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.