Green perspectives on Stockwood and Bristol. Mostly.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Whatever isn't happening at Temple Meads?

Charlie Bolton's current petition (please sign it!) calling for direct bus links through Bedminster to Temple Meads, prompts a review of where we've got to on the need for a multimodal transport hub at the city's main station  instead of the tinpot links that we have now.

On Tuesday, Bristol's Cabinet is poised to give the nod to spending £21 million on improving transport access to, and within, the Temple Quarter Enterprise Zone around the station. Well, Tuesday's Mardi Gras, isn't it? Spend it now, and pay back later..... from the expected business rates raised in the Zone. Same formula as the Arena.

This transport spend includes:  
  • straightening out Temple Gate/Temple Circus. At £11 million, this takes up the bulk of the cash. As it will leave a smaller road footprint, some development land should be released too.
  • A bit more (£6 million) goes toward access to the Arena site, 'to make the site more attractive to potential development', presumably the offices/apartments that are required to offset some of the Arena costs.
  • The remaining £4m chunk goes to 'improved cycling and walking infrastructure on key routes in and through the TQEZ, sustainably linking residents with job opportunities'. This appears to include some unexpected but welcome projects like (at last) a cycle route along the Callington Road Link and, odder still, the Conham Riverside bike route.
But it doesn't include a multi-modal transport hub

A Temple Meads public transport hub has surfaced occasionally in the politicians' rhetoric for years. Only the Greens have made it a priority. But now that the high spending, low benefit prestige projects - especially the Arena and the Metrobus - have been pushed through, can't we look at something that really would bring about a step-change in the quality of the city's public transport network?
Despite all the half-promises, NEVER has the Bristol administration come up with a clear proposal, or even an outline brief, for what an interchange should provide.

So let me float one....
The Objective:
Overall, to make travel quicker and easier for all.
In particular, to provide a public transport system that is good enough to tempt significant numbers to choose not to use cars – thus freeing up road space for all travellers

The problem:
Every journey by public transport involves waiting time – and many trips involve transfer time from one mode or route to another. By and large, these things are done under sufferance. They're not a good use of time, and bus stops or station platforms are none too welcoming. There's the weather; often the darkness and insecurity; the doubt about when or whether a bus will turn up; and for many ongoing trips, a walk between the relevant stops and the doubt about which is the best one to use.

Of course these discomforts aren't the only downside of using public transport, but together they're a very big one – and until they're alleviated public transport is going to be second choice to the car for most of those travellers who have the choice.

The Answer:
That's where an interchange comes in, because it tackles all these problems head on. It cuts journey times by much more, and for many more travellers, than any Metrobus route could hope for.   And it does it efficiently, comfortably, and safely.

Here I float my own idea about what the minimum on offer at the TM Hub should be: 
  • Public transport (bus, train, or ferry) to all parts of Bristol, daytime and evening.
  • A single covered, enclosed, waiting area with seating, within one minute of bus pick-up, three minutes of trains or ferry
  • Real time information displays for all servicesTicket sales (all modes) before boarding 
  • Good access on foot or by bike, with traffic-free signed access toward Arena, Bedminster, Brunel Mile, Castle Park, Railway path, St Philips cycleway 
  • Toilets
Those are absolute minima; highly desirable additions would be:
  • Public transport to outlying areas, not just those served by rail, eg Clevedon, Thornbury, Wells/Radstock.
  • Retail, refreshments and other amenity on-site
  • bike hire and storage
  • Left luggage
  • Wi-fi
  • a dedicated and very frequent service to the Centre and Broadmead
Would it work?
Who knows... the psychological bond between driver and car is very hard to break. But an interchange of this quality would certainly do the job to an order many times better than any other single project.
Is it do-able?

The space is there. Plot 6, alongside the Old Station, is ideally placed (though rail electrification looks like it will need two further tracks, either adjoining or through it). There's also the cleared space around Bristol and Exeter House, and (less viable) around the derelict shell of the Royal Mail building. All of these, individually or in combination, have the potential to provide a real hub. All are that rare thing in a city centre, undeveloped sites. And all are part of the Enterprise Zone, enabling a joined-up development plan that can – if the will is there - provide joined-up transport.

Who's involved?
Principally, the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership (self-appointed business reps and local authority nominees, including our own dear Mayor), along with Network Rail. The HCA own part of the land, too. Note that redevelopment of the station itself will be a Network Rail task; it will be major, involving new public access beneath the station, and a new concourse. Although all these bodies have public responsibilities, the public themselves are not a party to the plans.

Will they do it?
The broad intention is enshrined in the official planning frameworks.
The Central Area Plan (p40) promises:
The development of sites adjacent to Temple Meads Station will be expected to deliver improved public transport interchange facilities and new and enhanced walking / cycle routes as part of the development of Bristol Temple Quarter.
7.14 The precise location and type of interchange facilities that will be sought will be explored in more detail in the Spatial Framework being prepared for Bristol Temple Quarter. It is likely however that the development of the sites adjoining the station to the north will be required to accommodate this enhanced interchange function. Facilities will need to be fully accessible. “ 
The Spatial Framework that excerpt refers to is (as customary in such documents) quite flowery in its description (p35):
A 21st Century transport interchange at the heart of a regenerated mixed use quarter. A destination, where people can meet their travelling needs, move easily and conveniently between transport modes and connect with the city centre and surrounding neighbourhoods.

And in the West of England's 'GVA of Major Transport Schemes' commissioned from Atkins, there's the advice (p35):

“...... given the large numbers of people commuting in future to Temple Quarter, a step change in the capacity of bus provision to the area will be required. This will require new services, with high frequencies and high levels of capacity, to address the access requirements of the area. Failure to deliver major improvements to bus access will substantially constrain the ability to unlock the development potential of the Enterprise Zone. “

The 'Simplified Planning Document' sums it all up (p2):

'At the heart of the zone will be a transformed multi-modal interchange at Temple Meads'

You'd think from all this that a major transport interchange at Temple Meads is a done deal.

You'd think it would go into the Enterprise Zone's infrastructure from the start, to be ready for the incoming workers. 

And you'd think that even before employers move in, the demand is there from the city's rail and bus passengers wanting a seamless journey.
So how come it's missing from the Cabinet's agenda on Tuesday?


Interested said...

I'm still not sure what your suggestion is for the TM area, Pete. Do you envisage moving the country bus and coach station there or creating a city bus station or having a station for city, country buses and coaches? I've lived in an around Bristol for 70 years and the city has never had a city bus station (I'm not talking about bus garages where the vehicles are kept overnight) and has always managed perfectly well. People are already complaining about likely traffic congestion in the area with the arena. If it was also clogged with buses (even if just a replacement country bus and coach station) the surrounding roads would be unbearable with buses stuck in the traffic.

Stockwood Pete said...

Hallo, Interested:

I'm impressed by your confidence that Bristol 'has always managed perfectly well' without a central bus station! I'm not sure that many would agree, especially given the difficulties and discomforts of the present 'exchange'.

That said, I took care not to include the 'country buses' in my essentials list. Ideally, they'd be there. But at present we just don't know the practicalities or even the basic stats like how many people actually change from one service to another in Bristol. The traffic planners haven't even asked the questions.

You may be right, the whole thing's a non-starter. But we won't know that unless the potential is seriously looked at, now, before the LEP and the developers cover the potential interchange with apartments, retail, offices and coffee shops, and the chance is lost for ever!

Bus station or no, there will be an increased congestion problem at Temple Meads with rail users forecast to rise by another 45% in ten years, and most of them wanting to go on somewhere else. Looking at how most buses now manage to funnel through the top end of the Centre, I don't think it would be impossible for the same intensity around Temple Meads, especially if it succeeeds in attracting people fom their cars.

Interested said...

As I'm sure you are aware currently most city buses access the 'Centre' (the old Tramways Centre) at some point, either as a terminating point such as the 51 from Whitchurch or many from east Bristol in the 40 series. Others like the 1, 2, 24, 25, 75 and 76 operate very long cross-city routes and pass through the Centre.

If there was a bus station for city buses at Temple it would mean (presumably) all city buses having to pitch up there, or at least all terminating city buses. This would create congestion itself and many of the busesd would still need to access other parts of the central area.

Digressing, Bristol doesn't really have a recognised central area; it has several, from Broadmead/Cabot to 'The Centre' to Park Street/Queens Road to Old City to Harbourside to Old Market to Temple/Redcliffe. This in itself creates a problem for traffic engineers/bus companies as significant numbers of people want to access the various central districts.

I'm sure we are singing from the same hymn sheet in that we want to see car reduction and increased use of public transport; it might just be that we are singing different tunes to the same words.