Contraflow Cycling: Open letter to Glasgow City Council and Police Scotland

Glasgow City Council’s adoption of its new Active Travel Strategy is a great step towards making the city’s streets safe and inviting for vulnerable road users, and GoBike warmly welcomes it.

Adopting the strategy can only be a starting point. For years, the way Glasgow City Council and Police Scotland have dealt with proposals for contraflow cycling has made cycling less inviting as a travel choice.

Contraflow cycling (exempting cycles from one-way restrictions, see endnote) is safe.

GoBike urges the council and Police Scotland to study the evidence and to be transparent about how that evidence leads to the decisions made. Clearly, decision-makers must do their own research. A good place to start is the comprehensive study of three years’ use of over 400 km of streets in central Brussels where contraflow cycling is allowed with no special infrastructure.

The report is long, detailed and includes the effects of road width and parking. The unequivocal conclusion is this:

“On the local network, where most contra-flows are found, the number of cycling accidents per km is lower on contra-flows than on other roads.”

Neither the available road width nor the presence of parked vehicles on one or both sides made a difference to this conclusion.

Glasgow has many areas where tangles of one-way streets make cycle journeys longer, less direct and harder work, often requiring use of alternative routes and risky turns or busier roads with more parking and bus movements. With the pavement parking ban coming soon calls for many more one- way residential streets are foreseeable. Permitting contraflow cycling in streets with low traffic speeds and volumes is the quickest, easiest, lowest cost way of opening up a web of direct routes for people cycling on short local trips. It can be a key tool in meeting the council (and government) aim of reducing car travel significantly.

GoBike’s message to Glasgow City Council is this:

  • Base decisions about contraflow cycling on the evidence for its safety.
  • Do not take Police Scotland ‘concerns’ as a veto.
  • Take full account of council policies and objectives which are not relevant to Police Scotland (e.g. improved public health, raised activity levels, more independence for children).

GoBike’s message to Police Scotland is this:

  • Clearly state the limits of any response to proposals for contraflow cycling:
    1. Is the response a structured risk assessment or just a potential hazard list?
    2. Does it include the risks of alternative routing?
    3. Is it compiled by someone with knowledge of cycle infrastructure?
  • Quote the evidence on which the response is based.

Why this message now?

For years GoBike members have pointed out the problems new one-way streets cause for them. These include the dangers of being forced onto main roads, having to make right turns in traffic, and the way such things rule out cycling with and for children. GoBike has repeatedly asked for exemptions when responding to TROs for new one-way streets. It has even been council policy , since at least 2016.

Yet GoBike’s requests for these exemptions have almost always been refused. The reason given (when pushed) has been ‘police advice’ or ‘police concerns’. No details have been forthcoming. However, thanks to Freedom of Information requests an example of the Police Scotland input that led to scrapping of proposed contraflow cycling is now in the public domain.

Police ‘concerns’ that killed contraflow

In December 2020, plans produced for streets in Dennistoun included allowing contraflow cycling in new one-way streets and some existing ones. But in the scheme finally implemented there was no contraflow cycling. Records of Dennistoun Community Council (example here) show the concerted efforts made to discover the reason for the changes. Eventually (8 June 2021), Glasgow City Council responded with this:

“…the contraflow cycling measures were removed in response to feedback from Police Scotland”.

This feedback is now available on the What Do They Know website as the result of an FoI request to the council. The document shows that while the police considered the proposals diligently (including measuring road widths) the response is not in any way a risk assessment. It is a list of possible hazards (as perceived by the police). It does not consider risks of cycling on longer replacement routes. It ignores existing risks of cycling (including dooring) on the same streets with two-way traffic. It makes clear police discomfort with the lack of a painted lane (to keep cyclists safe?).

On receiving the police opinion that “a road safety concern is present here” the council reversed the proposals for contraflow cycling in every street.

The WhatDoTheyKnow website also carries the response to a similar FoI request made to Police Scotland. Police Scotland declined to provide a copy of the same document because the request was for “advice” provided to Glasgow City Council and “ Police Scotland do not provide advice ”. The response adds “ Police Scotland send comments on the proposals to Glasgow City Council, however, any final decisions on removing or amending temporary traffic restrictions rest wholly with the Local Authority and not Police Scotland .”

In response to other questions Police Scotland said that there are no standard operating procedures for the assessment of the safety of changes to road traffic arrangements connected with cycling, or for assigning the responsibility for carrying out such assessments.

Final message, for now, to Glasgow City Council

The new Active Travel Strategy includes this, “ Neighbourhood streets which are one-way will allow contra-flow cycling as standard ” (1.2.4). But the superseded Strategy for Cycling included a similar statement, to almost no effect.

The evidence is that contraflow cycling is safe, street designers at the council clearly have more specialist knowledge and experience than Police Scotland, Police Scotland are on record saying the decision is the council’s – so GoBike asks for the following commitments:

  • All new “neighbourhood” one-way restrictions will exempt cycling.
  • The reason for any (small number of) exceptions will be evidence based and will be published.
  • A timetable will be published to exempt cycling from existing one-way restrictions on “neighbourhood” streets.

Note on contraflow cycling

The contraflow cycling discussed here is that in quiet streets, with low speeds (20 mph or lower) and low volumes of traffic, most often in Glasgow the car-lined residential back streets. Obviously, heavily trafficked, fast, multi-lane streets need to (and should) have protected segregated cycleways to maximise the choice of safe direct routes for people cycling.

One Reply to “Contraflow Cycling: Open letter to Glasgow City Council and Police Scotland”

Comments are closed.