Monday, 17 February 2014

Merchant City: Part 1




For my inaugural posting, I'm going to be looking at one of the key social destinations in Glasgow, The Merchant City. Despite it being a relatively compact area, there's quite a lot to cover, hence I'm splitting my survey into a few parts.

Overview

Eastbound on Bridgegate - one of Glasgow's oldest Streets
 The Merchant City is quite an old part of the city, dating from the 18th century when it was the home to the legendary "Tobacco Lords", who made a fortune during the colonial period on the back of slavery profitable plantations in the East Indies, riches from which paid for a lot of the built heritage of the city centre. Similar in many respects to London's Covent Garden, commodities such as tobacco, fruit and vegetables where traded at the various wholesale markets that existed here - the history of which is reflected in the names of some of the streets and buildings that exist today e.g. Virginia Place, the Old Fruitmarket and the Cheesemarket.

The name "Merchant City" is a relatively recent invention - part of a marketing strategy dating from when council and local businesses started to gentrify the area in the 1980s as part of Glasgow's post-industrial revival. Prior to that it was an extension of Trongate or Glasgow Cross (the oldest part of the city) and had gone into a state of decline. Bear in mind that the whole area was due for demolition as part of the grand road-building plans of the 60s and 70s, which would have seen the city centre completely encircled by a ring road - thankfully, they stopped their plan prior to the Southern and Eastern legs being completed. Today, the area hosts various boutique hotels, shops, high-end restaurants, pubs and clubs, with expensive residential properties to boot - it's a kind of city-centre foil to the West End's Ashton Lane and Byres Road.


The definition of area is slightly amorphous, with some ancillary streets which could arguably be included. For the purposes of this post, I define it as being roughly bounded by Ingram Street to the north, Argyle Street to the South*, Glassford Street** to the West and High Street to the East. The western part of the area is bisected by Wilson Street, with the eastern part being split by Bell Street. I'm going to go from west to east, starting with the area around Glassford Street.

The Merchant City - image courtesy of Google Maps

(*) with one exception - see a future post for details
(**) another exception - see next section

Glassford Street & Surrounds

Corner of Glassford Street and Trongate looking east - note the steel "Merchant City" sign to the right of the picture
Bus Gate Northbound on Glassford Street
 Glassford Street is the most westward point of Mediaeval Glasgow's extent, and now marks the point where the "East end" begins. It's one of the major thoroughfares between the centre and the Southside - south of Argyle Street, it becomes Stockwell Street and joins up with Bridgegate and the Victoria Bridge over the Clyde; northbound eventually leads to George Square, the campus of Strathclyde University and Townhead. North of Argyle Street, there's a bus-gate which prevents general motor traffic from proceeding northbound. Almost without exception, bus lanes in Glasgow serve buses, taxis (unusually, both Hackneys and private-hire) and - of course - bikes. The gate ends at the junction with Wilson Street, which features our first encounter with the notorious Advanced Stop Line - variants of which have been propagating throughout Glasgow over the last 5-10 years.  There's another one at the junction with Ingram Street, which is offset slightly for right-turns.


The first of the car-parks that serve the area
The road remains open to all traffic heading southbound - which allows access to and from this NCP car-park - the Glasshouse (more on that later). Note that there are multiple car-parks dotted throughout the city centre and this area is particularly well served - convenient car parking should not be considered a problem here. The pavement is relatively wide here, until it narrows for a taxi rank.

Other than the bus lane and the ASLs, there are no other facilities for bikes on this road. Despite the bus gate, the road is generally quite busy with buses and taxis - it's also quite popular with cyclists commuting from the southside.

Wilson Street -  West, Virginia Street and Virginia Place

The corner of Wilson and Glassford Street, northbound - note the ASL
As I said in the overview section above, I'm cheating slightly by going west of Glassford Street towards Virginia Street. This part of the city is home to Glasgow's compact LGBT entertainment district - thus somewhere expected to be pedestrian-friendly and not choked with cars. Thankfully, Glasgow have (somewhat successfully) implemented a spot of filtered permeability - a term you're going to see a lot of in this blog, so best to be clear what we mean - its a method for separating road users in space, making it easier for more agile road users (bikes, pedestrians) to reach some areas than other types of road user (e.g. cars). Our bus-gate seen above counts as "filtered permeability", as it prevents cars from proceeding along the route, whilst allowing others like buses and bikes through.

Wilson Street, Eastbound - note the wheelchair user in the road
In this implementation, access to and from Virginia Street for cars is via Wilson Street only  - there is no through route to other parts of the city centre for them. Thus, traffic on these roads is effectively limited to local-access. The roads around here are almost exclusively bound with double-yellow lines, thus preventing cars from parking - there's also bollards along Wilson Street's southern-most footpath, preventing cars from attempting to ride up on the kerb. You'll see this pattern repeated throughout the area.
Virginia Street - Southbound towards Argyle Street

Virginia Street joins to Argyle Street's pedestrian precinct. Scots law allows bicycles on all paths that aren't adjacent to a road, which means that, unlike in England, bikes are permitted on all pedestrian precincts unless explicitly banned (and there'd have to be a good justification for any exclusion).

Virginia Street looking Northbound - a dead-end (for cars)
Going northbound on Virginia Street, there's a small private car-park (serving the two boutique hotels nearby) and a row of bollards, separating the street from Virginia Place. The bollards prevent cars through road access to Ingram Street (a potential rat-run) but allow pedestrians and bikes through. Great Stuff!

Closer view of bollards between Virginia Street and Virginia Place

It isn't all built for bikes though - to the western side of Virginia Place is a pedestrian path* - the finest grain level of filtered permeability. The potential grimness of this lane is mitigated slightly by the fairy light canopy above.

Fairy lights = less grim

As stated above, Virginia Place leads to Ingram Street, thus providing a potential short-cut for people travelling on bikes between Argyle Street and George Square.

Virginia Place - not pretty but potentially useful

One last detail I'd like to add before leaving this area - the raised footpath across Virginia place correctly prioritises pedestrians over vehicular access. There are a few examples of this throughout Glasgow, although they haven't quite managed to extend it to pedestrians and bikes yet.


Priority as it should be in a city centre
Next up: Eastwards towards Hutcheson Street and Brunswick Street - but they'll have to wait for another post...
 
(*) edit: It occurred to me after I posted this that, as per Scots Law, there isn't any reason why bikes cannot use this path - there certainly aren't any signs banning them here. Again potentially useful as it allows you to bypass the traffic lights at the junction of Ingram Street and South Frederick Street.