IT was the morning of Monday, July 10, 1972. For once, in the traditionally busy Buchanan Street, there were no cars to be seen. A nine-month-long experiment had just begun.

But old habits can die hard.

Even with the street having blossomed lately into an avenue of shrubs, trees and benches, even with parking meters having been felled by pneumatic drills, some pedestrians could not ignore their old safety instincts.

Until only a few days earlier, after all, they had had to look left, then right, then left again before crossing the traffic-heavy road.

And now, that eventful Monday morning, it was the same story. Many people clung to their road drill.

“People seem to be a bit unsure of the system,” reported a woman who worked in a city-centre office. “They’re all walking on the pavement instead of on the road”.

Such uncertainty did not last long, however. The experiment quickly found favour. “It will be great,” a Drumchapel teenager said. “On Saturdays you can hardly walk along any pavement in Glasgow city centre.” A Glasgow Corporation streetsweeper quipped that he would no longer have to sweep around parked cars.

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The new rules banned all vehicles between 11am and 4pm, except emergency services and invalid carriages. That first day, saw only a handful of private cars trying to breach them. Traders on the upmarket precinct, meanwhile, had their fingers crossed that the experiment would draw more shoppers into their premises.

HeraldScotland: A busy Christmas scene in Buchanan Street in the years before the street was pedestrianisedA busy Christmas scene in Buchanan Street in the years before the street was pedestrianised (Image: Newsquest)

Speaking a few days earlier, William Rowan, of the long-established Buchanan Street store, Rowan’s, said: “Pedestrianisation had been talked about for years.

“My father wanted to make this part of Buchanan Street an arcade as far back as 1926, and the idea of a traffic-free shopping centre has been talked about ever since.

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“To me,” Mr Rowan added, “it is a terrific challenge, and I think everybody – traders and [Glasgow] Corporation alike – are going to make it work. It has worked on the Continent very successfully and in other parts of the British Isles, and there’s no reason why it can’t work here.”

Glasgow’s civic and business leaders had pondered pedestrianisation for years. Glasgow Corporation had been discussing it with Buchanan Street traders since at least 1966, but it was not until May 1970 that it was agreed that an experiment would begin in the precinct.

HeraldScotland: Buchanan Street, pictured in March 1958Buchanan Street, pictured in March 1958 (Image: Newsquest)

That news prompted a bullish Bailie Duncan Wilkie, convener of Glasgow Corporation’s highways traffic sub-committee, to declare: “Pedestrianisation is the coming thing. All cities will have to do this kind of thing in time. Buchanan Street is Glasgow’s first experiment in this field.”

Retailers on the street were looking forward to a substantial increase in business. “Already,” said one, “Buchanan Street is The Street. Pedestrianisation will merely enhance its popularity.”

Other traders, however – including William Rowan – had before May 1970 been expressing concern about the lack of nearby parking spaces, and said that deliveries to Buchanan Street’s shops and stores would be a “nightmare”. And how, they asked, would customers be expected to pick up large and bulky purchases if they couldn’t park on the street?

Late in 1970 there were several successful experiments with pedestrianisation in Sauchiehall Street. But by then the concerns of Buchanan Street traders had been sufficient to knock the experiment there off its schedule.

The dream of pedestrianizing Buchanan Street was not yet dead, however.

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Revised proposals for Buchanan Street were published in March 1972 after detailed talks between councillors and traders’ representatives had addressed retailers’ concerns. The Corporation insisted that there would be adequate public transport and ample car-parking across the city centre.

Thus it was that the nine-month-long project began that Monday morning in July 1972.

It was greeted enthusiastically by business community.

HeraldScotland: Buchanan Street decked out in its finery for the Coronation of the Queen in 1953Buchanan Street decked out in its finery for the Coronation of the Queen in 1953 (Image: Newsquest)

The Glasgow Herald said that where pedestrianisation had been tried in other parts of the UK, the Continent and the USA, the results had generally been satisfactory. “The shopping public”, the paper went on, “have responded to the idea of being able to shop without the ever-present danger of traffic and the environment of shopping streets has been improved by the removal of noxious fumes, noise, and the unsightly street furniture necessitated by the motor vehicle”.

With thousands of shoppers enjoying the novelty of a carefree stroll in a car-free environment, Buchanan Street traders were quick to praise the idea as a success, even if some wanted to assess their Christmas takings before giving their unequivocal approval.

Some were already envisaging redesigning their shop frontages to give shoppers better views of the stores’ interiors.

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Open-air fashion shows were proposed. Fuller’s Restaurant placed two tables in a small alcove just outside its windows.

By August, councillors were saying that plans to pedestrianise a large part of Sauchiehall Street were at an advanced stage.

In October, Glasgow’s health department recorded a noticeable reduction in pollution in Buchanan Street. A delegation from the Greater London County Council said it would visit the street to study the scheme.

Early December witnessed the pedestrianisation of Sauchiehall Street between Rose Street and West Nile Street – the “Sauchiehall Parade” – though some traffic chaos occurred on the first day, with three pedestrians being knocked down on Bath Street, which had returned to two-way traffic.

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At the official opening of the new Sauchiehall precinct on December 10, Mary Gray, wife of the Lord Provost, William Gray, described it as one of the Corporation’s many schemes to improve the lives of Glaswegians.

Pedestrianisation in Glasgow was now here to stay - at a time when more than one million new vehicles were taking to British streets every year.

HeraldScotland: Shoppers throng Buchanan Street in November 2022Shoppers throng Buchanan Street in November 2022 (Image: Colin Mearns)

Buchanan Street traders wanted more thought to be given to make it a pleasant and happy place in which to shop. A Paisley woman, unprompted, described it as “a haven of tranquillity in a turbulence of traffic”.

The precinct became permanently closed off to traffic, but the elaborate work to transform it was in March 1975 criticised by one councillor, who said he had seen two elderly ladies being pursued down a narrow section of the street by a mechanised digger lumbering behind them. It was, he added, “like something out of Doctor Who”.