Glasgow and traffic cones: an untold story

As an exchange student who has lived in Scotland for just six months, I’m used to most of the things which before were completely new to me. Something that still surprises me, however, is how little attention people give to the abnormal presence of traffic cones in Glasgow. It seems that people realise there is something relevant about them, but not enough to recognise them as a true symbol of the city.

I’m not just talking about the Duke of Wellington statue, but maybe that is where we should start from. Why is the cone always there? When has it become a fixture? Who started it, and why? I could not find much to answer my questions, but I learned that the practice started in the 1980s. However, the recent story of the cone is much more widely known: you might have heard that back in 2013 the cost faced by the City Council to remove the cone from the Statue amounted at £10,000 per year. Those who have been living in Glasgow for longer probably know this already, but that same year the City Council planned to double the height of the plinth protecting the statue to around six feet to discourage the practice. Needless to say, the people of Glasgow quickly organised a petition, a Facebook campaign and a rally, and it all ended up with the Council retiring the project. Although the cone has now become a regular feature of the statue, the City Council and the Strathclyde Police still dissuade from putting it there. This particularly shocked me that the Council and police force no longer forcibly remove the cone, and in doing so recognising the value it adds to the statue’s fame.

This story is not just about the Duke. Everybody must have seen the multitude of traffic cones on Glasgow’s streets. This is possibly related to the fact that Glasgow is in a fast-growing phase. Cones are not only found near roadworks, but literally everywhere, sometimes in the most unpredictable places: tucked above traffic lights, exhibited in the middle of a living room, even floating in the Clyde; not to mention the ones abandoned in the middle of nowhere without any sign of road work around. Although I am starting to get used to it, it still strikes me every time I see one — and it also surprised a friend of mine who was visiting me, so I know I’m not the only person that finds this strange. People just take them from the streets and bring them somewhere else, and yet, every day on the streets there are more cones, as the stolen ones get replaced and the chain goes on.

I have the feeling that everyone knows there is something with cones in this city, and I personally like the cone as a symbol. I believe the typical features of the city and of the people that “make Glasgow” are reflected in the cone: the humor, the colours, the artistry, the undisclosed beauty, the adaptability, the lightness, the quirkiness, the admonition and yet the friendliness… the sense of something that was created for a purpose but that can reveal more to those who pay close attention. I believe Glasgow is like this. There is such a vast meaning behind a simple cone, it really hits me and never fails to make me emotional. And ultimately, is something that only the people of Glasgow know, and this makes it even more precious. So, call me crazy, but every time I look at my traffic cone keyring, I feel proud to be the carrier of a little emblem, the participant of a beautiful secret.

By Marco De Luca