The council’s new city centre transport strategy for Glasgow is bold and sensible. Now, we have to ensure it is implemented.
The new city centre transport strategy was approved by Glasgow’s sustainability and environment committee last week (that’s hyperlinks to the document, the committee, and the meeting minutes. Don’t say I don’t look after you).
I had real concern that our transport partnership SPT would sabotage this strategy—their feedback on the draft document was blindly pro-bus to the exclusion of any other form of getting around (I wrote more about that here). Happily, although some of their words have crept in, there remains plenty of good stuff in the final document.
It’s certainly not all great—Car Sick Glasgow put something up covering their concerns that’s worth a read. I agree with everything there, so to avoid duplication (and because occasionally it’s fun to be optimistic) I’m just going to cover the good stuff.
Grab your rose-tinted specs.
Cycle routes should be seamless, high quality, coordinated and segregated
A bold paraphrase, but backed up by the plan:
A network of linked cycle routes will be developed to enable seamless travel to, through and within the city centre. These will link to existing cycle routes at the periphery of the city centre to provide a coordinated network.
(As an aside, I note that my word processor is already flagging up “will be developed” in that quote for being in the passive voice. Preaching to the converted there, Microsoft…)
So, what will these routes be like?
…the presumption will be for two-way, segregated lanes on one side of the street… Where the road currently isn’t wide enough…the existing on-street parking will be removed from one side of the road to provide the necessary space. The routes will be designed to be safe and of high quality including measures such as coloured cycle lanes, good lighting, clear signage and priority for cyclists at junctions
Elsewhere, we are told that the routes chosen will bear in mind gradient of the road, be closely coordinated with the new avenues (see later on), and link key locations and attractions.
This kind of commitment is golden. We now have an agreed council position that any proposed route without good, segregated infrastructure as described above will need solid reasoning for the failure. Lack of space is no longer a valid excuse for failure if any car parking remains on the street.
There’s also an admission that the current provision for cycling is poor. Handy if someone is trying to claim otherwise.
The job isn’t by any stretch done. We’ll need to fight hard to ensure that the routes chosen are sensible rather than just easy and I’m sure every opportunity possible will be taken to forget the commitment was ever made, but this is a solid first step.
Avenues have remaining in the plan
Avenues take space away from motor traffic and hand it back to pedestrians. By design, they tell those in private cars that they are not welcome. If you insist on bringing a car into an avenue, the prioritisation of more valuable forms of transport (particularly pedestrians who are spending money) will severely inconvenience you.
That’s a bold statement for any political body to make. Telling motorists they are unwelcome is not good for short-term popularity, even when the benefits are vast and almost immediately apparent. However, the proposed Glasgow avenues with their wide pavements, segregated cycle lanes and pro-shopping layout have remained.
The streets earmarked for improvement are West Campbell and West Nile running north-south and Sauchiehall and George Streets running east-west. Candleriggs running up past Glasgow Green and Gordon Street linking central station with West Nile and Buchanan Street are also included, with a commitment to designating additional avenues if possible.
This misses out the pair of roads running either side of central station (Union and Hope Street), both of which have dire traffic and air quality problems. Instead, these have been designated as areas for “improvements to the public realm”, including wider footways, more pedestrian crossings, and longer crossing times. Not as good as avenues, but still heading in the right direction.
But wait; there’s more.
Bus gates. Lot’s of bus gates.
In just two months the new bus gate at Nelson Mandela place generated over £800,000 for the city coffers.
This is excellent! Much like speeding and parking fines, this is an entirely optional contribution to our budget. If you don’t want to chip in, then don’t drive through the gate. It’s a much fairer way of generating extra revenue than a flat raise of council tax, after all.
It’s also vital to remember that someone in a car contributes nothing positive to their surroundings (until they get out of the car and start spending cash). They add plenty of negatives though: pollution, noise, danger to pedestrians, reduced footway space. The fewer cars there are displacing pedestrians from shopping areas, the better it is for everyone.
Three extra bus gates are suggested by the plan, most usefully on Union Street just north of central station. This will hopefully improve the air quality south of that point, get more pedestrians in and out of the centre faster, and maybe start the regeneration of the fairly manky run of shops drowning under the Union Street traffic problem.
The final point. The entire city centre will be 20mph.
Not only is this great for the city centre, but it also helps surrounding areas struggling to push through similar limits. The strategy accepts logic in favour of blanket 20mph rules. There’s no reason the same justification isn’t valid in almost every other urban area around Glasgow.
Admittedly (and picked up by Car Sick Glasgow), the council’s assurance that no traffic-calming measures will be needed is naïve. Most drivers faced with five lanes of open tarmac will break the law—cameras, narrow lanes, chicanes and other obstructions will all have to be added to beat the point home that slower speeds save lives.
Let’s get the limit in first though. If we then have to go out with a trundle-wheel and a stopwatch to gather evidence that enforcement is needed, then so be it.
So, mission accomplished?
We’re used to being fobbed off with visions, aspirations, and planning documents when it comes to improving the streets we live, work, learn and play on. There’s been precious little in the way of real change, which is why we still have chronic problems with traffic congestion, air quality, obesity, and “lifestyle illnesses”.
This city centre transport strategy could start the change, but is worth nothing if not implemented, and implemented in accordance with the spirit of the recommendations. Glasgow council’s past performance suggests this won’t happen.
But it’s certainly something worth writing to your councillor about, eh?
A few words of encouragement to the committee officer responsible for the plan (Carol Jack) wouldn’t go amiss either.
People Make Glasgow, apparently. Let’s start making our streets support that assertion.
PS: It’s tricky to find anything on this at all on the council’s website. If you were the suspicious type, you’d almost think they were trying to hide it from web searches…
PPS: All images have been taken from the strategy document, so sit under Glasgow council copyright. Apart from the last People Make Glasgow badge. That’s mine.