M74 monsterToday the roads lobby, the construction industry, and their cheerleaders at Holyrood celebrate the opening of the M74 Northern Extension. They got what they and their forebears have argued for since the 1940s – another barren strip of tarmac cut right through Glasgow. They even got the chap who’s 20th in line to the throne along to show how important it is to The Firm: Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Disappointingly, not this one.

The scheme remains an overwhelmingly bad idea, whatever the cost and timescale, matters I’ll come back to shortly. The other arguments against the project – it won’t help with congestion, journey times or jobs, and it’ll be fantastically polluting – were accepted by the independent reporter, who ruled against it in 2005. To quote just one paragraph from that report:

11.100 Inevitably this recommendation will be subject to considerable criticism by those who support the road. The opposite recommendation has been considered with equal care. It is concluded that a recommendation to approve the construction of the road and the compulsory purchase of the affected properties would depend on setting aside the very serious disadvantages of the proposal in terms of objectives for the improvement of public transport and traffic reduction, CO2 emissions, the very serious environmental impacts along the route, and disregarding the potentially devastating effects on the local and wider economy due to the dislocation of existing businesses and services; and placing an unreasonable degree of confidence in employment forecasts that have not been demonstrated to be robust, and which at best would bring a relatively small number of new jobs to Scotland, the vast majority of the prospective new employment being transferred from other areas of Scotland, including other parts of the Clyde valley area. Even if a more positive view of the economic benefits were to be accepted, it would still be doubtful if this aspirational and uncertain prospect would justify the acceptance of so many negative effects.

Now even some former cheerleaders for the project have changed their tune, notably in an outstanding front page in the Scotsman yesterday. As Boris would say, this elevated motorway has already been demonstrated to be nonsense on stilts, literally, and Tom Greatrex should know better.

So for those of us who dream of a better urban Scotland, one that’s built to meet people’s needs not one that builds ever greater dependence on the car, this is a sad day. Yes – fighting it in court and through direct action delayed the scheme, and my only regret is that we didn’t do more.

SeoulBut there is, as the phrase has it, a better way. From Seoul to San Francisco, the urban motorways are coming out (thanks to Jonny for that link).

The road to the left is the 1970s Cheonggyecheon Highway through the heart of Seoul, and the river to the right is what replaced it in 2005.

The city got a new park (the river was under the motorway, believe it or not), lower traffic levels across the city, improvements in biodiversity, and better public transport.

The post above has three more examples, and this one talks about more discussions about motorway removals in Syracuse, Buffalo, Seattle, Louisville, Cleveland, New Orleans and Dallas.

That’s right. Dallas is ahead of us. We’re still building these 1960s barbarities, but Dallas, the world’s fossil fuel capital, is already talking about taking them out. Can you hear the music in your head?

The New Orleans example is also interesting. To quote the Architect’s Paper:

Decades before the hurricane, the construction of I-10 in the 1950s precipitated Treme’s decline from one of the city’s wealthiest African-American neighborhoods to an area with high poverty and vacancy rates.

And in Glasgow, both the M74 and the M8 have certainly damaged communities like Anderston Cross (h/t @geopoetic for that pic). Sooner or later, given the future shape of oil supply if nothing else, these job-killing, time-wasting and polluting roads will have to be taken down and the city rebuilt in the gaps that remain. We should treat that as an opportunity, and, depressing as it is that Ministers have wasted hundreds of millions of pounds on them, I look forward to the day that the ribbon is cut and the JCBs go in to undo all their hard work.