Alastair Dalton: Radical action call to finally curb traffic

Hope Street in Glasgow city centre is one of Scotland's most congested and polluted streets. Picture: John Devlin
Hope Street in Glasgow city centre is one of Scotland's most congested and polluted streets. Picture: John Devlin
Have your say

Years of trying to get commuters out of their cars appear to have come to nothing, according the latest official figures on how we get to work.

Despite the billions of pounds spent on improving buses and trains, and making walking and cycling more attractive, exactly the same proportion of workers sit behind the wheel as a decade ago.

The Scottish Household Survey published on Tuesday showed car commuting remains the choice of two in three - 67 per cent.

Driving also accounted for nearly the same proportion of all journeys last year - 64 per cent - making it nearly six times as popular as taking the train or bus or cycling combined.

We are also shockingly lazy drivers who are hogging an increasing amount of space on the roads.

One in three journeys of up to 1km - just over half a mile - were by car, and more drivers are travelling alone.

This has been creeping up over the last ten years, with two in three now the sole occupant.

To cap it all, traffic on Scotland’s roads reached a new high last year, of nearly 29 billion vehicle miles.

For transport minister Humza Yousaf to say he wants to see “more progress” towards more sustainable travel is putting it about as mildly as is possible.

Critics would say that the lack of traffic restraint, road building and the relatively low cost of motoring against other transport has reinforced the car as king.

Where this is having its greatest toll is in our cities, causing congestion, pollution and creating an unpleasant urban environment.

Over-reliance on cars also promotes an inactive lifestyle and poses a threat to road safety which electric vehicles, though greener, would not remove.

Even in large urban areas, 55 per cent commute by car, despite all the other options available.

Low emission zones, where the most polluting vehicles would eventually banned, look likely to be the first step to re-address the balance.

The first - probably in Glasgow - is about to be announced for launch next year, with Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee to follow by 2020.

However, environment secretary Roseanna Cunningham suggested on Wednesday there may be a lead-in time prior to enforcement of up to four years.

In Glasgow’s case, buses would be targeted first, and the city council has made no mention on when cars might also be included.

On the same day, at a transport “summit” in Glasgow City Chambers, in the heart of Scotland’s motor city, a far more radical vision was outlined by Professor Iain Docherty, one of Scotland’s leading transport academics.

Showing starkly-contrasting slides of Glasgow’s traffic-choked streets against European city thoroughfares featuring just pedestrians, cyclists and trams, he asked the audience: “Where would you prefer to live?”

The Glasgow University professor acknowledged that traffic restraint was “politically difficult”. However, he said it was not only vital to the vibrancy of cities, but also could start with simple measures.

They could include painting lines to reallocate road space, and re-timing the green man so pedestrians had greater freedom to move around.

Glasgow has some fine traffic-free streets - Prof Docherty pointed to Buchanan Street as an exemplar. There may be many more to come.