Wednesday 22 January 2014

The Problem with Frank

Glasgow City Council are not renowned for their active travel/green credentials. Glasgow is after all a motorway city. It's very heart was ripped out with the building of the M8 right through its centrein the 1970's. That is why it was a surprise when in August 2012 that Glasgow did something unexpected....

It appointed a cycling czar, Frank McAveety.

I commented on his appointment at the time here, and it's fair to say that, whilst I welcomed him into his new 'post' (it was more of a general change in responsibilities), I was a little sceptical. Thus I made sure I made it clear that cycling would only become a reality for the majority of Glaswegians if the council invested in infrastructure and that it was fully FUNDED, properly DESIGNED, and properly CONNECTED.

Frank is an ex-leader of Glasgow city council, and an ex-MSP who was once the Scottish Sports Minister, but he lost his seat at the last Scottish elections. However, never one to sit on his laurels he found himself elected to Glasgow city council soon after. Frank could I suppose be described as a career politician, and one who would obviously know the ins and outs of political life.

Despite this, Frank is actually quite a likeable chap. He is friendly in his approach, seems down to earth, and certainly talks in a way that suggests he knows his subject matter.  I've had the pleasure of meeting Frank a few times over the last year and a bit so I feel I know him, even if only a little bit. Frank also has probably got to know me a little bit. The fact that he often comments if I am at a meeting with him that, 'the trouble maker is here' (in a friendly way) suggests I've made an impression. I suppose I do make a bit of nuisance of myself.

I'm sure I could quite happily sit down with Frank and have an enjoyable pint and chat, and I know I'm not alone in thinking that. Quite a few cycling related people have said similar things to me.

Frank was nice. Frank seems to understand the issues. Frank might make a difference.

What exactly then, is the problem with Frank that I elude to in the title?

The problem with Frank is not with Frank himself. I could be wrong, but I do think Frank is genuine in a lot of what he says. He has got out on his bike and cycled around the city (he still hasn't taken me up my offer though....) and he has listened to lots of views. He has attended lots of cycling meetings, and discussions. He has taken questions and it would appear, he has answered them honestly.

OK, OK, we get it, you don't think the problem is Frank, so what is the problem with Frank!?

Frank is a buffer (I'm sure he's been called worse!). Frank is not a decision maker. Frank does not have enough influence to actually make any significant difference.

These are of course, quite grand assertions. However, I have evidence. Despite Frank being in his position of cycling czar since August 2012, I've seen two sets of plans for cycle infrastructure coming from Glasgow that are, quite frankly (pardon the 'almost' pun) a pile of steaming poo.

Exhibit A: Cycling routes to Cathkin Braes.

A route consisting of almost exclusively shared use paths, dropped kerbs and bollards.

Exhibit B: Fastlink associated cycle provision

A route that consists yet again of shared use paths (which appear to be two way share use paths), the removal of existing, useful cycle infrastructure, new tortuous routes, and some on road, non-segregated painted cycle lanes.

Now I know for a fact that at just about every meeting that Frank has attended, he has been told facilities like this are not acceptable. Shared use paths for example aren't just an issue for cyclists, they are an issue for pedestrians as well. All shared use paths achieve is conflict between cyclists and pedestrians whilst clearing the roads for cars......and that's the thing. That's the very thing that is very clear from all of the plans that come from Glasgow City Council.

Car is king, and car must and will remain king.

Believe it or not, we as cyclist actually have quite a strong voice nationally at the moment. The media especially, is sitting up and listening. This is forcing the government and the councils to listen.....a bit. The problem is that they have selective hearing.....

What's that I hear?.....cyclists want cycle infrastructure? Hmmm.....take some space away from cars? Eh? on a minute.....I'm sure they actually said was.....take space away from pedestrians didn't they......ah yes....we can do that.....

The problem is, that at the moment pedestrian groups such as Living Streets, just don't have the same loud voice, and so whilst the council isn't hearing cyclists, it isn't hearing pedestrians at all. We end up with a situation that just shifts the conflict from one set of road users to another, and discourages all modes of transport except the car.

Exactly what the politicians in Glasgow City Council appear to want.

So what's to do? Well, we need to reply strongly to the consultations I've discussed previously. We need to look beyond Frank and start engaging the people who actually have power in the council to change the way that transport is viewed within the council (is that a particular councillor, LES or SPT, it's not entirely obvious who....) and we need to start ramping up the local pressure.

Watch this space. Myself and my fellow campaigners at Pedal on Parliament are considering exactly how best to take this forward. There could and should be an demonstration in Glasgow of some sort this year, especially with the Commenwealth Games being here.

At he moment the Glasgow's politicians don't care. It's time we made them care.

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