In an attempt to ‘go green’, the bike paths constructed in the city centre provide a new accessibility nightmare.
As the host of the COP26 climate summit, Glasgow was the focus of the world and the outcome of the discussions had hoped to pave the way for a sustainable future. Despite the disappointment of many of the climate pledges after the summit, steps are being taken to improve the low-carbon transport potential of cities across the world. After COP26 and the IPCC report which further raised the issue of climate disaster, these initiatives have become all the more important.
In 2014, the Glasgow City Council started the 10 year long “Avenues” programme, which will transform the streets of the city centre to become safer, more attractive, and accessible to pedestrians and bike users. Around £115m is being invested in the project and the first “pilot” Avenue on Sauchiehall Street was completed in 2019. The aim is to make Glasgow’s streets more suitable for modes of transport other than cars, such as walking and cycling, which will make the city greener, more sustainable, and more attractive.
Cycling is a great way of traveling sustainably. It is often just as quick as the commute in the car and provides the bonus of being a healthy activity. However, many cities which are trying to promote bike use as a form of safe, sustainable, and healthy travel, are facing design challenges. This is because many city streets were not designed to accommodate motorised vehicles, bikes, and pedestrians all at once. Glasgow is such a city.
Unlike in Edinburgh, which has many designated bike lanes, allowing for cyclists to avoid car lanes and pedestrians entirely, or at least separating them using brightly coloured bollards to protect all parties, in the city centre of Glasgow, cyclists and car drivers are often forced to share the same carriageway. At the busiest times during rush hour, this leads to dangerous behaviour on both sides, from cyclists jumping red lights to drivers cutting off bike users. Sadly, road accidents involving cyclists are a common occurrence.
To combat this, and to make cycling to work a more attractive prospect, the council has started to construct bike lanes. However, in the city centre, when on the rare occasion there is a bike path separated from the car lane, it continuously criss-crosses the pavements. So, although its design intends to protect the bike user from car drivers, it now puts pedestrians at risk from the cyclists. The design of the new streets also poses problems in other ways. There have been reports that the street designs have made parts of Glasgow dangerous to the visually impaired and inaccessible to those with increased mobility requirements. As part of the redesign, there are now pieces of “road furniture” such as low-lying black bollards which are difficult to see and can be hazardous to walkers and cyclists alike. Other problems include a lack of tactile paving and signals to cross bike paths and the inability to hear approaching cyclists.
There is not an obvious solution. The way the city centre is laid out, with relatively narrow streets and wide pavements, mean that constructing bike lanes will eat into the space currently occupied by other street users. It would be unfeasible to pedestrianise the entire city centre because it is far too big, and van access to shops and restaurants is essential for loading and unloading, as well as for accessibility purposes.
Examples of designated bike paths working effectively have shown that space is paramount. In some of the councils surrounding Glasgow, such as Renfrewshire and Inverclyde, old railway routes have been converted into bike paths. These connect almost all the towns from Paisley westward and allow for safe travel on a bike away from the road. The bike path along the Clyde provides a similar example. However, in the city centre there is not the capacity for this. Short of constructing raised platforms, such as those for the trains into Central Station, for bike paths, there is not much the council can do to separate cars, bikes, and pedestrians.
Providing safe alternatives to using cars, is an important step in improving the sustainability of travel in Glasgow. However, using the current strategy, safety and accessibility issues will persist.