Paint is Not Protection – University Avenue

The University of Glasgow have plans to spend a part of their £1 billion on upgrading University Avenue, and their provision for active travel will be simply repainting the narrow cycle lanes on only one side of the street.

We wrote to the university and organised a protest.

People of all ages and walks of life came out to join us and we made a human bike lane to demonstrate.

The press coverage was huge.

The University set up a meeting with us but we were disappointed to find that they remain steadfast in their view that painted lanes on only one side of the road will make conditions safer for cycling. We have responded with the following letter:

Thank you and your colleagues for taking the time to meet with us last week.

Unfortunately, I came away from the meeting with the feeling that there is a lack of understanding of what constitutes safe cycling, as well as how bad University Avenue currently is for those who use a bike as a means of transport.

The changes that will be made to the footpaths, to improve the safety for pedestrians, is welcome by GoBike. To make explicitly clear, GoBike is not looking to take away space designated for pedestrians. This is about the reprioritisation of University Avenue to provide safe space for those using bikes for transport, as per both the Scottish Government and Glasgow City Council’s transport hierarchy.

As pointed out during the meeting, the changes that you are proposing will not make the road any safer for cycling, than the current measures in place. The removal of on road parking spaces, along university Avenue, are welcome. However, with only painted lines, demarcating the cycle lane, there is nothing to stop vehicles from parking on the cycle lane. This was demonstrated, in the photo taken prior to the meeting, to already takes place on the current painted lanes.

Highway code Rule 163 states that a driver should “give motorcyclists, cyclists and horse riders at least as much room as you would when overtaking a car”. Narrowing of the carriageways, as proposed, while putting in only painted cycle lanes will legitimises close passes of those on bikes on University Avenue.

The reduction of the speed from 30mph to 20mph is welcome, though will also have limited impacted on cycle safety in your current design. The average speed on University Avenue will already be close to this. While, due to University Avenue being a hill, the average speed of cyclists is much lower than 20mph.

It was indicated during the meeting that drivers are often going in excess of 30mph on University Avenue. It is requested that this is taken up with Police Scotland as a matter of urgency. For a 20mph limit to be successful it would also need to be rigorously enforced.

When asked why GoBike had not been engaged earlier in the process it was pointed out that the University had not heard of the group until 2 weeks prior to the meeting. This is disappointing as, it would have been expected, as part of the consultation process, that the University would have actively tried to identify key stakeholders. A google search of “Glasgow Cycle Campaign” would have been all that was required. 

Being that the University remain steadfast in their view that the changes to University Avenue will be made safer for cycling, could you let us know which independent active travel groups you consulted to back that view?

As discussed, we are liaising with the local councillors as well as being in communication with Glasgow City Council. We are particularly keen to find out: how these designs were allowed through without safe cycling provision, particularly when both LES and DRS were cognisant of the situation on Byres Road; as well as how the plans for University Avenue were given council approval without meaningful public consultation, compared to similar schemes elsewhere in the city.

I look forward to your response to our earlier questions, as well as the supplemental question above.

We have since had good news in from Unite at the University of Glasgow, who have contacted us in support of our campaign. Their members voted in favour of a motion to support our campaign for segregated cycle lanes, and they have proposed to also contact the university to back our position.

We have also had messages of support for our campaign for better active travel provision on the street from, Sustrans, who have been surprised to hear that segregated lanes are not a part of the proposals, and from Patrick Grady MSP (SNP) and Patrick Harvey MSP (Greens) who have both spoken with the university and continue to look for answers from the council.

** NEW **

We have had a response from the University who maintain that their plans make the street safer for cycling while continuing to avoid answering our questions, and who reiterate that the work will go ahead as planned. Read the full letter here.

We have had a response from the University who maintain that their plans make the street safer for cycling while continuing to avoid answering our questions, and who reiterate that the work will go ahead as planned. Read the full letter here.

Our Co-convenor Iona has responded to let them know that:

Our first focus on all of our campaigns is also safety, and that of all
users of place, which is why University Avenue is bringing us such
concern. Unfortunately we do not accept that the primary concern
within your plans is the safety of everyone using University Avenue,
or that University Avenue will be safer for all, as the safety of
people using (or wishing to use) cycling for transport will remain
unguarded. The plans for University Avenue do not account for the
safety of staff and students arriving by bike, nor that of people
travelling through the area. Cycling is, and will remain a dangerous
activity on University Avenue.

Of course we welcome the needed improvements for pedestrians, and would
always expect those to be first priority, but actually the planned
prioritisation for University Avenue has put the private car and
public transport above pedestrians, and those above cycling. This is
directly contrary to the national transport hierarchy and your own
active travel strategies. It is also worth noting that while the
majority of users of the street are currently pedestrians, should
safety conditions improve for cycling, a university campus would see
a large uptake in people using bikes to travel to and through the
campus. You can install state of the art cycle parking on campus but
for as long as there is no safe cycling infrastructure to reach
campus, active travel rates will remain low.

We have had numerous students and staff from the University contacting
us to let us know that they were not consulted on your plans. We
don’t see any public consultation process detailed online, and we
know that Sustrans, the main sustainable transport organisation for
Scotland were also unaware of your plans. Although a couple of our
questions were answered at the meeting and we’ve been provided with
info on another, we still have a number of questions outstanding as
those remaining unscored below:

  1. Is Glasgow University carrying out the work On University Avenue by way
    of Planning Gain? No

  2. Did Glasgow City Council advise what was required for the road design?
    (Questions 3-5 assume Yes to this question)

  3. What date the council informed you of requirements?

  4. Was this advice either in writing or by reference to Planning Guidelines?

  5. Which department and officer provide this guidance?

  6. What are the current traffic levels on University Avenue?

  7. What traffic reduction level they are the University looking for?

  8. What quantitative research has been carried out on cycle traffic on
    University Avenue? Could this be shared with us?

  9. Does the University have a target for growth in cycling and what is this? 
    37% of staff and students at Glasgow University have said they would
    cycle more if there were safer routes. The University has targets of
    reducing drive commutes from 27% (2015) to 15% by 2025 and to
    increase cycling to 15% by 2025. 

  10. When will the Traffic Regulation Order (TRO) Public Notice for University Avenue
    be published? Sitting with council

  11. Could you please share the scope and timescale of the public consultation on
    University Avenue, including details of: who was notified about any
    events; any surveys carried out; if any online consultation was held.

  12. Which independent active travel organisations were consulted?

We know that there is space to account for the safety of all users of
University Avenue, including people on bikes. To retrofit would
compromise an ideal design and so we hope to hear from you very

We continue to work on having these plans improved, and will also continue to attempt to find out more information from the council. The road is an adopted highway and so also their responsibility. There has been mention of retrofitting soft segregation on the lanes but as this solution is only temporary and would still be on only one side of the street, on lanes that are too narrow, and disappear to throw cyclists out into unprotected traffic at the top of the hill, we continue to push for proper safe space for cycling on the important network link, and keep our eyes peeled for the TRO.

If you work, live, study or commute through University Avenue, please add your own support by contacting your local councillors with your own support for better active travel provision on the currently dangerous street.