Blog : Posts tagged with 'BRT'

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Slash, slash, slash

In which spending cuts may be a good thing


Following on from yesterday’s post about government spending cuts: there is, of course, one thing that would save quite a bit more money than freeing up some unused phone numbers. Regular readers of this blog will – especially if they were regular readers about a year ago – be very bored of me droning on about the West Of England Partnership‘s* ongoing guided busway scheme, which consists essentially of turning former and current railway alignments such as the Bristol-Bath Railway Path or the Bristol Harbour Railway into private roads for the exclusive use of First Group, at public cost. Rather high public cost, at that, as for any road scheme; and the first phase of the project would have no purpose other than to replace the current Ashton park-and-ride services with new, less useful, park-and-ride services from the same car park. Follow this link to read more.

Well, the local press has suddenly noticed that cancelling this scheme might be a nice easy way to cut the Department for Transport’s budget down a bit; and other local bloggers have had similar news on another poorly-thought-out local transport scheme. That big hole in the government budget, it appears, is suddenly going to mean no money for new roads, whether that be a replacement for Hartcliffe Way, or paving over the Harbour Railway so that bus routes 903 and 352 can avoid Hotwells Road.**

Reading that Evening Post article highlights, really, how pointless the guided busway scheme is. It goes to the new museum, an entire ten minutes walk from the Centre. It goes to the new football stadium site – as, er, do the existing park and ride buses. How many people want to get the bus between the two?

You might also notice a quote from Councillor Hopkins in that article. “An alternative might be a much cheaper ultra-light rail system, which was tried out on a short stretch of Bristol’s dockside several years ago.” He’s referring to a machine called the Parry People Mover, a small lightweight railcar powered by a flywheel that gets charged up at stops. I don’t see it happening, either. Parry People Movers have been tried at various sites, including the Bristol Harbour railway, but they’ve never seemed to last very long except for one location, Stourbridge (West Mids), a very short line with no intermediate stops. They need a railway line to run on, and reinstating the railway to Ashton Gate then extending it to Ashton Vale would be as expensive, probably, as building a road. Similarly, you couldn’t extend a Parry People Mover line into the city: you’d have to lay tramlines, for one thing, and if you were doing that, you may as well go with a real tram that doesn’t have to wait for a 5- or 10-minute recharge at each stop.

So: a short-for-cash government means no new buses and no new roads. In the long run, no new public transport is a Bad Thing; but new roads, public or private, always mean more traffic, higher emissions, and more oil used up. Hopefully, an enforced pause will mean we can wait for a while, until we can design a transport scheme that’s actually useful, not just one that’s easy.

* I do wonder sometimes what other local councils, like, say, Somerset, Devon, Dorset or Cornwall think of the CUBA local authorities claiming the name “West of England” for themselves and themselves alone.

** Because that, essentially, is all that first phase of the “Bus Rapid Transit” scheme, for all the work it needs, amounts to.

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Awoken by the political hubbub

In which there has apparently been a lot of fuss over nothing


Well, yes. It’s been quiet round here, hasn’t it. And, as I’ve said before, modern politics makes me want to retreat further into a bunker. There’s a reason why the three sane-and-national parties are so close together in the polls right now: on the surface they’re so close together on everything else. Do you support the ex-public-schoolboy who wants to cut taxes on business and cut public spending, or the ex-public-schoolboy who wants to cut taxes for lower incomes and scythe public spending? Or, of course, the ex-university-firebrand who is also going to cut public spending, but not yet? If you don’t like those, there’s the right-wing fringe: the doddery old chap who leads his party from the House of Lords, who responds to most questions with “I’m not a professional politican, so I don’t know all the details or what’s in our manifesto – can you ask me the questions I wanted you to ask me, please?” If you don’t like his apparent lack of knowledge of most things his party plans to do, there’s always the Cambridge graduate* who thinks that Ireland is part of Britain, and that none of those nasty foreign types should be allowed to settle here unless maybe they’re from a country like France where potential voters might want to retire to.** There’s probably a left-wing fringe, too, but they’ve not popped up on my radar.

Having said all that, I do feel slightly sorry for the former university firebrand, who, I’m told, caused havoc with the administration of my own alma mater back in the 1970s. Because, to be honest, I’m fully aware that politicians aren’t angels. Practically everyone I know, everyone I’ve ever come across, is willing to be polite to someone’s face, then complain about them behind their back. We’re all happy to say things in private, when we think it’s private, and we don’t expect that our enemies are listening in. If there’s one thing you can criticise Gordon Brown for over the events of yesterday, it’s that maybe he was too polite in public, and wasn’t willing to stand up strongly enough for what he presumably believes: that people who ask vague and poorly-stated non-questions that imply they don’t like the free movement of labour in Europe are, bluntly, wrong.

My vote, to be frank, doesn’t exactly make much difference. I live in one of the safest Labour seats in South-West England, one which even Michael Foot didn’t manage to lose in 1983. To move it to either of the other parties would need a monumental local swing: 13% for it to go Liberal, 15% to go Tory. The last local elections did see some movement towards the Liberals in some wards, but not, I think, enough to unseat our MP. Because of that, I don’t have any real expectation that the option I choose next Thursday will make any difference at all to the overall result. I’m fairly sure I promised one of our local councillors, too, that there was no way I was voting Labour whilst he still wanted to build a guided busway through Ashton and Spike Island; he still does, I assume, so I feel duty-bound to uphold my promise. Unfortunately, the Liberal Democrats also seem to like the idea, so it looks like this may well be the first election in which I end up spoiling my vote. Having said all that, though, the fuss over Gordon Brown and Gillian Duffy*** has had one effect on my voting intentions. For the first time in a couple of years, I’m considering voting for Labour.

* Robert Graves had a lifelong antipathy to Cambridge graduates. I must say, I think his instinctive reaction to them was wrong; but possibly, in this case, it would have been justified.

** Or they know how to build the nuclear power stations that he’s going to fill the country with, of course. I wonder how much uranium we have left.

*** Whose anger at being called a bigot is slightly tempered by the fact that she didn’t really understand what the word meant.

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Not Photo Post Of The Week

In which we don’t have many photos, but do have some of the latest guided busway gossip


Back in August, we went away to Cornwall. As you’d expect, I took the camera, and took hundreds and hundreds of photos. They slowly went online – very slowly, because I’m impatient, and it takes a long time to upload photos when each one weighs about 4Mb.

Moreover, a few weeks after we got back from Cornwall, we moved house; and after we moved house, we were offline for about two months whilst we argued with various broadband providers whether our flat really existed or not. All that time, we were out taking more photos, which slowly built up. As a result, when we did finally get online, I had a rather large backlog of photos to deal with. Plenty of photos for me to upload 30-35 photos per week, and post the best few on here every Friday.

800-odd photos later, though,* the end is in sight. I’m still working on the photos from the Easter weekend, but after that, that’s about it. The backlog is over, and I’m going to be putting photos up within a few days of taking them. Which leaves Photo Post Of The Week a little stuck, without the regular flow to pick the best of. I’m not entirely sure what to do with it. Do I return to it when I have more to show, or do I go back and post here photos that I took months or years back? I’m still trying to decide. Maybe it will just be replaced, with a sign like this:

Sign, Bedminster

In the meantime, there have been more Bristol Guided Busway developments following my most recent post on the topic. Chris Hutt yesterday published “At Last, The Truth” about the history of the West of England Partnership’s plans for Prince St Bridge, and Bristol Traffic has pointed out that their plans to replace the Bristol-Bath Cycle Path with a buses-only road are still marked out clearly on their maps despite being tactfully edited out of the text, which merely mention their aspiration to build an Ashton-Emersons Green route one day. Personally, I think Chris is being a tad optimistic as to whether he’s discovered the truth and the whole truth, as you could say, but we’re certainly closer to it than we’d be if we were relying on the West of England Partnership’s own somewhat misleading and vague publications and press releases.

* Or “800 odd photos later”, you could argue.

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The Detail

In which we look at the detailed plans of the Guided Busway


Long-term readers will recall that, particularly last November, I’ve been covering the local guided busway developments: to whit, the West Of England Partnership, the quango which is, you could say, the haunting ghost of Avon County Council, and its plans to turn an old railway line into a private buses-only road. Sort of. Railway lines, of course, aren’t generally wide enough for that sort of thing; so they will mostly be building half a road.

Well, all has been quiet for a while; the consultation was completed, and the Partnership wrote off to the Department for Transport to say “can we have some money, please? Oh, go on.” A reader of this site, the other day, tipped me off to the fact that WEP have published their persuasions on their website. So, finally, we can read all the details which were conspicuously absent from the public consultation documents.

Firstly, there seems to be a change as to where the money is coming from. In the past, it was mooted that this application would be to the Transport Innovation Fund,* and therefore would need to have a congestion charge element to it. That’s not the case: the application is for Major Scheme Funding. So, no congestion charge: nothing is going to be done directly to reduce traffic. All we get is a new, shiny, park-and-ride service which replaces the still-shiny existing park-and-ride service, but serving Spike Island instead of Hotwells.

Secondly, it includes documentation on service frequencies. And half of the buses using the route won’t be the shiny new “Rapid Transit” buses; they’ll be the same old buses to Weston and Nailsea that already exist. Another thing which isn’t going to make the guided busway scheme any friends: it’s being marketed to the government as the first stage of a Rapid Transit Network, in which it becomes the Ashton Vale-Emerson’s Green route. In other words, the old let’s-pave-over-the-Railway-Path scheme which attracted large amounts of protest.

One of the most interesting bits, though, is the detailed plan of the new route. We learn, for example, that the rather worn and tired old swing bridge across the New Cut is to be “refurbished” – it sounds cheaper, after all – with a new footbridge alongside it. The small Butterfly Junction nature reserve is to be flattened and paved over – it isn’t even marked on the maps – and the Bristol Harbour Railway’s stop there is to be replaced by a new one.

Plan of guided busway at Butterfly Junction

The Bristol Harbour Railway is where it gets most silly. The plans finally confirm what was hinted at in the consultation: it is to be turned into a tramway, with buses running on top of it. According to the bid documents:

The tracks for the heritage railway will be retained to provide for seasonal Sunday services and events such as the Harbourside Festival. When these infrequent events occur, services will run on Cumberland Road.

In other words, trains on the Harbour Railway will run on about half as many days as they do now, and along a tramway, which doesn’t quite tally with what my local councillor has told me in the past. As the railway is only just wide enough for one bus, one bus there will be; outbound buses will run along the road all the time, not just on Sundays. To squeeze under Cumberland Road and keep the cycle path, the busway will be narrowed to a single-track road/tramway with traffic lights.

One of the vaguest parts of the consultation documents was: what happens at Prince St Bridge, which isn’t currently strong enough and probably not wide enough to take buses. The consultation map was hard to read; the Evening Post reported that there would be a new bridge. Some people suspected that the current “trial” arrangement of having cars on one side of the bridge and pedestrians on the other was a taste of things to come, ready for the guided bus scheme. Well, it turns out they were right.

Guided bus plan for Prince St Bridge

Red in that diagram means “bus lane”. Prince St Bridge will be closed to cars; with this scheme, it will be divided between pedestrians on one carriageway, and buses and cyclists on the other. Instead of cyclists being able to run into pedestrians whilst dodging opposing traffic, as now, they’ll be able to get flattened by buses instead. It’s also quite hard to work out how much money has been set aside for Prince St Bridge works, because the costs aren’t itemised very clearly – indeed, the surveyors who reviewed the WEP costings also had trouble on that point.

I don’t think the busway scheme is going to go ahead. That’s partly because the funding bid includes a convenient “low cost alternative” scheme. It is, essentially, the same scheme, same nice new buses, new bus stops, but using the existing park-and-ride route with no new infrastructure. The funding bid says:

A key element of the [Low Cost Alternative] route is the avoidance of the main bridge structures at Ashton Avenue and Prince Street … in order to reduce the construction costs.

The infrastructure will, they say, halve travel times along the park-and-ride route. Whether the Department for Transport think that that will make it worth the money remains to be seen. I’m not convinced they’re going to go for it. In a few months, though, we will all find out.

* as you can see from this Joint Transport Forum presentation released under FOI. Thanks to correspondant Gareth for pointing me to that URL.

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A Medley

In which we discuss local things, and eat pancakes


A few different things on my mind today, none of which are worthy really of a full post.

Firstly, in serious local political news, the city council’s minority Labour administration has collapsed, to be replaced with a minority Lib Dem administration. Whether the change in cabinet will lead to any changes to or abandonment of the destructive and wasteful guided busway scheme, much blogged about here in the past few months, we will have to wait and see. For that matter, there may well be changes to the rather rushed scheme to pedestrianise half of Prince St Bridge, which some people think was part of the guided busway plans; but which I think was more likely to be some sort of council sop to transport charity SusTrans, whose main office overlooks the bridge.

Talking of things round the Harbourside, regular readers might remember me talking about Folk Tales, the monthly music-and-storytelling event at the Scout Hut on Phoenix Wharf. February’s Folk Tales was last night; however, me and K didn’t remember this until about half-seven last night, at which point we didn’t really feel like going out. Oh well: roll on the next one. I remembered, when noticing that people have been searching the internet for information about it (and finding me).

Another topical search term: “what happens to Annie in Being Human?” Episode 5 spoiler time: sharp-eyed viewers will have noticed that although Annie was on the verge of passing on to the next world, she hadn’t actually gone when the credits rolled, so will no doubt still be in the final episode. Highlight the preceding bit to read it.

Aside from that: we had plenty of pancakes on Tuesday night, as is only right and proper; and enjoyed them so much, we had more yesterday. Which is probably slightly going against the point of Shrove Tuesday, but never mind. More pancakes has to be a good thing.

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The Guided Busway Still Haunts Us

In which, yes, the guided busway is apparently still on the agenda


Yes, it’s back in the news again. The Ashton Vale guided busway route, which I devoted several posts to at the end of last year, has reared its ugly head again. A quick update: the local councils want to convert a chunk of South Bristol railway line – most of which operates as a council-run heritage railway – into a private buses-only road, to replace the current park-and-ride bus route through Hotwells. They had a consultation about it. Now, 7 weeks later, the consultation results are about to be revealed.*

What do they say? From what’s been released so far, not very much at all. Only that the previous rather low price estimate is already on the way up – no surprise there then. It’s confirmed that a new bridge is going to be built alongside Prince St Bridge – that will take a big chunk out of the budget, for starters. But one of the big empty questions from before the consultation – the route the buses will take from there – still isn’t addressed. The planners are also positive that these will be fast, rapid, high-speed buses, because there will be Special Measures to make sure that they don’t get delayed in the city centre – but they have no idea what said Special Measures actually will be. The buses are still due to run along Cumberland Road – a decision which, as I discussed previously, means taking both the Bristol Harbour Railway and most of the width of Cumberland Road and giving it over to the bus route.

Furthermore, there’s still a great silence over where the money’s going to come from, exactly. Because that’s where the problem is, as it happens. Secretly, this isn’t going to be a bus scheme at all, because of how the council want to raise the money. Regular readers can skip ahead, because I’ve talked about this before, too. The money is coming from the Transport Innovation Fund, a body which provides grants for “demand management” schemes – in other words, congestion charging or similar. This new bus route might be being promoted, so far, as a new fast bus route: but at some point, unless the funding radically changes, the truth will pop out from underneath it. This is a congestion charging scheme with buses on top; the congestion charging part has, so far, been kept quiet.

None of this has been mentioned widely as yet. The Evening Post’s reporting has mostly been limited to repeating the relevant press releases, which of course have been rather quiet about this. It’s not surprising that councillor Mark Bradshaw says, according to the paper, that he wants to get the scheme finished as soon as possible. He’s presumably hoping that the funding bid will be written and in the post before anyone asks him what the demand management part of the bid is going to consist of.

* I like the way the Evening Post went with the headline “New Bristol bus route revealed” when barely anything has changed since before the consultation.

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Return Of The Guided Bus

In which I discuss the likely and hoped-for death of the Bristol guided busway plans


Regular readers – local regular readers, if there are any – might have noticed that it’s a while now since I’ve mentioned “Bus Rapid Transit”, the West Of England Partnership’s unloved and highly expensive scheme for a South Bristol guided busway to replace the current park-and-ride route. Because, you know, the way to improve bus services in Bristol is to replace the bus routes that are, erm, already the best bus routes in the city, with slightly different 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 demonstrate that it will be rather tricky to build the thing.**

I’ve been quiet, because, well, there’s only so many times you can ridicule these plans, and I hardly have enough space here to point out all their shortcomings. Their consultation phase is over; and presumably the Partnership is now collating the results. Catching up on the blogs I read, though, I’ve noticed that the other day Chris Hutt of the Green Bristol Blog has spotted that the project is probably doomed. Not because of anything going on here in Bristol, but because of events up in the North, where Mancunians have overwhelmingly rejected the proposed Manchester Congestion Charge scheme.

The Manchester proposals were horridly complex, with two rings of toll lines, motorists paying to cross each line in either direction, and the outer ring following the M60 motorway.*** But the scale of the no-vote is bound to put off any other councils from putting forward further congestion-charge proposals in the near future. Even though, as London’s shown, they definitely work in terms of reducing traffic, no city population as a whole is going to vote for them. Even in an apparently-green city like this one.

The reason this is important is: the Bristol guided bus scheme was, essentially, nothing more than a pill to sweeten a congestion charging scheme which would be coming along with it. None of this was mentioned in the consultation documents, of course; but then, you had to study the consultation documents pretty damn carefully to spot that it was about a new bus route. The key is that the guided bus route will be funded from a bid to the Transport Innovation Fund – a body which only accepts bids for “demand management” schemes. You can’t just have the carrot of a new bus route; you have to be proposing a stick to go with it. The exact nature of Bristol’s stick is, as yet, unknown; but it would almost certainly involve some sort of road pricing.

You never know; the council – sorry, the Partnership – still might push forward with the scheme. Presumably they’re planning to produce positive results from the consultation,**** and then say: well, you wanted this scheme, and we can only have that if we have the congestion charging too. But I doubt anyone in Bristol really wants a guided bus – itself a grand waste of public money which would be much better spent improving the ordinary bus routes – enough to agree to congestion charging in return.

* using vague and unspecified “sustainable fuel”, of course. Not that the planners have said what said fuel is going to be, or even shown any sign that they have any idea what it would be.

** and – for train geeks – that it will effectively destroy the Bristol Harbour Railway in its current form, as the route requires almost the entire railway trackbed right up to Prince St Bridge.

*** The only circular motorway in Britain, road trivia fans.

**** Would I be cynical to suggest that they had planned the overall tone of the consultation result beforehand? Would I?

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The Return of the Guided Bus

In which we wonder how the Misguided Bus will fit along Winterstoke Road


Time to return to the West Of England Partnership’s misguided Bristol Guided Bus project,* I think, although Councillor Bradshaw never did reply to my last email. The rude chap. In the meantime, I’ve been poking my nose around the Winterstoke Road area.

Whilst I was doing so, the Evening Post, as I’d done, interpreted the scheme’s maps to read that a new bridge was going to be built over the harbour. It apparently isn’t, although you have to look at the maps very very carefully to spot this. Which is a sign of how poor this whole “consultation exercise” is, if the main local press outlet is allowed to get the wrong impression like that. In the same story, the partnership admitted that they have only a vague idea of the cost of the scheme. And then, Cumberland Road was closed for emergency repairs, due to a burst water main. At present the road’s mostly used by cars, with relatively few buses. What’s going to happen to it when there are buses putting much, much more stress on it every few minutes?** Moreover, this, like any other traffic incident on either Cumberland Road or Coronation Road,*** froze the rush-hour traffic trying to get south out of the city centre. What’s going to happen when the westbound side of Cumberland Road is taken up by bus lane?

Anyway, pressing on. Winterstoke Road, where the new bus road is due to run alongside the railway to Portbury. This railway line was only used occasionally for the best part of thirty years, before being rebuilt for heavy coal traffic from the docks. When that happened, it was singled, so there’s plenty of space alongside the line. Plenty of space for a new road, you might think. Let’s look.

Winterstoke Road with added guided busway

Not much room there at all, really. That blue band is the width of two guided busways, with a narrow kerb at the side for access and evacuation. I’ve drawn it right up to the edge of the still-active railway; and it takes up, well, pretty much all the space available. No room at all for the promised cycleways alongside the road. I’ve widened it a bit at the site of the Ashton Gate stop shown on the maps;**** if it’s any bigger than I’ve drawn, it then starts to swallow up the existing (and rather poor-quality) cycle/footpath too.

What’s going to happen to that building alongside the line? The partnership’s simulation video shows it on the ground and unaffected by the busway – which, at the bottom of that picture, is due to ramp up onto a flyover and, at the top, execute a sharp turn across the railway and off to the left. Is there really enough room for that, though? Without scraping the side of the building every time a bus passes? I’m not very convinced.

* You know, the one they like to call “Bus Rapid Transit”, or just “Rapid Transit”, to gloss over the fact that it’s nothing more than a slightly-altered bus route.

** Some useful information here: the stress caused on a road varies with the fourth power of the axle loading, more or less. In non-maths language: if you double the weight on a wheel, that wheel will cause 16 times as much damage to the road. A car’s axle loading isn’t likely to be above 1.5 tonnes even for something big; a bus will be more like 9 or 10 tonnes on its heaviest axle. That six-times weight multiple turns into a 1296-times damage multiple. So, a stream of cars with one passing every couple of seconds – supposedly the safe separation, according to the Highway Code – causes roughly the same amount of road damage as one or two buses per hour. That’s a very rough back-of-envelope calculation, but gives you an idea of the scale of difference we’re talking about. Trucks, of course, are even worse.

*** such as the fatal motorbike accident at the Coronation Road/Dean Lane junction a few weeks ago.

**** using the size of the Leeds guided busway stops as a guideline

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More on that guided busway

More on the guided busway, as it paves over the Bristol Harbour Railway and replaces most of Cumberland Road


As promised yesterday, I’ve been doing some closer looking at the West Of England Partnership’s guided busway – sorry, I mean “Bus Rapid Transit” plans, and some measuring up on aerial photos. It seems I made a couple of misconceptions, though. Firstly: some of the plans show the Harbour Railway converted into a sort of tramway running along the same road as the buses. Secondly, I was slightly wrong about the route in the Winterstoke Road area. My mistake was to assume that it might actually serve a residential area; I was wrong, it doesn’t, and its sole use is as a replacement for the current park-and-ride services. The council have also said it will serve the football ground; but that slightly contradicts other things they’ve said.

Anyway, here we go: what does a guided busway actually look like? Never mind the Partnership’s shiny traffic-free plan: here’s a real one. This is the A64 on the outskirts of Leeds, which has a single-carriageway busway down its central reservation.

Aerial shot of East Leeds guided busway (from Google)

Never mind the bus lanes at top and bottom; the busway is that lovely expanse of concrete in the middle. The width of the whole thing, by my calculations,* comes out at about 3.8m. So, for a two-way busway such as the council wants to build in Bristol, you’re looking at 8m width. That’s for plain road without stops. Here’s a picture of where the council wants to build it: Cumberland Road. To the same scale, as you can tell by the cars.

Cumberland Road, Bristol (from Google)

From the top: road, railway, cycle track, river.

The plans include building over the railway for one side of the bus route. Remember what Councillor Bradshaw told me: the plans “do not prevent” trains being run. Does that mean no bus services at weekends when the railway’s running? Or fewer trains? Who, at present, knows? Anyway, that means, for our FP Militant Invective Laboratories simulation (better value that the Partnership’s, I’m sure), we only need paint over part of the road:

Cumberland Road with proposed busway overlaid

There goes the railway and just under 4m of the road, painted over in wobbly freehand. That’s the amount of land the council’s planning to concrete over for its posh new buses (and all the older ones which will also be allowed to use the busway).

So, goodbye to half of Cumberland Road – even by narrowing the pavement on the north side, there wouldn’t be enough room to make the road full-width. The council’s simulation does seem to show there being a bus lane in the road at this point, rather than a proper busway. However, there’s a slight problem with that: the buses and the road traffic would be going in opposite directions, unless one were to drive on the right, so no space gets saved. The published proposals go on and muddy this point by showing both buses and normal traffic driving on the right at this point – which, of course, would be no help at all.

Still to come: the even more awkward pinch-point where the busway is due to run alongside the Portbury Dock railway line, at Winterstoke Road, with a stop which will take up even more space. They seem to be planning to run the busway over Network Rail land – I wondered if Network Rail knew about that, so I’ve asked them. For that matter, I wonder who owns the land the rest of the busway will run on – presumably either Network Rail or BRB Residuary, the organisation that is one of the last remaining stubs of British Rail. BRBR’s website is a bit broken at the moment, so I can’t search their property listings to see what they do or don’t own.

* including the small width of kerb separating bus and road on the buses’ left, which is presumably needed for safety reasons.

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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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