Sunday, 23 February 2014

Merchant City: Part 4

We're coming to the end of my examination of the Merchant City, and once again there's the hint of me cheating slightly by including this extra part. The area south of Trongate doesn't technically come under "Merchant City" but it would foolish to ignore it, given that there are some notable infrastructural elements that bear further discussion, plus it "feels" naturally to be an extension of the area. "Lower Merchant City" seems a bit degrading and doesn't reflect the distinctive character of this area, so I'm going to take a bit of a leap and maybe coin a new term: SoTro, or "South of Trongate" (... hmmm maybe needs a bit of work "BeGa": "Between the Gates"?).

This mainly residential area of an old fashioned sort - groups of tenements above shops - an increasing rare type of arrangement nowadays. You won't find a pawnshop, charity shop or bookies around here though - the majority of the retailers around here serve niche markets, with clusters of them devoted to art, board games, comic books and - for reasons I can't sufficiently account for - a concentration of tattooist parlours. Where the Merchant City proper is expensive, yuppie-ish and glamorous, SoTro is bohemian and trendy - the kind of place moustachioed hipsters on fixies would be wont to go and be seen. Adding to this flavour are a number of music/art-orientated cafes, bars and restaurants, including the famous 13th Note Cafe - a stalwart of underground Glasgow Indie, Punk and Rock for the last 20 years, as well as being a vegetarian restaurant. For those to whom that isn't pure enough, there's always vegan fare available over in nearby Mono

Despite it's small area, there's a few things to cover, and it's strategic position by the Clyde makes it every bit as significant for cycles as its northern neighbour.

King Street

King Street Looking South from Candleriggs
The area pivots around King Street, which we've already encountered before. King Street provides the link between Bridgegate - another ancient Glasgow thoroughfare, now mainly reduced to a one-way four lane racetrack for motor vehicles coming over the Victoria Bridge which have been diverted away from Stockwell Street by the bus-gate (more on this later).

King Street itself is one-way for cars but is two-way for bikes, courtesy of the cycle contraflow, marked out by painted lines and small traffic islands at the end of its junctions with Trongate and Parnie Street. Regrettably, this lane places bikes adjacent to the door zone of parked cars, although in mitigation it is the car's offside, rather than nearside. In addition, the lane is both more generously proportioned than is typical for this sort of arrangement and users ride facing the flow of traffic, meaning that car passengers are at least looking in their direction, thus reducing the likelihood of someone blindly opening the door (and increasing the chance of the rider anticipating that happening).
Contraflow lane - door-zone(ish)

Following the lane southbound, we arrive at the crossroads junction with Parine Street, an eastbound one-way street - note the traffic island (replete with damaged sign-age):

Junction of Parnie Street. Give way to... what exactly?

Now as you can see, the cycle lane gives way to traffic from the right. There's a missed opportunity here to prioritise bikes across the junction. Northbound traffic on King Street already gives way to the left i.e. the western, two-way section of Parnie Street, which is a de-facto dead-end*. Traffic rarely comes from that direction, thus northbound traffic will tend to blow through the junction as if they have priority (albeit cautiously). Implementing a raised table, in other words raising the crossroads up to meet the pavement, removing the give way lines (thus creating a form of "unmarked crossroads") and prominently outlining a cycle lane with either paint or (preferably) a different road surface would give actual and perceived priority to southbound cycles. The desirability for northbound vehicles turning right here is already diminished (see next section), thus it seems natural to reinforce the primacy of southbound bikes even further.

2nd half of the contraflow. No priority here for bikes
 Moving further down the street after the interruption at the junction, we have another short section of cycle contraflow, until we reach the 2nd junction with Parnie Street (see below). This marks the end of the contraflow and the special cycle provision, but it ends with a unique flourish - cycle-specific traffic lights.

A little green bike means "go"
The utility of these bike-only lights is tarnished slightly by being placed at the normal height traffic light height - given that they've presumably went to the trouble of obtaining a TRO for both the contraflow and the bike-specific green light, taking that one step further and fitting eye-level signals would surely have been worthwhile.  Further Southbound on King Street takes us to Bridgegate (the aforementioned race-track) which is regrettably impermeable (despite ample opportunity), and thence onto Saltmarket.

Kings Court Panorama
I'm including this last picture of Kings Court - a small triangular plaza with an array of shops on two sides - to contrast the provision for bikes versus motor vehicles. The cycle parking here only consists of two small (exposed) sheffield stands. Compare this to the row of on-street parking and yet another large (open-air) car-park just out of shot on the right. Making provision for cycling isn't just about adjustments to roads and suchlike - it needs to be made convenient for when you arrive at your destination too, which means providing more cycle stands (preferably sheltered) or indeed allowing people to take their bikes indoors.

(*) strictly speaking, it is legal to drive down "New Wynd", but that is a very narrow lane, usually blocked by bins and suchlike - pretty much the only traffic going along here consists of vehicles accessing the side of the Britannica Panopticon Music Hall and refuse lorries.

Parnie Street

Parnie Street looking East
A bike shop on Parnie Street - they love bikes "alot"(sic)
Parnie Street is a strange beast, although quite a good example of creating a space with little through traffic but without necessarily removing residential car parking - something more could be done to improve it though.

As said above, from the northern junction with King Street to its southern junction... with King Street, it's a one-way street (Eastbound). The little quirk I hint at above is due to the odd layout, which virtually doubles back on itself, hairpin-like. As this is also quite an old bit of the city, presumably in the past the roadway has been physically joined to Saltmarket, which would have meant an appreciable level of through traffic. Fortunately, forward-thinking highway engineers of the past closed off that junction and laid a footway instead. Happily, in more recent times they've added a cycle pathway here too, thus allowing cycles to legally traverse the gap with Saltmarket.

Archetypal Filtered Permeability between Parnie Street and Saltmarket

Unfortunately, this merely leads to a toucan crossing, which in turns leads to a narrow shared footway. I'm not sure what else they could have practically done here but the shared space element is a definite failure. You have to get across busy Saltmarket somehow - a zebra crossing on a raised table would be an option perhaps? It is a potentially significant route as it leads to the new segregated infrastructure, which will be the subject of a future posting.

Chisholm Street looking north -  Albion Street in the background
Chisholm Street is also one-way and directs traffic onto Parnie Street, notable only in that it is effectively a continuation of Albion Street, albeit separated by traffic lights. As with King Street and it's right turn, the one-way system prevents this from being a particularly useful through road, or at least makes the route circuitous, whilst still providing local access*. Like Parnie Street itself, there is no actual on-road cycle provision, and no cycle parking either, although the relatively quiet nature of the road compatible with safe for cycling here.

After the dogleg, Parnie Street meets King Street again and continues west towards Stockwell Street, where right-turns are prohibited for motor vehicles other than buses and taxis, thus preventing its use as a means of by-passing the bus-gate south of the junction (and thus preventing journeys via Glassford Street).

(*) Edit: Since writing this, I have travelled this route by car and can advise that I was wrong - this route IS potentially rat-runnable. I've amended the Analysis section accordingly

Trongate and Glasgow Cross

Glasgow Cross Panorama from South-east to West - the road was so busy it was impossible to get a clean shot
Like High Street in the previous posting, it's arguable that Trongate and Glasgow Cross should be the subject of their own posting, but for the lack of any actual cycle infrastructure. As said before, Glasgow Cross is the ancient heart of mediaeval Glasgow and its wide piazza-like extent reflects this. This could be Glasgow's equivalent of Times Square or Piccadilly Circus, albeit without the neon advertisements. Unlike its American counterpart (and to a degree, more like it's English one) there hasn't been any attempt to humanize this area by introducing a pedestrianized zone, nor has there been a serious attempt to curtail motor vehicle flow. Couple this with its strategic position as a major crossroads between East/West and North/South flowing traffic, as well as linking Clyde crossings to the M8 motorway junction at the top of High Street, you have all the hallmarks of gridlock. This isn't helped by the irregular five-pointed nature of the cross, with two easterly routes (London Road and Gallowgate) bissecting Saltmarket/High Street, meaning that three sets of traffic lights have to been traversed if travelling either north or southbound, as well as having to negotiate an awkward semi-roundabout at the Toolbooth. To put it bluntly, its a nightmarish guddle during peak travel hours, best avoided (hence the rat-running).

Westbound on Trongate
Despite what I said above, there is actually some attempt to moderate traffic flow, with the judicious use of one-way systems (in effect turning the whole cross into a large, dissipated, signal-controlled roundabout) and a single bus lane on the southern westbound carriageway, which of course admits bikes. There are ASLs on the northbound carriageway at Saltmarket, and westbound on London Road, but interestingly none going East or Southbound, which suggests that either there isn't deemed to be sufficient space for them or they aren't intended for bikes in those directions. Another post will possibly cover this (when discussing the new segregated infrastructure).

Panorama of Trongate's junction with Albion Street and Chisholm Street, looking north-west
Other than what's already been covered, there's not much else to discuss regarding Trongate. In the Part 2, I mentioned "Old Wynd" in connection with the slightly unfriendly pathway to Brunswick Street. Here it is below. It joins to a road which links to ... Parnie Street. As is the way of these things, it tends to double as an impromptu al-fresco urinal for refreshed pedestrians and is quite confined and unappealing at night, reducing its usefulness as a short-cut for people on bikes.
Old Wynd - ironically newer than "New Wynd"

Moving Westwards again, we cross Glassford Street again and reach Argyle Street, specifically its pedestrianized precinct, which extends to the junction with Queen Street, with a widened footway extending to Central Station. Notice that the "road" is demarcated with different coloured paving stones - there is limited access here for loading (like Candleriggs at very limited times) and this is technically the route down which bikes ought to travel:

Argyle Street's Pedestrian Precinct - allows bikes

The blog comes full circle by arriving back at the junction with Virginia Street, which we established in Part 1 permits bikes to pass between them:
Looking north along Virginia Street from Argyle Street


Some of the analysis of routes has already been covered in previous postings but its worth reiterating the problems with King Street - its current design ensures that it forms the backbone of a northbound rat-run - given the retail and residential nature of parts of the area it runs through, there is far too much unnecessary through traffic - it is simply too easy to drive into the city centre this way, compared to other routes.

I believe the solution is relatively simple: prohibit right turns for motor vehicles at the junction with Trongate. Combined with closing off Hutcheson Street (as described in Part 2), the result would be that the only meaningful journey which could be made via this route is a loop back down Stockwell Street, a route made pointless by an existing shorter one via Parnie Street. As such, through traffic would be drastically reduced, whilst local access would be retained and (crucially) cycle traffic would remain uninhibited.

It would still be possible to reach all the same parts of the city in a car, but access would be constrained to a handful of circuitous, time-consuming routes and would inevitably involve travel along busy thoroughfares (Saltmarket, Glasgow Cross and High Street) - these main roads would then be treated to the various segregation/separation techniques the Dutch currently apply to their equivalent routes. The changes I propose are inexpensive and could be trialled temporarily as part of a traffic study. The fact that it's so easy makes me wonder if this idea hasn't already been considered and subsequently dismissed for whatever reason.

Edit: There is another (partial) rat-run I hadn't properly considered before: travelling southbound from Albion Street to The Albert Bridge via Chisholm Street:

(c) Google Maps
The usefulness of this route is tempered slightly by there being a number of traffic lights to drive through, although at least one of which is quite easy to traverse, whereas some the junction at Glasgow Cross can take several cycles to cross.

Glasgow Cross and High Street require further study - I suspect the solution will have to involve big detours to circumvent the whole area, perhaps incorporating the Clyde Gateway road scheme. Another post will discuss this in the future.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Merchant City: Part 3

Candleriggs - a road for just 2 hours a day
Okay, so far we've assessed the western part of the Merchant City with some mixed but generally positive results. Now we'll look at the eastern side, the part you could just about see looking eastward along Wilson Street.

This half of the area is a bit busier and livelier than its western counterpart and features a number of very popular Glasgow pubs and restaurants. If you aren't a resident but have visited Glasgow in the last 10-20 years or so, its likely you ended up here at some point - its particularly popular with away team's fans in search of a pre-match sing-along before heading for Celtic Park a few miles eastward, which can make for a slight cultural clash between the sometimes rowdy "fitba" fans outside the O'Neills enormo-pub and trendy gastrophiles heading for Cafe Gandolfi.  The focal point is Merchant Square - an old indoor market that's been converted into space for trendy pubs and restaurants - it features a large central space for the craft fairs that frequent here every weekend. Adjoining it are a pair of (interconnected) music venues: The City Halls and The Old Fruitmarket, the former of which plays host to the Scottish Symphony Orchestra, while the latter caters for a variety of different equally classy events - it was most recently used for BBC Scotland's Hogmanay celebrations and the annual "Celtic Connections" festival. Thus both are key destinations for cultural connoisseurs of all stripes - the kind of places people might consider cycling to, in fact! (ahem... bit tenuous there...)

Like Wilson Street further west, Bell Street provides the central pivot around which the other streets radiate. This part of the Merchant City shows the difference between pedestrian-friendly and permeable, versus car-centric through road most starkly.


Candleriggs looking south from Ingram Street - there's a car-park (another one!)

Candleriggs is kind of "ground zero" for the Merchant City - the street along which most patrons will enter the area and where a number of the first new businesses opened during the 80s. The northern half of the street features (limited) on-street parking on the right, spacious foot-ways, double-yellows lines and paved streets with low kerbs. As you can see from the picture, there's also an open-air car-park, the ugliness of which is tempered by trees and a rather striking (and seasonally changing) mural on the wall.

Squint a bit and you could be in Amsterdam
It's notable that this area features a mandatory 20mph speed limit, reinforced by the narrow roadway. This doesn't appear to extend to the western end - a quick check of the junction of Bell Street and Albion Street reveals the 30 limit being restored, but there isn't an equivalent at the end of the one-way system on Wilson Street - is this an oversight or a deliberate error? It would make sense to impose this limit throughout the area, and perhaps might discourage rat-running (more on this later).

Wilson Street facing West - another mural overlooking the debris of Goldbergs

Like its westward cousin Hutcheson Street, Candleriggs is one-way southbound and similarly fails to provide a cycle contraflow - yet another missed opportunity, particularly if it extended southwards to Trongate and King Street (to be fair though, I can't think of many one-way systems that could not be massively improved by allowing a contraflow).

As we reach Bell Street, something interesting happens, a feature which acts as a handy reminder that exploring infrastructure via Google Streetview can be misleading. If you look southward using that tool, at the moment you'll just see a street with traffic on it. However, this is what you'll see today:

Candleriggs looking South - Glasgow's newest pedestrian precinct

As you can see, they've only gone and pedestrianized the lower half of the street! Yes indeed, for 22 hours a day (i.e. except between 9 and 11am), all motor vehicles are banned. You can see little retractable bollards in front of the planters - these seem to be permanently upright. It looks to me as if there's another bollard in the centre which has been left folded down - this means that cars will still be able to squeeze through and it remains to be see the degree to which this new rule will be enforced, but if successful, I think it could be a major boon for the street. It blocks what was previously another potential rat-run, whilst allowing bikes and pedestrians unfettered access, all while still allowing loading to the local businesses and any emergency vehicles should they require it.
No Parking - AT ANY TIME! Yet somehow this pub survives

Questions remain though - if this is a pedestrianized zone, does it still count as a roadway? This is important because it would appear that the one-way system still exists for motor vehicles (when they are permitted), but I'd say there's a question mark over whether or not this would apply to bikes outside of the loading window - if it doesn't apply, there are positive implications for bikes (see analysis section below). One last anomaly - there's a set of traffic lights at the bottom of the street, which are still operational at all times, answering the question "if there's a set of traffic lights but no traffic to observe them, do they change?", which no-one has ever asked, in life...

Bell St and Albion Street

I told you there would be a big contrast here. Bell Street itself represents this change quite well. Look at the picture on the right. You see a fairly pleasant-looking semi-pedestrian one-way street (albeit with some car parking on the right). In the background you can just about see the junction with Albion Street, replete with stream of cars. This is where we revert back to business as usual unfortunately.

Albion Street is the rat-run par excellence - whilst there's a light-controlled junction at Trongate, taking this route allows drivers to avoid Glasgow Cross and High Street all the way to George Street, which can take as much as 20 minutes off a peak-time morning journey (no, really!). It's almost as if the highway engineers, having maintained their motoring temperance throughout the Merchant City, have fallen off the wagon in a big way. Albion Street is two way, and features on-street parking on both sides of the road for most of its length (aside from one section northbound directly in front of the City Halls), despite featuring (yet another) large carpark - the slightly mislabelled "Q-Park Candleriggs":

Wrong street, yo...
Perhaps you think I'm being a bit precious, but I think it bears repeating: there are at least three car parks within easy walking distance of anywhere in the Merchant City. Why do we need this much on-street parking? The problem I have with on-street parking is that its presence is often used as a excuse for why there's "no space for cycling", particularly on narrower urban streets with residential properties. Even where cycling is tolerated or even nominally accommodated with on-street cycle lanes, these are almost always routed on the nearside of parked cars within the door zone. I find that bewildering, particularly here where the road way is self-evidently wide enough - being at least four lanes. These are meter-controlled parking bays, which at least suggests someone thinks parking needs to be controlled.

Northbound - no space for cycling here obviously
It's probably worth noting that the southern junction of Albion Street features our old friend, the Advanced Stop Line, which suggests that the engineers intend for people on bikes to use this route southbound.

The Advanced Stop Line -  the work of the devil

Whilst it's a marked improvement over the hellish race track/traffic jam of High Street, it's not terribly friendly is it? I took these pictures on a Sunday afternoon - hardly peak time, and yet there was an almost constant stream of vehicles driving along here from Trongate or via Bell Street's eastern two-way section (more on this later). The tragedy here is that this is a busy part of the city at night - you'll often see "refreshed" pedestrians running the gauntlet trying to cross the street between "O'Neills" and "The Libertine", skipping between parked cars and the ranks of taxis outside the "Arta" nightclub. There's a real need to reduce through traffic here, or at the very least to reduce their speed - why not extend the 20mph zone?

Blackfriars Street

This little street is kind of interesting in a small way - it reminds me of the sort of street you see in smaller continental European towns - narrow, one-way, paved, a little parking - you just need a rusty Vespa and some situationist graffiti to complete the scene. As the name suggests, its quite an old street, dating to Mediaeval Glasgow, when it used to lead to a Dominican Abbey on High Street (hence the "black" in blackfriars), which subsequently became an early site for Glasgow University, one of Britain's oldest higher educational institutions (along with St. Andrews, Cambridge and Oxford). It is also home a cracking pub/Inn called Babbity Bowster - worth popping in for a pint en route to the Cathedral. But I digress... If we venture further eastwards, the street becomes a pedestrianized zone:
Note the skewed geometry of the roadway

Now if you look closely at the sign, it says "no vehicles", which would appear to technically include bikes, although I don't think this is the intention (there's cycle parking just on the right in the middle distance). It is still one-way, although again I wonder if this applies to bikes because, if not, here's a great little permeable short-cut between the student accommodation across the road and the greater city centre. A word of caution though: when I rode along here to take pictures, at least two cars followed after me and onto High Street, which suggests that a few folk haven't got the message yet... this is where enforcement comes into play (come on GCC!).

End on High Street - note the priority of the foot-way over the roadway

This car shouldn't be here...but it is!

High Street and Bell Street

Northbound on High Street
I'm not going to spend too much time here, because it's arguable whether or not High Street is a constituent part of the Merchant City, but it's very significant when it comes to Glasgow's transport network for a few reasons:
  1. Its one of Glasgow's original streets - there's been settlements by the Clyde here since Roman times but High Street became important around the 12th Century after the founding of the Cathedral, which is about a Kilometre uphill from Glasgow Cross.
  2. In the middle of the last century, there was a plan to demolish this part of the city to make way for the eastern leg of the proposed city inner-ring road that would have completely encircled the centre - High Street would have been the site of that motorway.
High Street is still one of Glasgow's major thoroughfares, linking two routes over the Clyde with the north and eastern part of the city, specifically Townhead, Springburn, Royston, Dennistoun and beyond. The top of the street is also a major junction of the M8 motorway - the northern leg of the incomplete ring road. Depending on the direction, this is one of the main junctions for vehicles coming to and from Edinburgh. Lastly, it is also the site of a large hospital, the Royal Infirmary. All this while being no wider than a typical urban street - tree-line boulevard it ain't. As such, it can be exceptionally busy even at off-peak times.

In recent years, a large amount of student accommodation for nearby Strathclyde University has been built (visible on the right of the picture above) - in other words, we have a large residential community made up largely of pedestrians (and potential cyclists), cut off from the rest of the city by a very busy road and with few opportunities to cross.

Southbound on High Street - you can see the Tollbooth of Glasgow Cross in the background

Junction of High Street and Bell Street

Suffice to say, in the area relevant to the Merchant City, there's virtually no accommodation for cycles, beyond some token cycle parking outside High Street railway station and some ASLs at the junctions with Bell Street and Duke Street/George Street. Bell Street is much the same at this point. This is precisely where segregated infrastructure is essential.


In the previous posting, I attempted to assess the success (or otherwise) of the strategy to reduce traffic flow through the western Merchant City - let's call it "the western cell", by examining and comparing the various routes through the area by car and contrasting them with cycling and walking. I'm going to continue that approach here with the Eastern "cell", although I think it's pretty clear from the get go, that there's a big problem already in the form of Albion Street/Bell Street. In any case, let's carry on.

Starting with a scenario similar to last time, the route between Ingram street to Trongate, by car. This is how it was in the recent past (and still between the hours of 9am-11am):

View Larger Map

However, with the new pedestrianized zone, the route changes:

View Larger Map

Now, in reality, the lower speed limit in this area, plus the addition of two corners to negotiate, makes it more likely that the car route would actually be via Albion Street:

View Larger Map

Thus, by closing off the bottom of the road (even temporarily) and by reducing the speed limit, the incentive to use Candleriggs is significantly reduced. However, cycling that route is unaffected - it's still beneficial to travel this route (and with lower traffic, more attractive). The reverse is also true - going via Albion Street conveys an advantage over the "offical" driving route of going via Glasgow Cross/High Street, partly due to the absence of traffic lights at the junctions with Ingram Street and Bell Street.

Almost eclipsing this though, is another route which reinforces Albion Street's rat-run status. Heading East/West via Bell Street allows drivers coming from the East End to completely bypass Glasgow Cross/High Street. I'm going to expand the map slightly to illustrate a key use-case - leaving the M8:

View Larger Map

Although it seems counter-intuitive, this is a much faster route for heading east towards Calton, Darlmarnock and Bridgeton (assuming you didn't leave at the Parkhead junction further up) as it completely avoids both the junctions at the Royal Infirmary, Duke Street and Glasgow Cross. You get a similar gain in reverse, this time, heading for George Square:

View Larger Map

As far as cycling is concerned, the benefit of the pedestrianisation of Candleriggs is all dependent on whether or not the one-way system still applies (as above). Assuming that it does, it enables access to and from King Street - a main route from the South-side, although the lack of a contraflow the entire length of the street prevents what could be a useful means of avoiding Albion Street - the one-way system along Wilson Street does allow people on bikes to cross into the western cell to make use of routes north.

Potential Cycle Route North/West (Google Maps)

If staying in the eastern cell though, one can't escape that cycles are effectively compelled onto cycling-unfriendly, Albion Street, which is a problem. There's also Bell Street's one-way system - if a contraflow was added, it would improve the east->west route time by allowing a connection with Wilson Street/Brunswick Street:

Potential E-W Cycle Route - (Google Maps )

Fundamentally, something needs to be done with Albion Street. Either motor vehicles have to be dissuaded from travelling along it, by implementing a similar one-way system as exists on other nearby streets - northbound would probably be the natural direction - or split the street with some sort of bike/taxi gate, perhaps just north of the junction with Bell Street. This would enable access to the various streets, but would eliminate through traffic, although care would have to be taken to prevent displacing south-bound traffic onto Blackfriars Street. If neither option was available, they need to make it easier for bikes to avoid Albion Street or provide some sort of separation along its length, which would probably require the elimination of most if not all the on-street parking. Perhaps a two-way route on the Southbound carriageway with proper priority over the eastern Bell Street junction would provide the safe route, as well as providing a disincentive for motor vehicles to use Bell Street for an East->West rat run.


In the next post, I'll take a look at the final part of what I'll call the "greater" Merchant City - namely the group of streets south of Trongate centred around King Street.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Merchant City: Part 2

A converted rickshaw, sans advertising hoarding
In the last post, I discussed the area around Glassford Street. In this post, I'll move eastwards along Wilson Street to cover two streets: Hutcheson Street and Brunswick Street (and surrounds), which covers the western part of Merchant City. This is were the Merchant City "proper" starts, signalled by the change in road surface - from tarmac to paving stones. Clearly inspired by the Shared Space school of urban design, there is visual uniformity between the road and the pavement, which lends it a more open, people-friendly ambience. Mind you, they haven't entirely bought into the philosophy as there is still a subtle but pronounced kerb, with some of the slinky steel bollards to reinforce this when required - a compromise to help visually impaired people to navigate the streets as normal. The stones look attractive, although they have only been laid in the last couple of years - time will tell how long they'll survive. Some cycling advocates dislike this sort of treatment but I believe that it can be made to work, given the right setting - specifically where the volume of motor traffic is low.

The focus of this area is the Old Sheriff Court, a large public building with a neo-classical façade, which was refurbished and modernized in recent years - it features a number of shops including high-end designers  "Bang & Olufsen" and a enormous restaurant/bar called "Citation". In front of the building, Wilson Street widens into what could be described as a piazza, except primarily devoted to motor vehicles - a little street furniture here could make the pedestrian element a bit clearer (see below). With that said, there is still a slightly stiff, empty feel to this area, not helped by the large derelict patches to the south east and the unattractiveness of the southern part of both streets, combined with some void retail space - Merchant City suffered along with the rest of Glasgow from the economic depression of the last 5-6 years. Finally, they've also still not managed to rid the area of parked cars - given that attracting tourists to the area is part of the main goals, this is an issue in need of address.

Note: All map images courtesy of Google Maps.

Courtesy of Google Maps
Hutcheson St and Brunswick St

Hutcheson Street 


Looking south from Ingram Street along Hutcheson Street - Garth Street is on the right

Hutcheson Street runs from Ingram Street in the north to Trongate, although motor vehicles aren't permitted travel along its full length due to the one-way system, which runs southbound from Ingram Street to Wilson Street. Below that junction, something slightly odd happens, which I'll discuss in due course. Firstly, let's examine the north half of the street.


Looking north towards Ingram Street

The north side of Hutcheson Street is obstensibly the "smart" end, with groups of shops and bars along its newly-paved, tree-lined extent - the roadway has been narrowed to allow for wide footpaths but there's no real accommodation for bikes. The top end of the street brings us close to the Italian Centre, where the likes of Versace and Armani have boutiques (if you like that sort of thing... don't think they do much in the way of cycle-wear). As with a lot of Glasgow, there's a distinct lack of bike parking, suppressed demand for which is evidenced by the example below:

 Anyone have a saw handy?

Garth Street is a short side road that connects from Glassford Street. It is also one-way, which limits its usefulness to rat-running cars (more on that later), and which helps keep the street quiet for guests, diners and drinkers at the famous Rab Ha's on the corner. There are still rather a lot of void properties here though, which contributes to the "empty" feel, mind you, some of the buildings have been in the process of being renovated for several years - perhaps it'll take a a few years to bed in properly.

Looking west along Garth Street towards the City Halls on Glassford Street

As stated previously, the impressive Old Sheriff Court building has been redeveloped into a retail, office and residential space; space still not full, yet. In a quirky bit of design, the building features a strange pair of open pathways which run directly through the interior, intersecting in the middle (you might say) saltire-like, thus allowing pedestrians (and bikes?) to pass through the building to the other street. It puts me in mind of the Rijksmuseum's bike path, albeit slightly more modest!

Permeability doesn't come much more filtered than this


South  - A One-way(ish) Street

There's a northbound one-way system from about halfway up from Trongate to the Wilson Street junction. This provides a handy moment to introduce our next species of cycle infrastructure: the Contraflow.  Using this route, cycles can legally ride against the flow of traffic or, if you will, the wrong way down a one-way street. The contraflow is a cornerstone of implementing filtered permeability properly, as it enforces the single direction of motor vehicles to "smooth traffic low", whilst at the same time allowing bikes to ride closer to normal desire lines - in other words, the way you actually want to go, rather than the way you are directed.  If left unimplemented, pent-up demand for such a scheme will manifest itself in so-called Salmoning behaviour- illegally riding against traffic. This is apparently quite an issue in Edinburgh (particularly around Fountainhead).
Hutcheson Street from Wilson Street looking south - note the island in the middle with a stop sign on the right and the blue cycle route sign on the left - I'll refer to this as a "bike gate"
Aside from the cycle route sign and the low kerb in the middle separating the two lanes at the top of the junction, the path itself is not marked out, presumably on the assumption of low traffic volumes, but as you can see from the picture below, there are a number of parking bays on both sides of the road, specifically on the path bikes are directed into, forcing cycle traffic to veer into the middle of the road to avoid the door zone - this might confuse oncoming drivers who don't expect to encounter bikes on what they presume to be a solely one-way street.
A cycle path ... right into a parked car!
Now, look closely at the picture above, specifically in the middle distance on the right - that's the rear of the Glasshouse NCP car park we saw before in the previous post. The glass section jutting out is a stairwell - in other words, you can enter and exit the car park from there. Now, given that there's a perfectly serviceable, secure car park with hundreds of spaces, is there any real justification for this much on-street parking? Granted, there are a some residential properties around here, but a number of them have either private parking garages or internal courtyards. In many cases, the people that live in these city apartments won't even own a car, or will be wealthy enough to be able to afford long term space rentals within the conveniently located car park. It's also perhaps worth mentioning that round the corner on Wilson Street, there are spaces set aside for a car sharing club - which ought to cater for the vehicular demands of city-centre dwelling urban professional types, nes pas?

Heading south along the "path", things get even stranger. About halfway down the street (roughly where the glass staircase is in the picture above) there's yet another bike-gate:

Yet more parking where your bike should be heading
It is not at all obvious but beyond this gate, despite being much narrower, the road reverts to a two-way carriageway - You can see evidence of this at the junction with Trongate:

 note the give way line is only on the left of the centre-line i.e. two-way
I can only assume that this is intended to allow vehicles loading at the back of the Glasshouse to enter and exit via Trongate - why this is necessary, I can't say. Perhaps they don't want HGVs and suchlike on the nice stonework); perhaps its the narrow nature of the road, but then this could be solved by removing the parking bays to provide turning space. Regardless of the reasons for this odd design choice, after this point the (still un-marked) bike contraflow becomes a ... proflow (?) and merges with the normal southbound lane. Now, the problem here is that motor vehicles travelling northbound assume the street is all one-way and will use both lanes accordingly. This assumption is backed up by the orientation of the parked cars in the opposite bays i.e. facing north (I'm pretty certain this goes against advice regarding parking against traffic flow). If there are vehicles illegally parked on the double-yellow lines outside "The Oriental" bar (as there frequently are), northbound vehicles steer into the right-hand (southbound) lane to pass This can lead to some tight encounters with southbound bikes, as per this youtube video (courtesy of freeyourinnertube).

I'll discuss the further implications of this arrangement at the bottom of the article, but it's perhaps notable that the southern, slightly unloved part of Hutcheson Street hasn't received the full "Shared Space" treatment the northern half has - it may well be that if/when they revisit the area, planners might want to review this two-way/one-way hybrid and (hopefully) rationalize the on-street parking to provide more room for bikes. They should also consider explicitly marking out a bike lane, either with paint or with physical separation.


Brunswick Street

Moving eastwards along Wilson Street, we encounter the junction with Brunswick Street. Very much a the complement of Hutcheson Street, Brunswick Street nevertheless has some notable features. As with the previous, there's a distinct "north/south" split, with the northern extent being smart and gentrified, and the southern extent being left a bit scrappy and bedraggled.


Again, this part of the street complements the equivalent stretch on Hutcheson Street, with a subtle flattened kerb outlined with silver bollards and pedestrian-friendly seating. Regrettably, there's also a distinct lack of cycle parking... again. The one-way system is orientated northwards, taking you to the junction with Ingram Street, but also (crucially) close to Cochran Street and the approaches to George Square. As we'll see, there are therefore at least two routes to George Square via this part of Merchant City. As with Hutcheson Street, there's been a deliberate attempt to narrow the roadway, which allows for a wide pedestrian footpath on either side of the street - having said that, there is still room for two traffic lanes (albeit with no parking on either side). This despite the presence of a long-established hotel and café halfway up the street - again, is parking always necessary to keep local businesses afloat?



Double parking
This extent of the street is slightly seedy dead-end, with the main sight being the back ends of a couple semi-derelict 60s-era carbuncle is mixed with more agreeable early 20th century warehouses. When I was there, parked (and double-parked) cars dominated. The roadway is wide here, but so much of that precious city centre space is devoted to cars. It's perhaps noteable that the bays on the northbound carriageway are at right angles to the road, presumably to cram in more vehicles. Another thing to note is the recent demolition of the Goldbergs building, which previously dominated this street (and cast it into
shade).  One of Glasgow's biggest department stores in its day, it has long been left derelict and has tarnished the area for several years. It's removal opens up the possibility of doing some exciting things with the space. I sincerely hope that the council and the owners of the land will be bold and ambitious with its redevelopment - opening up some green space around this part of the city would be really welcome in my view and would help tie Merchant City together into a true cultural quarter.

In terms of cycling infrastructure, there isn't much of note, other than somewhat narrow, dark and uninviting pathway to Trongate, although it does potentially allow someone on a bike to link up with the "Old Wynd" path, which leads to Parnie Street (to be discussed in a later post). Aside from the parked vehicles, the dead end nature of the street means that traffic is almost non-existent. Having said that, there's little to attract people to walk or cycle here.

Rubble - Trongate and Candleriggs in the background

Wilson Street

Panorama, looking east and south on Wilson Street - note the width of "piazza"
Wilson Street connects the western side of Merchant City to the east - a key crossing point and a funnel for pedestrian movement to Candleriggs and Merchant Square. The roadway narrows here, hence the double-yellow lines on the southern side of the street. This short section is one-way westbound, and it is here that I believe the planners have made a grave error with regard to cycle provision. There will be discussion of the implications in the section below.


 Having looked at the streets here, let's look at the implications for travel across this part of Merchant City, on the basis of how permeable and convenient it is to cycle, versus driving.

Now, I've been talking about filtered permeability as a "thing", a road engineering technique, a tactic if you will. But what is the strategy? What is the end goal when deploying it? Well, to my mind, the purpose of a well-implemented scheme incorporating a number of techniques including filtered permeability should try as much as possible to create segmented "cells" within urban areas which minimise or entirely remove through motor traffic within a cell, whilst allowing non-motorised traffic (pedestrians, bikes, wheelchair users, etc) unrestricted movement inside and between cells. Rat-running should be eliminated by design, either by blocking desired routes, or by ensuring that routes are circuitous enough to remove any potential advantage in using it. Conversely, active methods of travel should be the most direct and convenient, circumventing choke points and other obstacles such as traffic lights as much as feasibly possible.

How does this part of the Merchant City succeed? Well let's have a look. Below is a map outlining a driving route from Trongate to Ingram Street:

View Larger Map

As you can see, using the one-way system on Hutcheson Street allows cars to circumvent the bus-gate on Glassford Street. The main road alternative would be to go via Glasgow Cross and High Street:

View Larger Map

Now what about cycling the same route?

Spot the difference?
As you can see, it's the same - there is no advantage, in terms of the route taken, to cycling rather than driving here. If a contraflow existed on the north end of Hutcheson Street, a straighter route could be achieved and you could avoid the traffic lights at the junction of Glassford Street and Wilson Street. Obviously if you were heading further west towards Queen Street, you might consider going straight over to Virginia Street and heading for the little lane by Virginia Place - but for the purposes of this analysis, we'll stick to this couple of streets.

What about the reverse trip? Now here's a difference. By car, going through this part of the Merchant City offers no real benefit and we would just drive straight down Glassford Street and down Trongate*, but you have to navigate through three sets of traffic lights. By contrast, going via bike is much better:

A straight route down Hutcheson Street, via the two bike gates. As such, there's a clear advantage to cycling between these two points over driving.

(*) For some reason, Google doesn't recognise that Glassford Street is open to motor vehicles heading southbound, hence no embedded map.
If we alter the route to head eastwards towards Montrose Street (giving you the option of Cochran Street and George Square), we see a slightly different pattern. Again, by car:

View Larger Map

There's a definite improvement using this route, as it is direct, bypasses the bus-gate on Glassford Street as well as a number of traffic lights. This route is pretty much the definition of a rat-run.

By bike, if we utilise the narrow and slightly unfriendly lane to Brunswick Street, there is a bit of an improvement:

Other driving routes through the area do in fact work well to curtail through traffic. For instance, travelling via Garth Street, Wilson or the top of Hutcheson Street only allows one to return to Ingram Street or back to Glassford Street i.e. no real advantage conveyed beyond local access. Indeed, the one-way system on Wilson Street prevents travel between the two halves of the area (i.e. between cells). Unfortunately, the one-way systems that prevent rat-running cars, also impairs bike's progress. There's a missed opportunity to implement contraflows on the north end of Hutcheson Street and the eastern end of Wilson Street which would enable people on bikes access to a quiet but direct route eastward through the area, avoiding either Ingram Street or Trongate. Perhaps the possible disruption to the handful of parking bays on the north-side of the road prevented this option being considered.

In addition, rat-running could be pretty much eliminated if the Hutcheson Street was blocked off to through traffic, perhaps at southern-most bike-gate, with the section north of this (below the Wilson Street junction) reverting to two-way traffic again. This would mean access to this part of Merchant City would have to originate from Ingram Street or Glassford Street (southbound), whilst still allowing local access to the Glasshouse car park, as well as not disrupting southbound traffic flow along Glassford Street (more on that in another post). I still have hope that this might happen in due course, if that part of the street is renovated.