Category Archives: Public Transport

Passengers Aboard the Jewel

The Garden Cafe, colloquially known as the "Feeding Trough"

The Garden Cafe, colloquially known as the "Feeding Trough"

I’ve met some interesting people on board over the past few days, several of whom are using the cruise ship as ‘alternative transport’ across the Atlantic.  Of course they are vastly outnumbered by Americans who flew to Heathrow specifically for a cruise experience, but still it’s interesting to hear their stories.  I’ve asked the cruise director, a rather cheesy Canadian named Darin, if I can host a discussion on the 29th of people who don’t fly for various reasons which he has termed, rather uncontroversially, “Fear of Flying.”

Here are some of the people I’ve met over the course of the last ten days at sea:

Jo Jo from Nashville I met during lunch in the buffet.  She was frustrated that she can’t walk to the shops where she lives- she says she waits until she’s really hungry to get into her car and suffer through the terrible Nashville gridlock just to get to the supermarket.  She mentioned that there was a nice cycle path by the river in Nashville, but it didn’t go anywhere near where she lives.   She was scared to cycle in her neighbourhood because of a few speeding drivers.  She wants to live somewhere with a higher quality of life, where she can walk to the shops but says it’s too expensive to move to a place like Portland.  She wishes politicians in Nashville would do something about the traffic and lack of transportation options.

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Grant expressing his feelings about the NCL Jewel

Grant from Vancouver who was afraid of flying after a nasty experience in an airplane flying through a typhoon over Taiwan.  He’s accompanied by his Swiss girlfriend Sophie, a goldsmith who lives with him in Vancouver.  A couple of years back he took a cargo ship from Sydney to Los Angeles, which he said was ‘painfully boring.’  He left the cruise ship early in Halifax because he ‘just couldn’t take it any more.’

Leah and I with Klaus and Eve, rare 'kindred spirits' on the Cruise

Leah and I with Klaus and Eve, rare 'kindred spirits' on the Cruise

Klaus, a German living in London with his English wife Eve. He is a refugee from the City, London’s financial district, and disgusted at the excesses that led to last year’s crash.  He was appalled with his friends for suggesting that Ian Tomlinson ‘deserved what he got’ when he was killed at the hands of the Metropolitan Police on April 1st during the G20 protests.   They live in Greenwich, visited the Climate Camp on Black Heath in August, and were really inspired by what they saw.  They were on our bike tour in Reykjavik and we’ve been hanging out with them since then.   They even came to my Driven to Excess presentation in Halifax.

Hannah (also from Nashville) is staying in one of the Jewel’s massive suites with her parents, country music stars. Apparently they go cruising several times a year, and they’ve adapted well to life on a cruise ship, not bad when you have your own private hot tub in your stateroom.

Elizabeth, an art student who’s been studying in Edinburgh, returning home to Massachusetts, who chose to take the Jewel so that she could carry her large number of canvasses that would have been costly to bring aboard an aircraft.

Wishing safe and pleasant travels to all those we met on board the Jewel!

We’ve been taken for a ride…

Happy 2009 everyone.   In light of Bristol’s apparent failure (yet again) to provide a light rail/ tram system for the city, I thought it would be good to take a look at the historical perspective.  The film above, Taken for a Ride, is one of the most important independent films ever produced about the proven conspiracy by corporate interests to destroy public transport infrastructure.  Take an hour and watch it- it demonstrates that our current car dependence didn’t come about because people wanted motorcars- the alternatives were systematically bought up and dismantled so people were forced to drive.  What’s good for General Motors was most definitely not good for America (or the rest of the world…)

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Bristol’s trams were a vital part of the city’s transport infrastructure until 1941…in the 1990′s there was hope of a new tram, but mismanagement and a dispute between South Gloucestershire and Bristol dashed those hopes.   This website outlines the history of the tram to north Bristol that was killed in 2004.

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Here they are lined up in the city centre- how is it possible that with all the wealth in Bristol, our political leaders tell us we “can’t afford” a tram in 2009?  Is this progress? Something doesn’t add up here…

While smaller cities than Bristol (pop. 411,000)  such as Newcastle-upon-Tyne (pop. 260,000) and Nottingham (pop. 289,000) boast extensive urban rail systems, Bristol is left floundering with overpriced diesel buses and dangerous, polluted streets.  In Germany and other places on the continent, often cities with only 50,000 population have tram systems.  Why are we so backward in the UK?

Could it be the same reason why the trams were destroyed in the first place- to eliminate competition and boost the corporate profits of the oil and auto interests?  Instead of Standard Oil, General Motors, and National City Lines, today in the UK we have BP, Vauxhall, and First.

The names have changed but the formula hasn’t.   This corporate greed and government complicity has led us to where we are today- incessant gridlock, harmful chemicals in our air, deaths on our roads, and skyrocketing obesity.

The question is, when do we stop this mad hatter’s tea party ride and get our transport systems back where they should be– serving the public rather than corporate profits and the worst selfish instincts in ourselves?

“Modally Agnostic”

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Yesterday I attended the unfortunately named “Driving Change” seminar at London’s City Hall, a “half day seminar exploring solutions to traffic congestion in London.” Jacqui Wilkinson, head of sustainable travel initiatives at the Department for Transport, spoke about all the trial cycling and walking initiatives they are pursuing (important programs to be sure, but which put together amount to only about the cost of one mile of motorway construction). In other words, crumbs off the table of the petrol fueled banquet.

She then said something that was extraordinary, considering the UK government’s urgent statements about climate change. Considering the fact that cars and planes are the fastest growing sources of carbon dioxide in the UK. Considering the potential for public transport, cycling and walking to reduce this atmospheric dumping.

She said that when it comes to transport, the UK government is “modally agnostic” — meaning that they treat all travel modes equally. Wouldn’t do to express a preference in favour of non-motorized modes and public transport. You might offend drivers and frequent flyers, god forbid. No matter if the capital is threatened with inundation from rising sea levels in part due to our incessant and increasing flying and driving.  Modal agnosticism in the face of climate chaos, it seems to me, is giving up the battle before we’ve even started fighting.

I was beginning to despair for the future of the country and its capital on the Thames, when a man named Christian Wolmar gave an upbeat speech in which he decried making lists of transport improvements and instead called for an overall vision in transport planning, and tore to pieces the government’s “modal agnosticism.” Thank god for people like him.

I tried to ask a question after the session, but they didn’t call on me, so I went up to Jacqui afterwards at the reception, and asked her about the wisdom of “modal agnosticism”: “When the scientific evidence for human induced climate change is now cemented, how can we continue to pretend that the rapid growth in driving and flying are acceptable? The government is certainly not agnostic on the issue of cigarette smoking and lung cancer.” She replied, “well changes in attitude take time– it took 40 years for action to be taken on smoking.” I replied, “yes but we don’t have 40 years to deal with this issue….” I was met with uncomfortable looks all around. This is the achilles heal of their transport policy, the elephant in the room.

This government is clearly unable to show any kind of real leadership on this issue, instead content to offer crumbs, platitudes, and excuses for real action. By hiding behind a veil of “modal agnosticism” while pretending to be leaders on the issue of climate change, they are guilty of a dangerous kind of doublespeak- paying lip service to the greener modes and action on climate change while mollycoddling widespread denial about the true nature of global warming, and allowing our fossil fueled habits to continue unchecked.

We need leadership and we need a new vision for transport, one that represents a radical departure from the old stale 20th century petrol dependent status quo. If that means the government getting a little religion around the issue of the climate, and promoting car and plane-free lifestyles, then hallelujah- bring it on! I wouldn’t hold your breath though. The likes of British Airways and Shell will ensure that the corporate profits keep rolling in as long as possible come hell or high water….

Paving Paradise: The Threat to the Bristol-Bath Path May Actually Be a Blessing in Disguise

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When the local politicians, unelected members of the West of England Partnership, and their hired consultant hacks made the decision to pave over Bristol’s premier greenway and allow Bristol’s notorious fume belching buses to dominate the City’s best sustainable transport facility, they clearly underestimated the strength and breadth of the massive response against their stupid, short-sighted plan.

Over 3500 people have signed a petition against the plan in the first week after it was revealed publicly in the Evening Post. Over 3000 have also joined a Facebook group to protect the path. Sustrans, based in Bristol, has spoken out strongly against buses on the path. A major strategy and planning meeting (some are referring to it as a ‘war’ council) to organize to defeat the plan is scheduled for Feb. 5 at Easton Community Centre Kilburn Street off Easton Road at 7.30.

For those who’ve never had the privilege of experiencing the Bristol to Bath Pathway (among them most certainly the politicians who hatched this breathtakingly bad plan), it is the gem of the UK’s National Cycle Network, a level 15 mile transport route and linear park connecting the these two cities in the Southwest, and numerous neighbourhoods and parklands in between. It provides one of the only safe, quiet, and non-polluted places to walk or ride in the whole area, especially for residents of the neighbourhoods lining the path like Easton, which have very little open space as it is. Introducing buses to this green sanctuary is near sacrilege to the urban dwellers who depend on this unique respite from the daily transport meltdown in the rest of the city.

The corridor is home to wildlife, trees and plants, kids gaining confidence on their bikes, joggers, skaters, and cycle commuters taking advantage of the level, smooth surface on the way to work and school. All together, the path, which was the first built by Sustrans in the early eighties, and kicked off a massive rails-to-trails recycling effort in Britain, is used by over 2.4 million people every year, more than any other pathway in the UK.

But to the local councillors who hatched this plan, the corridor is an abandoned, unused strip of land ripe for development- in their view if there aren’t motors running, and petrol being burnt- it’s not a proper transport route. What a sad, cloistered 20th century point of view. Most disappointing is the backing of Mark Bradshaw, a Bristol councillor who prides himself on being a progressive voice for sustainable transport in the City. He has been cautiously qualifying his support for the plan in the last week, clearly realizing this could be a poison pill for his re-election hopes. Cllr. Bradshaw should have done his homework, and realized that his plan to destroy Bristol’s greatest carbon neutral transport facility and best loved linear open space would end up alienating large segments of the population.

It’s important to realize that this plan is born out of desperation amongst local politicians to do something to alleviate the horrendous gridlock on Bristol’s roads- without being seen to take space away from motorists. Transport is rarely a zero sum game, however, and converting traffic lanes to dedicated bus lanes would very likely lead to a reduction in congestion if adequate service was provided. Destroying a peaceful, safe, and unpolluted corridor for nonmotorised traffic will benefit no one- especially car drivers who have to share the road with all those cyclists turned away from bicycle commuting by degradation of their main transport facility.

The plan will hopefully meet a swift demise, but in the process the politicians may have actually done cycling a great favour by promoting the existence of the pathway, which many Bristolians remain unaware of, and more importantly breathing life into the Bristol Cycling Campaign– galvanizing Bristol cyclists and green activists into political action in a way that hasn’t been seen since the 1970’s birth of CYCLEBAG, the predecessor to Sustrans. Nothing is certain however, and it’s key for all those who care about the path to have their voices heard.

The bottom line is that the pathway was originally developed as a rail corridor—enormous labour and expense went in to ensuring that it was built to a flat grade- an essential ingredient for railways and for bicycle transport- not for buses, which can climb hills. The corridor should be kept for the use of non-motorised transport, and if there is still a public transport need once the roadways have dedicated bus lanes- for clean quiet electric rail that provides cycle access.

If the powers that be insist on going ahead with their plan to destroy the one thing that makes life in Bristol bearable, despite an unprecedented public outcry, I am confident that I’ll not be the only one to lie down in front of the bulldozers.

Surfboard Direct Action Against Hawaii SuperFerry Raises Questions About Transport Choice

The recent arrival of an 850 passenger and 280+ car ferry to Kauai was not embraced as an alternative to “island hopping” flights between the islands, but actually halted and turned away at the mouth of the Lihue harbour by dozens of adults and kids on surfboards and kayaks,. and their supporters on shore in a kind of populist marine direct action.

I read this and thought, ‘what if I was in Hawaii and needed to get to another island?’  I don’t fly- without a ferry I’d have to hitch on a sailboat or something.

But this particular ferry begins to look like serious overkill the more you look at it. Too big and too fast for the Hawaiian islands, especially Kauai, the western garden isle which has an especially laid back vibe and fragile ecosystem. I doubt the superferry is any more efficient (per passenger) than a plane– it’s probably very much worse. Plus it kills whales.

Nevertheless, from reading about this, I’m left with a nagging question of why there isn’t a slower, simpler public ferry- perhaps run on solar, or wind energy, carrying bicycles and getting people off those damn island hoppers, what are essentially wasteful short haul flights.

Why the environmental groups aren’t matching their protests to halt the superferry with calls for viable, low impact water transport and an alternative to inter-island flights. Maybe by outrigger canoe?

Kauai’s brave residents aren’t yet blockading the airport in Lihue, but the damage caused increasingly by high altitude carbon emissions will soon ensure that whales (and all of us) will find ourselves inhabiting an uncertain future- even a terrifying unpredictable world rather than the mostly stable paradise we take for granted today.

Oh well let’s worry about it later. For now….pass the pina coladas and the tanning butter! OK… In all fairness, there is in fact a tide of discontent rising in Hawaii as it is in Bristol and North America and anywhere else people are paying attention to the fact that we have to move on this issue.

Like, um… yesterday people.

Bristol to Tokyo Plane Free!

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Yesterday, Louise Rouse, environmental illustrator (and my girlfriend for the last 4 months), embarked from Bristol Temple Meads Train Station on a journey by train and boat that will take her across nine time zones and ten countries over the next three and a half weeks (you can do it in two if you go direct). When she arrives in Tokyo, she plans to study Japanese language and illustration for the next two years. I am so sad to see her go, but share her excitement about her new life in Japan, and her adventure getting there. It’s also a great excuse to do this journey myself and go visit her! Lou was partly inspired by my plane free trip a year ago from San Francisco to Bristol, and like me, has decided to give up flying because of the growing damage that aviation is inflicting on our climate.

As I write this on Sunday morning, Louise has just arrived in Berlin on an overnight train from Brussels, and will take another train this evening to St Petersburg, Russia. Then, a train to Moscow. From there, she rides the Trans-Siberian railway to Ulan Bataar, Mongolia. Then its on to Beijing, Shanghai, and a ferry to Yokohama.

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You can follow her travels during September on her very erudite blog and also be sure to check out her wonderful and humorous environmentally themed illustrations at LouiseRouse.com. To book your own rail and sea voyage anywhere in the world, instead of flying, see seat61.com. Bon Voyage my dear!

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Car Choked Bristol

 

There are always two sides to every story, and Bristol has many tragic transport tales to tell. On the first day of my Transport Planning masters course at UWE, I needed to take the bus, as my bike had a broken chain. I waited over 45 minutes at the bus stop, with about a dozen other frustrated students. Then we sat in gridlock for another 45 minutes- a whole hour and a half to get from my St. Andrews home to Frenchay Campus, a distance of only 2 miles which takes about ten minutes on a bike. On top of that, it costs £2 (about $3.75) for a single ticket. Needless to say, I got my trusty “push bike” fixed the next day, and have sustained a bus “bikecott” ever since.

 

The deregulation of the bus industry (in the UK outside of London) has apparently resulted in more expensive and less reliable service. No doubt this state of affairs has led many to the driver’s seat, exacerbating an already bad situation.

 

It is a sad tale of congestion, frustration and woe every rush hour in “Brizzle,” with Chelsea Tractors (SUV’s) and a queue of single occupant vehicles crammed into narrow lanes and oversubscribed ring roads. There is an epidemic of pavement (sidewalk) parking in Bristol, forcing mothers with strollers and everyone else into the path of speeding cars, and choking neighborhood walkways.

 

Added to a proposed south ring road in Bristol, ambitious and destructive plans to expand Bristol International Airport, artificially low parking fees (and ample parking lots) at UWE, the rejection of light rail up the Gloucester Road, a real lack of cycle parking in front of stores, and the highest car ownership rates in the UK, and suddenly the green sheen of Bristol starts to lose its luster.

 

Quite a hefty burden for a transport planner to deal with really. One of my fellow Transport Planning students, Nick, when presented with a series of transport prediction models the other day, asked why these were necessary when we know what we have to do, and that is get cars off the road. “It’s a bloody emergency, how can we sit around fiddling with models when the planet is burning?”

 

We don’t have to be led like lambs to slaughter. We can restore true transport choice, create livable, safe, beautiful communities, and escape the vicious cycle of fossil fuel dependency, all while improving quality of life.

We just need to come together and agree that is what we want– then build the cycle paths, the rapid accessible transit networks, homezones, and wind turbines that will make living carbon neutral lives so much more possible.

Do we really need that new plasma TV or that cheap cardigan made in China? That cheap flight to the continent? That new BMW X5 with onboard navigation? We need it like we need flooded cities, 500 million refugees, and an atmosphere gone haywire, a home in space we can no longer depend on.

To put it bluntly, If the wealthiest people and nations wish to carbonize the atmospheric commons more than the rest of us, they should have to purchase carbon credits from those of us who pollute less. As energy cuts become ever more urgent, a carbon rationing market will have to emerge, bringing the true costs of energy to bear, and perhaps bringing social equity to a world desperately in need of it.

 

Thank god the following organizations are riding a wave of popularity at the moment and promise to bring transport sanity back to Bristol- please give them your full support:

 

The growing campaign to Stop Bristol Airport Expansion –The airport wants to TRIPLE flights by 2030- scientists say we need carbon CUTS of 70% by that year- there is a disconnect here people….

 

An Alliance Against the South Bristol Ring Road is fighting a new road through open space and greenbelt in the South of Bristol

 

Bristol Cycling Campaign reminds local politicians we need more resources and attention to those on two wheels

 

And a colorful group setting the record straight about Bristol’s TRUE history:

Bristol Radical History Week

 

An eerie similarity between addiction to nicotine and gasoline (DON”T MISS!)

Why can’t we give up fossil fuels? Ask a smoker!

George Monbiot, populist climate change leader holding their feet to the fire on climate change: Turn Up the Heat- George Monbiot