Duking it out in the East End of Glasgow.
Most of the time I’ve lived in Dennistoun I’ve wanted protected cycle lanes on Duke Street. I got back into cycling while living here (in 2011) and most of my rides start and end near Duke St; including commuting. So, I had a lot of anticipation for the Avenues Plus plans for Duke Street and John Knox Street.
Avenues Plus Consultation: Duke Street & John Knox Street.
Deadline: 13 July 2023.
The project won funding back in 2019 to extend Glasgow City Council’s Avenues project outside the city centre. Avenues are redeveloped streets with wider pavements, segregated cycleways, seating and planting. Only a few sections have been built so far on Sauchiehall Street and Cambridge Street. More are due to follow on Argyle St and Pitt St amongst others.
Walking Duke St shortly before the consultation, the height of the new Meatmarket flats was really striking. They’re set back a bit from the pavement but still dwarf the older buildings opposite and those further down the hill. South of Duke St, in Calton, new developments are transforming former wasteground between Duke St and Gallowgate. This is probably one of the main reasons Avenues Plus is finally coming. However, the fact the Calton Barras Action Plan didn’t include cycle lanes on Gallowgate at the Barrowlands may be a factor in Duke St getting them instead.
Weight of numbers
The Meatmarket will have over 250 rental flats next to the Avenue and ‘Calton Village’, at the Gallowgate end of Melbourne St, will add a similar number.
However, the population of Dennistoun ward is over 20,000 people – it’s one of the most densely populated neighbourhoods in Glasgow due to its grid of mostly older tenements and townhouses. However, some 20th century housing backs onto Duke St around McIntosh Court. From Westercraigs, a big chunk of the population are in ‘The Drives’ – between Duke St and Alexandra Parade (where most street names end in ‘Drive’). East of the railway, Haghill isn’t as dense due to more derelict land. Higher density housing usually means a higher likelihood that people cycle. Many of us do, as you can tell from the map of residential cycle parking. Dennistoun/Haghill has over 20 secure cycle parking units, most with waiting lists (Calton currently has two).
Not many people live on Duke St where it goes downhill at Wellpark Brewery. That means very little parking apart from occasional cars outside the brewery (which has car parks inside). There are a few older buildings before the large developments of the former Great Eastern building, Collegelands and the Drygate high flats around the foot of John Knox St. I’d been along Duke St countless times but hadn’t seen people hopping the low wall and scurrying up the grass bank towards the Drygate flats before. There are smaller new build flats there then a tenement block of shops to the corner of High St. This section only has half a dozen cars parked but they’re a real hazard when you’re cycling and there’s traffic in the other eastbound lane. There’s also a multi-storey car park within Collegelands beside the business centre.
The consultation event
I went to the consultation event at Dennistoun Library on a baking hot day on 15 June. The staff talking people through the project emphasised links to the Meatmarket, which made me wonder if they knew their audience. Even if I’m biased in favour of Dennistoun – it’s obvious we’re already living here. There were always going to be more of us at the consultation than folk from unfinished flats in Calton!
The event focused on a choice between two options for Duke St (and John Knox St). Both would have a single carriageway road, 2-way protected cycleway, updated crossings and greenery. Also, they both have a new crossing with traffic lights at Wellpark lane (between Lidl and McIntosh Court). However, they remove a (less busy) signalled crossing at the west of Havannah St in Collegelands.
I asked why there was no option for 1-way ‘with flow’ cycle lanes on each side of the road. Apparently, these need more buffer space between lane and road so they’d make things “a bit tight”. So, the main choice was about which side of the road to put the cycleway.
Option 1 – the Calton option
- Links directly to the Avenue proposed for south side of George St (between High St and George Square). That should simplify phases at the High St traffic lights as bikes could get green at same time as traffic going straight on. However, turning traffic would need to be held and get its own phase (none at the moment).
- Less waiting time at John Knox junction (bikes would only get red light during green man phase).
- John Knox St cycleway on east side of street with easier link onto Wishart St.
- More street trees (apparently pipes and cables get in the way on most of northern side).
- Easier links south, like Barrack Street to Bell Street.
- Avoids flood risk near Drygate flats.
- Avoids potential parking issues at shops near High St and near Westercraigs.
- More waiting time at entrance to Ladywell business centre/NCP car park. Since the carriageway is going to be one lane each way, bikes will get a red light most of the time (as cars on green could turn across cycleway). It’s not a busy junction so people cycling may wait for nothing a lot of the time. Expect a lot of bike couriers to jump the light here.
- Harder to get to Lidl from cycleway. There’s a crossing but no bike lane on north side so you’d have to ride a short section on the road – fine for some but not all. Alternatively, you’d have to push your bike to Lidl. Many people already cycle to it – numbers will probably increase once the new cycleway is in. Also, harder to get to shops near High St and at Westercraigs (but they’re not that busy).
- Crosses ‘rat run’ side streets at Barrack St, Hunter St and Melbourne St (going between Duke St and Gallowgate to avoid lights).
- No direct link into Duke St park (so less potential for Ark Lane improvements).
- Getting into the lanes from Bellgrove junction isn’t 100% clear. People cycling may be expected to be in the green ‘bike box’ (Advance Stop Line) going westbound along Duke St. I don’t like having to sprint when the light goes green with a line of motor vehicles behind me. If there’s an advance green light for bikes (like at Carlton Place) that would really help.
- Question marks about how Havannah St junction will work – no lights to hold up riders but will cars cut across bike lanes?
- Any future extension east towards Craigpark would be trickier on the southern side of Duke St as it has many businesses, including the Post Office, with flats above.
- Mostly in shadow at Collegelands/Great Eastern/Meatmarket – not that bad but may affect how visible people are at crossings some days and not ideal for trees there.
Option 2 – the Dennistoun option
- Cycleway alongside Lidl for easier access.
- Links to shops at either end of route.
- Less waiting time at entrance to NCP car park/Ladywell business centre.
- Alongside Duke St park with more potential to improve links (upgraded Ark Lane paths to link to The Drives would increase numbers in cycleway).
- Next to brewery visitor centre and mural wall for access.
- Avoids ‘rat run’ traffic at Barrack St, Hunter St and Melbourne St side streets.
- Potential to connect around the corner at eastern end, onto the 2-way part of Westercraigs, to link to The Drives.
- Any future extension east towards Craigpark would be easier as the northern side of Duke St doesn’t have any homes or businesses at that point.
- Sunny side of the street.
- Doesn’t link directly to Avenue that will be on south side of George St. Would have diagonal crossing with its own phase at lights.
- More waiting time at busier John Knox junction – could turning lanes help (see below)?
- John Knox St cycleway on west side of street with weird double crossing to western side of Wishart St. No obvious reason why it couldn’t continue on eastern side of Wishart St, as in Option 1. Or put cycleway on eastern side of JK St, like in Option 1.
- Flood risk near Drygate flats (ironically). However, it’s also a chance to add planting in that area, to soak up rainwater, and improve drainage.
- Has to cross entrances at Lidl and brewery (but HGVs already have to slow right down to turn into brewery due to barrier and entrance seems tighter in plans).
- Potential parking issues at shops at either end of route.
- Less street trees can be planted (but rain gardens could be alternated onto other side of road and Duke St already has trees at the park, Barrack St and Drygate).
Cycling to The Drives
Another factor about Option 2 is what it doesn’t currently have – a link around the corner up Westercraigs (at least to Annfield Place, past the 1-way section of road). This short link, using the wide corner and current parking in-shot, would connect the new cycleway directly into The Drives. That could greatly increase the potential numbers using the new infrastructure as people wouldn’t have to ride the busy section of Duke St, east of Bellgrove, to get to the bike lanes.
Park versus parklet
The other choice at the event was between funding upgrades to the existing Duke St park and a proposed ‘parklet’ at the dead end at Sydney St. Parklets or ‘pocket parks’ are a fashionable idea to make small green spaces with planting and seating. Again, I’m not sure why the consultants favoured new over existing. Why would people sit in a small space next to a main road when they could be in a half decent park on the other side? Also, no-one lives on Sydney St, whereas the housing at McIntosh Court backs onto the park. More could be done with it – paths and the playpark especially need upgraded (with accessible equipment).
The diagonal path from the traffic lights goes along the northern side of the park and is a popular pedestrian route. It also attracts some people cycling who use the grass up the hill on Ark Lane; where the top section is steps. There’s a ‘desire line’ worn into the hill that should be upgraded into a cycle path. If Option 2 gets built the path could connect onto it – making another direct link into The Drives. In Option 1, people could cross at the lights to get to it.
Straight and narrow?
At the western end of Duke St, neither option has loading bays or car parking at the shops. So, will those cars end up parked on the cycleway or pavement? Maybe bollards could protect the area (and the shops aren’t that busy anyway). However, it’s likely the shop owners will want loading bays. The bus stop across the road restricts space but east of that there may be scope to bend the road south (option 1). Or add a parking protected section of bike lane (option 2) to include a few spaces. Many cycling advocates would disagree with that. However, if not having them could result in cars obstructing the lane or pavement, then it’s worth considering.
At the eastern end of Duke St there are only three shop units. I’ve seen a few of them loading from a van parked on pavement before. That would probably continue with Option 1. In Option 2 the bike lanes would be on the north side with no space to add loading bays. It would need bollards to protect them, especially if it extended round the corner onto Westercraigs. I think a potential solution is to add a ramp at the steps next to the shops, which lead up to the neighbouring car park. Mark loading bays in the corner of it for shopkeepers to unload and use trolleys down the short distance to the shops. That could be a win-win for accessibility and loading.
Taking a turn
Recently, there were two road deaths within a few miles of the Avenues Plus area. Pedestrian Cameron Eaglesham further along Duke St, and John Morton who was cycling on Fielden St near London Road. This tragic reminder about road safety needs to be taken into account in Avenues Plus. While the cycleway deviates around bus stops, etc. the road is an almost dead straight line (with a slight kink near the Wellpark Brewery entrance). That may have been done for visibility but it also encourages speeding. Instead of planting or rain gardens only on one side of the road, could they be on the other side at a few places? So, the carriageway would weave and encourage drivers to slow down.
A second way to make the road weave could be turning lanes. John Knox St and the access road to the business centre are the two obvious junctions to add them. Another benefit of doing that could be separate signal phases for each road lane. That could allow longer green phases for the bike lanes. It’s a tight space between the two junctions so it may not be possible to have turning lanes for both. The busier one is obviously John Knox Street. That could reduce the wait on Option 2’s bike lane. Straight-on carriageway traffic could go at the same time (while turning traffic is stopped). However, without turning lanes, Option 1’s cycleway would be stuck at red most of the time at the southern service road.
Give and take
Adding features like the above would probably increase the cost. Avenues Plus was awarded funding before the pandemic affected construction costs. Any project wants to save money so would look for savings. I think a potential way to save and reduce the complexity of the project would be to cut some of the long stretches of stone paving. The section of Duke St that Avenues Plus is working on is a transport corridor – people don’t hang out there (that happens further east at the shops near The Drives). Yes, there are a few heritage buildings but we don’t need fancy paving in this bit of the East End. Especially if the money for it could go into more useful features. Also, most of the stone paving is to go next to the red and blonde checkerboard on the walls of Collegelands and the multi-storey car park. The phrase ‘putting lipstick on a pig’ springs to mind!
Both options would improve the experience of walking, wheeling and cycling on Duke Street. The ‘buffer effect’ of the cycleway between the road and pavement and the planting/trees would have a positive effect. Having protected lanes is the main thing regardless of which side of the road they go on.
People in the new Calton developments will either be able to join the bike lanes from outside the Meatmarket flats or cross the road to them using the new crossing. However, people cycling from Dennistoun may have to brave the busy section at the shops east of Bellgrove to get to the cycleway. Less people will do that so we could end up a bit removed from the protected cycle lanes we’ve been waiting so long for. This project is significant for many people in Dennistoun. I believe that should be recognised by implementing Option 2 for Duke St (with the John Knox St arrangement from Option 1). It’s fairly close between the two options but, on balance, I think Option 2 makes the most sense for connecting the area with the biggest population via Westercraigs and the park.