Glasgow’s Urban Transport Revolution

Whisper it, but a transportation revolution is underway in Glasgow. If all goes to plan, the city will be completely transformed on a scale not seen since the 60s, when the tram lines were ripped out and the M8 was ploughed through the city centre.

The revolution of the 1960s predicted a glittering future of smooth empty motorways, and began an era of ever-increasing car use, gridlock, and air pollution. But today the UK needs to reduce car-miles travelled by 20% by 2030 to be on course for net zero. Because urban car trips are the easiest to replace with public transport or active travel, Glasgow’s share is a 30% reduction. A transportation counter-revolution has become essential.

Radically reducing carbon emissions demands a complete overhaul of our street design. Existing road layouts have led to steady increases in traffic, which have in turn slowed down buses by 20% since the year 2000 and discouraged active travel, feeding a vicious cycle of car dependency. The overhaul has to be rapid and thorough enough to not only halt but reverse the trend towards car use.

Public transport improvement is high on the agenda. The council would prefer to take ownership of the buses but, lacking the funds, instead proposes to regulate them as franchises. This should allow a unified ticketing system with “tap and cap”, where passengers tap a contactless card on each bus, and are never charged for more than a day ticket in total. Unfortunately and bafflingly, council officers claim it will take seven years to implement the change.

Grander in scale is the proposal for a Greater Clyde Metro. The Metro proposal calls for Glasgow’s suburban railways to be converted to electrified light rail with high frequencies. Glasgow has the UK’s most dense suburban rail network outwith London, but low frequencies of 2 trains per hour make it painful to use. Compare that to the subway, where a 4-8 minute frequency means there is no need to check a timetable before travelling.

The Metro also includes multiple extensions and reopening’s including an ambitious line from Paisley via Glasgow Airport to Renfrew and beyond. Such a light rail system can include “street running” sections, essentially a tram, in dense urban areas.

It remains to be seen how the Metro will be funded, given the politics of the hard-right government at Westminster. But as it is essential to the climate targets in both international treaties and national statute, we can expect to see movement on it eventually. The Clyde Metro has been made a top priority by Transport Scotland, a status previously awarded to the new forth road bridge among others.

Already funded, thanks to the SNP-Green agreement at Holyrood, are dramatic improvements to “active travel”: walking, wheeling, and cycling.

Both the Highway Code and Transport Scotland have set out a transport hierarchy that orders transport modes from most to least important. Pedestrians and wheelers (wheelchairs and prams), then cyclists, then public transport, then taxis, and last of all the private car.

Glasgow intends to overhaul the city’s streets to match this hierarchy.

George Square will be given an upgraded layout all on one level, with new gardens and an events space. A large part of the city centre will prioritise pedestrians. Meanwhile a systematic review of the entire city called “liveable neighbourhoods” is being conducted. This has produced some radical proposals already, including making west end Sauchiehall and Argyle streets one-way for cars creating space for wider pavements, on-street dining, and safe cycle lanes.

There are also ambitious plans for a city-wide cycle network by 2030. Cities such as London and Paris have been building these networks for years, and the result everywhere is a dramatic increase in cycling. The aim is not infrastructure for sportspeople, but for the rest of us. A network that is safe for everyone, even – especially – a 12 year old taking themselves to school or evening activities. Completely mundane in the Netherlands, and what a boon it would be to busy parents here.

Because active travel infrastructure is much cheaper to maintain than car infrastructure, we can have some hope that those commitments will survive the new austerity.

There is much to be hopeful for in Glasgow’s urbanist revolution. The test now will be whether it can be delivered at a pace that matches the urgency of climate change.

Comments (11)

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  1. Tim Hoy says:

    Long overdue in all our cities. Let’s just hope it’s not just more delayed actions or empty rhetoric as we’ve seen almost everywhere in the UK. Great article. Thank you.

  2. Politically Homeless says:

    Hmm. As a cyclist and cycling activist in Glasgow since the early 2000s, I note A.D. has come to this relatively recently. Welcome aboard good to have you. There’s no question the infrastructure agenda is further along than ever before. This was mainly thanks to the efforts of campaigners who relentlessly banged on about the message that half measures (painted strips on the road etc.) as we saw in the 90s/00s are worthless and that a gold standard (Dutch style) system is the only solution. What we’ve now got is reasonable-to-excellent standard segregated infrastructure in showpiece projects (“Avenues” and “City Ways”), but these are to all practical intents, while in their current disjointed state, pieces of landscape architecture more than things which make cycling genuinely easier.

    I think it is important now for cycle campaigning to “link up” (normally a platitudinous phrase I detest) with public transport campaigning ( eg Get Glasgow Moving ) for the simple reason that during a recession transport will become a class issue more than an environmental one, and we can’t allow the perception that cyclists are beggaring the political capital of bus or train users or vice versa. Rather we need a unified campaign against transport POVERTY, poverty in all aspects; time poverty of using a dysfunctional bus system, financial poverty through exorbitant fares etc. and of course the physical privation of being threatened daily on a bike.

    What we don’t need is to turn incredibly minor successes into a PR campaign for the SNP. There is, for example, currently no hope of any progress on the Glasgow bus network. Integrated ticketing is a frivolity and a distraction when you can’t afford the fares and the buses don’t even run to schedule. Bus bosses love to talk about this kind of stuff, and they have for years, presumably because it frames an agenda where they can demand financial subsidy. Instead we need to frame an agenda where if an essential public service simply doesn’t work, it gets expropriated from the private sector and made to work by state intervention. Too radical? Nah. More a case of “be realistic demand the impossible.” The idea of cycle lane-ing the remainder of Sauchiehall St was once unthinkable too, and ripping up the M8 was unsayable. We need the same uncompromising attitude to the buses and trains!

    1. Cathy Gunn says:

      Well said! Why do councils delay and complicate when clear aims like this could lead to fast track change? It worked with Queensferry Crossing … but not ferries or Edinburgh trams.

  3. Jamie says:

    I’m not sure why it would take years to implement Tap & Cap. It’s don’t with Lothian Transport. There is even talk of having a 90 or 100 minute ticket, like they have in some Italian transport systems.

    1. Graeme Purves says:

      Exactly! It shouldn’t. Officials just need to get on and do it.

  4. Alasdai Macdonald says:

    Thanks for this.

    It is of note that you have published this in an independent website. Most consumers of the mainstream media within Glasgow are unaware of these proposals or have only a sketchy knowledge of what is being proposed. The media portrayal is substantially of ‘the war on the motorist’ paradigm. The other strand is demonising of cyclists – riding on pavements, going through red lights, no hand signals, causing hazards on roads.

    Undoubtedly the general perception is changing and has changed quite noticeable over the past ten years, but those of us who walk, cycle and use public transport need to continue to be assertively eloquent advocates about the improved ambience, environmental and health benefits that will accrue.

    1. TheBobHoskinsRoadshow says:

      > Quote; ‘the mainstream media within Glasgow’.

      That would be the Evening Times / Glasgow Times under the editorial of one Donald Martin. Glasgow has been crying out for an extended metropolitan subway system for the Greater Glasgow area, but for whatever reason the Glasgow media doesnt want to accept this truth.

  5. Michael says:

    As someone that does all of the things. Driving rickshaws to hgv. environmentalist are currently too often seen as or are taking the positions against infrastucture.
    Bigger vechiles offer one solution for fewer miles travelled. Super blocks would be a great move making use of the cities grid iron to expand pedestrianization.
    I think more buses and trains that are bike freindly allows for more composite travel. I think we should change insurance laws as currently they disincentivise sharing motors.

  6. Dougie Blackwood says:

    This is a chicken and egg story.

    Yes we would all like that we could do without the car and use public transport that would take us to our destinations in a reasonable timescale at reasonable cost. Try Using buses at night, they mainly don’t run. Trains and the underground work in inner Glasgow (some of the time) but the greater conurbation does not have infrastructure for either parking or reasonable distance walking.

    To achieve the aim it’s necessary to first provide the alternative. While cars clog the streets the infrastructure cannot be built; think Edinburgh trams in time, money and disruption.

  7. J Galt says:

    I’m sorry but this is complete fantasy.

    There is practically little or no investment in public transport at the moment other than renewals (the Subway) or limited in scope electrification of existing lines – East Kilbride/Barrhead.

    The bus network is in a state of decline with reduced service levels and route closures. Even existing services are extremely unreliable due to an acute driver shortage that shows no sign of improving.

    There are no concrete proposals for a “Clyde Metro”.

    By all means tinker away with cycle lanes and street furniture – it is after all much cheaper than real transport investment.

    The notion that a “Transport Revolution” is underway is complete flannel.

  8. Jennie Robertson says:

    Prioritisations take no account of NON-WHEELCHAIR Disabled & Mobility-Impaired. Increased pedestrianisation of large areas will result in much longer walks from bus-routes to final destination. To severely arthritic like myself, an additional 20 Metres can feel like a MILE – my serious anxiety will also be exacerbated by longer & more circuitous walks through pedestrianised spaces. Consultation should include representatives of the THOUSANDS of mobility-impaired who DON’T Use Wheelchairs.

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