Renfrew to Shieldhall Cycling Proposal

Background

Renfrew is a town to the west of Glasgow, with a population of just over 20,000. In terms of transport, it has access to the M8 via junction 26, located just over a mile from the town centre. There is also access to the M8 at junction 27 at the other end of the town, at Arkleston. In terms of traffic, the area around the town centre, especially on the High Street and at Renfrew Cross, are very congested at peak times, in part due to through traffic from towns beyond Renfrew (Erskine, Inchinnan and Bishopton) going through the town to access to the M8, Braehead Shopping Centre and other destinations.

Despite its size, Renfrew has no train or subway station. The town has bus connections to Paisley, Glasgow (via Braehead and Govan, via Braehead and M8 and via Braehead and Partick), Paisley, Erskine and Glasgow Airport. Inevitably, the bus services are often stuck in rush hour traffic. There is one (low frequency) service to Glasgow by First Bus, but most services are operated by McGills. 15% of commuters in Renfrew* travel to work by bus, coach or minibus. Bus travel isn’t cheap, with a day ticket for the Renfrewshire/Glasgow area costing £4.20 or £4.50 (depending on payment method). (http://www.mcgillsbuses.co.uk/gozones/go-zone-1.aspx)

Like most Scottish towns, the rates of cycling are incredibly low. According to the 2011 census, 1.1% of employed adults in Renfrew* travel to work by bicycle, compared with almost two thirds (63.3%) who drive or are a car passenger in their commute.

It’s also worth noting that, again, according the the 2011 census, 38% of households in Renfrew have no cars or vans.

Let’s keep in mind the context. We are in a period of climate change. Already the effects are being seen. Transport is a major contributor to our emissions. Motor vehicles also result in the degradation of air quality, causing serious health effects, including in children. Meanwhile, our sedantry lifestyles are to blame for a multitude of health problems. The status quo is absolutely not sustainable and a serious and ambitious change to how we get around is not a ‘nice to have’, but an essential.

*Renfrew = combined ‘Renfrew North’ and ‘Renfrew South & Gallowhill’ wards; census data from https://www.scotlandscensus.gov.uk/ods-web/data-warehouse.html#standarddatatab

Proposal

Renfrewshire Council propose a route linking Renfrew Town Centre to the boundary between Renfrewshire and Glasgow at the Shieldhall roundabout. The total distance is approximately 1.7 miles. The proposal documents I’ve seen don’t have enough detail to comment in detail, in particular regarding junction and bus stop treatment, but the main proposal appears to be a mix of full and light segregation, all being bi-directional on the north side, with one eastbound traffic lane being removed for the cycling provision.

See details at https://renfrewcycling.commonplace.is/about

Advantages

From the limited data available, it looks like the level of segregation would lead to this being the kind of cycle infrastructure found in places where cycling has a significant modal share (the likes of Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Seville). It would enable cycling as a mode of transport for those who wouldn’t dream of cycling on the roads — children, families, older people, disabled people on tricycles and hand cycles. The stereotype of a ‘cyclist’ is a result of the current conditions, where only a small number of people (primarily young males) are willing to tolerate the objective and subjective danger of sharing space with cars, buses and lorries.

The route would give an option for students to travel to Trinity High Schools from the Dean Park area, for example. It would also help shoppers and workers travelling from Renfrew to Braehead Shopping Centre.

Here are a few examples of cycle journeys this infrastructure would enable for all.

Renfrew Town Hall to IKEA in 12 minutes

Renfrew Town Hall to Decathlon in 6 minutes

Dean Park to Trinity High School in 7 minutes

There are multiple public services in the town centre, including the JobCentre, Post Office, Chemists as well as shops, banks and bakeries, which the cycle route would link to

Unlike unsuccessful cycling routes, which can use back streets, circuitous routes or go through isolated areas with low social safety, the proposed route is direct and on main roads. This is very welcome. Making Renfrew Town Centre a welcoming place for people walking and cycling would enhance the area, and evidence from places that have prioritised cycling has shown positive results for businesses (see https://tfl.gov.uk/corporate/publications-and-reports/economic-benefits-of-walking-and-cycling)

Drawbacks

The route is an excellent starting point to form part of a network of high-quality routes, connecting towns and cities in Renfrewshire and Glasgow. However, it’s fair to say that the current plan in itself does not, in fact, provide too many particularly useful connections. In particular, the end point at Shieldhall Roundabout only offers a connection to an existing link towards Ikea and Braehead Shopping Centre (this link is usable, but not of the highest quality).

Removing a general traffic lane Eastbound will be very controversial, as can already be seen in the comments on the consultation map and on social media. Given the lack of connections mentioned above, there is a distinct possibility that usage may be fairly low until there is a safe route on the other side of the Renfrewshire/Glasgow border. Cycle routes should lead to modal shift, but that will only happen if existing car journeys can be replaced by cycling. The scheme, to its present extent, may only do that to a limited extent. I strongly suggest that Renfrewshire Council work closely with Glasgow City Council to plan exactly how the route will be extended towards the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Govan (for interchange with the subway), Pacific Quay (a major employment hub) and onwards to Glasgow City Centre. If such connections do not follow, there is a risk of the infrastructure leading to ‘bikelash’, as seen in the Bearsway scheme in Milingavie.

Of course, climbing any mountain starts with a first step, and it is great to see Renfrewshire Council making a start to a high-quality cycling network. Having a clear plan for the network this route will form part of is absolutely essential, and cooperation with Glasgow City Council will be required for this. Publicising this roadmap would be very beneficial, especially to help convince constituents and councillors (e.g. ‘this cycle infrastructure won’t help you yet, but when it’s extended to Govan in summer 2020, you’ll be able to cycle to the subway to get to university’). The fact that Renfrewshire Council are soon to announce details of a Renfrew-Paisley cycle route is encouraging.

Potential Changes

While the ambition in the proposal is to be welcomed, it may be a more pragmatic approach to consider retaining two traffic lanes in each direction, at least along the Glasgow Road and Renfrew Road sections, while removing the central reservation and having slightly narrower lanes and a lower speed limit.

Here’s a mockup of what could be done.

https://streetmix.net/-/845243

It could also be a good opportunity to reallocate one lane in each direction to be a bus lane, as public transport options should be prioritised above private motor vehicles. Removing the median would also encourage lower speeds, which given the nearby houses would be a positive, and it could be a good opportunity to reduce speed limits from 40mph to 30mph on relevant parts of the route.

(Note that, according to Sustrans, “lane widths of 3.0m have been used in many parts of the country on urban roads for some time, and can accommodate most typical vehicles (including HGVs) at speeds up to 40mph(Transport and the Urban Environment, IHT 1997) “ https://www.sustrans.org.uk/sites/default/files/images/files/Route-Design-Resources/4_Streets_and_roads_05_03_15.pdf

Some have already proposed rerouting the cycle route to go along Kings Inch Road and either along the River Clyde or continue around the Braehead Shopping Centre. I consider this alternative to be completely unacceptable. There are several reasons for this. The most significant is the extra distance involved. One alternative I’ve mapped below would be 64% longer than the direct route. Secondly, depending on the exact route, there’s a risk of significantly more traffic lights, meaning people cycling having to stop-start a lot. Finally, any route that goes alongside the River Clyde would be isolated and unacceptable on the grounds of social safety.

An Unacceptable Alternative

Local Councillor does not support safe cycling along the most direct route from A to B

Summary

Local and national governments agree that active and public transport should be prioritised above private motor traffic. If those words carry meaning, and are not just empty promises, that means making decisions to put that into action. Those who are initially inconvenienced will shout the loudest on social media. But politicians and local councils have to play their part in enacting policy. And they mustn’t forget those without cars, and those working hard to pay for a car (and taxis/bus tickets) whose lives could be enhanced if cycling was made a viable alternative to car usage.

What next?

These proposals have already come under attack, with local councillor John Shaw posting to his Facebook

There is an acceptance now that the plans will very likely never go ahead but rather than cancel the consultation events next week, it seems there is a preference to go ahead but offer alternative proposals which are likely to centre around Kings Inch Rd.

The proposals will not go ahead without serious support from normal people. Those who wish to retain the status quo are already making their voices heard and councillors, as you can see, are offering little support.

Here are a few things you can do to support this proposal

  • UPDATE — According to Local Councillor John Shaw on Facebook, the previously announced consultation events have been cancelled. He also writes “the level of incredulity in the town over the advertised proposal has seen it dropped as a realistic option”. This is incredibly disappointing and means the battle to make this happen will be even harder.
  • Comment on the map provided at https://renfrewcycling.commonplace.is/about with constructive, positive feedback
Red pins are negative about the route, green are positive
  • Contact Local Councillors, especially if you live in the area. Cllr Lisa-Marie Hughes (@ThisGirl_is), Cllr John Shaw (@ShawMhor), Cllr Jim Paterson (@jspaterson) are all active on Twitter, as is Council Leader Iain Nicolson (@CllrNicolson). Bill Brown, Jane Strang, Cathy McEwan and Edward Grady also represent a Renfrew Ward, but don’t appear active on Twitter. Use https://www.writetothem.com to contact your local councillors if you live in Renfrewshire and want to share your opinion.
  • Please share this post far and wide, and comment below with other ideas of how to support this route.