Glasgow Low Emission Zone considered in transport strategy

Glasgow city councillors have given final approval to a 10-year city centre transport strategy, which includes traffic management and cycling measures aimed at reducing air pollution, as well as plans for a Low Emission Zone feasibility study.

The strategy has been welcomed by air quality campaigners, although Friends of the Earth Scotland raised concern that, although the council plans to investigate the introduction of a Low Emission Zone (LEZ) in the city, it could be at least another three years until any such LEZ could be in place.

An estimated 306 people in Glasgow die each year due to air pollution

An estimated 306 people in Glasgow die each year due to air pollution

A draft version of the strategy went out for consultation with residents in November 2013, before it was approved by councillors on the executive committee last week (February 5). One of the strategy’s five overarching objectives is to ‘reduce harmful traffic emissions and noise’.

Currently, according to the Strategy, high traffic flows in the city centre is contributing to poor air quality, making major streets such as Hope Street, Renfield Street and Union Street “unattractive to pedestrians”.

As such, the council plans to introduce 20mph traffic speed limits in the city centre, implement principle cycle routes and improve cycling infrastructure – and to introduce a Low Emission Zone “if applicable”.

The Scottish Government is currently seeking views on a draft Scottish Low Emission Strategy (see airqualitynews.com story), and Glasgow intends to wait until this is fully in place before it undertakes a feasibility study, which would help determine the potential emissions limits and area covered by a Zone.

Among other policies outlined in the strategy is the council’s commitment to introduce bus gate measures on the main north/south bus routes through the city centre on Renfield Street and Oswald Street.

The bus gates would ban private vehicles from travelling through these areas during certain times of the day, but could allow general access during the evening. According to the Strategy, this could encourage greater use of public transport and assist in reducing journey times and reliability.

However, it adds that “the trade-off for this may be some initial increase in congestion around the periphery of the city centre before the Barras Development Route, traffic redistribution, and switching to other modes of transport reduces this over time”.

In addition, the council plans to expand its current network of 64 electric vehicle charge points in the city, adding another eight by March 2015 and expanding further in future. Glasgow also claims it is the first authority in Scotland to offer free parking and charging at all of its electric vehicle charging points in order to encourage uptake of the technology.

Friends of the Earth

Commenting on approval of the Strategy, Friends of the Earth Scotland air pollution campaigner, Emilia Hanna, said: “The new City Centre Transport Strategy has some welcome measures which may improve air quality, including plans for 20mph zones, bus gates, and tree-lined avenues.”

However, she said the council’s estimate that introducing 20mph limits and an LEZ could take between three and five years was a “concern for those people suffering from poor air quality today”.

She said: “Air pollution is a current and enduring problem and the council should get on with implementing the solutions as soon as practically possible.”

The Friends of the Earth campaigner felt a Glasgow LEZ could be “sped up” by the planned Scottish LEZ strategy, but she criticised the Scottish Government’s 2015/16 Budget – approved last week (February 4) – for its “failure to invest in clean air measures”.

FoE said the Scottish Government’s Budget should have included £3 million towards its Low Emission Strategy, which could have given it a “kickstart”.

The campaign group said: “The lack of serious spending on tackling air pollution will end up costing us all. Air pollution costs the Scottish economy around £1.6 billion annually in healthcare spending and days lost at work.”