I’M not by any stretch an explicitly anti-car environmentalist. As individuals, the impact we have on the climate is almost negligible compared to that of big businesses, and as a method of transportation I do believe cars currently have a place within our transport ecosystem. That being said, I also believe that the reverential manner in which cities have capitulated to the needs of cars, well above and beyond the needs of its citizens, will be seen in time as one of the greatest errors in urban planning of the 20th century – and when it comes to Scottish cities, Glasgow is the greatest offender of them all.

Of course, I’m talking about how the city was broken in two to make way for the M8 motorway; a concrete rift that has split community and travel in the city since its ill-conceived foundations were laid in the 60s.

So here’s a question: what if we got rid of it? In fact, let’s take that one step further. What if we de-prioritised the needs of cars in our cities entirely, and undid the damage caused by a historically zealous support for road and motorway infrastructure?

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Already, I can sense the bristling of some backs, preparing to dismiss this proposal as typical green anti-business lunacy, or something equally dismissive along those lines. But before anyone pops their head round the corner to remind us all that Scotland isn’t Amsterdam, just remember that neither was Amsterdam until the 1990s, when policies that prioritised people and active travel over more space for cars really started to have an impact.

There’s a growing body of research and case studies that actually show removing major freeways and highways from cities does not, in fact, result in the chaotic congestion that intuitively comes to mind.

It makes a degree of common sense that, if a system is constantly spilling into overcapacity as our roads and motorways do on a daily basis, the solution is to create more capacity. Yet for whatever reason, the rules for personal vehicles in cities defy our expectations in this arena.

When new roads are built, or widened, it doesn’t actually make a dent in the daily gridlock. Instead, it gives us more drivers. Congestion acts as a natural deterrent for potential road users, encouraging people to shop more locally or use alternative forms of transport to get where they need to. So when we build more roads and motorways, and remove that deterrent, the space is filled by drivers who otherwise would not have chosen to drive. The problem remains.

This is known as induced demand, where congestion always rises to meet peak capacity, and as a theory it’s been understood since the 60s. Yet for some reason, we keep building bigger, wider roads to fix the problems created by bigger, wider roads.

The real solution to this problem is to give people better, affordable ways to get where they are going, and provide quality local services that are reachable through active travel.

But that’s what happens when you build motorways through cities. What happens when you remove them? Well, if case studies from America are anything to go by, the exact same thing happens in reverse.

In 1989, the Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco was damaged in an earthquake, leading to citizens being given the choice to pay to fix it, or scrap it entirely. When they chose to ditch the freeway, it soon became clear that the various predictions of carmageddon never came to pass – and if Americans can get by with fewer car trips, then we sure can too. Now Glaswegians are facing a similar choice, with repairs to the M8 through the city centre set to cost millions of pounds.

This isn’t exactly the first time the motorway through Glasgow has caused problems. The construction of the M8 has been dogged with controversy from its very beginning. The demolition of the beautiful historic buildings standing in its path was an act of outright cultural vandalism – though thankfully sense was seen before the City Chambers, Kelvingrove Art Gallery, School of Art and Central Station were also torn down as part of the original plan to strangle the city with a whole system of motorways.

When thinking how that area could be used now, I think the lessons of the pandemic come to play. Between various lockdowns and restrictions, we’ve all come through a serious re-evaluation of the need for non-commercial public spaces. When we couldn’t meet in bars, we met and walked in parks. I can’t say I ever saw anyone dashing off to a social event overlooking the motorway for a chance at setting off their asthma.

What would a new park through the city centre look like? One that reunites the areas of the city split by the decisions of urban planners decades ago?

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With the development of the M8, we lost both historic buildings and tight-knit communities alike, in exchange for one of the most highly polluted areas of the city. Are we really prepared to spend millions to fix its crumbling design and better secure that mistake permanently?

Particularly as we approach COP26, it seems backwards that the host city is preparing to invest so heavily in protecting a past mistake that flies in the face of green and forward-looking ideals.

I say we consign the M8 through Glasgow to the past, and use it as a stepping-off point for change across Scotland. As a country with a taste for self-determination, we should prioritise the needs of the people who live and work in our cities over the cars that move through them, and create car-free social spaces to enjoy. After all, no building was ever improved by letting someone park a Fiat Multipla in front of it.