It looks like East Kilbride's local councillors are making a move to tackle the terrible state of footpaths in the town, and in the midst of encroaching council funding cuts it's all the more important to make it easier now to get people out walking.
I haven't been able to view the minutes of the EK Area Committee meeting yet, but I'm working off of the Daily Record's brief coverage here. The major crux of the problem seems to be the council, as always, giving vastly more resources to roads than to our crumbling footpaths. The SNP's Collette Stevenson, Labour's Gerry Convery and Independent Jim Wardhaugh all raised this at the most recent meeting of the East Kilbride Area Committee. Roads and Transportation Services manager Martin Muir has confirmed that by 2019 the council aims to have remedied 1823km of roadways, but only 225km of footpaths.
Whilst I recognise that our roads are in no great condition either, a great deal of the problem there arises from increased wear and tear caused by ever-increasing traffic, and as I've mentioned recently in other posts, the only way we're ever going to tackle traffic in the town is by modal change, and active transport is an important part of that.
First of all, the Council have definitely made some good improvements lately. I noted, for example, on Twitter before Christmas that out of twelve lights in the underpasses through the Murray Roundabout, only a single one was actually working. These all seem to have been repaired or replaced now, and thankfully this major pedestrian entrance to the Town Centre is now properly illuminated at night. There are definitely still huge areas in desperate need of improvement, however.
East Kilbride, as part of its New Town design, has a large number of footpaths and "greenways" segregated from the road network, that were designed to facilitate people to walk around in relative safety and comfort by keeping them away from traffic, however a lot of these seem to have become severely neglected, I suppose perhaps because their distance from roads means they're never in sight of our council's road-focused agenda? For instance, I was walking along one such path in West Mains just the other day - the one that follows the Kittoch Water from Strathfillan Road, under the railway line, and into Tantallon Park - and nearly tripped over a gap in paving stones, which have moved significantly apart in what must clearly be years since any kind of maintenance work upon them. There was also significant flooding along parts of the same path, where drains have become blocked up with autumn leaves, and never cleared out.
I hate to rely upon anecdotal evidence, but I think this is fairly typical of a lot of pathways within the town now. I used to regularly cycle along this path as a child when travelling from my Gran's in East Mains back to home, at that point in Mossneuk, and never had any problems back then. There is no way you would want to cycle along the same path now, you'd likely get trapped and thrown off in a gap between paving slabs, or end up soaked passing through flooding.
But, naturally, the council faces budget cuts, and in particular a major roads repair programme is drawing to a close, so that department faces a significant loss of resources. So why should the Council be focusing on footpaths?
Well, first of all, footpaths are generally more resilient than roadways, and need repaired less often. Of course, this is also much the same argument that is used to deny a budget to improve the footpaths, which has been used so long as to lead to the terrible condition we see today. But if our footpaths were set right with a cash injection now, we would be creating improvements that would last a lot longer than the same money put into roads would last.
And, naturally, safer footpaths are going to attract more use. The major off-traffic paths through the town, like the Headhouse Greenway that connects the Plaza entrance at Telford Road through to Livingstone Drive, are a major asset to the town, perhaps one of the most far-sighted contributions made by the New Town planners. They provide the potential to get people safely and easily from local neighbourhoods into the town centre by foot or bicycle, potentially leading to a considerable reduction in traffic. It's just rather sad how little used they seem to be nowadays. Indeed, it's quite often the case that I walk the full length of the Headhouse Greenway without passing a single person walking in the other direction, and yet this is potentially a corridor connecting hundreds of households in The Murray and Westwood to the town centre.
Not only would we reduce traffic, but encouraging active travel throws in all other kinds of benefits too. Naturally, getting people walking and cycling outdoors is a good boost to their health - not only physically, but mentally as well. Our modern sedentary, indoor lifestyles are a major contribution to high rates of obesity and depression. People could save themselves a lot of money as well, compared to paying fuel costs or bus fares.
In an ideal world, the Council would take active travel far more seriously, and be encouraging people out of cars and onto bikes or their own feet. It would be nice to see a solid strategy set out for this, and budgets set aside for things like promotional material and on-street signage for footpaths and cycle paths. I definitely recall the Council having done such things in the past, particularly a push on the town's three designated cycle routes that were established, I think, some time in the late 90s or early 00s.
My concern is that with budgets falling, we have to make a case for fixing footpaths now while there is potentially money to do so, because it's less clear where such money might come from in the future.
There seems to be ample money to get roads fixed, so why can the Council not make it a priority to fix up footpaths just this once?
Like I say, there is potential for the Council to save money in the long run if they encourage people out of their cars, reducing traffic and thus wear and tear on the roads. And there are numerous other benefits to be gained by the people switching as well. East Kilbride was built to include major off-road footpaths to get people around, so why don't we take advantage of this green legacy?