“High-quality infrastructure” in the alternate universe of Sustrans

I meant to publish this post weeks ago, during the Games, when it would have been most relevant, but other things got in the way. Oh well.

Sustrans Scotland’s John Lauder is miffed.

We fully understand the need to make sure the Games are safe and secure for everyone. But we don’t understand why on the one hand people are being encouraged to cycle and walk to events, but are being discouraged from doing so with routes that are complex, fiddly and avoid high-quality infrastructure, such as the NCN

He’s talking about the closure of several National Cycle Network routes in Glasgow which occurred before, during, and after the Commonwealth Games in the name of “security”. He’s quite right to object to the closures – it’s a scandal in this would-be cycling city, European Green Capital, city of active living, etc. – but the notion that the NCN is “high-quality” is delusional. I think John needs to get out more so he can see the state of the infrastructure his organisation puts its name to.

Let’s take a look at the NCN75 today, and see what John reckons “high-quality infrastructure” for cycling looks like. This route is not only complex and fiddly, but slow, subjectively and objectively dangerous, and severely deficient in every way. In addition, far from the Games closures being a one-off, these facilities are actually obstructed quite routinely.

This is the section between the Riverside Museum and the SECC, where there’s no lighting and no natural surveillance. Desolate. Enclosed. Terrifying.

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Crap shared pavement with one of Glasgow City Council’s giant propaganda boards obnoxiously plonked right in the middle of it:

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Just beyond this is the degraded crossing point created in connection with Fastlink that I wrote about the other week. It’s reasonably plain sailing from there to the Tradeston bridge – apart from the bit in front of the flats at Lancefield Quay, which is too narrow and well over capacity – but after that you’ve got 2 options, both astonishingly poor in their own ways.

The first option is to continue cycling beside the river, where you’ll find the effective width of the path massively reduced by these big black things. I don’t know exactly what these are – they’re for tying boats to or something, right? Well, newsflash: Glasgow isn’t the world’s major centre of heavy industry any more. There are no ships this far up the Clyde these days. Rip ‘em up.

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If you enjoy blind corners, sharp on-the-spot turns, overgrown vegetation, and being crowded into ludicrously narrow spaces, you can then take this ramp up to street level:

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The second option is to leave the riverside path and ride along the shared-use pavement that runs along parallel Broomielaw. It is far too narrow and there are not even any dropped kerbs where it gives way to a bingo hall car park. Careful, now!

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Both of these options lead you to a toucan crossing of King George V Bridge and underneath Central Station bridge with more shared-use:

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On, to an under-bridge of Glasgow Bridge, which is too dark and not wide enough:

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Note the “courtesy signs”, urging pedestrians and cyclists to “be considerate” to one another, installed as a feeble substitute for effective infrastructure:

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If you want to leave NCN75 and head towards St Enoch, you can do so with this innovative “one-at-a-time” ramp:

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If you carry on along NCN75 you’ll come to the shared path on Clyde Street, which was obstructed for weeks on end by contractors working on a railway bridge. The conflict this caused is immortalised in the latest Google Street View images. The council could have created a temporary cycle track here, by placing concrete barriers in the road, but chose not to – preferring to prioritise the motorist and leave pedestrians and cyclists fighting over the remaining scrap of path instead. I don’t recall a peep of dissent from Sustrans then.

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Conclusion: Sustrans and their “high-quality infrastructure” are impediments to a civilised Glasgow.

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“Road safety” vultures circle city schools

“Kids to get awards for road safety”

Glasgow Lord Provost Sadie Docherty launched the scheme and awards which will be presented to city schools which deliver road safety education and training

Mrs Docherty said: “Teaching road safety skills to our pupils is vital to ensure children learn pedestrian skills from an early age to prepare them for independent travel later on in their school life.

Trying to train children to adjust their behaviour to the threat posed by drivers is the most ineffective and immoral of all “road safety” tactics. Head teachers who want to participate in this hokum are urged to sign up at www.gosafeglasgow.com. I’ve had a look at the site and, predictably, there’s barely a word about pedestrian issues. That’s no surprise – most local authorities are completely indifferent to pedestrians, who are among the most oppressed groups in British society.

There is quite a lot about cycling. Here again, trying to make children behave by the rules of a car-centric city is the main thrust, with Bikeability training featuring prominently – though so feeble is the council’s commitment even to this futile measure that Level 3, the most advanced level, is not offered.

Cycle training is a waste of time. Pretty much anybody can cycle – it’s not exactly difficult. All you need to know is the meaning of basic road signs and laws, how to look about, and how to stick your left and right arms out to signal your intentions, which you can pick up with common sense and a flick through the Highway Code. You could train a monkey to do it. If there’s a perception that more knowledge than this is necessary, that’s how you know that you live in a cycle-unfriendly city with crap cycling infrastructure and a high level of road danger. Like Glasgow.

“Go Safe Glasgow” is crammed full of pictures of children dressed in “safety” gear, which implicitly absolves dangerous drivers of their responsibility to LOOK and places the blame on kids instead. Just take a look. It’s revolting. And if you think this will stop with cyclists, you’re wrong – I now see groups of primary school kids, presumably on school trips, dressed up in high-vis jackets while walking on a very frequent basis. It’s a step backwards for civilisation, a surrender to traffic violence.

Go Safe Glasgow peddles free cycle helmets “to pupils who do not have one” – though there’s nothing about motorist helmets. This assumes that cycle helmets are a good thing, but it may well be that parents who don’t buy their kids cycle helmets have made an informed choice not to – and good on them.

There’s another page with some wisdom on cycling “accidents” from the police:

The vast majority of cycling accidents occur in the city centre and main routes to and from the south and west of the city

The main profile of the injured cyclist is a male in his thirties commuting to and from work during peak times

That’s because south and west Glasgow are the places where cycling is most popular. That there are fewer cycling casualties in the north and east of the city doesn’t prove that these places are safe – on the contrary, it shows that they are more dangerous. Cycling is virtually extinct in much of north and east Glasgow because the conditions are extremely poor. As for the profile of the typical injured cyclist, it’s a similar story – males in their thirties are more likely to be injured because they’re the type of people who cycle. Children do not cycle in Glasgow, and nor do many other kinds of people, because the prospect of injury is terrifyingly obvious. You can’t be injured while cycling if you don’t cycle.

We do learn that

The accidents mostly involve cars with the highest causation being drivers failing to look properly at a junction.

So the police reckon drivers are the biggest cause of “accidents”, but we have all this crap about educating children? What’s that about? Glasgow City Council is clueless about road danger and how to reduce it.

If you want to know more about the “road safety” deception, you could do worse than read this book:

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This is my copy, but it’s been made available for free online. It’s over 20 years old but it could have been written yesterday. Highly recommended.

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Why cycling in Glasgow is going nowhere, reason #629

On the face of it, this sounds quite progressive:

NEW rules mean drivers will be fined for parking in cycle lanes [on a section of the Colleges Cycle Route]

At present there are problems with van drivers and motorists parking on marked cycle lanes forcing cyclists to veer out into traffic.

In a bid to solve the problem, the city council has drawn up a traffic order which means it can fine anyone who parks in cycle lanes.

It also plans to improve safety by widening the lanes from 1m to 1.5m and by introducing new bike lanes in Jordanhill.

In Clarence Drive, parking spaces will be removed to allow cycle lanes to be created and along the cycle route there will be restrictions banning waiting and loading.

Of course, it’s only news because Glasgow is the most backward city in Europe. There should be a universal ban on parking in all cycle lanes. I see no reason why this could or should not be enforced by automatic cameras, as bus lane infringements are. As things stand this is a cosmetic exercise – parking restrictions in Glasgow are barely enforced, so the cycle lanes will continue to be parked in as now.

As for the cycle lanes themselves – there’s no hint of segregation, which is a reflection of the council’s refusal to spend any real money on cycling and their total lack of understanding of the importance of subjective safety. The proposed width of 1.5 metres is completely inadequate – though it does comply with the guidelines found in “Cycling by Design”, a document crammed so full of useless, failed, outdated examples that it belongs in a museum. We’re also left wondering about the precise details of the design, which are so very important. I remember the last time the council “upgraded” a section of the Colleges Cycle Route – with typical Labour Party doublespeak we were promised that the cycle lanes on Highburgh Road would be cleared of obstruction by parked cars, and what we ended up with was the creation of formal car parking bays and 1-metre cycle lanes in the door zone. You have to be very wary of this nasty Labour council.

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“Business leaders hit out as bus gate fines hit £1.5m”

Glasgow’s car-supremacist local rag sank to a new low today:

CITY business leaders have reacted with fury at the new bus gate leading into George Square as it was revealed fines have topped £1.5million.

Look past the hysterical headline and it turns out that

Drivers are fined £60 meaning the maximum penalties issued so far comes to £1,671,060.

However the majority of drivers pay within two weeks as the fine is halved to £30.

So the total raised in fines is probably nowhere near the headline figure.

We are then solemnly informed by a couple of nonentities pillars of the community that the bus gate is driving (literally) people out of the city centre:

There is now no way of getting there other than some circuitous route which will put people with cars off going there for entertainment and dining … It is another reason to visit Braehead and Silverburn

That the council is Fleecing the Motorist (yawn):

I fail to see what good it has done for the city other than rake in a barrow load of cash for the council by fleecing the motorist

That the council’s nowhere-near-extreme-enough strategy to restrict car use is all wrong:

The council should be opening the city to allow ­motorists in and there shouldn’t be any bus gates or parking charges

That the bus gate is causing Accidents:

 The number of people who have almost crashed trying to reverse out of that zone is incredible

What all this shows is that there is no argument too feeble for the Motorists. They will do and say anything to retard efforts to make Glasgow a more liveable city.

Let’s say this again: the majority of households in Glasgow have no car. Buses should be prioritised over cars. It’s only fair.

I don’t often take the bus, but I had occasion to do so on Monday. I was stunned by just how slow it was – there were no bus lanes to help the driver move efficiently through the car-choked sewers streets and he was constantly having to pull in and out of laybys at bus stops to get out of the way of the all-important car driver.  It was absurd and barbaric, and it reminded me that conditions for walking and cycling are not the only things that must be improved in Glasgow – if this is to be a civilised city, buses must also be accorded the priority they deserve.

Stay strong, Glasgow City Council. Keep the cars out of Nelson Mandela Place. #prayforthebusgate

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What’s going on in Edinburgh?

I know this blog is supposed to be about Glasgow, but I quite fancy writing about Edinburgh today! Edinburgh council is planning to build a new cycle link between North Meadow Walk and the Innocent Railway path. You can see the plans for yourself here. This is the proposed route:

It looks a bit convoluted to me – perhaps a local could chime in on whether this is really the best option? Also, I don’t know why the key says “shared footway/cycleway” because the actual drawings show mostly segregated provision.

This is the plan for part of section A (rotated and with certain details edited out for readability) at the end of North Meadow Walk:

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It itself, it’s not too bad. The crossing is a toucan, but there are distinct areas for cycling (blue dots) and walking. What about the kerbs? The orange lines are half-height chamfered kerbs – that is, forgiving kerbs – so, while the cycle track is quite narrow at 2.5 metres, the full width will be usable (the pink lines are full-height kerbs, the light blue are flush, and the dark blue are dropped). The best part is that both the cycle track and the pavement are continuous across that side road junction. Drivers will have to give way to cyclists and pedestrians, and a speed table will ensure they slow down. Fabulously civilised.

This is the plan for the northern end of Section A:

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It’s a bit dodgy. People on bikes travelling northbound along the cycle track will have to check for traffic through 270 degrees before turning right into Gifford Park. Not so easy, and there’s nothing here to slow drivers down or prioritise pedestrians either. I wouldn’t call it “family friendly” as the council does.

This is section B, the crossing of Clerk Street between Gifford Park and Rankeillor Street:

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Again, it’s okay. There’s no distinction between areas for walking and cycling on the toucan this time, but the stop lines on the cycle tracks are thoughtfully positioned to prevent the pavements on Clerk Street being blocked by cyclists waiting to cross, which is nice. The pedestrian guardrail currently blocking the way to Gifford Park (left) will have to be removed to make way for the crossing, and the extended pavement/cycle track area (right) means it will no longer be possible to drive out of Rankeillor Street on to Clerk Street (NO ENTRY) which should help to keep the level of motor traffic on Rankeillor Street fairly low.

The plan for section C seems to have been drawn to a different scale from the others:

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We’ve more continuous pavements here (I love ‘em, I really do), but the toucan crossing looks like a bit of a bodge.

The main problem I have with this whole thing is the dual-network approach. These little scraps of cycle track exist solely to link up a “cycle route” conceived by the council. Unless you’re following this “route”, you won’t be using the cycle tracks – you’ll be on the road, using advisory cycle lanes (Buccleuch Street), bus lanes (Clerk Street), or nothing (St Leonard’s Street). There’s no plan that I know of to, one day, build cycle tracks along the entire length of these streets, or to filter out through motor traffic to create pleasant conditions for cycling on the carriageway. This is it.

Edinburgh Council is listening. These designs feature more segregation than the original plans, a change that was made as a result of consultation. Their budget commitment (7% of their transport budget now goes on cycling measures, a proportion which has risen in recent years and is expected to rise further) certainly suggests they care. But the lesson that “cycle routes” are not enough has still not been learned. Take a look at this map from the minutes of the latest meeting of the Transport and Environment Committee (Part 1, p52), with the options for a new east-west cycle route across the city centre, expected to feature segregated sections, shown in purple:

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It’s obvious that this has been dreamed up with the expectation that many people will restrict themselves to cycling on just these streets. There’s no concept of building a real network, of making every street suitable for cycling. Incredibly, directing people on bikes along secondary streets instead of fixing the notorious Haymarket junction is being considered. This is not what real commitment looks like. I’m well aware of the difficulties the tram and associated road layouts have created, but if Edinburgh is to have mass cycling then this must be tackled eventually. Why not now?

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A silly sign

Signage for cyclists in Glasgow is, in common with all the other cycle facilities, laughable and shambolic. Here’s a sign in Cowcaddens, under the M8 motorway, directing cyclists up a flight of stairs:

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Note also the welcoming environment for pedestrians and cyclists here, which was created with thoughtful consideration of the issues of social safety, crime prevention through environmental design, etcetera. It is particularly attractive at night.

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Reimagining car-sick Charing Cross

This is what Charing Cross looks like just now, from above (thank you Google Maps):

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It’s an incredibly brutal environment, and given its role as the primary gateway between the city centre and the West End its condition is nothing short of a scandal. It’s devoted to the convenience of the private motorist, with wide roads and anti-urban slip lanes everywhere you look. Pedestrians are treated like cockroaches, with narrow pavements and endless lengths of guardrail. Cyclists fare no better, with toucan crossings and scraps of advisory cycle lane. The roar of traffic on the motorway never stops, and there’s an all-pervading bleakness that makes me want to reach for the vodka. It really is one of the most depressing places in all of Glasgow, and that’s saying something. If I had to live here I’d probably sink into a life of alcoholism and debauchery just to numb the horror of it all. When I think about what this place could be like I want to scream. Knowing what it used to look like makes me feel even worse.

But I have hope. It’s the only thing that gets me through the week.

It is rumoured that Glasgow City Council is considering improving the public realm and decking over the M8 at Charing Cross. The section of motorway in question is not specified, but it’s extremely likely to be the bit between Sauchiehall Street and Bath Street – it’s probably not possible to deck over the section south of Bath Street because that’s where the motorway rises to clear the subsurface North Clyde Line of Glasgow’s commuter rail network. There is some basis for this rumour in the council’s city centre strategy, which has some vague ideas of doing something about the motorway and creating “gateways” on the outskirts of the city centre, including at Charing Cross. I sincerely hope this rumour is true because it would be transformative for the area.

I’ve spent the last week thinking about what I’d like to see in a revamped Charing Cross, and I took a leaf out of maidstoneonbike’s book and came up with my own design. It would be good to hear what people think. Have I made any mistakes, or missed anything out?

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What’s here?

  • A new civic square on top of the motorway, which has been decked over
  • More pedestrian space, particularly in the place of slip lanes for motor traffic
  • Direct pedestrian crossings, which have replaced staggered crossings
  • A complete system of segregated cycle tracks, including Glasgow City Council’s already-proposed cycle track on Sauchiehall Street and a link to the existing cycle track further west on Berkeley Street
  • Dedicated cycle crossings, replacing toucan crossings in some cases, to eliminate conflict with motor traffic and pedestrians
  • Bus lanes retained/added
  • Some car parking retained

I also like to imagine all of the pedestrian guardrail ripped out, melted down, and turned into bicycle parking.

What’s needed to achieve this?

  • A lot of money, though mainly for the whole decking-over-the-motorway bit
  • Dramatic reallocation of road space and signal time in favour of pedestrians and cyclists
  • Removal of obstacles: compulsory purchase of private car park and felling of certain trees

None of these are dealbreakers. Seriously, just do it. Please.

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