19 Dec 2018
The first of two scheduled reports was recently published by the independent Glasgow Connectivity Commission on the future of the city’s transport system. Established by Council Leader Susan Aitken and chaired by Professor David Begg, the Commission made recommendations which on the surface have been taken by some to herald a car free city centre.
Glasgow Chamber of Commerce could never support policy that excludes private vehicles from our city centre, so you might find it strange that, as the Chamber’s chief executive sitting on the Commission, I would support this report. However on examination a car free city centre is not what it recommends.
Glasgow city centre is one of the most important hubs for commerce, leisure, retail and tourism in Scotland which tussles with the same pressures from online platforms that have devastated high streets across the country.
It is important to understand whether traffic congestion in the city centre has been compounding the challenge, but evidence shows a decline in city centre traffic movements, not an increase. The city’s congestion issues are mostly on the M8 west of the Kingston Bridge, a problem the Commission will address in its second report.
The report did not support the introduction of a congestion charge, nor did it favour a city centre workplace parking levy. Rather it backed an even playing field between the city centre and out of town malls. There is no point in banning private cars from the city centre if consumers simply choose to go elsewhere.
Underpinning the report is the transport hierarchy, at the top of which stands the pedestrian. If the city centre is to increase footfall it must be a safe and attractive place to visit and spend time, so the report strongly supported the acceleration and expansion of the Council’s Avenues project, the widening and improvement of pavements with more streets including George Square pedestrianised.
The emphasis is on shifting from widespread on-street parking to better use of strategically sited city centre car parks, but those car parks must be in the right place, easy to reach and carefully priced.
It's not just car traffic that needs to be better managed. Bus traffic routed through the city centre would also be reduced with the reintroduction of bus terminals and cyclists segregated not just from traffic but also from those on foot.
At the end of their journey everyone becomes a pedestrian.