Saturday, 22 March 2014

Clyde Gateway: Part One

Believe it or not, the green smudge is a cycle path

Foreword

Take a look at the image on the left - that treatment was done about ten years ago. On the left of the picture is a fire-path - a static piece of infrastructure that blocks normal motor traffic whilst allowing access to Fire & Rescue appliances. On the right is a cycle path connecting Dixon Road to the Toucan crossing on Aitkenhead Road. As you can probably infer, one of these features has survived a lot better than the other. There are multiple examples down the road of similar treatments, each rotting away at a similar rate.

I went to a local resident's association meeting last summer, where representatives from the council's Land & Environmental Services came out to talk with us about what they were doing to improve the roads in the area. I spoke to the spokesperson for the team that does the painting. Ludicrously enough, painting the road appears to be the responsibility of a separate department from the teams that resurface the roads - if you ever wondered why roads sometimes get re-painted one week then tarmacked over the following week, this is probably why. I asked him about sections of cycle path like the one above; I wanted to know why this wasn't being maintained. He advised me that the original piece of work came from a special, one-off fund. There was no budget for re-painting the cycle paths around this part of the city. Therefore, short of a miracle, or an extra injection of "special" funding, the above path will continue to deteriorate until there's nothing but the dropped kerb and the sign. The fire-path - made out of actual bricks and mortar - will remain though for much longer.

The bottom line is: paint alone doesn't work. This fact will become more pertinent as I look at the state of the new infrastructure work that's been carried out in and around the main Commonwealth Games site in Dalmarnock and Parkhead - a project that's been labelled "The Clyde Gateway". It featured in a rather scathing article in the Guardian about the mooted "Commonwealth Legacy"; a piece which has inspired me to write this blogpost. As its quite a large area, I'm going to break down the analysis into a few posts.

Overview

In November 2007, Glasgow was announced as the Host for 2014 Commonwealth Games. That has set in motion a series of major building and infrastructural projects to create an "East End Cluster" of sporting venues, an athlete's village and transport routes to facilitate access. This included a major refurbishment to Dalmarnock Railway Station, and the construction of a new road (or at least a major re-routing and refurbishment of existing roads) called the "East End Regeneration Route", the naming of which suggests a beneficial purpose. This coincides with the completion of the highly controversial M74 extension between Tradeston and Tollcross, which has lead to the creation of a new junction - J1A Polmadie - linking up to the new road. Thus when I refer to the "Clyde Gateway", I'm referring to the route between the new motorway junction, the Velodrome and the Forge Retail Park at Parkhead.


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Historically speaking, this route is - in a sense - a partial completion of the inner city ring road, proposed in the notorious Bruce Report (the apogee of Glasgow's post-war modernist planning mindset). I referred to this previously in discussion of High Street, which would have formed the eastern flank. This revised edition pushes the flank further eastwards, but ultimately forms a (nearly) continuous route between the M74 and the M8/M80 at Provan, albeit in the form of an urban road, rather than a motorway. With that said, some sections of the route are 4 or even 6 lanes wide - if it looks like a duck... etc

Presumably as part of the approvals process for getting the bid and to justify building new roads, provision for cycling has been factored into the design. The new cycle infrastructure has been pridefully referred to by Glasgow City Council officials as prime examples of how to implement "quality" facilities. without wanting to jump the gun, I think it will come as no surprise to suggest that they are somewhat deluded in that regard.

Anyway, let us begin.

Polmadie

Here's an oblique satellite view of M74 J1A:


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As you can see, it's a bit of a mess - with multiple stacking lanes, signal-controlled junctions and potential for conflict between local users and people exiting and entering the motorway. It isn't nice for motor vehicles, people on bikes or those brave few pedestrians who venture this way occasionally. For the cars, there are three sets of lights to pass through if heading northbound. Cycles and pedestrians have to brave numerous crossings on shared use paths, all while surrounded by heavy traffic - this is not somewhere one wants to spend a lot of time.

I'll start off at the southern side of the junction. If you've read my last post, you'll have seen this image below already, as it forms part of the cycle route between Cathkin Braes, Hampden Park and the Velodrome. As you can see, it's a shared use pavement, with a two-stage toucan crossing - so far, so inconvenient.

Toucan Crossing, replete with the much-derided tactile paving

 Things get worse on the northside of the junction, where we encounter not just another two-stage toucan, but (gasp) a building!
Nnngh! More crossings to wait at
 The planners seem to have been taken by surprise by the existence of this static object. Remember that this is still shared use, but rather than widen the footpath and take some of the lane away from the roadway, they've simply given up and stuck a "Cyclists Dismount" sign before the problematic blind corner - abject capitulation:

If I were responsible for this, I don't think I'd be advertising it, Transport Scotland
 Thereafter, we join the Clyde Gateway proper (or New Rutherglen Road, as it is more correctly called). Here you see a prime example of the divisive and counter-productive Dual Network philosophy in action - on the left, an inconvenient shared use pavement for "novice" cycle users, and a dodgy, hated ASL on the right for "experienced" users.
At least it isn't painted green
At this point, the shared use path on the left pretty much stops dead - if you want to carry on further, you have to cross over the junction at the toucan, then wait at another two-stage crossing to get to the rest of the path. The alternative is to roll into the ASL (note the dropped kerb) and mix with the cars and lorries.

Oh, did I mention that this path just... kind of ... stops mid-way?

Yes, this is supposedly segregated shared use - where does the bike go, on the grass verge?
After this point the signs just give up, with no path back onto the road, nor any indication where the shared use ends and illegal, anti-social pavement cycling starts. Again, I sincerely dislike shared use, but at least commit to it properly*.

The aggravating elements about the junction are three-fold:
  1. It's new - they've virtually had a blank slate to work from and this is what they came up with
  2. It's big - there's quite a lot of space to work with here. Aside from the railyard to the south-east, there's ample space to build around
  3. It's unavoidable - between the motorway and the railway line, there are few crossing points for north-south traffic; unless you want to divert two miles or so west or east, this is the route you must take
Thus, inevitably the choice is made between convenience (i.e. getting through the junction in reasonable time), versus safety (staying on the pavement away from motor traffic) - even with that, there is a problem with consistency. 

Shawfield

Here's the next major junction - a (relatively) complex 3-way convergence:


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Unless further plans have been submitted which I have yet to see, there is no provision here for cycling - you either have to dismount and walk the bike along the pavement, or brave the road. Despite re-routing, there doesn't appear to have been any attempt to integrate cycling here explicitly, although the wide, two lane bend allows motor vehicles to take the corner onto Shaw-field Drive at speed (assuming a green light).

Moving further on, we reach another signal-controlled junction, and then the Rutherglen Bridge over the Clyde.






On the left of the picture and just beyond the lights is the entrance to Richmond Park, which forms part of National Cycle Network route 756 (East Kilbride to Kelvinside). This will become relevant in due course.


At the bridge, we see yet again how designers seem to consistently capitulate when it comes to the more complex parts of the route - once again, there is no provision for cycling over the bridge whatsoever - not even a shared use path. Once we cross the bridge, things start to get interesting (but not in a good way). It's here that we see the beginnings of what presumably gets the council officials excited:

Ta-daaaaa!
You have what amounts to a slightly-fancy dropped kerb and more shared use paths, this time with explicit segregation applied by - you guessed it - painted lines. As I outlined in the foreword, painted lines have a limited lifespan when compared to actual physical infrastructure. It's quite clear that this work has been implemented with the Games in mind, thus without further funding to maintain it, eventually this path will just revert to pavement again.

Things take a turn for the worse though when we reach the next junction:
The path runs out and we're suddenly directed ...
  
... straight into an ASL!
As is no doubt blatantly clear, there are several problems with this approach. If the person on the bike cycles along the path then rejoins the road the junction at a green light whilst left-turning traffic is driving alongside, there's an almost guaranteed left-hook opportunity. Bike and car will be travelling parallel to each other - making observations unituitive. Note where the grey car is turning left in the 2nd picture - this is where the person on a bike will be if they are heading straight on. There is no give-way when the path rejoins the road, thus who has priority here isn't made explicit. It relies on the car spotting the person on a bike coming off the pavement and then giving way appropriately - a recipe for conflict which we'll see repeated several times on this route.

For safety, the design relies on the ASL, but ASLs only (just about) work if you approach them during the red light phase. Now, no doubt Glasgow City Council officials will advise you that the previous junction's signals are timed to ensure that people on bikes never reach this junction at green... that is if you don't come from Route 756, which bypasses those lights entirely. You simply cannot guarantee that bikes will always reach the junction on red.

Our hypothetical GCC official might point out the blue sign in the first picture indicating the possible presence of bikes. But it isn't clear that this actually means "cycle path rejoining the carriageway". Given how often drivers are observed infringing on the ASL, is it likely that they will notice this unusual traffic sign? It is more likely that the driver will expect the person on the bike to give way to them.

The route to the left takes you back towards the city centre via Glasgow Green - traffic use this route to travel to the eastern half of the city centre, avoiding the main Clyde crossings - thus there is almost always someone turning here. It's probably just luck (and a lack of cycle traffic going straight on) that a collision hasn't occurred here.

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This is probably a good place to stop for the time being - the next post will look at the sections between here, Dalmarnock Station and the Velodrome.