Argyle Boulevard: drains take the strain in Glasgow

An artist's impression shows the planted areas and bus lanes.
An artist's impression shows the planted areas and bus lanes.
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A dramatic revamp of one of Scotland’s most famous shopping streets could include Britain’s first road drains in planted areas and the reintroduction of buses.

The proposals for Argyle Street in Glasgow also comprise banishing the gloom of the so-called “Hielanman’s Umbrella” bridge under Central Station with huge LED roof panels.

LED lighting under the station bridge.

LED lighting under the station bridge.

It is one of a £115m series of “Avenues” projects to make the city centre more attractive to pedestrians and cyclists by narrowing roads and widening pavements.

The innovative “sustainable urban drainage system”, or SuDs, involves planted areas being used to slow the flow of rainwater into the sewers to reduce pressure on the network.

It has been previously used in European cities such as Lyon.

It is designed to better cope with predicted more frequent severe storms and significantly reduce sewer flooding and resulting environmental pollution.

The Hielanman's Umbrella as it is today.

The Hielanman's Umbrella as it is today.

Traffic lanes on parts of Argyle Street between the Kingston Bridge and Trongate would be halved in width under the plans.

However, loading bays, bus stops and disabled parking spaces would be retained

A 25mm-wide raised “rib” would separate the traffic lanes, with crossing points every 30-50m.

Kerbs separating road and pavement would remain.

Buses would be allowed on to the pedestrianised section between Queen Street and Glassford Street for the first time in 40 years to speed up cross-city services by avoiding a detour via surrounding streets.

At the Hielanman’s Umbrella, named after the Gaelic-speaking Highlanders who gathered there to socialise a century ago out of the rain, new businesses will be encouraged, such as street food traders.

A pilot section of another Avenues project, which involves narrowing a 600m stretch of Sauchiehall Street, is due to be completed by the end of the year

The layouts, by designers Civic Engineers for Glasgow City Council plans are subject to change following consultation.

A Scottish Water spokesperson said: “We are actively working with the council and its consulting engineers to understand the multiple benefits of the project, including removing rainwater from the combined sewer system. Discussions are ongoing and our plans have yet to be confirmed.”

Stuart Hay, director of Living Streets Scotland, which campaigns for pedestrians, said: “We support projects like Glasgow’s Avenues regeneration, which reclaim space for walking and people and reduce car dominance.

“This level of change presents design challenges, such as accommodating bus routes while minimising impacts on vulnerable groups. However, through careful and inclusive consultation it should be possible to get the design right for everyone.”

But Philip Gomm, of the RAC Foundation motoring group, said: “We all want Scotland’s city centres to be cleaner, quieter and less congested, but the question is what happens to displaced traffic. Any improvement cannot come at the cost of clogging up neighbouring roads and routes.”

Marianne Scobie, deputy chief executive of Glasgow Disability Alliance, said: “There needs to be a definition between roads, cycles and people.

“We don’t envy the planners having to incorporate the views of so many people with various competing needs and ideas.

“Tactile paving that is helpful for visually impaired people can be a painful trip hazard for those with mobility impairments.

“Planners heard that parallel parking spaces do not suit those with rear entry vehicles - something they had not considered and noted for further consideration.

“We also discussed that buses being included in an area previously pedestrianised may be very challenging for some, but may open up a part of the city others deemed too far to walk to previously.”

City council leader Susan Aitken said: “The Avenues will deliver a city centre that is better connected, more attractive and capable of bringing economic growth.

“But we want the views of as many people as possible to help shape the final design of the project into something that meets the needs and aspirations of the huge number of people and organisations who use the area.”