Tuesday, 28 June 2011

M74 opens: the big steel and other roadside blues

It's finally here.  Today, as previously outlined.  In all its nightmarish reality.

The M74-M8 extension through the heart of Glasgow's southside will open to the roar and pollution of mass, booming traffic, oblivious to all the carefully-presented studies and warnings of environmental, social and aesthetic vandalism.

Fittingly, the ribbon will be cut by the Duke of Gloucester, an archaic statement of royal patronage to match the backward prerogatives of Scotland's and Glasgow's transport policy barons.

Costing an astonishing £692 million - £2,000 an inch - the six-lane, five-mile section has been hailed by ministers, councillors and business leaders alike as a 'regeneration saviour', their ill-founded claims still driving roughshod over more studious and mounting evidence of 'road-solution' folly:
"The opening of the new M74 northern extension will increase vehicle trips in a city that is already gridlocked at rush hour. Any benefit through the displacement of traffic from other routes, such as the M8, will be short-term and quickly undone through the new traffic generated by the extra road capacity.

The massive amounts of money spent on the completion of this new road could and should have been better invested in improving Glasgow’s creaking public transport services, such as local buses or cross-Glasgow rail services, particularly given that more than half of all households in Glasgow don’t even have access to a car. The new road does little or nothing for these households, which are largely in the poorer or less well-connected parts of the city.

The new road will increase air pollution levels in a city that is currently breaching European Union safe levels of nitrogen dioxide air pollution and which has been declared one of the UK's worst pollution hot-spots. Nitrogen Dioxide causes respiratory illnesses that result in 9000 hospital admissions every year, and Glasgow provides more than its fair share of these.
As also reported in the Scotsman:
The extension was approved by ministers despite being rejected by an independent public inquiry.

The Scottish Government has trumpeted the £445m construction contract - which excluded the cost of decontamination and land purchasing - as being completed early and under budget, but the overall cost of the project has rocketed and the road's completion is in fact years late.

It should have been finished three years ago, and when initially given the green light in 2001 was estimated to cost £245m.

Glasgow Green MSP Patrick Harvie, the past convener of Holyrood's transport committee, said: "The evidence is clear - building new motorway capacity, like the M74 extension, just creates more congestion, not more jobs.

"In the longer term, Glasgow can expect slower journeys, worsening air quality and more cost to the local economy."

Stephen Joseph, chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport, said: "The promoters of the M74 have never been prepared to take seriously the idea that the road will suffer from the 'M25 effect', where it generates so much traffic that jams get worse rather than better.

"This effect is now well recognised worldwide, but the danger is that instead of learning from it, the Scottish roads authorities will simply come back for more and try to build even more roads across Glasgow."
Meanwhile, as bus fares continue to rise, the transport 'options' for Glasgow's citizens seem no less limiting.

On a website more inclined to the weighty issues of Palestine and Libya, Japan's nuclear catastrophe and other human-created suffering, this question may seem like a descent into parochial bathos.  Yet, how can First Buses, Glasgow, justify the highway robbery sum of £1.80 to travel more than five stops?

First recently replaced its £1.45 and £1.65 fares with a 90p 'short hop' (up to five stops) and the £1.80 ticket for anything beyond.  Though a discounted 'two-journey' can be obtained for £3, the £1.80 will, for many, still be the relevant tariff into the city-centre, while an 'all-day' ticket has been 'rounded-up' from £3.75 to £4.

The same return (after 9 am) train journey from Glasgow's southside into town is around £2.  Compared to travelling on often-littered, irregular, expensive buses and the hassle of congested roads,  the comfortable, usually-on-time and less-expensive train option is a no-brainer.

Not long ago, I had the pleasure of sitting on a smart single-decker as it hugged the gorgeous coastal road between Nice and Monte Carlo (curious to see its showy affluence - wasn't my kind of place), a substantial journey which cost just 1 euro.  Taking a First bus a few short miles into Glasgow city-centre costs double that.  How did we get to such a crazy policy destination?

Even allowing for the relentless hikes in fuel costs - always passed on, and more, to the paying public, never in cuts to executive salaries - what would induce a commuter or a city-centre shopper to sacrifice their four wheels for a Glasgow bus?  Where's the encouragement for families to relinquish the private comfort of their precious car?  More particularly, how are low-income families with kids meant to cope with such soaring costs for basic travel?

It's the usual free-market imperatives.  Prices go up.  Profits are protected.  No one is consulted.  Public concerns are simply dismissed.

Other cities around the world are trying to effect imaginative transport policies.  Here, proclamations of green, sustainable transport are simply that - lofty words and political pontifications.

The airline industry enjoys zero-VAT and other assistance on aviation fuel.  Why should car-reducing public buses not receive similar or greater subsidies?  Why, more boldly, not make public transport free?

And now, alongside some of the country's highest bus fares, Glasgow has the monstrous M74 extension, encouraging even more cars and greater pollution.

With it's giant blue steel bridges now striding defiantly atop the little homes on Devon Sreet, the M74 offers a whole new 'urban vista' from the top-deck of your all-expensive bus into town.

It's not just the profit-driven greed and eco-toxicity of market life, it's the aesthetic mediocrity it imposes on our daily outlook.


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