Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Carfree in Glasgow: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

In Glasgow last week to deliver a workshop, so, with a bit of spare time to take in the city on foot, here are some observations, anecdotal rather than scientific: one man’s street audit of walkability in Glasgow.

The Good

· Many main shopping streets pedestrianized, with high quality surfaces, particularly in the trophy streets of ‘The Style Mile.’
· Glasgow has become a legible city, with good signage – walking denoted by time rather than distance.
· Some splendid pedestrian bridges and walkways along the Clyde.
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· Some bike lanes, a few with physical segregation (although not many cyclists). What’s good for cyclists is normally ok-ish for pedestrians.
· Some 20mph “home zones” in residential areas bordering the city centre, such as north of Sauchiehall Street.
· From an Active Travel perspective, Glasgow has a pretty extensive urban transport system, apparently with plenty of buses, heavy rail and the world’s third oldest underground system. The latter goes by the splendid moniker of The Clockwork Orange.

The Bad

· Away from the pedestrian streets, traffic is fast and unforgiving -Glasgow city centre needs a 20mph default speed limit if it is to be truly safe and truly walkable.
· Pedestrians suffer long waits for the green man at signalled crossings (motor traffic gets priority, big time).
· No sign of an urban bike hire scheme a la London’s Boris Bikes.

The Ugly

· The state of the pavements (‘footways’ in local parlance) away from the trophy streets is about the worst I’ve seen in a British city - broken slabs, misaligned drop kerbs, giving the impression of being uncared for. More like the back streets of Athens than a place wanting to encourage pedestrians.
· The M8 motorway, striding along the edge of the city centre on giant concrete columns.

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· Possibly the worst pedestrian approach to any major new museum anywhere in the UK – it’s a shame, and an irony, that Zaha Hadid’s excellent riverside museum – devoted to transport, and stuffed full of trams, trains and bikes (plus a wall of cars) stands in a car park, alongside another major road, with difficult pedestrian access. Not much has changed since this Guardian article in 2011.
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Overall verdict
For pedestrians, Glasgow may be miles better, but it still has a long way to go. Here’s hoping that the 2014 Commonwealth Games, when Glasgow will be on view to the world, will offer the chance to get working on some of the issues described above.

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