Category Archives: Transport Planning

Eastside Voice Issue One Out on the Streets!

Squarepeg Developers would like to clearcut our hedgerow

Sometimes blogging just isn’t enough- especially when a local development threatens something as precious as the Bristol and Bath Railway Path, so a few of us from the neighbourhood got together and published a one sheet newsletter with important issues affecting east Bristol. You can download the newsletter in pdf from the bottom of the main article on the Bristol Indymedia site here.

The Bristol Cycle Expressway Initiative

Could this abandoned rail bridge by Stapleton Rd. station one day connect communities long divided by the M32?

Could this abandoned rail bridge by Stapleton Rd. station one day connect communities long divided by the M32?

Every day, thousands of Bristolians fail to consider the bicycle for their everyday transport because of fear of traffic and trepidation at the thought of pedalling up Bristol’s hills. Yet there exists a series of level, direct, and traffic-free routes that connect many of Bristol’s neighbourhoods. These are the currently neglected strips of land that run along our urban rail network- that with proper planning and funding that have the potential of being transformed into a 21st century walking and cycling expressway network.

Imagine being able to ride from Whiteladies Rd. in Clifton through Redland, across the famous Gloucester Rd. arches, through Montpelier, St. Werburgh’s, gliding safely across the M32, through Easton and it’s incredible new Eastside Roots Community Garden Centre, and finally arriving at Temple Meads station, without leaving a flat paved pathway, safely separated from the passenger rail line by a fence. Imagine that the Bristol-Bath pathway wasn’t just the solitary jewel that it is now, but a section of a complete traffic-free cycle path network for Bristol. Such a network would enable safe, enjoyable, and direct bicycling and walking journeys to popular destinations such as UWE’s Frenchay campus, Gloucester Rd., and Clifton, without ever having to mix with motor vehicles or Bristol’s notorious diesel buses.

Eastside Roots Celebrates Reclaiming Derelict Railroad Land Last Sunday

Eastside Roots Celebrates Reclamation of Derelict Railroad Land Last Sunday

The concept of bicycles, pedestrians and trains safely sharing the same corridor is well established, with examples as near as the Bitton section of the Bristol-Bath path and the section of pathway through the St. Werburgh’s allotments. Opening up the rail line for non-motorised traffic would not only maximise use of a valuable transport resource already in public ownership, it could also improve accessibility to and boost ridership on our urban rail network, all while relieving stress on our overcrowded roadway network.

If you think that current proposals for Bristol as a cycling city don’t go nearly far enough- that it would be a serious oversight to ignore these valuable rights-of-way while carbon neutral travellers continue to suffer dangerous, polluted, and gridlocked conditions on our roadways (or even worse suffer poor health from inactivity)- if you think that Bristol’s citizens deserve their own dedicated and well-designed pathways through our city, instead of just the crumbs off the table of the fossil fuelled feast- then lend your support to the Bristol Cycle Expressway Network Initiative. Now, with £22 million available to make Bristol a Cycle City we can be proud of, let’s not waste this opportunity with more badly designed cycle projects. The time for a Cycle Expressway Network in Bristol is now!

Though there is no doubt that there are significant engineering issues to overcome, we are asking the council to seriously consider the proposal, undertaking a feasibility study as soon as possible, and identifying a first phase for implementation with Cycle City money, potentially from Stapleton Rd. to Redland stations.

If you are interested in being involved with this campaign, please send an e-mail to Joshua Hart at velorution@yahoo.com

Designing intelligent urban transport systems ain't rocket science.....

The Fool Monty:   Designing intelligent urban transport systems ain’t rocket science…

“Designated Parking Zone (historically this was called a pavement)”

Sometimes a blog comes along that hits the nail on the head, taps into the zeitgeist, and crystallizes what people have been murmuring for years, and which has recently reached epidemic proportions. The sheer volume of cars has not only made most streets in Bristol unlivable, they are now encroaching on the last refuge of the pedestrian- the pavement (sidewalk). The time has come for a backlash!

The brand new darkly hilarious Bristol Cars Blog is a spot on, timely and incisive criticism of the attitudes and behaviour that threaten quality of life in Bristol. Truly the front line against anti-social driving in Bristol. Read it and pass it on.

“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.

It’s Up to Old Blighty

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Two weeks ago, the NASA scientist James Hansen released a statement calling upon the UK and Germany to reject planned coal fired power plants as these countries have a “historic responsibility” to combat climate change. According to his calculations, the UK has the highest per capita contribution to CO2 emissions already in the atmosphere (as you can see in the chart above).

That’s right Britons- especially rich Britons- are you paying attention? We are responsible for more excess carbon molecules in the air than the US or China or India or anyone else on the planet. We started this mess with the Manchester factories of the industrial revolution, and their mechanized mass production based on coal, and some of us have become extraordinarily- almost ridiculously- wealthy in the process. We now have a moral duty to be a world leader in the transition away from fossil fuels- yet we are planning new coal mines like the one in Wales planned to extract 10m tons of coal over the next 17 years, motorway widenings, and a third runway at Heathrow airport. From the capitalist growth economy perspective, there are truly no limits.

If we continue along this path, future generations will not think of the double decker bus, cute red phoneboxes, or the Beatles when they think of the UK- they will think of the worst climate criminals on the face of the planet, too blinded by our own avarice to change our ways- hooking the world on a dirty energy habit, and refusing to cut down ourselves even when serious problems are on the horizon.

This is one possible scenario- and a depressing one surely- but there is another storyline- one of a rapid awakening, a transition to a less consumer oriented culture, renewable energy, local communities and food production, cities where you can breathe again and cycling and walking is prioritized. We can make it happen, but the people have to lead. If the English lead, surely the citizens of other countries will sit up and take notice and want a piece of what we’ve got. And that’s an export we can all live with.

Until further notice, please feel free to ridicule the Bay Area Air “Inequality” Management District

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This memo was sent out in August to employees of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the government agency in charge of improving air quality in the San Francisco Bay Area, and revealed to the public on Jon’s Bikescape blog. Following is my response. Please feel free to write to the human resources officer at the address below, and post your letter in the comments section.

To: mrich@baaqmd.gov

Saturday, December 1st, 2007

Dear Michael Rich, BAAQMD “Human” Resources:

I understand you are the author of a memo (dated August 9th) that has gone out to BAAQMD employees telling them they won’t be allowed to cycle during work hours. By the grace of God, tell me this was a prank. A sick joke perhaps? A late April Fool’s Joke?

Now I’m beginning to fear this memo was actually for real. If this is true, do you realize how ridiculous this makes you look?

There are thousands of kids throughout the Bay Area who are suffering day and night from asthma because of motor vehicle traffic, and you are chastising the very employees who are living the kind of lifestyles that would begin to reduce this shame? Perhaps BAAQMD needs a fleet of Hummers to protect their employees when they go about the very important business of improving air quality in the Bay Area. Why not tanks?

Your memo is currently making the rounds on the internet and you have become a laughing stock. Congratulations. Can you even begin to see the absurdity of your words or are you and your agency simply too wedded to personal automobility at any cost? Perhaps you are suffering from carbon monoxide inhalation, and need a long bike ride down the coast to detox?  Oh but that would violate your policy wouldn’t it?

I know now why you call it the Bay Area Air Quality MANAGEMENT District- you don’t sincerely want to IMPROVE air quality- you just want to MANAGE it. Manage the toxic soup we are all forced to breathe at a level of toxicity where the federal government won’t take away our precious highway funding. Manage it at a level that will allow rich people to continue driving their 4×4’s through poor neighbourhoods and causing cancer, asthma, and premature death without mothers and fathers sisters and brothers picking up sticks and stones and confronting the blindly habitual motorists slowly killing their children and leading us into climate chaos for which we will be judged without mercy by perpetuity.

Perhaps instead of worrying about liability for collisions, you could provide cycle training to reduce the risk. And as you would know if you did any actual research on the topic, cycling is much safer than driving when cyclists ride safely and predictably. But I imagine that in your closed minded little world, cyclists are just in the way of your Lincoln Navigator.

Navigate this:

Your policy is shortsighted, uninformed, and counterproductive to the stated policy and aims of your organization, as well as your moral duty to protect our air quality. You are failing the taxpayers of the Bay Area who pay your salary. You should be fired. Better yet, the social norms that allow a memo like this to go unquestioned in an agency like yours should be systematically dismantled for good.

It is 2007, not 1955. Wake up.

Sincerely,

Joshua Hart
Bay Area resident currently living in Bristol UK

(currently forwarding your memo to all my European friends. Do you hear that sound? It’s their chins dropping in disbelief, because they didn’t believe me when I told them that Americans could be this far in denial about cars and their impact on the environment.)