Bid to turn Glasgow city centre into car-free zone which will ‘prioritise people’

A car-free zone is set to be introduced in Glasgow over five years to bring a “European city experience” which will “prioritise people.”

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First announced by council leader Susan Aitken during COP26, the zone, now described as a “people first” area, would limit vehicle access to the centre of the city.

It would be bounded by Hope Street, Cowcaddens Road, North Hanover Street/Glassford Street and Howard Street.

What are the plans?

Public consultation on the project is set to start after the council elections in May and the “people first” area is one of the key aims of Glasgow’s draft city centre transformation plan, which goes before councillors on Monday.

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That plan also includes a cap over the M8 to create the ‘Mitchell Plaza’, reducing peak-hour private car traffic by 30 per cent and improving access for the mobility impaired.

Councillor Angus Millar, who chairs the environment, sustainability and carbon reduction committee, said the car-free zone would stop the centre of the city being a “cross-town rat-run for private cars”.

Under the plan, vehicle access would be limited to “essential trips”, such as for disabled people, residents and businesses, and “continuous” walking, wheeling and cycle routes would be provided.

There would be exemptions for public transport, taxi movements and emergency services and retained multi-storey car parks would be accessible without the need to access the zone.

It is hoped the zone would link in with the redevelopment of Buchanan Galleries and the St Enoch Centre. On-street town centre parking would be reduced but available to Blue Badge holders and for servicing and taxi loading.

‘European city centre experience’

Councillor Millar, who also co-chairs a city centre taskforce focused on recovery from the covid pandemic, said: “This is about how we get to and about our city centre, and builds on the work Glasgow is doing to tackle air pollution, promote active travel and improve public transport, including our plans for a Clyde Metro.

“But it’s also about making the city centre a more attractive place to visit, to do business and to live. We’re a European city which doesn’t offer a European city centre experience.

“The people first zone will go some way to replicating what our peers across much of the world have been doing over the past 40 or so years.”

Challenges ahead

A council report stated the scheme is “ambitious” and will “require careful consideration of challenges and detailed analysis into the wider operation of the zone.” This would include assessing “all the access and servicing requirements, operational hours and exemptions.”

“It will be imperative that we undertake extensive public consultation and partnership working will be required for effective delivery.”

Councillor Millar said: “We previewed these proposals during COP26 because congestion and pollution continue to have a negative impact on the city centre and the people who use it.

“The details spelt out in the plan make clear the consultation which will take place, the timescales involved, the incremental phasing of its introduction, and the exemptions factored in, including for residents and those with mobility needs.

“What the people first proposal does is prioritise people in the central core of the city centre rather than allow it to continue as a cross-town rat-run for private cars.”

The city centre transformation plan also includes the proposed revamp of George Square, which is out for consultation, and the ongoing Avenues programme to create streets prioritising active travel.

Work at the Broomielaw and the River Clyde to “re-connect” the city with its water and “mitigating the impact of an urban motorway” at Charing Cross are also incorporated.

It is intended to “investigate the feasibility” of a Mitchell Plaza, addressing the severance and impact of the M8 at Charing Cross.

The aim is “secure connections across Sauchiehall Street” and between Bath Street/Berkeley Street and Elm Bank as well as Charing Cross station. They will consider developing a civic plaza linked to the Mitchell Library too.

Councillor Millar said: “The full city centre transformation plan has a wide range of actions to create a more accessible and sustainable city centre, and projects like an M8 cap at Charing Cross and traffic reduction measures at the High Street corridor will see us create more liveable and attractive spaces for people to pass through and spend time in.”

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