While Germany is building a cycle highway connecting 10 cities that aims to remove 50,000 cars from the road, cycling in Glasgow still feels like a highly dangerous affair with seemingly very little being done to make getting around by bike easier, safer or more acceptable. Since the 2012 Olympics and 2014 Commonwealth Games, there has been an increase in the interest in cycling, definitely partly due to government campaigns surrounding these events. That same government, however, seems to be lost on how to accommodate this growth of cyclists. The national vision of having 10% of everyday journeys be made by bike in 2020 still seems very far away. A lot has to change, considering that current rates are under 2 per cent across Scotland.
Coming from Amsterdam, the unfriendliness towards cyclists in Glasgow is striking. There’s a distinct lack of cycle lanes and parking space for bikes. Of course, there are a few covered spaces on campus, but not nearly enough to accommodate all the students choosing to cycle to uni. In the rest of the city, cyclist will have to do with even less bike racks or resort to a tree or lamppost. There are different cycle routes in Glasgow, which is great, although the conditions and signings aren’t always top quality. When you are coming from or going to a place that is not connected to this network however, you will have to venture out on the road where cyclists can share the taxi and bus lane. Seems fair, but I can tell you that it’s no fun cycling when buses overtake you or if you have to overtake a bus waiting at its stop while in the busy city centre. Especially for people with little or no experience in cycling, this is very discouraging.
It’s not much better in the area surrounding the city. In Bearsden and Milngavie, the protected, segregated cycleway ‘Bears Way’ was being developed, something like the mainland European cycle highways. When completed, this would provide a completely traffic-free route between Milngavie and Glasgow, enabling people to commute by bike. However, the second part of the route was voted against at the end of September 2016, for reasons as short-sighted as “we can’t ignore the 18,000 cars using this road every day”, “cycling and segregated cycle lanes are not the only ways to improve people’s health in the community” and “high car ownership”.
Not only is cycling the ultimate way to improve people’s health, it also aids the reduction of CO2 emission. When the German bicycle network is finished, it will reduce CO2 emission by around 16,000 tonnes per year. Significant for the quality of the air a local level, especially considering the network will be in the Ruhr, a densely populated industrial area, as well as working against the global greenhouse effect. Increasing commuting by bike will improve Glaswegian air quality, reduce our effect on global warming, as well as creating more public space and quieter streets.
According to Glasgow City Council, Glasgow’s cycling infrastructure is improving every year. The result is not really there yet though, unfortunately. The website does talk about developing cycle routes from the city centre, which will feature segregated cycle lanes, raised crossings and connections to public transport and the wider cycle networks. One of these is the South City Way: green-coloured segregated bike lanes between Queen’s Park and Merchant City, due to be completed in summer 2018. Making pedestrians, bikes and public transport a priority like this is necessary to get more people on their bike.
In the city of Groningen, a university city in the north of the Netherlands, 61% of all trips are made by bike. There are, of course, less hills than in Glasgow, but electric bikes and planning cycle routes around steep areas would enable everyone to cycle, even if their route initially included some tough climbs. Groningen is also introducing traffic lights with rain sensors, to give quicker priorities to cyclists on wet days. This is in line with a statement by Dutch politician Henk Brink: “If you want people to start commuting by bike, you have to make sure they are going to enjoy it.” This includes not waiting for a traffic light for minutes in the pouring rain, but mainly revolves around not fearing for your life when cycling.
Improving this safety has to come from three parties. Firstly, cyclists themselves: wearing front and rear light and perhaps a reflecting jacket or strip on their bag to be optimally visible for traffic, as well as wearing a helmet if deemed necessary. Secondly, the government has to improve the existing cycle lanes and develop more segregated lanes, in order for cyclists to get around safely. But only if, thirdly, the mentality of Glaswegians regarding cyclists will change, will cycling ever have the chance to be as popular as on the European mainland.