On Sunday I took a look at Glasgow, a town I have previously only passed through without stopping. Here’s my commentary: a mix of cameraphone and proper camera photos; some of the commentary comes from the live tweets that accompanied the cameraphone pictures.
The great overwhelming presence in Glasgow’s built environment is the M8, which crashes through the centre of the city, dividing the central business district from the inner suburbs, and filling them both with a tangle of concrete flyovers and junctions. While several British cities have motorway arterial routes, a massive backlash prevented the planners of the 1960s implementing their dream of flattening our city centres and neighbourhoods to build networks of through motorways. Instead, most cities stuck to bypasses and orbitals, with smaller and not quite so destructive inner-city ring roads. In this through-motorway design with big city centre grade-separated junctions, Glasgow looks very North American.This is how intrusive the motorway is on a sunday evening. I wonder what it’s like on a weekday…
There are odd bits of old concrete next to recent regeneration projects, like this — presumably once a footbridge, closed, perhaps, because it all depressed people so much that they jumped off?
Weird half-demolished monuments, left here in ruins as a warning to future generations?
These days you have to go under the road, in the dark labyrinth of slip roads and columns and surreal street furniture. There’s a helpful tourist information sign.
Beyond the M8, there are other roads — motorways in all but name — from a similar era and of a similar design — stained old concrete, crumbling pedestrian underpasses, and bent and battered railings:
But the most depressing thing about it all is not the destructive roads of the 1960s and 70s, but the fact that the authorities seem to be unable to learn from these mistakes. Despite everything that Glasgow has already seen and been through, and despite everything we know about supply inducing demand and the futility of congestion relief, Glasgow has just in the past year opened a new motorway smashing through the inner city to join the M8, in the hope of relieving its congestion and magically revitalising the city centre. And that’s not the only major new road construction going on.
There are lots of wide streets in the centre, all given over to cars — not even much in the way of bus lanes for these dual carriageways and grid-pattered one-way streets (another feature reminiscent of the US). From the image on this walking directions sign, it looks like you’re expected to run across the road, for there is no crossing here, only drop kerbs. Depressing though these streets are, you could think of them in terms of “things can only get better”. Not even a moron of Boris Johnson proportions could look at Glasgow and claim that there is no room for proper joined-up dedicated cycling infrastructure on these streets. If there were the political will, the implementation would be simple.
The cycle parking at Central Station should give you an idea of current political will. Indeed, political will seemed to be in short supply in general:
It looked like the council just weren’t able to keep up with all the repairs, maintenance, and enforcement, let alone worry about their street layouts.
But it wasn’t all bad. A little bit of road space has been taken away from the Motorist for what I assume is some sort of fancy bus lane?
And they were building some new shared space, where, freed from all that clutter, all road users could naturally behave themselves and be courteous without the need for the authorities to get involved with “traffic management” or “enforcement”:
And with motorists and pedestrians mixing more closely, pedestrians will be better able to appreciate the work of this vital commercial road user and his urgent message about the locally sourced (that means low food miles!) meat from James Campbell (butchers):
Glasgow has many nice features, of course. But its streets are generally not one of them, designed as they are without the slightest thought for anybody who isn’t behind a steering wheel. Not that it’s greatly worse than average for a British urban cycling and walking environment.