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:

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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.