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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.