Saturday, 1 February 2014

Rock Bottom Glasgow

It's an unfortunate symptom of what I do, and where in the country that I am based, that this blog often comes across as very negative. I'll be honest and admit that overall I do post far more negative posts than positive ones. As hinted at in my opening sentence that is because I am a cyclist and I am in Glasgow.

I was asked recently to write a short article on the state of cycling in Glasgow for Cycling Weekly. I wrote that in the run up to Christmas, and I think whilst it was negative in the sense that Glasgow as it stands is in a poor position, it did contain some hope in that we had Frank in place and that he, as a representative of Glasgow city council was doing and saying the right things.

Since then though I had the misfortune of seeing the plans associated with the Fastlink bus route in Glasgow, and I realised that whilst Frank is a nice guy, I don't think he has any power. He is Glasgow City Councils stooge.

Keep the cyclists happy and out of our hair please Frank.

Despite my feeling on this I decided to attend a meeting organised by SEDA where there would be opportunities to chat to Frank and ask him some searching questions.

There were lots of searching questions being asked of Frank, especially with regards to Fastlink, personally though I just wanted to find out who was actually in charge of transport in Glasgow, as it's not actually obvious. Who exactly should we be talking to?

Frank admitted that transport is a complex structure in Glasgow. SPT work across multiple local councils, I suppose trying to join everything up, so they certainly have some input, but within Glasgow itself it seems to be Land and Environment services (LES). The senior politician in LES is Councillor Alistair Watson, and the non-elected Executive Director is Brian Devlin. You may have seen Brian Devlin's name on the cycling plans for Fastlink, of you were paying attention. These are names worth remembering....

Frank also mentioned that there was a Public Petitions Committee in GCC. Certainly something that we need to consider.

Cyclists in Glasgow need to start engaging with their local councillors more as well, with Frank mentioning that he knows of about 7 or 8 councillors that have some amount of interest in cycling. We need to make sure that cycling is on the radar of every councillor in Glasgow (Scotland in fact).

None of this though explains the title of this blog. Why Rock Bottom? Yesterday morning, having ridden in to work (and nearly having been knocked off my bike, but that's another story...), I attended a Bike Breakfast at my work place, the Southern General Hospital (SGH). The SGH is one of the National government's pet projects as on the site of the current hospital, a new hospital is taking shape. It's going to be huge and will be replacing two other hospitals.

As I've mentioned before when discussing Fastlink, transport to this New SGH or NSGH is going to be an issue for not just cyclists, but everybody.

Fear not though (and this is now ignoring the Fastlink cycling plans which are separate plans), with the build of the NSGH came some money, £750,000. That money would provide cycling access to the hospital by providing safe routes in the close surrounding areas (to link up with the crap beyond of course). Over time a decision was made by Sustrans to match that funding with a further £750,000, giving a grand total of £1.5m.

That's a reasonable pot of cash.

Problem is that it isn't for one route. It isn't for 2 or 3 routes. It is for 10 different routes to the NSGH. That's about £150,000 per route. Add into that, the fact that some of the money will have to cover the instillation of pelican crossings, and improved lighting, and the money actually spent on cycling comes to....not very much at all.

So I went along today fearing the worst.

Now I should point out that none of the plans I looked at this morning are actually publically available, except for viewing at this event, and I assume some other drop in sessions. I've personally seen some plans before at a previous drop in session, but nothing has ever been released beyond that. Despite this, the work is apparently going to start on some of what I saw today, in a few weeks time.

That what a consultation is in Glasgow.

The plans themselves?

Well, I took some photos and I wasn't wrestled to the floor when I did, so here are what I have.

Approach to hospital on Langlands Road

More of the approach on Langlands Road

Inside the NSGH grounds
Unfortunately this is all I got, as I unfortunately had to head off to work. Most of my time was spent chatting to the chap who designed these plans, and to two Sustrans people.

To be fair the designer chap seemed nice, he seemed genuine, and he was working on an impossible task. Make cycling safe for people coming to the NSGH on 10 routes with a tiny budget. However, he found it very hard to answer nearly all my questions without pausing, knowing that the answer he would give me wouldn't be a good one.

Is that section just paint on the road?
Umm, err, yes.
Does that dashed line next to the lane mean that it isn't mandatory, and that people can park in it?
Umm, err, yes. However, we plan to see how the situation goes, and if parking in the lane is an issue we can revisit it later on, though these things are very difficult to do....
Why not make it mandatory from the start?
Umm, err...but it is hard to do and we have little time to do it in, it needs to all be in by the time the hospital opens...
Ah, so it's a rush job?
Umm, err....not really....
How wide is the painted buffer between the parked cars and the cycle lane?
Umm, err...about 0.5m
That's not very wide is it. What about the bus stops, why does the cycle lane stop and restart at bus stops, won't there be conflict between cyclists and buses and didn't you consider bus stop bypasses?
Ummm, err...we did consider bypasses, but....
Why are you using lots of shared use paths? Is there an unwillingness to take space from cars?
Umm, err, in one area we are taking space from cars and widening the pavement a bit so it can be shared...
But there is no physical separation between pedestrians and cyclists?
Umm err, no.

To be fair the chap was nice and as I said he is designing the impossible, but what we have here is cycle infrastructure that could have been designed 10 years ago, before officers and politicians from Glasgow had been to the Go Dutch conference in Edinburgh and before they had visited Amsterdam and surrounding areas on a fact finding mission.

Why did they bother? They have learned nothing. Not a thing.

What bothers me the most about this is I did consider trying to put some political pressure on locally and nationally about this project over a year ago. I was told by one person involved in the project to hold off on doing that until later, and another from another organisation was more direct and told me to effectively 'keep my nose out'. At the time I was busy with other things, so I decided the hassle wasn't worth it and I decided to play the waiting game.

I wish I hadn't, and I am annoyed I didn't do what I felt was needed.

Is everything lost? I don't know, I really don't know. I felt so depressed when I left the bike breakfast, and there was a small part of me that said, just forget it and move on. Perhaps though all is not lost. Perhaps it's time to start asking our politicians (and that includes our national ones, as this is a national project) whether they are happy to have the 'jewel in the crown' Scottish hospital surrounded by some of the worst active travel infrastructure in the country?

We want a healthy Scotland, so we build a hospital to treat the sick, yet we can't encourage people to get there in the healthiest of ways. Perhaps this is the government's way of drumming up future business for the NSGH. Am I being too cynical?


  1. Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets

    One the reasons that make Glasgow the sick man of Europe is our ability to ignore persistent warnings about failure to exercise. One of the reasons we don't have more people cycling is our ability to ignore persistent warnings about the need for quality infrastructure.

    The combination of a population who will avoid exercise and city planning which avoids planning properly for cycling will give us what we have always got; an increasingly unhealthy population who spend ever more of their time sitting in traffic jams.

    Glasgow actually needs to have a more aggressive sustainable transport plan to overcome our well demonstrated historical tendency to choose the easy option.

    We don't do this because it would be unpopular with Glaswegians for the same reason we most need it - we will take the car whenever possible.

  2. It's not just in Glasgow - in Dumfries another flagship hospital is planned, with cycling and walking an afterthought at best

  3. Same old. Interesting that Frank mentioned getting in early (re: plans/Fastlink) yet your experience suggests that doesn't work.

    In London Gilligan/Boris have said they'll do things properly or not at all (they're not necessarily sticking to that, but nevertheless). In this instance if the money allows one good route then do that. When people use it (because it's good) it'll do the world of good in showing suppressed demand (which I have no doubt exists) which could lead to funding being found for additional high quality routes. 10 crap routes is just a waste of money.