Sunday, 12 October 2014

Eglinton Street - Observations on a Late night walk home

A (slightly blurred) picture of GCC's idea of "place"

I was out in Glasgow last night and faced that classic weekend post-midnight dilemma: how to get home? Scotrail inexplicably stop train services from Central to my nearest station at 11:20pm; I have spent enough weird nights on unreliable late buses to know they should be avoided (specifically the last stop on Stockwell Street a.k.a. the twilight-zone of stops); lastly, I have developed a not entirely irrational but nonetheless prejudiced aversion for black taxis.

Thus it was that opted to walk the four miles home, although thanks to a recent Glasgow's most recent public transport innovation, I gave myself a head-start by using the bike-share from Charing Cross to Bridge Street (a clear justification for a further expansion of the scheme southwards).

My route home to Crosshill took me along Bridge Street to Eglinton Toll, passing under the notorious M74 extension. My new daily commute home takes me along this route every day by bike, where I observe a significant number of people on foot - indeed, I suspect more than those who feel able to choose cycling. The picture at the top of the post is perhaps a little unclear, therefore here's a street-view image of the same cross-roads:




View Larger Map

If you rotate the view, you'll notice a few things:

  1. none of arms of the junction have pedestrian crossing facilities - there are admittedly dropped kerbs and a refuge on the Kilbirnie Street arm - but when traffic is busy, there's no formal method for people to stop traffic
  2. There's a huge expanse of unnecessary paving on the corner 
I suspect the former point is a legacy of the pre-existing arrangement, but it seems inexplicable that this wasn't revisited. The construction of a massive, almost unprecedented fly-over, crossing three railway lines and at least three roads in a single span, as well as the impact on a number of nearby homes and businesses surely invites a radical re-think of the entire junction? As per J1A, a relative clean-slate has been squandered.

This leads onto the latter point - what is the purpose of this extended corner and, in particular, the pretty but entirely pointless installation of lights embedded into the wall? I expect that both the paving and the lights will have been implemented in some vague attempt to inject this area with a sense of "place". I can't think of many better recent examples of this misguided and inconsistent policy.

The problem of course is that this area has an inherent movement function - there is no "place" here and there likely never will be. Try as they might, it isn't realistic for GCC to expect people to want to spend any time on this particular corner. People - be they in a car, on a bus, bike or on foot - are going to pass through the junction as quickly and efficiently as they can. And yet, even if you accept the apparent desire to create "place", they make it as hard as possible to actually reach it, with the poor crossing solution.

Now you might say this is just one junction on one street, why the emphasis? This junction sits at a strategically important point, being roughly about halfway between the city centre and Queen's Park -  the junction thus represents a major gateway between inner Glasgow and the outer residential areas of the south-side. And the message from GCC seems as (confusedly and erratically) clear as ever - walk here if (you must) but hey, there's lights and lots of paving! Isn't this a nice place to hang out? Perhaps at some point in the past it was - indeed, the Gorbals has a long been home to thousands of people. But then they decided to demolish most of it, and laterally they decided to build a large urban motorway right through it - with all the best will in the world, the ship labelled "place" sailed some time ago.

The treatment of this junction should thus inform our view of the approach of Glasgow's urban planners when designing in future; for example, the new civic square. Namely, the lack of appreciation about what makes a "place" versus somewhere with a primary movement function - it doesn't matter how many pretty lights, nice paving stones, benches or frescoes you throw at something, it won't mean anything if you fundamentally misidentify it's true purpose. (Mark Treasure has a good term for this: Placefaking)

In my view, GCC would be more honest and provide a more useful solution if they concentrated their efforts on making the junction more easily traversable by both people on bikes and people on foot - and that's it.



Monday, 6 October 2014

Shawlands Cross - Civic Square Consultation

Shawlands Cross - Civic Square Consultation

Prompts to do GCC's job for them
After some judicious prompting from utility cycling veteran Byron Silver and a further blog-posting on Glasgow Cycle Forum by resident reader-of-interminably-dull-planning-documentation Darkerside, I decided to make my way over to the grand old Langside Hall to take a look at their open consultation for the proposed new civic square - a key part of the so-called town centre action plan for Shawlands.

Background


In a previous blogpost, I've briefly covered this area, although not in particular detail. This is perhaps due in part to the Hall being set apart from the road by fences and it being typically shrouded for a large part of the year in thick green foliage. It thus despite its handsome fa├žade and classic (albeit faded) Victorian interiors, it remains at present a peripheral and somewhat anonymous feature in the psycho-geography of the area.




The consultation aims to create a new community space, anchored by the Hall, with the aim of developing it into some sort of "cultural hub" (to use the modern parlance), as well as providing a "gateway" to Queen's Park. Unlike consultations I've attended before, there isn't an actual concrete set of proposals yet, and consultees are being asked to fill in some of the answers themselves.

The most striking (and perhaps most concerning) aspect of this consultation is how open-ended the proposal really is: as stated above, almost nothing appears to have been planned up-front, other than the vague concept of opening up and developing the grounds of Langside Hall into useful public space. Indeed, the only element of the design which appears to be close to solid is the mooted removal of the left-turning junction by-pass, which currently serves mainly as a over-sized taxi rank (and erzatz social club for their drivers).


Touchy/Feely


This customer-focussed, almost do-it-yourself consultation strongly suggests that it's a different team or department in GCC from the one that usually implements infrastructural changes (namely, "here's a design: take-it-or-leave-it"), which despite appearances may be a good thing. There's an awful lot of discussion in the documents about "place" and "setting", hence the array of images of turf, neo-abstract expressionist sculpture, photogenic pebbles and brightly-dressed kids doing handstands in water fountains (well, perhaps I made that last one up!).

With that said, even with my most sceptical curmudgeon-y face on, I couldn't help but grudgingly admire some elements of what's being attempted here - one wonders if the exerable design for the new Sighthill development featured a similar event. Aside from the meat-and-potatoes consultation survey forms, observers were encouraged to make notes and add comments to the displays themselves - you might be able to see from the images above there are post-it notes attached to the boards. Additionally, a large scale map of the area was posted to a table with tracing paper provided, to encourage people to submit their own sketches.



No doubt they'll call this process "crowd-sourcing" a design but the approach betrays the fact that the proposers don't really have a clue what the square will look like and what it's ultimate purpose should be; a situation not helped by the slightly awkward offset orientation of the hall relative to the cross, as well as the copious number of mature trees which will presumably have to be clear-cut to make way for any landscaping. Then there's this mooted "gateway to Queen's Park"; a laudable aim somewhat undermined by the inconvenient presence of a five-a-side football complex and a bowling green immediately behind the Hall - both of which have been in the park for a considerable period of time and neither of which looks to be moving any time soon.

Over-riding all of this is a major (if not fatal) flaw in the narrow terms of reference for this proposal: they aren't going to deal with traffic.

Traffic


The cross itself consists of two intersecting roads: Langside Avenue/Minard Road and Pollokshaws Road. The former is a small part of the B768, an orbital route bisecting the south-side, stitching together Rutherglen, Toryglen, Mount Florida, Battlefield, Langside, Crossmyloof and ultimately Dumbreck, Bellahouston and Ibrox. Pollokshaws Road is of course both a constituent part of the old A77 Kilmarnock Road and an important tributary of the B769 Thornliebank Road. 

Thus both are currently major commuter routes for private motor vehicles and buses passing through from the wider south-side and beyond; note my emphasis. Despite what local businesses in Shawlands might think, very little of this heavy commuter traffic actually stops off there. As my fellow forum user Dez Cartez has said to me in the past, it's going to be very difficult to entirely remove through traffic from Shawlands, but I don't think it's an impossibility to make a sincere effort to reduce it. 

A Diversion


Glasgow-based readers might recall during the mid-1990s the mass of public dismay and anger caused by the extension of the M77 motorway through Pollok Park; anger soon boiled over into direct action and protest (indeed, the creation of a temporary "Pollok Free State" - impromptu camps placed in the path of the diggers). Given all the hassle and strife that was creating (resulting in the sitting Tory MP losing his seat at the '97 election) a big part of the impetus for forcing the construction through was to re-direct commuter traffic - particularly that coming from Newton Mearns and Giffnock - away from the A77. Somewhat counter-intuitively, this in and of itself is not necessarily a bad idea. 

Indeed, it fits into the strategy for segregating traffic modes known as unravelling - namely separate motor vehicles, bikes and pedestrians by providing them with differing routes such that they rarely coincide. There's a quid pro quo here: provide car drivers with a safe, fast, convenient route of their own into and by-passing the city (namely, the motorway or the inter-urban trunk road) but at the same time reduce, re-direct or remove through routes for them in places where you want people and bikes to be (urban high streets, residential areas). In the case of the M77 (and the recent M74 extension) they built the road, but forgot to remove traffic from the A77, hence the volume of traffic simply grew to fill the space.

It's still not too late to do something radical - it's happened before after all. I'm old enough to remember when Victoria Road extended all the way from Queen's Park to the Gorbals. Then, the unthinkable happened: a staggered bus-gate was designated between Eglinton Toll, Butterbiggins Road and Coplaw Street, turning what was once a busy commuter route into the city centre became a virtual dead-end overnight. Only buses, taxis and people on bikes are permitted to traverse it nowadays. Like diverting a river flow, traffic merely shifted onto the lower part of Pollokshaws Road (away from the cross), or dissipated down a circuitous route towards Cathcart Road, with no major long-term negative effects on either.

Unfortunately this particular intervention failed to significantly grow cycle numbers, mainly because - amazingly - people on bikes don't particularly like to share the same space as fast-moving buses and taxis. It also failed to boost local businesses on Victoria Road because the lower reaches of the street which allowed through traffic were still choked with motors but the point still stands: you can successfully close off routes to traffic in the teeth of predictions of dire consequences.

The A77


The A77 differs slightly from Victoria Road in that - due to the confining nature of the nearby railway line, there aren't too many obvious alternative routes to divert traffic onto. The aforementioned M77 takes a lot of the Mearns traffic, but it's perhaps a little further away for Pollokshaws (X miles to the west, in fact), however there are other more suitable potential trunk routes, like the B768/B769 - both routes generally set back from housing and away from retail centres - if a little imagination and ingenuity is used. Traffic could be routed along Nether Auldhouse Road, or even a circuitous dog-leg route back along the far end of Pollokshaws Road. Perhaps those roads will need widening; an extra lane added here or there, speed limits adjusted upwards. It might even just be a case of making strategic parts of our target roads into one-way streets, ban a left or a right turn here or there; simple measures which provide just enough of faff and delay that it might reduce the flow through the cross. Now admittedly I'm not a traffic engineer, nor have I the experience of modelling traffic flows or predicting where drivers rationally choose to travel. But neither it seems are the designers of this scheme.

Unfortunately, none of the suggestions above - fanciful or not - are on the cards, either in terms of this civic square proposal, nor indeed the entire Greater Shawlands plan. Ironically, by focussing so much on place - namely whether or not pink or grey flagstones provide the right ambience for a street cafe - the very real movement function of the area is being ignored, the latter thus ruining the former.

Kilmarnock Road's future - without bikes?

The picture there outlines the existing plans for developing the rest of Kilmarnock Road - most of it involves re-tarmacing the pavements and removing the raised tables across side roads, in favour of dropped kerbs and cobblestones. There will apparently be an attempt to "de-clutter" the footpaths, which is welcome, as well as an apparent aim to improve the junction of Pollokshaws Road and Kilmarnock Road - with any luck by removing the hated metal barriers and providing crossings closer to pedestrian desire lines. However, there is nothing in these plans for cycling, despite arguably ample width and opportunity to do so.

It is unlikely that once this goes in, further revisions will be made for several years to come. By then, it might be too late for Shawlands - the Arcade might just provide enough of a drag on the area that it brings everything else down. Maybe the continuing gridlock and choking atmosphere will continue to put off shoppers, despite the fancy paving. And unfortunately, we've got to face the possibility that, without a clear purpose and a serious determination to sort out traffic problem, the civic square might become yet another empty, unwelcoming, gradually deteriorating space that people rush past on the way to somewhere more pleasant.