If you are a regular user or have ever had to use Glasgow’s public transport system, the chances are that you encountered a hurdle or two when doing so. Seemingly unlogical connections between different modes of transport, physical and/or psychological boundaries obstructing your travel from one part of the city to another or simply missing transport links in particular areas are only a few examples of the distress that comes with travelling through Scotland’s largest city (the population of the City of Glasgow and Greater Glasgow respectively reached just over 600,000 and 1.2 million in 2016). I mean, does anyone even consider travelling from the west end to the north of the city by public transport (just to name an example)? In this visual essay, we will step out of our visual art comfort zone and discuss the quality of Glasgow’s transport system, the impact it has on local communities and the economy and possible solutions to its problems.
Above: Map showing Glasgow’s different railway lines during the Victorian era.
Left: View onto the old Kelvinbridge train station from the south east.
Below: Aerial view onto the old St. Enoch train station.
When looking at train services we have to go back to the 19th century, when various railway corporations each built their own train lines through the Glasgow area, leaving the city with a relatively dense network (although not operated by one single authority) and a legacy of 61 Glasgow stations currently in use by Scotrail. Below we can see an overview of the existing network of railway lines. Despite the network being dense, a few of its aspects draw our attention:
- There is no easy connection between Glasgow Central Station and Glasgow Queen Street Station and thus no direct link from the south to the north of the city.
- Some of the new towns such as East Kilbride and Cumbernauld are missing links to neighbouring areas.
- Glasgow Airport – an international terminal – only has a bus link to the city centre and not a train station and is therefore hard to travel to from the city’s outskirts and beyond.
Solutions to some of the aforementioned problems could comprise of the following investments in new lines and line extensions:
- Realising part of the Glasgow Crossrail proposal (link) by reinstating the eastern route which crosses the river at the Briggait, connecting southern routes to High Street station via Glasgow Cross.
- A new railway line from Paisley to Jordanhill which includes a Glasgow Airport station, and which together with Crossrail would create new opportunities for several circular routes.
- Extending the East Kilbride line east, connecting it to Hamilton, the east end of Glasgow and routes into the Scottish Borders.
- Adding stations to change between different modes of transport more easily, for example a station at West Street subway station and reinstating the old Finnieston station (just north of Exhibition Centre station).
This would create many more options for train routes across the Glasgow area and even the potential for a service from Edinburgh to Glasgow Airport.
Where the train has a cross-regional function, the subway should mainly cover travel between central locations. The circular Glasgow Subway system, opened in 1896 as the world’s third ever underground system after London and Budapest, has unfortunately never been extended, despite numerous plans, suitable occasions, modernisation works and it currently pretty much being the only transport mode to accomodate functional and fast travel in central Glasgow. The line currently only connects the west end and south banks of the Clyde to the city centre.
It’s hard to come up with workable extension plans for the subway if you bare in mind that the track width is uncommon, making it impossible to create branches coming directly off the existing line. Leaving the circular subway line aside, stepping back and objectively looking at what connections the city needs is a much better way of approaching the idea of what subway connections central Glasgow needs. One should be able to travel from south to north, e.g. from Queens Park to Maryhill, right across the city. Theoretically this would take the shape of a diamond when also taking travelling from north to west and-so-on into consideration. It would ideally look like this:
When taking the need for transfer stations and geographical locations of certain areas into account though, the diamond shape would end up looking more like this:
And when splitting the system into individual lines, suddenly the potential to connect a wide range of areas becomes clear.
Becca is a trained architect and Creative Director at Pidgin Perfect, a creative consultancy working internationally on a wide range of creative events, development programmes and placemaking projects.
“Public transport in Glasgow feels quite fragmented. Parts of the city are quite unreachable and psychological barriers are created even when there is a connection – e.g. when travelling east to west changing from the subway to a train. Different operators aren’t making it any easier, it’s more expensive to change from bus to train instead of consistently using the same mode of transport. I have seen, when working in particular areas in North and East Glasgow, people are genuinely concerned about being able to afford to travel. The city has massively different systems, each built for a different time and/or user. One major issue is the missing link between Queen St and Central Station, which is a typically Victorian legacy in terms of having different hubs and operators.
The main solution to some of these problems would be to integrate systems and have one ticket for different modes of transport. Improvements to the current networks should also facilitate less switching between modes.”
“Yes, in terms of both access to work and bringing people to the city (destinations). The subway is a positive example, but the only example of transport that serves a destination. The subway takes you to the west end and is useful for both people spending money and working.
A different kind of example are areas such as Mount Florida and Strathbungo. They don’t have great transport services but the community they have created is situated close by. This doesn’t work in many places though. Generally, people and businesses who don’t have good transport links won’t have people coming to them.”
“Glasgow still has the highest percentage of vacant and derelict land in the UK. I believe 41% of Glasgow’s land still lies empty. Glasgow isn’t a dense city but that doesn’t mean it necessarily needs be filled up. The issue is more about architectural typologies. Victorian and Edwardian architecture have never been followed up by anything equally functional. Even chopped off tenements such as the ones dominating the Barras Market also count vacant space as the building doesn’t go up. Glasgow is fond of tearing down buildings and it has been for a long time. In the past, the M8 and M74 projects were quite damaging severances. The East End Regeneration Route will also create barriers and simply encompasses a link between 2 motorways instead of a functional service for the communities dissects. It doesn’t support footfall so doesn’t bring visitors and/or business.”
“Yes it would, but these things are hard to test as only other cities can be watched to get ideas and every city works differently in terms of its history, context and location. The connection to industry, which is typical for Scotland, means in the past situations have been created in which areas of empty land – with no people using them – are separating communities. Tradeston is an example of this. In some areas like the Gorbals and Govan the focus has shifted to the local community so empty land and buildings are being repurposed there. The danger is that this cements the idea of the village, an isolated community. All communities should have the same spaces but should also be able to be accessed by other communities, for example being able to got to a library in a different area to find a book. These spaces are for meeting people from various communities, to learn and to spend time.”
“A city that doesn’t rely on private vehicles and is much more connected. Glasgow is not a huge city and there is no need for car ownership to be at the level it sits now. I would love to see interesting use of the spaces we have and where things are planned on a human scale. Maintenance of green spaces and clarity about what is dead space and what isn’t are also things I would like to see. And finally mixed use transport – e.g. taking your bike on the train – and independent travel across all ages, abilities and age ranges.”
“Bits of different cities can be found in Glasgow – which is also what points out the potential the city has. It contains elements from different cities in terms of being connected. London (same Victorian history) and Berlin (a variety of rail systems for different users such as U-bahn and S-bahn) are cities which currently have what Glasgow could have.”
Nick Wright is a town planner, mediator and facilitator and is the founder of Nick Wright Planning.
“Glasgow has an excellent heavy rail facilities compared to other British cities outside London, although the tram/light rail systems developed in Manchester and Newcastle since the 1970s are good too. The network is mostly good, has excellent services and is relatively cheap compared to elsewhere in the UK. But inevitably certain bits of the city and conurbation miss out on rail connectivity – particularly 20th century expansion areas like Easterhouse, Castlemilk, Drumchapel, Pollok and Newton Mearns.”
“Many people rely on buses, but the privatised networks, lack of co-ordination and underinvestment mean that there are gaps in services and local networks (predominantly in the evenings), congestion in the city centre and sometimes poor quality hardware. SPT don’t seem to have the power, resources or desire (frankly I don’t know which) to get to grips with the problems. It means that buses are the cinderella of public transport: stigmatised, and not an attractive alternative to the car.”
“The subway is great if you happen to live near it. I guess generally, good public transport will be one factor amongst many in attracting investment (e.g. good connectivity will attract residents and businesses) whilst poor areas with poor public transport won’t receive that boost. Rich areas with poor public transport such as Newton Mearns don’t seem to suffer as much, because there’s higher car ownership.
Of course poor public transport means that it’s harder to get people out of their cars onto more sustainable modes of transport.”
“Generally, investment in better public transport will help to make places more accessible, particularly areas that suffer from poverty and multiple deprivation and where car ownership is too expensive for many. So better public transport will help people in those places (like the peripheral estates) access more opportunities provided it is affordable.”
“Huge question! Some parts of the city are very densely built up and it’s hard to find any spare land to do anything with (e.g. the West End), other parts have huge amounts of spare land (e.g. parts of the East End, Govan, Easterhouse). Spare land generally equates to an unattractive environment, which is not good for health, wellbeing, community life and economic development.”
“Possibly. It depends how it was structured differently. Social cohesion could be worse if communities are inward looking and divided, but could be better if there are more connections between communities and reasons to travel between them. I completely agree with the need to do something with tracts of vacant and derelict land to close gaps (physically and socially) between communities. I don’t think that ‘doing something’ needs to be housing though. Allow me to explain why. For me, these areas of vacant and derelict land, like Tradeston, or chunks of the East End, or Ibrox, or many other examples, are really areas of underused land. They form barriers between communities. The key for me is to get them back into active or productive use. That might be lots of things such as community growing, allotments, greenspace or buildings for housing, community facilities or business use. I guess a good example is the skateboard park underneath the M74 viaduct between the South Side and the city centre: a piece of inactive, underused land that acts is a barrier to communities but could be a shared resource for them.”
“All this links to work that has been done on the ‘shrinking cities’ concept in US cities like Detroit and Youngstown, and East German cities – places that have too much land for their now reduced population. If you google around, there are lots of interesting examples of how underused/derelict land can be put into more active or productive use. Glasgow has started to do this with the Stalled Spaces scheme in recent years, but we could do a lot more with (a) more community capacity and (b) access to land.”
“Less inequality, less derelict and vacant land, good access to education, jobs, recreation and opportunity wherever you live in the city. I would also like to see lots of people out and about on the street and in public spaces doing things.”
“I can’t think of one actually. Glasgow’s unique!”