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Guided Bus

In which we discuss the West Of England Partnership’s misguided Guided Bus proposals

Through my door the other day: a leaflet from the West Of England Partnership, the organisation made up of local councils* that replaced the dead and unlamented Avon County Council. It’s about their proposals for a guided busway scheme in this part of the city. A new road, in other words, limited to buses only. Some of the buses on it would be expensive new buses cunningly disguised to look like trams, and running on “sustainable fuel”;** the rest would be the boring ordinary diesel ones that already serve this area. It would replace the current park-and-ride buses in this area, which are already the nicest and most modern buses in this part of the city. So, frankly, I don’t see why that’s the bus route that most urgently needs replacing.*** You can see their proposals for yourself, on the Partnership’s website – they very carefully avoid using the term “guided busway”, and instead call it “rapid transit”, using the word “bus” as little as possible.

The route isn’t really any more useful than the current park-and-ride scheme, either. It’s going to be built along the old railway line that served Bristol Harbour. A small part of this is disused; some is still used by trains to the docks that are still open, but most is used by the Bristol Harbour Railway, a council-owned steam railway that chugs up and down the Avon and the Harbourside, and does a pretty good trade. Here’s an extract from the map on the website:

Proposed rapid transit scheme map (c) Crown Copyright (I'm claiming fair use)

The purple line there is the new bus route, and the yellow line is the railway. The black blob there, looking like a station, is a proposed Cumberland Road bus stop – handy for Southville, because there’s a footbridge across the river there. The green line is a cycle path.

Now, so far, this is just a line on a map. Not much detail design work seems to have been done – one of the councillors responsible, Mark Bradshaw, said as much to the local paper with the words: “Residents, businesses and other stakeholders are invited to engage in this work and help shape the detail of the proposals.” However, the Partnership have gone as far as producing a mockup of the proposed Cumberland Road bus stop. Here’s their design. On the right: the new bus stop. On the left: a photo I took a few days ago from almost the same location, although I didn’t quite get the angle right.

Cumberland Road from Vauxhall Bridge Cumberland Road guided busway proposal.  Crown Copyright, but I still think this counts as fair use

You can see, on my “present day” photo, the railway line – it’s behind the yellow fence and in front of the road, and you can make out the rails if you look carefully. More interestingly, you can see that on the Partnership’s artist’s impression, the railway isn’t there any more. The cycle path along the riverbank is still there; but the railway line on the other side of it has been paved over and turned into busway. So, in fact, has half of the road on the other side – you can see, the busway near the platform comes out almost as far as the centre-line of the road.

Mark Bradshaw is, as it happens, one of the councillors for my ward. I wrote to him, and my other councillor, before I’d realised that he was on the relevant West Of England Partnership committee that has put these proposals forward. Based on that artist’s impression, I wrote:

The project will be hugely expensive in infrastructure costs, [and] will apparently destroy the popular tourist attraction that is the Harbour Railway and replace it with a buses-only road

I must have been writing in Pompous Mode that day. You can see, based on the above, why I’d think that. Councillor Bradshaw replied:

The Harbour train service will continue and the BRT services will not prevent this (see yellow line on map in consultation leaflet)

Which is fair enough – you’ve already seen that yellow line on the map. The problem I have, though, is that building a busway isn’t quite as simple as drawing a line on a map, as the artist’s impression shows. If the Harbour Railway is still going to be there, why did the Partnership put out proposals for consultation that show it paved over? And how is the busway going to fit between the railway and the road? Something will have to be moved, for sure.

If this scheme does go ahead, I strongly suspect that the guided busway along that section of the route will have to be dropped, purely because there isn’t room to build it. In the meantime, I’ve replied to Councillor Bradshaw and asked why that artist’s impression shows the buses running over the site of the railway when the railway is, according to the map, still going to be there; when he replies, I’ll update this post. Tomorrow, I’ll show you – with the aid of Google Maps and existing guided busways – just how much room the proposals would need on the ground, and how much land it might take up.

UPDATE: local blogger SteveL has, in the comments, pointed me to the Partnership’s video of the scheme. Which apparently shows the railway being turned into a tramway along the southbound busway, something that wasn’t apparent on the still images. So, the busway won’t prevent trains from being run, so long as trains only want to run when there aren’t any buses about. I see.

* and “a range of social, economic and environmental partners”, they say. Personally, I think it’s a bit of a grand name for what is, in land area, only a small part of the West of England, but it’s hard to think what else they could have called it – anything with Avon in it was and is taboo, and “Greater Bristol”, although that’s essentially what it is, would no doubt irritate everyone out in the hinterlands.

** They haven’t decided what fuel, only that it will definitely be Sustainable. Buzzwordtastic!

*** except the political reason. This is going to be built in Bristol, but funded partly by the local councils in the surrounding area. Hence, it serves commuters from North Somerset who might want to park-and-ride more than it serves Bristolians.

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7 comments on “Guided Bus”

  1. SteveL says:

    1. The video (check out the Bristol Traffic link) has more detail than the map, strangely enough. If you look at how it goes under the cumberland road its clear there is no room alongside the BRT for much. Even the bike path seems pretty vulnerable.

    2. It may be that the railway lines will stay under the bus path so at weekend trains can run while buses take a different route. But its unlikely.

    3. Much of the funding will come from a TIF bid from central govt., a bid that may include a Congestion Charging option. Much of any budget overspend from the actual work is fielded by the local councils.

  2. Forest Pines says:

    Thanks. I hadn’t looked at the video yet, as my PC often has trouble playing videos. It seems to show the railway embedded in the southbound side of the bus route; and the bus route becoming single-track underneath Cumberland Road. It has no detail at all of the area between Wapping Wharf and Prince St, where the map implies the construction of a new bridge across the harbour.

    I’ve been looking at aerial photos of the Leeds guided bus scheme to see how wide its busways are; tomorrow, I’m going to overlay them onto aerial photos of Cumberland Road and maybe Winterstoke Road.

  3. Well done for the blog. We need to get some sort of BRT debate going. I’m also going to be doing stuff on it fairly frequently.

    The BRT guided track and the railway track can co-exist because the rails will fit inside the tyre ‘footprint’. It will run as a single lane under Cumberland Road to allow the cycle/walkway to remain. We suspect that the recently proposed partial closure of Prince Street Bridge, allegedly to benefit cyclists, is actually to pave the way for BRT which might be able to use half of it if a footway was removed (giving 3.5 metres width).

    The articulated buses, or bendy-buses, will be tarted up to look like trams but this will make them more expensive, heavier and therefore less fuel efficient. Buses will have conventional diesel engines unless hybrid technologies develop adequately by the time buses are purchased, which is unlikely.

    The map and simulation, which aren’t even compatible, are not adequate for a proper consultation. Of course the promoters have proper drawings but they don’t want us to see them, presumably because they will reveal ‘issues’ that they’d rather keep hidden. The whole thing stinks.

  4. […] buses* on their own private roads. If you’ve not heard about this: you might want to read this, this, and this, in which – with a few misconceptions which got sorted out along the way – I […]

  5. Gareth says:

    The railway will not be completely untouched – councillor Bradshaw’s statement to you in his correspondance is contradictory with paragraph 2.2, page 14 of the Corridor Options Shortlist Report from May 2007 (obtained under a freedom of information request) and can be found here:

    I draw your attention to the last sentence of para 2.2, page 14, which reads “It [i.e the guided bus route] then takes up the alignment of the Harbour Extension of the Bristol Harbour Railway, which would be removed.”

  6. Forest Pines says:

    Thank you for that! As Mark Bradshaw is no longer on the council cabinet, I’m not sure if it is worth pressing him on.

  7. Griffo says:

    Please stop messing about with the concept of guided busways and get the railway running again, The only advantages I can think of that the concept allows the driver to use his/her mobile phone, read a newspaper or light a fag.

    Birmingham, against all sensible advice tried a guided busway and after wasting a load of money scrapped the idea. Whoever it is that controls the “whizzkids” from whom this idea originated should take their lap-tops and clip boards off them and find them a proper job. Cambrigeshire are going down this route watch what happens there.

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