running feet

running feet
Running feet. These aren't mine.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Grand schemes

The weather this weekend was absolutely gorgeous. I think that early Spring days when the sun is shining and it's warm enough to do without a coat (or a jumper) is my favourite kind of weather; something to do with the crispness of the light. It's certainly a great time to run, and yesterday morning I managed to get out onto my favourite short routes - over Vauxhall bridge, up the chocolate path, around the Create centre and the Cumberland basin, through Underfall Yard and back down the harbour to Vauxhall bridge. The fist part of the video below shows the first bit with the chocolate path and the back of the Create centre to give you a sense if you don't know this area of Bristol (though I was coming the other way up the path).

Interestingly (well to me, as it's what I thought about when I ran, and serves as a convenient introduction to the topic) if you watch this video you can hear the cyclists discuss the proposed BRT - the Bristol Rapid Transport scheme hatched by the West of England Partnership (a (from what I can tell) unelected quango made up of representatives from Bristol city council as well as Bath, North Somerset and South Gloucester - sort of like the EU in a minature, cider drinking form without any of the foreign travel or nice food). The idea for the BRT - again as far as I can tell - is to demolish the old railway (that's currently used by a harbour steam train, also visible in the video), pave it over, and start running bendy buses up and down it, in order to replace the Long Ashton park and ride. (Which presumably no-one uses anyway?) The scheme is currently awaiting a funding decision from the department of transport, and given the budget deficit I guess it's moot whether it will go ahead.

You might be able to tell, from this introduction, that I'm not instinctively a fan of the scheme. And it's true, as I rumbled up the path, with the birds singing and the sun shining, I pondered again why anyone would think that sticking an enormous bendy bus through this oasis of calm in the middle of a busy city would be a good thing. Now, it's entirely possible that the case for the BRT is essentially sound, and that my antipathy is fed mainly by a case of NIMBYism. And I can't say I'd go to the wall on this in any case. However, I do wonder whether such a grand scheme is something of a metaphor for the delusion of human beings.

My main objection to the scheme is not to do with the massive environmental disruption, the embedded carbon costs, the pre-existence of a perfectly good park and ride scheme that drivers don't seem to want to use in any case, the disregard for and trashing of a piece of Bristol's heritage or, to be fair, the reduction in my quality of life when Spike Island becomes that little bit less of a nice place to be. What concerns me the most is that the scheme smacks of being a magic bullet, a grand scheme dreamt up by a bunch of middle aged men on a sub-committee of an unelected quango because it sounds 'sexy' (what, a new half train, half tram, half bus hybrid you say? running on tracks some of the way, and the road the rest? and we build a new roadtrack to run it on? and we can call it the West of England Bristol Rapid Transport solution? sign me up. . .), and these rarely end well.

Take the fight against malaria, for (a completely unrelated) example. For years scientists have been searching (and spending biillions of dollars of investment from people like Bill Gates) for a vaccine to protect against malaria. And the search for this magic bullet dominates how we think about 'solving' malaria. Now despite all this work, and money, malaria still kills thousands of children each year. So I was surprised when watching comic relief on Friday night, to discover that deaths from malaria in Africa could be cut in half by the wide-spread adoption of mosquito nets and DIY testing kits. That's right, cut in half, by mosquito nets - the cheap, low tech solution that no gap year student leaves home without. You wonder just how many children could have been saved if Bill Gates spent his billions on a network of African mosquito net factories?

So how about the West of England Partnership does some work on understanding why drivers aren't using the park and ride that's already there (erm, perhaps because it's expensive and you lose the sense of autonomy and control when you submit yourself to transport controlled by someone else?), or using the (beautiful) cycle path that's already there (perhaps the hassle of sticking a bike in your car? perhaps the complete lack of facilities at workplaces to shower or change?), and are content to sit in traffic jams on Anchor and Coronation Road's? And perhaps they should do this before they spend £50 million on a mutant bus that the drivers can stare at across the river at as they continue to sit in those jams.

The problem, I suspect, is that the answers are hard to find, and that changing behaviour requires the kind of persistent, and awkward, hard graft that don't fit well with a politician's (especially a local authority politician's) sense of agency on the world (speak to every employer in Bristol to incentivise the provision of showers and changing facilities, you say? Scope out a secure cycle storage facility at the park and ride and market it to commuters? Introduce a road charging scheme for people turning off the A370 into Bristol at peak hours on a weekday? H'mmm, now where did the plans for that trainobus go. . .). We'll see what happens.

Running log
Distance: 2 miles ish.
Pace: ?? didn't time it, 20 minutes or so
Location: Spike Island, Bristol

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