Category Archives: Public Transport

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

UK or Bust: Leaving the United States

 

Day 6: Well the Conductors have been circulating immigration forms as our train that left NY’s Penn Station this morning is about to cross the border into Canada. The scenery from the train has been beautiful. We traveled along the Hudson River (above) for about a hundred miles, and it’s amazing how quickly you get into the countryside after leaving Manhattan. We passed through towns whose names are familiar from my history books, like Yonkers, Poughkeepsie, Schenectady, Saratoga Springs, and Ticonderoga. The rails ran right by Lake Champlain with a view to Vermont on the other side. Some sort of insect is cocooning like crazy in the trees- not quite sure what it is.

 

After arriving in NYC on Sunday with relatively little sleep, I quickly caught up my sleep deficit and had a great day yesterday hanging out with my friend Dan and later wandering around Manhattan listening to my ipod and eating lunch in Bryant Park (top right), where they were showing Rocky to an enthusiastic crowd of hundreds of people.

 

I’ve been thinking more about my decision not to fly to the UK. My friend Sam says that “I am not saving any dinosaurs by not flying.” The first thing out of my dad’s mouth when I got to New York was “are you regretting your decision yet?” My cousin Jessica from London who is living in Australia at the moment, thinks I’m crazy. It’s like everyone is waiting to pounce to say “Aha! I told you so- look what a pain in the ass you’ve created for yourself! Don’t you wish you had just flown??”

 

But right now, sitting in a comfortable seat, having just enjoyed a cup of coffee in the diner car with two Colombian brothers, an engineer and a guy who works for the UN in New York, gazing out the window on a beautiful rural scene, listening to Stars (who are incidentally from Montreal) and typing in my blog, I have no regrets. I have seen the US from a different perspective, met new friends, and enjoyed the time I have to write, read, and stare out the window. Admittedly I am lucky to have the time to do this, between working for non-profits and going to grad school — I realize not everyone has that luxury.

 

However, remember that it wasn’t too long ago that all long distance travel simply took a long time, and people just didn’t do it that often. It was special, and cultures were less homogeneous than they are now. All the indications are that we are returning to such a time soon, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Often we ignore great places, simply because they are in our backyard (the grass is always greener etc……). We need to reconnect with our local communities for food, shelter, community, and energy. Technology will enable us to learn about other cultures and places without everyone physically having to visit. With 6 billion people and growing, that is a dream that the Earth cannot continue to support in reality.

 

There is a wonderful immediacy to train travel that is hard to match. You can watch people in their own backyards as you pass by. As you stop at stations in towns along the way, you find out more about those places from people who actually live there when they board the train. In the best cases, a diverse, traveling community is created, and everyone leaves the experience all the richer.

 

On an airplane you travel from one generic airport located in ugly suburban sprawl to another airport located in even uglier suburban sprawl. Both surrounded by freeways, parking lots, car rental agencies, and fast food restaurants. The only exchange with the places in between are a fleeting glimpse from 30,000 feet, a roar in the sky heard from below, maybe a piece of frozen blue urine falling in someone’s yard, and the ugly legacy of an abruptly warming planet.

 

No guys- I have no regrets for bypassing a transportation infrastructure that has no future. It’s been a tremendous adventure so far and right now I’m looking forward to experiencing Montreal, and improving my français!

 

Au Revoir Etats-Unis, et mes amis! Je vous aime!

UK or Bust: Corn Fields, Coal Trains, and Coltrane

 

Day 3: Nebraska-Illinois

 

I woke up this morning rolling through the Nebraska Cornfields at daybreak- a cloudy sky spitting rain. Pulled into Omaha at about 5am, and a conductor woke up those of us sleeping stretched out on the floor of the lounge car. Gargantuan Union Pacific Coal Trains crawled by lugging ridiculously huge loads to power plants throughout the West. Not only is all this carbon ending up in the atmosphere, but UP dispatch routinely routes the sluggish coal trains ahead of Amtrak passenger trains, creating habitual delays for the railroad. Guess who’s on the board of UP? Our favorite VP Dick Cheney, who was also trying to kill off Amtrak’s funding. Hmmm…. I wonder what Halliburton and Chevron have to gain from killing passenger rail service in the US….

 

Since the California Zephyr, now sold out with people who boarded at Denver last night, has been on BNSF track east of Denver, the delays have been minimum and we’ve been cruising at about 70-80mph, now at 4:47pm Central time, west of Chicago. We’ll be about four hours late into Chicago, directly because of UP Coal Trains going 15 mph in front of us through Utah and Colorado. As a result, Amtrak could (and often does) lose thousands of dollars putting people in hotels who missed their connections. Also, delays tend to have a ripple effect through the network, magnifying the effects. And then the enemies of Amtrak in the administration and congress blame Amtrak for not being “financially self-sufficient.” Makes me want to take the lane with my bicycle going 5mph in front of Dicky’s Navigator, W’s Suburban and Ahnold’s Hummers (all nine of them).

 

It now appears that I will probably make the connection to the NYC train- the Lakeshore Limited, though they are really having to hustle to make it on time. We are again following a freight train as of 6:10pm so it’ll be close. We’ll see. Wouldn’t complain about being put up in a hotel tonight though.

 

Great guys from Chicago and Virginia I met, Maurice and Shelton, taught me the Dock of the Bay chords, and the blues scale on my guitar. Such a basic ingredient of good rock and blues. Will come in handy during the long Atlantic Crossing. I can rock out with the crew.

 

Peace out from the outskirts of Chicago Illinois y’all! Will write tomorrow from New Yawk, with any luck and without interference from the oil addicted neocon hawks.

 

ACTION: Write to your congressional representatives, and ask that Amtrak be adequately funded and given priority on the nation’s railroads!

 

7:53 pm I am sitting on the Lakeshore Limited after a direct connection!!! It is completely sold out, and Chicago Union Station was a madhouse. Nevertheless, I am on my way to New York City….

UK or Bust: SF to London- No Cars or Planes??

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Day 1: San Francisco- Reno, Nevada

So today I leave San Francisco for a year to go to grad school in Bristol, England. I am challenging myself to get all the way to London without getting in a car or on a plane. I left my apartment in San Francisco by foot, boarded a historic F-line streetcar down Market St, then I met my friends Rich and Cheryl who are traveling on the same train to Colorado. Together we rode the Amtrak bus to Emeryville, crossing the Bay Bridge, observing the new East Span Bike Path being constructed as I bid farewell to SF for a year. Goodbye everyone!! Sad to say goodbye, but exciting adventures are ahead.

 

Right now I am sitting on the Amtrak California Zephyr, about to depart the Emeryville station having just left San Francisco, on my way to the UK. At the Amtrak SF Ferry Building station, I checked in at the counter, and overheard that today’s Coast Starlight train that runs between Seattle and Los Angeles was 7 hours late. The Coast Star”late” has been experiencing chronic delays, due to precedence given to freight trains on the tracks owned by Union Pacific. Of course the root cause is that the Bush Administration has been trying to kill Amtrak so that Americans have to support Halliburton and Chevron by driving their cars more, but corrupt politicians haven’t managed to overcome popular support for the beleaguered rail system. The woman at the Amtrak counter and I agreed that the delays on the Coast Starlight and the general neglect of the nation’s passenger rail system is a disgrace for a supposedly civilized country.

 

4:30 pm Reno, Nevada

 

We are stopped at the Reno, Nevada train station, which is basically a concrete canyon surrounded by casinos. Unfortunately no wireless access here, so you’ll probably have to wait until Chicago to read this… The Sierras were beautiful, with wildflowers and a great view of Donner Lake. As we made our way up the mountain range at a leisurely 15mph, about bicycle speed, Rich, Cheryl, and I enjoyed frosty brews in the observation car with large panoramas across the mountains, and an historian from the California State Historic Rail Museum was giving a running commentary, letting us all know about the Chinese immigrants who built the rail line and the hydraulic mining that destroyed much of the natural landscape in the Sierra Foothills. The train is pretty full- many families- and it’s good to see that there is still a healthy interest in rail in these United States. We watched road cyclists cruising on the highways around Reno as we approached through its suburbs. Saw evidence of forest fires, which scientists say have increased massively over the past decade or so as a result of global warming. Many SUV’s and RV’s on I-80, and the pulse of the interstate highway organism continues spewing waste into our atmosphere… meanwhile I am speculating with another passenger (Maurice) about why our departure from Reno has been delayed and we’re still here in this concrete canyon…

 

4:56pm They just announced that we are waiting for a bus load of people coming to meet the train from the Coast Starlight which is predictably late– they’re probably stuck in traffic!

 

Train travel is such a pleasure. There’s room to walk around, socialize, get a bite to eat, and go about life while on the train. And because railroads share rights-of-way with rivers, roads, and trails, there is an interaction with other travelers, as we waved to people rafting on this hot summers day, or riding their bikes on the American River Trail through Sacramento.

 

Driving on the interstate you get this selfish feeling and the driving motivation is to get ahead of everyone else without getting killed yourself. Think about it. There are seldom friendly interactions between cars. When the threat of death and murder lurk over an incidental contact with a stranger, as they do constantly when driving, things can go south quick. The interstate highway system breeds enemies and alienation. Rail and bicycle networks give birth to friends, lovers, and ultimately community.

 

(Speaking of the symbiotic (fertile) nature of trains and bikes, human beings are really extremely lucky that the two least carbon intensive forms of transport, bikes and trains, are also the most enjoyable. One more reason why carbon cuts won’t be as painful as some people say… more on that later)

 

I love trains. On an airplane or a bus, you are crammed in there, and it’s basically about having to put up with it. Cramped quarters, air and traffic turbulence, strange noises coming from the engine…. riding the rails is elegant, peaceful, and lends itself to thinking…… maybe that’s one reason why the Bush administration is so opposed to it- can’t have the populace thinking for themselves….