Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011


I'd like to claim the credit, but more likely it should go to the new 'Fix My Transport' website.

The real time bus departure boards at Temple Meads are working again after many months out of action.  Being one of that minority of Bristolians lucky enough to live within a single bus trip of the station, the board's very useful - it tells you whether to rush or to linger awhile.  That's all the more important these days with curtailed evening buses (for instance the now hourly Sunday evening No 1 service to Broomhill).  But I'd been merely passing by the defunct screen with a long-suffering grumble, without breaking through the inertia barrier and actually lodging a real complaint.

Until, that is, 'Fix My Transport' was launched by UK Citizens Online Democracy, the same people who brought us TheyWorkForYou, WriteToThem, What do They know and FixMyStreet

"FixMyTransport represents an experiment to discover whether a sufficiently well designed internet service can help tip people over the edge from grumbling about a problem to taking action to resolve it."
It tipped me over the edge on September 6th.  And now the screens are working again.

Unless it's just a coincidence, of course......

Still, is there any reason why this simple device shouldn't be provided in other public places too?  Say, in the main shopping malls...  or the bigger pubs (Wetherspoons, just adapt one of your rolling news screens).  It makes good business sense, if people choose to spend time on your premises instead of out at the bus stop.  Or even put one in the council house foyer, to help councillors after one of those interminable evening meetings.  If the buses are still running, that is.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

The Lord Mayor's Show

There was no green political capital to be made from the Visitation to open Stockwood's just-built BMX park - which is probably all for the good. The Mayoral Car didn't take a short cut across the field; instead Cllr Gollop made his stately way on foot, protected by the mayoral wellies. The only signs of party politics was the icefield that spreads from the council house even into this corner of Bristol, cutting certain councillors off from even talking to each other.

Otherwise, it was all celebratory; though among local establishment figures, only the vicar had the nerve to bring a bike and gingerly try out a bit of the new track.

Here's the mayor wielding the Civic Scissors to open the 'BMX Park' (while missing the show behind him).

Thursday, 8 September 2011

The figleaves are falling on the South Bristol Ring Road

It's official.

90% of the peak hour traffic on the South Bristol Link - "a new road linking the more deprived suburbs of South Bristol to the existing road network at the A38 and the A370" - won't serve those suburbs, it'll just go straight through.

And even if becomes impossible to provide the promised Rapid Transit buses along it, the council will still consider building the road.

These two disclosures came in reply to questions I put to Executive Member Tim Kent at Tuesday's full council meeting. They show emphatically that, despite years of denials, a Ring Road is the ambition. Bus Rapid Transit and a half-promise of economic development were mere figleaves, designed to hide the ugly fact that in an age of climate change, peak oil and congestion, they still think it's good to increase traffic.


Q. Does traffic modelling indicate what proportion of journeys on the two sections of this new road will originate or end in those 'more deprived suburbs'?

A. The traffic modelling indicates that in the morning peak, approximately 10% of trips would be to/from the more deprived deprived suburbs. In the inter-peak this would be approximately 20% of trips and in the evening peak this would be approximately 10% of trips.

A further answer showed that the Link could be threatened, unless 'certain aspects' of the Ashton-Vale-to-City-Centre bid go ahead. A supplementary verbal Q&A (which will be on the webcast) showed this means BRT on the Link won't work without BRT on the rest of the line - but doesn't rule out going ahead with the road anyway.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Crying all the way to the Happiness Bank

Why does this email make me even grumpier?

Dear [contact name],

CONGRATULATIONS! [name of group] has been identified as a particularly brilliant part of Bristol Life and somewhere that develops Happiness.   We've arranged an AMAZING OPPORTUNITY for you to feature in the forthcoming Happiness Bank AND have the chance to have FREE film training resulting in a film made about what you do. 


Happy City has been working with communities all around Bristol asking them what are the best things in their area, and what projects, ideas, initiatives are doing great things that increase happiness in all sorts of diverse ways.   Your project has been put forward as an all round brilliant thing.

We are currently busy building the soon to be launched ‘HAPPINESS BANK’ online – which will be a place where everyone can share what works and how it’s done. This is so that others can learn from it, support it, be inspired by it, replicate solutions and develop their own ideas with the help of this shared wisdom. 

We will be featuring your work in the bank of solutions and would love it if you could enter the details on our development site so the real story can be shared and your top tips for making change happen can be made available to other people across the city.

It should only take around 5-10 minutes to make your deposit in the Happiness Bank and in return we can promise:

·         Publicity – we will be sharing the best of the stories with all our contacts in local press, radio, tv and online media outlets

·         Social Media – we’ll be tweeting, facebooking and Youtubing the best of Bristol

·         When the Happiness Bank is launched in autumn 2011 your project will be showcased to people across the city and beyond interested in supporting growing happiness by volunteering, supporting or funding the best projects around.

In addition, the TOP 5 projects (judged by members of our trustees and partners) will be offered the opportunity to have a bespoke FREE FILM MAKING WORKSHOP resulting in a short film about their inspiring work which we will be sharing extensively and you will be able to use for your own publicity, recruitment, funding bids, evaluation…  This is worth £1000s to the 5 chosen projects, as part of a pilot Community Voice project funded by Lottery Awards for All.  Plus, EVERYONE who shares their story in the Happiness Bank will be in the running for this opportunity when the full Community Voice project is launched next year (subject to further funding).  More information about Community Voice is on the website at

To share what you do on the Happiness Bank and enter your project for the Community Voice film workshops please sign in at  and create your own username and password.

Once registered click on the Happiness Bank tab and then on the ‘deposit’ button (or go straight to and fill in the online form.  The site should do the rest – and your story, your wisdom and your ideas will be available to everyone who searches for an answer to their challenge, or an idea or activity to support.

Thanks in advance for adding to the Bank and to the Happiness of communities everywhere.  We’ll let you know by the end of September if you’ve been chosen for the Film project and in the meantime we’ll keep telling people about what you do.

Best wishes

The Happy City Team
In case you don’t already know about us, we are Happy City, a small grassroots organization, based in Bristol, aiming to:

·         Enable communities to focus on happiness, and the things that positively influence that.

·         Share pre-existing sources of happiness and support the growth of new ones, through uncovering, highlighting, celebrating, and sharing the learning from what is already working across the city and use that learning to support change to happen faster, better, with greater participation and fewer natural resources.

For more info go to, or call 07836 706978

Monday, 5 September 2011

Tories for off-road biking

On Saturday, we'll have Lord Mayor Geoff Gollop here in Stockwood for the Grand Opening of the new bike track, set into the slopes behind the Whittock Road allotments. It's rumoured (well, I'm starting a rumour...) that he'll hurtle down the course on a penny-farthing borrowed from the M-Shed, to symbolise our rapid descent into the Tory World of Victorian Values.

No doubt our own Conservative ward councillors will be there too. The real credit for the new course, though, should go to the young people who put such effort into creating and improving the old one. It was enought to earn themselves Youth Opportunity Fund backing, to pay for all the earthworks on this impressive new run.

Question 1 is - will this new-found Tory enthusiasm for bikes off the road be matched by keeping their own cars on the road?

The new track's a good 100m off Whittock Road, across level grassland. It was always going to be tempting for those arriving by car (and it looks like there'll be plenty, this won't be a wholly 'Stockwood' track) to drive those final 100m over the grass, summer and winter. Will Bristol's Conservatives set them a permissive example on Saturday?

It certainly seems that Bristol's Tories are wedded to their cars. They've been pretty silent, but (like their Labour and LibDem counterparts) generally supportive of plans for Bus Rapid Transit for the city. Until, that is, they got round to reading the Cabinet papers for last week and realised that the cost wouldn't come out of general taxation - a big chunk of it must now (thanks to George Osborne) come from Bristol itself. And the only realistic way of doing that is to levy those businesses in the central area that have workplace parking, at a rate of (wait for it....) a pound a day a parking spot. Cue Tory Shock Horror.

Of course, there was no plan B from the Tories; why bother when you're not in power, and there's some easy political point-scoring that's there for the taking?

So Question 2 is, does the Tory reluctance to raise funds from those car-driving commuters blessed with free workplace parking in the city centre stretch as far as opposition to the South Bristol Ring Road which is an integral part of the BRT bid package? I think we should be told. After all, that road would have a far greater impact on the quantity of traffic in Bristol than all three BRT schemes put together. IMHO.

Back to the bikes. The conservatives' enthusiasm for the off-road bike track riders clearly doesn't extend to the safety of those who cycle to get from A to B on real roads. Stockwood Cllr David Morris, who's written to BaneS about proposed new housing development between Whitchurch and Stockwood, takes the opportunity in his objection to blame congestion on Wells Road on "the installation of cycle tracks along the A37 reducing the flow of traffic into and out of Bristol".

And there I was, thinking it was caused by too many cars and heavy lorries!

Friday, 2 September 2011

Riding Out Review: ftr-metro, Swansea.

We were keen to try out the new ftr-Metro over at Swansea - largely because the same outfit is tipped to open up in Bristol before long.

ftr-metro is a new offering from the First chain, which already provides this more specialist choice to its customers in York, Leeds, and Swansea - to mixed reviews.

In Swansea, as in Bristol, First already has a near monopoly trading position, so for our starters we thought we'd try their basic buses, and as we expected there is little to choose between Swansea and Bristol. One difference, though, was that holders of concessionary fare passes had only to touch their cards on a reader to board the bus; no need to tell the driver their destination, so boarding and dwell times were marginally quicker.

Next came the eagerly anticipated main course of ftr-metro.

We'd done our homework and knew already that we should expect our existing perceptions of public travel to be challenged - making the terms bus, tram, and train redundant for this journey. The goftr website had told us.

As we waited for our neither-bus-tram-nor-train, we did note that perhaps there had been a bit of a cash shortfall in the preparatory phase; the raised kerbs offering easy boarding for buggies and wheelchairs had, here at least, been substituted by temporary rubber sloped steps on the low pavement. That seemed fairly typical of central Swansea; what isn't modern, anonymous, and cloned from other centres looks pretty seedy and uncared for.

Then we saw our 'new mode of public travel' approaching.

It comes presented in stylised blue and purple cladding, par for the course and straight out the First Colouring Book. The illusion that this is not a normal bus is further stressed by the lack of anyone called a driver. Instead, the vehicle is controlled by a 'pilot', who sits in a separate and spacious air-conditioned cabin. The more menial task of dealing with the passengers falls to a 'customer service host' - bringing nostalgic memories of the conductors who did the same job when I were a lad.

Fortunately, we'd had the foresight to buy a 'PlusBus' add-on to our rail tickets, so we didn't have to pay the usual First prices, which are much the same as here in Bristol.

No-one would deny that the interior of the ftr-metro was clean and reasonably comfortable. Possibly the presence of a customer service host discourages the jetsam of bottles and old newspapers that litter other buses. Otherwise, though, the ride quality wasn't much different from our local 54 bus in Bristol. And you get a better view from the upper deck of a 54.

Dwell time at stops was very short, thanks to the two entry/exit doors and the absence of any need to buy or show tickets on entry.

Outside, there's been extensive re-engineering of the road layouts to provide a clearer run for ftr-metro.

There's even a new section, isolated from the public roads by automatic gates. It doesn't really live up to its 'rapid' promise, though. If it's true that ftr-metro triggers green lights as it goes, it certainly didn't show up on our trip.

Swansea's modern central bus station can't accommodate the ftr-metro, because its layout requires buses to back out. Instead, this most central ftr stop, where drivers changeover, is on the road skirting the bus station. We noticed one would-be passenger racing dangerously (and illegally) across the busy bus apron in an effort to reach the ftr before it set off.

Remarkably, ftr-metro doesn't come packaged with real time information, which they don't seem to have heard of yet in Swansea's public transport system. Nor is there any expectation of prepayment of fares, as is the norm in London, and is planned for the Bristol BRT. No cross-ticketting either (except within the limits of First's own day and season tickets) and no smart cards.

As the flagship of Swansea's public transport provision, ftr-metro may be eye-catching to the visitor, but it really doesn't live up to the hype. It smells like a bus and it looks like a bus and it does what buses do.

Disappointed by our main course, we decided to complete the trip with an open-top ride around Swansea Bay to Mumbles Head. That made up for a lot!

Ratings (Nottingham=5):
Buses: 2
Rapid transit (ftr-metro): 2
open-top bus: 4
infrastructure: 2