Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Clyde Fastlink - A Revolution in Public Transport

The problems with delivery of Edinburgh's new tram system has been well reported in the media, mostly because of the disruption caused by the works, its immense price tag and lengthy delays but Glasgow's bold new transport initiative has grabbed a lot less headlines, probably because of its more modest price tag and, more likely, due to its spectacular lack of impact on the city.

This is the Clyde Fastlink. It is a Bus Rapid Transit scheme which will run mostly on existing roads. It doesn't need rails like a tram system and is therefore flexible and can be diverted to allow for roadworks or dangerous buildings.  On the downside, it will not be much better than any other bus: there may be a few locations where it will have a dedicated carriageway and it will have priority signalling at junctions but the same can be done with normal buses.

According to the City Council:

The Clyde waterfront has undergone a massive transformation in recent years with £80 million of investment underway or completed in the past twelve months.  This has dramatically changed the skyline and has placed greater pressure on our roads and transport services.  To help influence the travel patterns of these new developments before they become established a good public transport system is required on the north bank of the Clyde.  Glasgow City Council has drawn up proposals for a new public transport system for the Clyde Corridor, which will not only provide better access to the new employment, leisure and retail facilities but will also help tackle increased traffic congestion and pollution in the city centre.
Clyde Fastlink will be a “state of the art” public transport system running a six minute interval service from the city centre along the northern bank of the River Clyde, via the International Financial Services District, SECC, and the new Transport Museum, terminating at the west end of Glasgow Harbour. The public transport vehicle will provide an experience offering many of the benefits of a tram without the rails embedded in the ground.
From Glasgow Harbour to the eastern end of Broomielaw, the system will be almost fully segregated from the existing road network, running on its own private section. Two-way sections will be provided for this length of the route, with the exception of a short section on Broomielaw at Lancefield flats where it will be on-street due to land constraint. In the city centre section it runs in a clockwise one-way loop passing below Glasgow Central at the “Heilanmans Umbrella” and sharing the network with all other traffic, but running on bus lanes where possible to minimise delay.

For those unfamiliar with the area, this will effectively be parallel to an existing rail service which runs every 10 minutes from Glasgow Central Station to the SECC (Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre) with a journey time of 4 minutes to cover approximately 1 mile. No amount of bus lanes and priority signalling is going to beat that time.  There is also another interim station, Anderston, which  serves the far end of the International Financial Services District and the next stop, Partick, serves the new Transport Museum and is an interchange with the subway, train lines going to Queen Street Station and local bus services.

There does not seem a very good case for the Fastlink.

Consultation on the scheme began in 2005 with the aim of having an operational scheme by late 2007. Five years on there is very little to see on the ground. There is a rather impressive tree lined strip of asphalt that extends for a whopping 400m (1/4 mile) along the Broomielaw, which was completed in 2009 at a cost of £17 million and was used  for a time as an unofficial car park before double yellow lines were painted. It has never seen a bus. It has no bus stops. But it is a nice smooth ride on a bike.

One could be forgiven for thinking that the scheme has been dropped, but no it is still alive although the ambitions for the scheme have changed. Perhaps the council has realised that there are limited benefits to running parallel with existing public transport infrastructure.  Now the scheme will be a dedicated route to the SECC then crossing the river to Govan and the Southern General Hospital, where it will serve "huge numbers of patients, visitors and 10,000 staff."  The five mile journey from the city centre to the hospital currently takes 30-40 minutes with buses every 10 minutes.  This is no worse than many buses elsewhere in the city, which presumably the same patients, visitors and staff would use to connect with the Fastlink service.  Wouldn't it be better to create radial routes around the city, reducing the numbers of people and buses needlessly going through the city centre.

A £40 million budget has been allocated to develop the route which should be operational by 2015. This budget does not cover the cost of the buses which will be provided, timetabled and operated by a private transport operator, most likely First Bus which already has such a poor record of operating the majority of the city's bus routes.

The scheme strikes me as a lot of cost for very little impact on traffic, congestion and air quality in the city but it would appear to be the only significant project in the Council's plans, with the exception of works related to the Commonwealth Games. In fact, in this year's council elections, Fastlink was the only policy supported by all the main parties and the only policy from any of them that had any substance. Air quality is a particular problem which urgently needs tackled now, not by a marginal scheme coming in to operation in three years time. The council do not appear to have any plan to improve air quality.  If we could reduce air pollution, we could reduce the number of people that need to go to the Southern General with respiratory problems.

Meanwhile, as we patiently wait for the next bus, we can watch the cars go by the set of The Fast and the Furious 6, which is being filmed across from the dedicated Fastlink lane on the Broomielaw this week.  The Fastlink lane, in the foreground, is being used by lighting and camera rigs at night and the building opposite is a plywood mock-up that was built in little over a week.

At least Hollywood is benefiting from the council's investment, but unfortunately not for a movie that encourages responsible car use.

PS The glass facade has now been smashed and there is an upturned car inside.

Related Links:
The original scheme from Glasgow City Council
The Current Scheme:

Related Posts:


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