Archive for category Transport

Give Scottish cyclists a break, place assumption of guilt on drivers

I have to admit that I am one of those annoyingly cocky cyclists. I gamble on gaps between taxis, pay scant attention to red lights and often ‘forget’ to wear safety equipment in order to avoid ‘helmet hair’ at work. I’ve cycled since I was young, I tell myself, getting into accidents is for other people. The process is as much entertainment and fashion as it is a means to getting from A to B. For example, I wouldn’t be seen dead in one of those humptious yellow vests.

The ugly truth of course is that I’m more likely to soon be dead when cycling without one of those vests.

I wonder if the Edinburgh cyclist who died in Edinburgh this week thought similarly to how I do, or the other 15 cyclists who have died on the Capital’s streets since 2000. Not that complacency is the main reason for cyclists getting into accidents, it is cars, but there is precious little being done to make the roads safer for those on two wheels when up against numerous, too many, people on four wheels. The Greens, of course, are leading the arguments and are quite rightly calling for a cycle safety summit.

Perhaps Scotland should take a lead on this issue within the UK by taking a leaf out of The Netherlands’ book by implementing the following:

“Cyclists in the Netherlands are well protected as the law assumes the stronger participant (i.e. the car driver) is guilty until proved innocent (i.e. is the guilty party in all accidents involving weaker traffic unless evidence of the opposite is provided). Furthermore, drivers know to expect a high volume of cyclist traffic. Due to these issues the number of car-bike collisions with serious consequences is not alarmingly high in the Netherlands”

For a Government that is often so keen to get a jump on Westminster in bringing in legislation and making Scotland a noticeably better place to live than down south, I would have thought that this was right up their cycle path.

I don’t know why lycra-clad cyclists are a target for so many drivers, metaphorically and physically. This was recently taken to extremes in Bristol when a bus driver used his vehicle as a weapon to purposefully take a cyclist out on the road (the incredible BBC video is here). That is an extreme example but if cyclists were less of a target and more of a risk to ending up in prison or having to pay a large fine if you hit one of them with your, regardless whose fault you believed it was, we would most likely see less people dying on our streets and more people dusting off their mountain bikes and enjoying the satisfaction and occasional thrill that is cycling through your home town or city.

Cyclists need to do their bit too of course, paying attention to red lights, knowing their Highway Code and having a second look at that garishly yellow high visibility jacket, but the Scottish Government can, and should, take a lead. It once considered taxing cyclists but they should go the other way and protect them by placing an assumption of guilt on the driver in any car-on-bike accident on Scotland’s roads.

After all, if it saves one life…

The additional Forth Bridge is the SNP’s biggest mistake

For some years now I’ve been making the case that the proposed additional Forth Road Bridge would be unaffordable, unsustainable, unnecessary and unpopular. The existing bridge has been undergoing a dehumidification programme, and today the signs are they’ll find that’s working.

As the Scotsman puts it, this would “call into question the need for a new bridge costing as much as £1.6 billion“. Bear in mind that even if the final dehumidification results show serious deterioration, the bridge could still be recabled for a maximum of £122m (I believe that’s at 2008 prices but I could be wrong). Simple prudence.

Every party at Holyrood apart from the Greens lined up to give Fifers what they think Fifers want: yet another shiny new bridge. No-one at Holyrood apart from the Greens was prepared to say let’s wait and see, let’s not sign contracts for a bridge which has been variously estimated by Ministers to cost £1.6bn to £4.2bn until we know if it’s really necessary.

Despite the clear warnings from transport experts, the four-party consensus refused to listen, and now contracts have been signed to squander vast sums just as the public finances are being squeezed by Tory and SNP cuts (as per the Sun’s endorsement of the SNP because they were “tackling the economic crisis head-on by cutting public spending faster than anywhere else in the UK“).

Even now, just as it looks as though we’re about to see confirmation that even recabling won’t be necessary for the existing bridge, the other parties are still not ready to see sense. Some are still gung-ho: certainly the Nats and one would imagine the Tories too. The Lib Dems are wringing their hands – see Gordon Mackenzie quoted in today’s Scotsman – but won’t say no. Malcolm Chisholm admitted on Twitter that “We almost certainly made the wrong decision on new Forth Bridge but it is too late now unfortunately“, adding “Woudl we could  spend the billion plus new Forth Bridge money on new socially rented homes” (sic). Amongst non-Green MSPs and former MSPs, only Lord Foulkes also comes out with any credit, having told the Public Audit Committee last year it would prove a waste of money, although abstaining on the final vote was hardly a courageous stand.

Again, quoting the Scotsman’s editorial, “The cost of the misplaced rush to give priority for the bridge has been substantial.” Yes, true. The cost of cancellation would now be large, but nowhere near as large as the cost of proceeding to build this monument to political short-termism and idiocy. On a guess that cancellation would cost £200m – it should cost nothing but the work done if the contracts had been sensibly written, but that seems implausible – we’d still save upwards of £1.4bn: a massive slice of Scottish capital budgets.

If no sense is seen, it’s simply going to be extra road capacity which, as we know, generates extra traffic. And the years and years of disruption it’ll cause to traffic has already begun as I found out when driving over the existing bridge last week, for the first time in a very long time. Ironically, the congestion costs around repair were always accounted for very generously while the congestion cost of a new bridge was apparently never calculated. Ministers are about to find out that not calculating it isn’t equal to not experiencing it.

In December 2008 my view was that this utterly preposterous vanity project was the most likely way for the SNP to be ejected from office. Now, of course, losing a referendum is top of that list. But this bridge still isn’t far behind, and it’s closing, too. They may even interact with each other. In two years’ time we’ll be mired in a construction phase that’s unlikely to be going smoothly, just as Ministers are asking people to trust their judgement in a referendum. If even one other opposition party found a spine they’d be calling for a public inquiry into what Ministers knew when, and what advice they were given. Tragically, on this issue, Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems are exactly as inept as the SNP. And so Scotland may well be stuck with the most expensive white elephant since the Darien Project.

A Tale of Two Motions of the Week

First up is Patrick Harvie. He’s not very happy with the Dear Green Place’s… uhmm… Greenness.

Motion S4M-01856.1: Patrick Harvie, Glasgow, Scottish Green Party, Date Lodged: 31/01/2012

Glasgow’s Bid to Become First European Green Capital in the UK

As an amendment to motion S4M-01856 in the name of Drew Smith (Glasgow’s Bid to Become First European Green Capital in the UK), leave out from “a boost” to end and insert “a bizarre outcome for a city with persistent and severe problems of air pollution, congestion, low recycling rates, poor quality public transport and degraded public space, and in which local government policies have continually failed to address these problems, and calls on Glasgow City Council to focus on transformation of its own track record on environmental action instead of what is considered wasting its time on attempting to win undeserved recognition for its limited efforts to date.”

Fair enough. Like Edinburgh, Glasgow has pretty appalling air pollution, Union St’s a horror show and he’s calling them on it. A clear, concise and unambiguous motion directly addressing an important issue. A (recycled) Gold star.

That wasn’t the only motion concerning Glasgow this week. Sadly, this second one isn’t as good. Or good. Or in possession of any redeeming feature what so ever.

Motion S4M-01921: Liam McArthur, Orkney Islands, Scottish Liberal Democrats, Date Lodged: 02/02/2012

Hands off Groundskeeper Willie 

That the Parliament notes that it has been confirmed that Groundskeeper Willie of The Simpsons fame hails from Kirkwall, Orkney; understands that the revelation is made in an episode entitled The Daughter Also Rises, to be broadcast in America on 12 February 2012, where Willie confides in Bart that his father was a ‘doonie’ and his mother was an ‘uppie’, in reference to the two teams in the world-famous ‘Ba game’; understands how the tension created by this modern day version of Capulets and Montagues tore his family apart but welcomes the fact that the long-running debate over Willie’s heritage is now at an end, and calls on Glasgow City Council to renounce its claim to Orkney’s Groundskeeper Willie as a son of that fair city.

Sweet mercy. This is what our Parliament has come to? Celebrating the birth place of a fictional character? The funny yellowy party that isn’t as popular as it used to be commenting on a funny yellow skinned character in a show that isn’t as popular as it used to be? Write out “I must not submit pointless motions about fictional characters to Parliament” a hundred times and don’t do it again.

The answer to travel in Scotland – going round in circles

The Glasgow Underground, aka the Clockwork Orange, is the third oldest subway line in the world behind London’s Underground and Budapest’s Metro. It is also fiercely popular in Glasgow, in part due to its sheer simplicity – one train goes clockwise around the numerous stops and the other goes anti-clockwise. Dead easy.

I wonder, and have wondered for a while, if there isn’t a way to take this concept wider, and to a higher altitude.

Let’s start with a little bit of local topgraphy.

Scotland consists of 790+ islands, the vast majority of which are not reachable by foot, car or underground. That leaves flying or ferry, unless one wishes to swim to Stromness.

So what are the options?

Well, one can currently fly from Islay to Glasgow, Colonsay or Oban; from Barra to Benbecula, Kirkwall or Glasgow; from Stornoway to Aberdeen, Inverness, Edinburgh, Glasgow or Benbecula; Sumburgh (Shetland) to Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Fair Isle, Foula, Glasgow, Inverness, Kirkwall, Lerwick, OutSkerries or Papa Stour and Dundee to, well, London, Jersey, Belfast or Birmingham apparently.

The list goes on and on, there are after all 38 airports in Scotland, all sending planes hither and thither across the nation throughout each week in a myriad of directions.

My question is – why do we send planes criss-crossing each other across Scotland when, taking Glasgow’s underground as an example, the most efficient way to service all stops is to go round in a circle? Is there not a way to have two domestic routes for Scotland, one clockwise and one anti-clockwise?

For example, a route could be: Edinburgh – Glasgow – Islay – Tiree – Stornoway – Kirkwall – Sumburgh – Aberdeen – Edinburgh. You could mix up some stops every other round trip, Benbecula instead of Stornoway for example, or Dundee instead of Aberdeen. You could even bring into play Fife airport or build one on Mull to really spread the Scottish pound. Moving the ideas into overdrive, there could be a Government-sponsored cycle scheme at the more rural airports so that tourists can hit the ground pedalling when they touch down, spending their Euros and Dollars more easily in our farthest flung parts. I also can’t imagine anyone minding having to go via Scotland’s beautiful West (or East) Coast to get to where they’re going, particularly if it includes the world’s most popular airport for landing – Barra.

The opportunities are endless but there must be a quicker, more convenient way of mixing rural Scotland with the nation’s cities to aid business and tourism. An improved boarding system that would make flying on these flights more like catching the train would make it more workable too; pre-cleared passengers standing by the runway in a bus shelter at Tingwall waiting to hop on before the Scottish Flyer takes off again. Why not?

The other option is ferry of course. Many of them may now sail on Sundays but it’s not the most modern and convenient way to travel for would-be tourists or business people, as romantic and other worldly as they are for the rest of us. Even the excellent suggestion in The Herald yesterday, to give every Scot a free ferry ride a year, would struggle to get travel off the ground. How many of us have looked at Harris or Jura or Orkney and longed to travel there but balked at the driving distance and logistical nightmare of boarding ferries? It can’t just be me, and this free ticket won’t boost passenger numbers for those flying into Scotland from afar.

Nonetheless, we have two fine options on the table – to use our ferries more, including giving each Scot a free ferry ride each year or to rejig how we fly domestically and bringing our highlands and islands closer to the relatively richer central belt.

Which would you choose?

Tunnel vision on bridge building will leave Scotland shortchanged

What do we want Scotland to be famous for – building roads or building high speed rail links?

One may say that the cost of high speed rail is prohibitively expensive and as a result comparing road-building with 250mph rail travel is a false dichotomy. I would argue the other way.

The cost of HS2 is set at £32bn over decades of investment. Let’s say that the Scottish share of that is £4bn.

Monies (to be and already) spent on roadbuilding over the past and next few years includes:

M74 – £700m
Forth Road Bridge – £2bn+
M80 Stepps to Haggs bypass – £320m
M8/Aberdeen Western Peripheral – Goodness knows

So, the money is there if the will is there. Of course, the SNP’s short term view is to keep Scots happy enough for the next few years to make sure they vote Yes in the referendum and a 30 year plan for HS2 doesn’t fit into that timescale unfortunately. A counter-argument could well be that a Yes to independence will release the oil revenues that can be used to be spent on upgrading our infrastructure. Sounds good to me, particularly in light of the coming paragraph, but it’s prudent to operate in the expectation that Scotland will remain a part of the UK.

When I was in Norway, a country with oil-soaked ground beneath its seas, I was amazed at the number of tunnels that linked the archipelago of islands around Trondheim. Distances of 2km, 3km, 5km had been bored down through the ground and up the other end, seemingly with little fuss. Similarly, bridge after bridge was crossed on the little road trip that I was on. S, I couldn’t help but ask myself, why is there so much fuss involved and money being spent on a single Scottish bridge?

I decided to do a little reasarch.

There are over 900 road tunnels in Norway with a total combined length of 750km.

The longest road tunnels (>7km, with opening year and length) are:
• Lærdalstunnelen, 2000, 24505 m, world’s longest road tunnel
• Gudvangatunnel, 1991, 11428 m
• Folgefonntunnel, 2001, 11150 m
• Korgfjelltunnelen, 2005, 8530 m
• Steigentunnelen, 1991, 8079 m
• Bømlafjordtunnel, 2000, 7888 m, see also below
• Eiksundtunnelen, 2008, 7765 m, see also below
• Svartisentunnelen, 1986, 7615 m
• Høyangertunnelen, 1982, 7543 m
• Vallaviktunnelen, 1985, 7510 m
• Åkrafjordtunnelen, 2000, 7400 m

The new Forth crossing will be only 2.7km in length and the Norwegians have finished 6 tunnels that are much, much longer since 2000.

So, the crucial question, how much did they cost?

I was only able to find figures for three of these tunnels but the results may make you weep for your Scottish pounds:

Laerdal – 1,082 million kronor (£120m)
Bomlafjord – $61 million dollars (£38m)
Eiksund – 846 million kronor (£94m)

This is a country that is prohibitively expensive. I know of people who take their own potatoes with them over the border because they can’t face buying them in the supermarkets there. And they can still build long tunnels for a fraction of the price of our smaller Scottish white elephants bridges.

There are other comparisons that can be made. China, for example, built a 26mile bridge (longer than the English channel) for £1.4bn, albeit with wages at a much lower rate than you’d have to pay in Fife/Edinburgh.

So if the cheapest countries in the world and the most expensive countries in the world can build bridges and tunnels for cheaper than Scotland can, there is only one question that need be asked….


Why do Parliament buildings, trams, bridges, solar panels, insulation, heck, railway fares even, cost more in Scotland than in other places? Why can Norwegians happily hop from island to island by car and bike but we still have an old-fashioned network around our Highlands and islands?

So much in our would-be country needs to be ripped up and started again, both metaphorically and physically. Where better to start than with rail tracks, tunnels and bridge plans. High Speed Rail from Birmingham to London makes little sense but from Edinburgh to London (and beyond) it most certainly does. Independence or no independence, let’s shoot for the moon, and ask the Norwegians how the heck they do it.