Let’s face it, all this talk of European cities, culture capitals, green capitals and the rest is just so much PR hot air and feel-good marketing soundbites from our councillors. They’re all just props to make it sound like they’re doing something important when they’re actually sat around on bureaucratic committees very slowly implementing dull reports devised by uninspired local government officers that will achieve little.
Whenever it comes down to doing anything original, exciting, radical or counter-intuitive we always end up getting nothing except a few artists impressions released to the Evening Cancer for publicity purposes and then years of inertia and excuses.
Instead our council will invariably either do exactly what Whitehall tells it – regardless of whether it’s likely to work or not – or they will just slavishly copy whatever’s going on in London because that must be the right thing to do.
Transport is a case in point. If you were mad enough to sit through this week’s ‘State of the City’ debate then you would know that transport was the issue right at the top of the agenda for most people. But councillor after councillor simply proposed the same timid solution – “we must set up a quango immediately” – which probably won’t work anyway.
As the city’s congestion reaches crisis point – it’s now the worst in the UK outside London – and the public transport system wallows somewhere in the1950s, the council simply has no idea what to do. Instead we get the stock Bristol City Council response.
This is to set up some committee supposedly doing something about the problem in the long-term while whining about having no money. Simultaneously they will then funnel any available funds they do have towards the usual gang of experts, CONsultants and vested interests whose main area of expertise seems to be in how to use a problem to line their own pockets first and generate revenue for the council’s coffers second. Our needs seem to come a distant third.
In the case of transport what we get are more and more ludicrous “traffic management schemes” – traffic lights, contra-flows, one way systems, bus lanes, half-arsed cycle lanes, chicanes, signs, speed humps, road markings – courtesy of the civil engineering industry. These are combined with ever-increasing parking charges, costly controlled parking zones for residents and now we have the genuine threat of an expensive and unproven hi-tech congestion charge looming. Just like London! (Except without the tube or rail network or a brand spanking new £10 billion Crossrail scheme of course).
All this expensive nonsense – fairly and squarely aimed at costing ordinary working people trying to get their kids to school and themselves to work – appears to have no effect whatsoever on congestion. So what’s the point of it?
Meanwhile the council’s only other transport idea is to set up a quango, or a Local Transport Authority as they like to call it. This unelected quango will apparently better arrange the bus timetables with the other councils across the former Avon area and also impose the dreaded congestion charge. This is despite the fact that nobody wants a bus-based public transport system, nobody is going to use a bus-based public transport system and nobody wants the bloody congestion charge either.
However, being Bristol, even something as simple as setting up a committee is mired in inertia. Other councils apparently aren’t too keen to work with Bristol City Council. Wonder why? (Clue: would you enter into any kind of financial arrangement with the Bristol Labour Party or its profligate members?)
And that’s it. That’s the city’s transport policy. Pay through the nose now for a system that’s not working and look forward to paying even more in the future in congestion charges or, if you can’t afford it, take an “integrated” overpriced First Bus to work.
This isn’t delivering anything for anyone is it? And neither is it likely to in the future. Whether you’re a driver, a cyclist, a pedestrian or a long-suffering public transport user there’s nothing here for anyone. Where are the ideas? Where’s the desire and can-do attitude to improve things right now for us?
Well, there’s at least one idea out there that would cost us very little and could make a lot of difference. All it would take is a politician with some vision, a couple of helpful officers in the council’s transport department and a team of blokes with some angle grinders and some pickaxes. It’s called “Shared Space“.
Developed by a Dutch traffic engineer, Hans Monderman, who sadly died last week, shared space is a nothing less than a new philosophy of traffic engineering. The idea is that road users’ behaviour is affected more by street environment and design than by traditional measures such as speed bumps, traffic lights and pedestrian crossings.
So Monderman pioneered the concept of the “naked street”. By removing all the things that are supposed to make it safer for a pedestrian – traffic lights, railings, kerbs and road markings he created completely open and even surfaces on which motorists and pedestrians negotiate with each other through eye contact. Users’ behaviour then becomes based on natural human interaction rather than on artificial state regulation.
He also claimed that congestion, traffic jams and the rush-hour would be alleviated if not completely eliminated by removing all these state traffic regulations. He further argued that if traffic is slowed down it will actually move quicker.
At the heart of shared space lies the idea of integration. This contrasts with the traditional town planning practices of segregation, where traffic and people must be ruthlessly seperated. Monderman’s attitude – which is well worth Bristol City Council taking on board – was:
“If you treat drivers like idiots, they act as idiots. Never treat anyone in the public realm as an idiot, always assume they have intelligence.”
Of course for much of his life Monderman was himself treated as a dangerous idiot by traditional traffic experts, civil engineers and the huge and powerful corporate vested interests behind them. But where his ideas have been tried such as in his home town of Friesland, Holland and in Scandinavia they have been highly successful.
Ticking just the kind of boxes the council claims to support, Monderman’s shared space has demonstrably cut congestion, improved air quality, reduced carbon emmissions and transformed road safety. In fact he’s achieved the exact opposite results to those of our traditionalist traffic and transport experts here in Bristol.
We even have in Bristol the ideal testing ground for a shared space experiment: former Labour leader George Micklewright‘s much reviled development in the Centre.
Micklewright – who these days apparently “advises” Bristol’s Green Party – was another in that long line of Labour leadership flops who ran the city at the turn of the millenium. He is chiefly known for two things. One was selling the council’s share in the airport and frittering the money away while allowing his transport boss – Helen Holland, since you asked – to hang our tram system out to dry.
The other thing he’s remembered for is the deeply unpopular development of the Centre. While the people of the city clearly stated a preference for the centre to be dug up and the docks restored, as usual the Bristol Labour Party ignored us and embarked on a cheaper option that they claimed would make it look “like Barcelona”.
Of course it didn’t. The combination of acres of concrete and their pissing fountains actually makes it look like Milton Keynes on a wet Wednesday and the area has been loathed by Bristolians since the day it opened. What’s more the place has proved itself a death trap with pensioners regularly getting hit by buses there.
Could this be the ideal place for the city to create a shared space scheme? What’s there to lose? If it fails then our traffic engineer traditionalists can lovingly recreate their pensioner death trap again in a few years time anyway.
But what if it succeeds? For starters the city would gain the kind of iconic centre it always wanted but never got. It would also be able to roll out the scheme right across the city centre, potentially garnering considerable international attention in the process and sticking it right up London with their stupid and unpopular hi-tech congestion charge run by friends of New Labour Crapita. Bristol could then perhaps start to stake a genuine claim to be the green capital it wants to be.
Will it ever happen? Unlikely. What use to our councillors and officers is a solution to congestion that doesn’t raise cash for Bristol City Council, line the pockets of CONsultants and generate huge profits for New Labour’s corporate chums like Capita?
And can you really see all those bossy tossers and little Hitlers at the Council House implementing anything that would put us in control rather than them?
Spot on – great post. The whole of the city’s transport is bent, does not work, and we have a council utterly unwilling to think beyond using a stick rather than a carrot to solve the problem.
I’ll make one addition to this – surely the congestion charge is such a big change the council should hold a referendum on it, but, of course they would never open themselves to such a thing because they know what will happen. They’ll get such a large ‘no’ vote they’ll all get blown back under the rocks from which they crawled.
I love the Monderman idea – and it’s got to be worth a try, surely? The traffic lights on Victoria St at the junction with Counterslip were out for about a week just before christmas and the resulting reduction in traffic congestion had to be seen to be believed (and this was before the kids broke up). People were actually stopping to allow others through – radical or what. The current obsession with traffic calming, traffic lights on roundabouts, bizarre bus lanes (old market? what a fucking abortion, and the next death trap for pedestrians I should think) coupled with the latest barmy proposal for yet another bleeding quango borders on the Stalinist. Come on people it’s time to face the facts – anarchy is the only way to make things better, and you know it.
The Victoria St situation has a precedent in Bristol. Those of my vintage may recall in the early 80’s, the Police used to have an officer on each entrance to St James Barton during rush hour (before there were lights there). There were always long ques to get on the roundabout, but everyone took it for granted that they were absolutely ness’, and without them it would be even worse. Anyway, one week they couldn’t provide the officers for some reason, and the ques dissapeared. So what did BCC take from this? The Police were replaced by ‘full-time’ traffic lights. Genius.
You know something funny? I was stuck in the rain for ages waiting for a bus this evening, getting soaked, and the lady in the queue in front of me turned out to be former Bristol West MP Valerie Davey.
I asked her if she knew when the next bus was, and she said ‘who knows, it may turn up on a wing and a prayer!’ and ‘otherwise we’ll need a boat!’.
I didn’t have the heart to press her on her own personal role in us both standing there, getting thoroughly soaked.
What Bristol needs is an underground,I suggested this to some transport roadshow people in Broadmead a few years back,the guy said “trains underground are too expensive to run, the Gov will only give funding to bus based schemes” I replied “put electric buses underground then and let anyone apart from First run it, build some healthy competition this city needs” his reply “First and stagecoach have a gentleman’s agreement not to work on each others patch” I said “guess you have never been to Manchester then?” his reply “thanks for your comments, would you like some pens?”
Sorry Blogger, that well known anarchist Eric Thomas has got there before you. Bristol University’s Masterplan proposes redesigning Tyndall Avenue as a “shared space”:
It’s all part of their “Urban Realm Strategy”. Lots of work for the civil engineers, there, methinks.
Elements of ‘shared space’ are also incorporated at Temple Meads but neither that nor the university plans are on anything like the scale I’m proposing. They aren’t schemes primarily aimed at cutting the citywide congestion problem either.
I went to the State of the City debate and it seemed to me that if they had opened the windows they might have got some oxygen to their brains and then maybe, just maybe, been able to think about what is wrong with their administration. The main things wrong with Bristol are Drink, Rubbish, and Traffic – all things they could do something about if they cared. If they had had to walk or bicycle to the meetings istead of driving they might notice these things. Public transport could be set up using a combination of tramways, waterways, and bicycle lanes. Rickshaws could be used for the elderly and disabled. Parking should be phased out of Bristol’s streets, then cars would not be brought into the city in the first place. This would all take leadership and explaining, but once the car had been banished people would se the point and wonder how they ever allowed it ot blight our lives. Ditto with drink as the only leisure pursuit.
Talk about timing… Today BBC News Bristol is offering up yet more exciting artist’s impressions of transport plans that will never happen – this time round a cable car!
Not that my opinion as an American would have validity, BUT, I have visited London and environs 3 times over the last 15 years and the visible signage and other ‘improvements’ seem to have slowed things down. I dunno, my view is certainly skewed, yet it sure takes longer to get from, say, Docklands to Paddington than it used to.
It’s not just public transport that needs to be improved. It cannot efficiently serve all the remote leisure/shopping/work sites we’ve all gladly used our cars to get to in the last 20 years. How could you make Avonmeads/showcase cinema accessible by public transport for people coming Fishponds, and Bedminster and Clifton. and then make Sainsburys at Ashton accessible by public transport for people from Bedminster, Clifton and, say ,Knowle. And do the same for Aztec West and Cribbs. You can’t, it’s hugely impractical, and thats where lots of the congestion we encounter is driving to. Reverse some of these planning decsions – or any money spent on public transport will be a waste. This is why large scale out of town developments are discouraged in many tram friendly euro cities.
the road structure in bristol is just not capable of sustaining a decent public transport system.
quite why the bcc continues to pursue this ridiculous theory used to baffle me.
now things become clearer, we have the never ending traffic calming schemes, one way systems, bus/cycle lanes, no entry zones & over the top traffic light controlled roundabouts, most of which are i’m sure designed to cause chaos!! to clog up the major routes & ultimately justify the road congestion charge??
more money in the coffers to waste on projects closer to the hearts & pockets of the selected few who claim to run the city for the benefit of the citizens?
Excellent post, however I’d like to take issue with one statement from the Bristol Blogger:
“…the public transport system wallows somewhere in the1950s…”
That’s a gross and egregious disservice to Bristol’s transport system in the ’50s – it was far, far better than the shite we have today. Cheaper, more reliable and not run by rapacious fuckers (First) and overseen by pathetic incompetent twats (BCC).
and another from Hans Monderman:
“….Never treat anyone in the public realm as an idiot, always assume they have intelligence.”
Sorry Hans, but you’ve clearly never been to Bristol. If you’d ever encountered the names Holland, Primarolo, Pickup, Comer, Eddy, Bradshaw, Brain, Janke, Berry, etc etc you wouldn’t make such a reckless statement.
They’re all in the public realm and I’ve never seen such a bunch of idiots.
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