A war on non drivers…

Good luck with trying to fashion a pedestrian friendly, ‘fifteen minute neighbourhood’ out of this sprawl

Dave – the editor

As I’ve mentioned more times than I care to remember, I’ve written a lot about the thorny issue of ‘fifteen minute neighbourhoods’. Pretty much most of what I’ve written is linked to in this piece here: 15 minute neighbourhoods – what we’ve written so far 8.2.23. Since I put that post up, I’ve published two more pieces looking at the issue: The future of movement on a finite planet 20.2.23 and: A new concept? 22.2.23.

Dilemmas and contradictions

Hopefully after wading through all of these posts, it will become clear that as a non-driver, I’m taking what can best be described as a ‘third position’. Very briefly the position is that while I oppose the highly intrusive technology being deployed to implement the concept of ‘fifteen minute neighbourhoods’, as a non-driver, I’m very receptive to the idea of having as many of life’s amenities as possible within a fifteen minute walk. I have on many occasions pointed out that pretty much the majority of the neighbourhoods where people live don’t come anywhere near fulfilling the criteria that would make them a workable ‘fifteen minute neighbourhood’. That’s a result of the rise of out of town shopping alongside planning policies which have assumed near universal car ownership for decades, allowing the outer suburbs and overspill towns to sprawl accordingly.

With the rise of opposition to Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, Clean Air Zones and the top down imposition of ‘fifteen minute cities/neighbourhoods’, we’ve heard a lot about how this will restrict the freedom of movement around our urban and suburban areas. Many of the concerns are valid because they reflect the fact that the way our urban and suburban areas have been allowed to grow makes having to drive pretty much essential. There’s a common sense realisation that the creation of genuine fifteen minute neighbourhoods would involve a massive reconfiguration of our towns and cities as opposed to slapping lines on a map and erecting a load of intrusive technology to monitor and control vehicle movements. Some of the opposition to these schemes has come from the Clarksonite tendency who want the freedom to drive their cars wherever they want regardless of the consequences. It’s the Clarksonite tendency who are making a lot of noise about there being a ‘war on drivers’.

The ‘joys’ of so called active travel

A ‘war on drivers’ eh? Do the Clarksonite tendency have any idea of what it’s like to be a non-driver? If they do ever bother to make the effort to find out what it’s like to rely on walking, cycling (if you’re brave enough), buses and trains to get around, hopefully, they’ll realise that it’s not just them having a war waged against them. Having to put up with the shitty state of the pavements through to very flaky bus and train services, as a non-driver, it feels like a war is being waged against us every sodding day! It could be argued that there’s a war against movement in general regardless of the mode of transportation used. That’s something I’d like to return to at some point in the near future. Anyway, it’s time to give you some examples of why it feels that a war is being waged against non-drivers…

We walk a fair bit. Every time we’re out and about walking, it’s a life lesson in how the needs of the motorist seem to take priority over those of us mere pedestrians. Let’s start off with the town we now live in, Keynsham. The main roads in and around Keynsham are busy and an absolute pain to cross in too many instances. Where the main roads go through the older residential areas of the town, the pavements are incredibly narrow making walking along them a pretty unpleasant experience. To get from where we live to the pub by the Avon that’s our adopted local, even though it’s only a ten minute walk away, because there isn’t a continuous pavement along both sides of the main road that runs past it, we’re obliged to cross the road three times!

The pedestrian ‘experience’ in Bradford-on-Avon

The same applies to a fair few other towns in our region. Older town centres and residential areas that were not laid out with 21st century traffic levels in mind. One such town that sticks in my mind is Bradford-on-Avon, just over the border in Wiltshire. A lovely old town but blighted by a massive volume of through traffic which makes walking round the streets in the centre not just unpleasant but also, pretty risky. A situation that really irks the locals who are doing what they can to come up with a solution: A community solution for traffic? 22.9.22.

Bristol has a mayor, one Marvin Rees, who claims he is motivated by making Bristol a more dynamic city. What makes a city work is attention to detail. One major detail being the pavements we walk upon. Walking around Bristol, whether it’s in the city centre or further out in places like Easton, Speedwell and Bedminster, the one thing you’ll swiftly notice is that the pavements are in an utter state. Broken slabs, uneven slabs, roots lifting slabs or tarmac, pedestrian underpasses that flood after heavy rain, the list of what makes walking round Bristol a shit experience goes on and on… To be honest, the same pretty much applies to most towns and cities across the country as local authorities have seemingly forgotten how to deal with getting the basics right. It’s all very well these authorities telling us to adopt ‘active travel’ but, they need to fulfil their side of the bargain which is making sure the pavements are in a fit state.

Cycling… All I can say is that given the state of the roads and the driving across the Avon region not to mention the hills, I have every admiration for people who regularly cycle.

A disappearing bus ‘service’

Then there’s the ‘bus service’, such as it is. This is one of a number of posts I’ve published on the impact of continuing cuts to the bus services across the Avon region: Real life consequences of bus cuts… 12.2.23. This is a recent article from Bristol Live which is part of their Better Buses For Bristol campaign: Pensioner says of Bristol buses: Pensioner says of Bristol buses: ‘We may as well be living on a desert island’ 25.2.23. The Bristol Cable and Bristol 24/7 are also publishing a lot of articles highlighting the impact the dire state of the bus services has on people’s lives.

When a significant chunk of the local media are simultaneously campaigning on the issue of buses, it’s a pretty clear signal that what we’re being offered as a ‘service’ is in deep crisis. Yet all we get from our local and regional authorities is bickering over the funding for bus services and blame shifting when those services end up being cut. All presided over by the West of England Combined Authority (WECA) metro mayor, Dan Norris, sanctimoniously wringing his hands while saying ‘we are where we are’. That’s simply not good enough, we deserve a lot better than that…


Waiting at Keynsham railway station…and waiting, waiting…waiting…

Then there’s the train ‘service’, most of which is operated by Great Western Railway (GWR). The thing is, there’s nothing ‘Great’ about it, nothing at all. That’s unless you’re a fan of buses on rails where the offering outside the mainline stations of Bristol and Bath is two or three coaches of these trundling through your station roughly once an hour. That’s until a creaking signalling system fails yet again, throwing what passes for a network into meltdown and you end up with, no trains and an expensive cab ride home, if you have the money that is. Whatever I may have said about the c2c rail service that operated in the south of Essex where I used to live, I wholeheartedly take it back!

When you look at the rail ‘service’ on offer in the Avon region, it offers little to no incentive for anyone to leave their car at home and take the train. That’s an option that’s denied to people as a result of the Beeching cuts in the 1960s leaving many areas of Bristol and Bath bereft of a train service. Also, should a significant number of those within easy reach of a train service actually decide to leave the car at home and take the train, the rail network as it currently stands doesn’t have the capacity to accommodate a surge in passenger numbers.

The network we used to have and should have again…

Give us a break!

On the one hand, people are being lectured on the need to leave the car at home and use ‘alternative means’ of travel. On the other hand, as outlined above, those ‘alternative means’ of travel simply don’t hack it, especially the buses and the trains. They’re being set up to fail aren’t they? As for us non-drivers, we’re being absolutely shafted. The pedestrian and cycling infrastructure leaves a lot to be desired and as for public transport, it’s dire. Look, I’m not asking for public transport to whisk me to every corner of the Avon region because I know that’s impracticable. All I’m asking for is a reliable public transport system with solid plans for expansion that will help to reduce the volume of vehicles clogging up the roads. With my pedestrian hat on, all I’m asking for is for a safe walking environment. That’s not much to ask for is it?

When we don’t even get the basics we should expect in a so called civilised society, we can be forgiven for thinking that there is in fact, a silent war against non-drivers. The bullshit about ‘active travel’ and so called ‘fifteen minute cities’ is a million miles away from the reality of having to negotiate a public transport system that’s in the early stages of collapse along with a pedestrian infrastructure that’s crumbling. I appreciate how those who have no alternative to drive are getting shafted. All I’m asking in return from drivers is an understanding of how shite it is for us non-drivers. Without wanting to sound like a conspiracy theorist, it really feels like all of us, drivers and non-drivers alike face a future of restricted mobility. Maybe it’s time to get past the attempts to divide us…

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