streets like this are also labelled as poor ideas, by the way.

A few pickups:

  • Credit where it’s due; the raised table across the junction is good practice, both slowing cars and making the crossing more accessible to those who have trouble with uneven surfaces. It goes downhill from here though.
  • We’ve got a soft, sweeping corner rather than the required sharp edge, enabling vehicles to take the junction at higher speeds and making it harder for pedestrians to see what’s coming from behind. The double-yellow lines also emphasise the sweep in my mind and aren’t needed (Highway Code rule 243; ‘DO NOT stop or park opposite or within 10 metres of a junction, except in an authorised parking space’).
  • The dreaded railings make a return, enabling traffic to maintain a higher speed right up to the junction safe in the knowledge that they can’t be obstructed.

The car is king. Shoppers should wait for a gap to hurry across, probably giving a thankful wave as they go. Who does this junction feel built for?

Closing thoughts – the ‘edge’

Every shopping area needs an edge; something that makes it stand out from the competition and draws customers in to spend money. In rural areas the edge might just be that there’s nothing else nearby, but Shawlands clearly can’t use that; you’re competing with some of the best shopping in Europe 15 minutes away (Buchanan St), and a number of significant shopping centres 20 minutes drive away (Silverburn, Braehead, etc). In the main, businesses and residents rely on town planners and local councils to provide this edge; I could create the cutest tea shop you’ve ever seen, but if you only give me a motorway hard shoulder to work with I’ll struggle.

Using a comprehensive Southside Central residents survey from 2011 (not quite the right spot, but damn close and the best data I could find), we know that the most significant problem perceived by local people is road safety, and specifically cars driving too fast. Fast traffic = hostile.

We also know that half of Glasgow households don’t own a car (Glasgow local development plan 2011). Of those that do, one would imagine that the majority of these vehicles are used to get to work during the day, so it’s unlikely that most people shopping during the day are getting around by private motor vehicle. Some data collection on this would be handy, but it seems a logical deduction. Don’t rely on cars to bring your daily customers.

Finally, you need to be on foot to spend money in local businesses. The longer you spend walking around, the more you’ll spend.

Based on all of this, Shawlands has decided that it’s shopping edge, the key reason to visit, should be an area that maximises vehicle speeds, maximises on-street space given over to vehicles (despite a number of decent-sized conventional car parks), and is spectacularly hostile to pedestrians. Superb…

I asked Susan Aitken (one of my local councillors) why she’d signed the petition calling for cheaper car parking on Shawlands high street. The answer was that the area ‘needs more than just locals visiting to survive as a town centre’.

Correct.

It needs to give them a reason to come.

Sadly, all we can give at the moment are reasons to go elsewhere.

Treat the parking charge debate going on at the moment as the political vote grabber and newspaper publicity bait that it is. If you want to start curing a dying Shawlands, you need to abandon the current addiction to the private car and start creating an environment that actually encourages shoppers.

Right, I’m off to read these proposals for a new Shawlands. Let’s hope they do something about it, eh?

9 thoughts on “Saving Shawlands

  • 2013-12-12 at 12:09
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    Some good points made but also some contradictions… Take the bullet points over the corners, first one states the raised tables are good and slow traffic down but next states that the same corner has a wide bend so cars travel at speed round it. As a driver and pedestrian I’d say the raised tables work, slowing right down at junctions. Also the railings in the picture make no difference to my approach to the junction and I’d doubt any other drivers increase their speed because of them

    Also the long line of sight at shawlands cross isn’t an issue, this is a busy and complicated junction, I’d say it was very rare to reach any sort of speed at this point.

    I would also say that removing the barriers here would be very dangerous as people would cross where they wanted. This junction is far to big and busy for that to be safe. I wouldn’t say the barrier has been provided to improve traffic flow, but to keep pedestrians safe. The junction does however need redesigned for both cars and people crossing the road.

    The picture of the person trying to cross between vans is a bit unfair. They simply shouldn’t be trying to cross there, it’s the person that is in the wrong, not following the rules of crossing a road. There are crossing points provided, if I had kids with me I’d certainly be using them and not attempting this crossing! It’s a busy main artery road, it’s doubtful that can change much so there is limits to what can be done.

    From the lack of parking spaces both on the main road and surrounding streets I’d say a lot of people come here with cars so it is an issue, but your article does bring forward the fact that it is a small problem and that shawlands needs some major work… One point I do totally agree with is that outdoor seating areas would be an improvement.

    Hopefully this makes some sense… Writing long things on a phone ain’t easy!

  • 2013-12-12 at 13:38
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    Hi Paul

    Agree that typing on a phone is a faff – thanks for making the effort!

    I’ve tried to stick as closely as possible to objectively assessing Shawlands against the guidance within Designing Streets, which is which some of it doesn’t seem to follow as fluently as it could. Taking the example you picked, Designing Streets gives three good things for a corner – angle, raised tables and surrounding street furniture. Shawlands generally gets the tables right and the rest wrong. One out of three. It’s a minor issue overall; as you rightly say, not many cars can fly around corners due to the weight of traffic.

    On pedestrians crossing, I’ll disagree. On dual carriageways and main arterial routes you need to prioritise traffic flow over pedestrians with fixed crossing points and protection from fast moving lumps of metal. Here, we want people to shop with the minimum possible amount of interruption. That means seeing something on the opposite side of the road and being able to cross as quickly and safely as possible. Cars must take a back seat. Ideally, if you’re not coming to spend money, you should be persuaded to take your car elsewhere – vehicles transitting through only provide negative things, pedestrians are (almost!) all positive.

    Tricky, given this is currently a major south-side route.

  • 2013-12-12 at 14:29
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    I’m afraid I think what you’re after is impossible on this Main Street, it being a main route through the area there is nowhere else for the traffic to go… I’d rather have the cars on the main road than the residential streets, so it would be impossible to give pedestrians the main priority on this road without causing major problems. You say only dual carriage ways and main artery roads should give priority to traffic, I’d say this road is a main artery.. If we were to give it over to pedestrians I’d imagine major traffic flow problems in the wider areaWhich would again drive people away from the area, not just those shopping but those wanting to live here.

    It’s good to make people think of the wider problems other than parking charges though., but have to be realistic, we are dealing with old streets in a packed city location as opposed to a nice open new build. We have to accept that some things just won’t be possible in this location that are within this design guide.

    That’s not to say there’s not room for improvement. Take the raised section at the arcade… Who’s idea was that? :) that certainly Restricts movement having to walk a fair distance to get back down to street level to cross over. Never fails to annoy me!

  • 2013-12-13 at 07:42
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    With the current view of priorities, what you say is true.

    However! Glasgow has some of the widest city streets I’ve seen in the UK – we’ve got loads of space to be inventive, we just lack the initiative to make use of it.

    I’ll agree that there would be no way to divert traffic off the high street without increasing car journey times. However, given the council’s ambitions for active and public transport, that shouldn’t stifle thinking. Divert traffic down Pollockshaws Road and back on Nether Auldhouse Rd, make Kilmarnock Road and bus and cycle gate, expand the pedestrian area.

    Car transit time increases. Bus and cycle transit time decreases. Shawlands gains the business edge it desperately needs. Maybe…

  • 2013-12-13 at 11:20
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    Ambitious idea indeed, though I don’t think it would work, the B road diversion is already a busy route, I don’t think it would cope with all the a77 traffic as well. Getting to the residential properties around Kilmarnock road would also be a bit of a nightmare as well as you’d have blocked off the main crossing point of they river. I think overall this would drive people away from the area for both shopping and living. Many shoppers will still take their cars, just meaning more traffic in side streets especially the ones crossing the river and the already difficult parking being made worse.

    Not saying I have the answer to what we do need, but we need to work with what we have that works for all people. I feel we need to work round the main road, improving the pavements beside it. It can still be a nice place to go, just needs work done.

  • 2013-12-13 at 13:40
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    Great article. I appreciate the time you have taken highlighting what should be done compared to what is currently happening. One way to sell this concept at a grassroots level may be by holding a park(ing) day in Shawlands – http://parkingday.org/about-parking-day/
    try and encourage the wider community involvement (groups, organisations etc), show that there are better ways to use valuable urban space and highlight the obvious ‘elephant in the room’.

    I don’t buy Paul’s rather defeatist attitude, especially since all surrounding streets are chocked with traffic anyway. Remember the M77 was built to divert cars away from places like Shawlands and reduce congestion, instead of reducing traffic (and problems associated with this) volume soon exceeded capacity as a result of the latent demand created. Glasgow City Council in their infinite wisdom decided the best way to manage the situation was to provide even more capacity, at the detriment of other modes of travel, which only resulted in more traffic and congestion blighting communities.

    These are political decisions that have led to this current situation. With a bit of vision, prioritisation and political leadership these damaging decisions can be reversed and Shawlands could be a place for people (once again). There are plenty of examples around the world where enhancing ‘liveability’ of a place has made the area more attractive to live, work and visit, with the resulting economic benefits plain to see (I’d better get some examples compiled pronto, but universally the solution has been to restrain out of control car use, and yes these are in old city streets). This however is not happening, instead certain influential groups and individuals are trying to use the same type of thinking that led to these problems in the first place as a solution. “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”

  • 2013-12-13 at 15:27
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    Just as a side note, I do not believe that closing Shawlands completely of car traffic is a wise or sensible move. As Paul point’s out it is a main route, diverting traffic elsewhere will invariably bring more cars into other residential areas beyond Shalwands as they move south-north and vice versa. The distinction however between place V movement is an interesting one, as this should occur on a spectrum rather than a choice between the two. I do believe Shawlands lies slap bang in the middle of these competing demands for space. Any solutions based approach will surely be based on enhancing the quality of place whilst maintaining movement for peds, cyclists, public transport, then cars (which is not reflecting in the current transport hierarchy of the area). Either way, cars will have to be restrained and journeys by car more inconvinient, with cars playing second fiddle to people & public transport if Shawlands is to have any future. The good news is people wont be marooned without their cars because choice will still remain for essential car journeys, there is however an extra incentive to walk, cycle, bus or train because these modes of transport will be a no brainer compared to the alternative of jumping in the motor.

  • 2013-12-17 at 13:40
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    With regard to the “raised tables ” as they are being called at corners ..only an idiot would try to drive across them at anything but dead slow and stop speed else you get the backside rippped off your car

  • 2013-12-17 at 17:17
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    Yup, it’s one of the reasons they’re definitely down as one of the few things done right. The thought of financial penalty is always a good way to enforce good manners!

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