SPT are failing to deliver for Scotland’s cyclists

There’s loads going on at the moment in the world of Glasgow cycling. We’ve got the launch of our very own bike hire scheme just in time for the Commonwealth Games, which clashes neatly with the closure of a whole bunch of cyclepaths for the duration of the Games on fairly spurious reasons.

However, the flashing red light news award goes to Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT). They’ve just released their report on Glasgow City Council’s catchily-named City Centre Transport Strategy, and it reads like the scribbles of a sulking child:

No, we shan’t share space on the roads with anyone else. Cycle infrastructure is expensive. Bikes would get in our way if we encourage them too much. We want car parking rather than streets for people. Cyclists will be fine riding in amongst high-speed buses.

Alarmingly, that’s only lightly paraphrased.

As fair warning, I’ve had to quote a few chunks of some exceptionally dry documents for this article to make any sense. Sorry.

As a reward for endeavouring, I think I’ve discovered a nugget of information. Guess who is responsible for the cycle strategy within Glasgow?


What do SPT do? Are they like Transport for London (TfL)?

Not really; they’re meant to do different things.

TfL run public transport in London. They directly manage the Underground and the buses, coordinate with Network Rail for the major over-ground rail lines, and look after the private companies running the light rail and tram links. When TfL get things wrong, the rest of the UK suffers (see the Cyclists Stay Back lark I wrote about yesterday), but there scope is very much public transport.

SPT, however, is not Strathclyde Passenger Transport. It used to be, but in 2005 it was cunningly renamed to the Strathclyde Partnership for Transport to obey the requirements of the Transport Scotland Act (2005) without the need for any actual rebranding. Despite the minor tweak to name, its role changed substantially. The only remnants of its public transport heritage are:

  • Managing bus stations and stops (but only a tiny number of actually bus services—the ones that are too important to shut but not commercially viable, like the Millport-ferry bus link.)
  • Operating the delightfully cute Glasgow Subway,
  • A few odd (but important) bits like dial-a-bus and the ZoneCard scheme.
  • There are some SPT-branded trains, but that’s only because First Group haven’t bothered to repaint them.

SPT has a much bigger remit than just the above though. It is required (by the same Transport Scotland Act that created it) to do a number of things, including a strategy which defines

how transport in the region will be provided, developed, improved and operated so as— .

(i)to enhance social and economic well-being;
(ii)to promote public safety, including road safety and the safety of users of public transport;
(iii)to be consistent with the principle of sustainable development and to conserve and enhance the environment;
(iv)to promote social inclusion;
(v)to encourage equal opportunities and, in particular, the observance of the equal opportunities requirements;
(vi)to facilitate access to hospitals, clinics, surgeries and other places where a health service is provided;

(vii)to integrate with transport elsewhere;

Effectively SPT is required to draw up transport strategies for the West Central area that benefit all users of our streets and transport network. It cannot just focus on buses.

This means that the body responsible for the cycle strategy in Glasgow is in fact SPT (and if you want a name, SPT’s CEO; Gordon Maclennan)

This also means that the statement within the City Centre Transport Strategy that there are ‘Poor Conditions for Cycling’ is a grim comment on how well SPT are doing their job.

The City Centre Transport Strategy in two sets of bullets

Your author raises his hands and admits he completely missed this one. In my defence, it was published as Mrs DarkerSide was in labour, and I suspect that taking a time out to write a pithy summary of a transport proposal would have been detrimental to my health…

The Transport Strategy is part of the overall City Strategy, and the April 2014 Consultative Draft of this document is here, and Car-Sick Glasgow wrote an excellent set of highlights for those who walk and cycle here. From a quick scan through and cribbing generously from those highlights, it seems pretty good.

The five objectives of the strategy are:

  • Increase the modal share of trips to/from and within the city centre by walking, cycling and public transport;
  • Provide access for residents, blue badge holders, tourists and traffic essential to sustain economic functions;
  • Enhance the quality and legibility of main pedestrian spaces, key development areas and main access routes;
  • Reduce harmful traffic emissions; and
  • Enhance road safety and personal security for all city centre users.

The summary of how they propose to bring this about is:

  • Restriction of non essential through traffic from the city centre to allow priority for buses, cyclists and pedestrians through the introduction of selected bus gates at key locations.
  • Introduction of Avenues / segregated cycle routes. The concept of Avenues was developed through the Districts Strategy element of the overall City Centre Strategy. They are streets where the balance is shifted towards sustainable transport and placemaking with a more people oriented approach.
  • Potential bus hubs at Union Street and Dunlop Street. The desire for a southern bus hub in the city centre emerged through consultation. It may help reduce number of through buses in the city centre.
  • Review of bus stop usage on key corridors like Renfield Street / Union Street, introduce specific bus hubs and gates to facilitate better designed public space and access to public transport.
  • Several traffic management options to provide alternative economically attractive routes for buses to help reduce the number of buses on Renfield / Union Street.
  • Reduction in on-street parking on Avenues to provide cycling facilities and on main bus corridors and to allow widening of footways at key locations.
  • Introduction of enhanced pedestrian facilities.
  • Introduction of mandatory 20mph zone across the city centre.
  • Support for Subway enhancements, Crossrail, rail link to Glasgow Airport and a High Speed Rail link between Glasgow and Edinburgh

There are things I’m not hugely keen on in this, but I recognise that a bit of give and take is required, and a shift towards pedestrian (and bike) friendly avenues and away from our current hideous 30mph 5-lane urban motorways would be lovely.

Frankly, we need to do something bold because Glasgow has some major health issues which aren’t helped by it being one of the worst cities in the UK for walking and cycling (comparable only with Newcastle, in my experience)

Do SPT know what their job is meant to be?

I’m not sure they do.

Their response to City Centre Transport Strategy is here. It’s so dire I emailed them this morning asking whether this document did in fact represent their views, and whether the following two quotations in particular were representative:

“In SPT’s view the introduction of segregated cycle lanes, largely replacing road space previously provided for car parking, is unnecessary”

“…unnecessary, costly and cumbersome segregated cycle ways”

I got no response, so I’m going to assume that this report (which they’ve published) is valid.

SPT don’t understand the scope of their job

Page three:

“Members will recall a presentation entitled ‘Local bus services for a prosperous Glasgow’ by officers on 16 November 2012 which outlined SPT’s views on the future for city centre transport.”

So the entire future for the movement of people in Glasgow can be summarised by local bus services? Right.

Throughout the rest of their document, SPT almost solely focus on buses and the subway. Comments related to active transport (“SPT welcomes the strong emphasis and commitment to…active travel”) ring hollow as they go on to attack quality cycle infrastructure (“unnecessary, costly and cumbersome”) and only support expanded space for pedestrians if “they do not result in lengthened travel times for buses”.

SPT and Glasgow Council are possibly right to prioritise public transport, but SPT are singularly failing in their objective of balancing the needs of all road users.

SPT certainly don’t understand cycling.

Worryingly for an organisation that has an objective to ensure that 10% of journeys are by bike within six year, SPT clearly have no idea how to encourage cycling.

Here’s a cracking quote: “greater emphasis should be placed on providing an environment where buses and cycles can co-exist without the need for unnecessary, costly and cumbersome segregated cycle ways”. Clearly written by someone who’s never actually cycled next to 18 tonnes of double-decker.

Another one: “the unnecessary introduction of segregated cycle lanes in an over-engineered solution that does not fit well with the proposed avenues [and] slows bus travel.” Note the dominance of the bus again, and the statement that an avenue (defined by Glasgow Council as requiring “An integrated network of continuous pedestrian and cycle priority routes”) doesn’t actual require good cycle routes. There’s even a picture of the damn thing in the plan.

View of one of the proposed avenues
This would replace the four/five lanes of cars we have at the moment on most of Glasgow’s streets. Looks good, eh?

There’s more, but you get the idea.

Why are SPT not writing the strategy?

As we read above, the job of SPT is to set the transport strategy for West and Central Glasgow, including buses, trains, cars, pedestrians, and cycles. Glasgow Council is required to “perform those of its functions which relate to or which affect or are affected by transport consistently with the transport strategy of [SPT]”.

The only SPT strategy document I can find is the Catalyst for Change, which apparently provides The Regional Transport Strategy for the west of Scotland between 2008 and 2021.

It is complete management-speak guff, and that’s the measured opinion of someone whose job involves a significant percentage of reading through business PR material. There’s nothing tangible in there for councils to target or work consistently towards, despite SPT having the temerity to accuse GCC of not being ‘SMART’ enough with their City Strategy (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound, if you’re not up on the lingo).

Here are their key strategic priorities:

  • Plan and provide a “step-change” for bus services, standards, and infrastructure
  • Revitalising the Subway network
  • Improving cross-city and cross-region links on strategic corridors
  • Improving access to services including health care and education
  • [Planning for the Commonwealth Games]
  • Improving sustainable connectivity for business and freight

Do you feel they haven’t quite moved on from the days when they ran buses and the subway?

Is SPT’s inability to fulfil the requirements of the Transport Scotland Act a cause for concern?

What do you think?

SPT must provide structure to transport policy in West Central Scotland and help the Council strategies tie together.

Instead, we’re left with an organisation that still thinks it’s a 1950s bus company drifting along and making snide remarks about any faintly active suggestions raised by the Councils it oversees. Is it any real wonder that the whole transport system in Glasgow is in such dire straits? And is it any wonder that the numbers of cyclists in Glasgow is embarrassingly low compared to almost every other primarily flat city?

There is a single silver lining to this sorry tale.

We’ve discovered which nebulous body is actually responsible for ensuring that West Central Scotland hits the targets set for cycling.

SPT, start preparing your excuses.

The words FAIL in the style of the SPT logo



Add Yours →

Interestingly, SPT is objecting to the same type of cycle route that SPT is funding along Milngavie Road (A81 in Bearsden/Milngavie), although there the segregated cycle lane runs alongside the main road largely uninterrupted, and does not have any signalised junctions except for one toucan crossing where the facility switches sides, so is unlikely to cause buses to be held up much.

However, the cycle facilities in SPT’s Fastlink protected busway project on Govan Road, which could have been largely similar since one side of Govan Road has only a handful of mostly minor junctions, are instead a pathetic disjointed mess of shared-use footways, the type that nobody (except planners it seems) likes.

I’ve been saying for a while that if Glasgow council’s declared policy on cycles was “They get in the way, we don’t like ’em, we certainly don’t want any more of ’em”, then their actions would have the merit of being in line with the policy, and while equally tiresome at least understandable. Just turns out then that it isn’t the council, it’s SPT… And this certainly explains how the Fsstlink mess so comprehensively trashed that route for cycling.

On the bright side, this is homing in on the mind(set) that needs to be changed (how?)
And how do SPT and the council interact on the key decisions?

Yup, agree with all that!

On your final point, I don’t know at the moment! I’m picking apart the background documents to the council strategy and SPT’s Catalyst fluff, and once I’ve got a better grip on that I’ll summarise exactly what they said they would do.

As you say, the key bit is we now know where to direct the awkward questions.

I think one of the worst parts about the new fastlink route is that the raised kerbs that flank the road actually make the road more dangerous. There is nowhere to bail out to when a driver attempts the usual over-take when there is no room to do so.

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