No Mean City

This weekend saw me in Glasgow for the Scottish Bike Show where I was slightly unofficially handing out Pedal on Parliament flyers (sample conversation: Me: ‘have you heard of Pedal on Parliament? We’re campaigning for safer cycling in Scotland.’ Passing Punter: ‘No thanks.’ Me: ‘Do you not want safer cycling then?’ PP: ‘nah, I prefer it more dangerous myself.’ I really must work on my patter, but you’ve got to love the Glasgow sense of humour) with thanks to the Bike Station who let us use a corner of their stand. I was staying with Glasgow cyclist and fellow POP organiser Dave Brennan, aka Magnatom, who regularly posts his video adventures of close encounters with Glasgow drivers who have either lost their sense of humour altogether or have a rather twisted one. He lives outside the city, which meant an 8 mile cycle back on some rather challenging roads (at one point he said, reassuringly, ‘it’s all right, we won’t actually end up on the motorway’ as we followed signs to the M8 on a dual carriageway that was already an urban motorway in all but name).

We must have made quite a sight – Dave was on a slick road bike in the full lycra gear, cameras mounted fore and aft, while I was following along behind on a bike which was making a noise like a basketful of kittens.* Dave was going at what I suspect was half his normal speed so I kept up easily and surprisingly it wasn’t too daunting, at least in the company of someone else and on a weekend when the roads weren’t too busy. It’s not a route I’d dare cycle in rush hour – at one point we had to cut across two lanes of traffic to avoid being sucked onto the motorway which is only really possible to do on roads like that when you’ve got empty lanes to cut across (or complete gridlock I suppose). Fortunately the traffic was also on its best behaviour with just the one driver hooting at us and a couple of close passes, including one where the driver decided to swerve in towards us while passing, which is always extra charming. This was balanced by a couple of drivers who showed exemplary patience including an Asda lorry who waited behind us for a long stretch before finding somewhere to pass safely – given that Glasgow has potholes that are reputedly visible from space, such wiggle room is appreciated.

Glasgow is still a car-dominated city – but it’s changing too. There’s a segregated bike lane on the way to the velodrome (well, I suppose they had to, didn’t they?) that is – adjusted for being in the UK – pretty good: nice surface, wide enough to cycle two abreast (as long as nobody’s coming the other way which mostly there wasn’t), has right of way across side streets, sloping kerbs (on one side, anyway); it even manages to take you past a bus stop rather than into the side of it. It’s a slight shame that at one end you have to cut across three lanes of traffic to get to it, because it’s only on one side of the street – and other the other end it turns into a half-hearted shared use path with a caged toucan crossing to the velodrome itself that will be completely unusable if more than 3 or 4 cyclists try and cross, oh and it’s only about a mile long and is totally unsignposted if you don’t know what you’re looking for, but these are mere details in the great scheme of things. The council seems determined that the Commonwealth Games next year will be car free and is building bike routes as well as public transport to support it although it is sometimes going about it in the usual bizarre UK fashion. For instance, it has a mad policy of only signposting bike routes to places up to 30 minutes away – at Townmouse speed, rather than Magnatom speed, I suspect – which means that anyone coming out of the main station looking for the mountain biking will have a nice signposted cycle route the whole way … but only if they know that they are heading via Hampden Park. I left the council guy at the bike show (who I suspect agreed with me) with some full and frank feedback on that one.

Still, I made it home, and enjoyed my ride back from the station yesterday all the more, knowing that the worst hazard I was likely to encounter was a suicidal pheasant. Dave wasn’t quite so lucky – his ride home on Sunday was enlivened by an enraged driver who effectively attempted to use his car as a weapon. It’s just fortunate Dave’s brakes, and undoubtedly his reflexes, are in better nick than mine. While I enjoyed my adventures on Glasgow’s roads in the same way I enjoyed skiing, or rather surviving skiing, I’m glad I wasn’t around for that. From now on I think I’ll listen to my inner wuss and continue to stick to the cycling shallow end until our campaign for safer cycling has prevailed (so please sign this, if you haven’t already, and come out and support this if you can…)

* I do oil my chain, honest, but it’s been a long hard winter

3 Responses to No Mean City

  1. emma c says:

    Ah good for you. i so admire your tenacity, in a nation ( nations?) that does not appear to get it.. Is it because it is so hilly I wonder .. When I lived on the Rhine Plain ( one flat village followed by another, and another ) it was no rare sight to see doddery old folk off to choir practice (my landlord included) on a bike, knees at rightangles to the frame. Sometimes there was even a crutch or walking stick balanced over the handlebars. I have now retreated to the hills, where the sight is rarer, bit It remains for me, something to aspire to.

  2. Wait a minute, though: didn’t you used to Disgruntledly Commute by bike in London? After that Glasgow should be easy.

    Then again, I suppose you’re out of practice…

  3. disgruntled says:

    Emma – it’s always a good sign when everyone rides, not just the young and fit. It’s easier than walking of course
    Martin – ah but I was sticking to the back streets!. This was full on urban motorway stuff

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