Category Archives: transport

Life in the Slow Lane

I don’t often drive to London or the South-east, but I had to travel to Hastings recently.

We came in on the M3 onto the M25 and down the A21. There were traffic jams on all these roads, sometimes over twenty minutes long. Once in Hastings, we navigated around the city at a crawl. On the way home, we paid close attention to the traffic news.

A crane broke down in the anti-clockwise carriageway just north of the M3. Traffic was at a standstill in all three lanes, and eventually the gridlock seemed to stretch all the way up to the M1. Luckily, we were on the other side, and it only took us four hours to win clear of the congestion.

While on the M25, all we could see in front of us was row upon row of tail lights, four cars wide, stretching to the horizon. From the side, more vehicles edged into this choking stream. Lanes full of cars trying to leave lined the slip roads. Lorries, run out of legal driving time, were beginning to park on the hard shoulders.

The air was thick with fumes as gallons of precious oil burned away in this insane exercise. Has no-one told you people that this is crazy?

It wasn’t freight traffic causing the problem, but thousands upon thousands of people in cars. As it was early evening, one would have to assume that they were coming home from work.

Developers are allowed to create residential deserts, devoid of any meaningful employment. Companies working within London – and other cities – take no responsibility for bringing in thousands of workers daily.

The whole situation is driven by greed and need. There is a lack of joined up responsibility here which urgently needs to be addressed.

A community transport hub

Imagine not a simple bus shelter, but a small building in every village, at every key location in towns and cities. It’s furnished with cushioned chairs, magazines and a water dispenser. The place is kept clean and maintained by a rota of local people. The solar panels on the roof provide power for lighting – including the ‘Stop’ light outside so that the bus driver knows there are passengers to pick up.

Buses come every hour at most and there is thoughtful scheduling of connections. No matter how long or awkward your journey, you never have to wait more than an hour to catch your next link. Fares are cheap. A day pass costs scarcely more than a single journey. A conductor helps you on with your luggage, and can advise you about other services.

There are lockers in the building, operated by tokens or small coins, where you can leave your shopping and go for lunch. Or lock your bicycle to the racks outside and store your wet weather gear to catch the bus for the trip to work in town.

Shoppers are transported directly into the town centres. The independent shops do well, local produce sells and is encouraged, money stays within the community. Many new jobs are created.

There is a community notice board at the hub, with news of events, official meetings, items for sale or wanted. At busy times, a local business brings a small mobile stand for newspapers and refreshments. There is a roll-out awning on one side of the building to protect a weekly produce stand, or a sale in aid of some project.

The buses are partly run on electricity, and there is a charging point close to the hub, perhaps powered by the community windmill. The surplus is available to local disabled people to charge their small electric cars.

A network of bicycle tracks links these hubs. They often use different, traffic free routes with the occasional shelter along them in case of heavy rain. Footpaths sometimes follow these routes, sometimes diverge into wilder, more scenic areas.

Where does the land come from for these hub buildings?

Car parks.

© Elizabeth J Walker 2014

What do you need from transport?

You need to get yourself, possibly your family of young children, an elderly relative, maybe a dog, from here to there. You don’t want it to be prohibitively expensive, you don’t want to have to wait around in the rain or lug heavy bags a long way.

A car was the answer! Everybody got one, and then two, even three!

Then you begin to fall out with your neighbours over parking. The cost of running a car goes up by the day. You are getting unfit because you drive everywhere, so you consider a bicycle. The roads are too dangerous because they are full of cars. You think about the bus, but they are costly, infrequent and often unreliable or non-existent in rural areas.

Depending on your car means depending on oil, mainly from other countries. The news is full of the trouble and deadly conflict caused by arguments over who controls these fuel resources. You hear of the vast areas of pollution surrounding extraction sites.

Always the price you pay for fuel rises, and a disruption of supplies brings your entire lifestyle to a stop – this is not resilient!

We are addicted to the use of oil. It will not be easy to cut back, but it must be done. Local initiatives are the key to encouraging government and business to get involved. They will not do so without public pressure, both political and by the use of your spending power.

Change is happening slowly, but it needs more people to engage with the process. Here’s a couple of good places to start.

The Urban Walking route planner gives you a route map between any two points, including your journey time, calorie burn, step count and carbon saving. It’s quick, free, healthy and green!

Sustrans is a charity enabling people to travel by foot, bike or public transport for more of the journeys we make every day. They work with families, communities, policy-makers and partner organisations so that people are able to choose healthier, cleaner and cheaper journeys, with better places and spaces to move through and live in.

 

© Elizabeth J Walker 2014

Driving in the Water Margins

Here on the levels in Somerset between the sea and the high ground we’re used to seeing the water. Driving between towns, the fields are shimmering mirrors, traced with sunken hedges, populated by opportunistic swans. The main roads are edged by dark puddles, threatening to merge over the white line with every fresh downpour.

Villages hugging the tiny ridges of high ground out in the marshlands are often cut off. Farm tractors become informal delivery vans and buses. Rows of willow trees, planted so that people can see where the road was, come into their own. The river lurks just over a low bank.

The network of narrow lanes across country are under water in many places, especially at the crossroads and gateways where you could have turned around. If you come upon one flooded section, chances are there are more ahead. It’s unwise to use these lanes as a short cut.

Towns are linked by single main roads. An incident on one of these could involve you in a twenty mile diversion just to get back from the shops. If that route then becomes blocked – easy enough with the high winds and dangerous conditions – hundreds of people could become stranded for hours.

Keep at least half a tank of fuel, even for local journeys. Carry waterproofs, wellies and a drink of water in your car. Make sure your mobile phone is charged.

Shop with a list and bring in extra long life food. Try to avoid going out at all in heavy rain. Start using all those ready meals in the freezer; if your electricity goes, they will be a write off anyway.

Night time is the most dangerous. Plan to stay in, invite neighbours round, play cards or games, learn to knit. Spending all your evenings slumped in front of the TV will soon give you cabin fever!

Driving through flood water is unwise, especially if you are on your own. You can’t see how deep it is, if the road has been washed away underneath, if there are any obstructions ahead. Your electrics may get damaged.

Don’t change gears but drive slowly and steadily. If your engine cuts out, it may have got water in it. Trying to restart it might destroy it.

Even six inches of fast moving water can sweep you off your feet, and not much more can move your car. If you become trapped in a flood, call for help at once. Don’t panic and think very carefully about your escape route.

Resilience is about adaptation. Change your behaviour in response to the environment. Go out as little as possible and make every journey count. Even if you’re not directly affected by flooding, you could still be caught up in a diversion as police try to clear another area. Your presence on the road is one more factor for the emergency services to take into account, so don’t waste it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is Resilience?

It’s not easy to explain or define ‘resilience’ even though it is becoming the new buzz word. Simply described, it is the ability to cope well with change. It can be applied to materials, ecosystems or entire planets, but here we are dealing with resilience in people, in communities and in cultures.

Resilience is a concept with depth, one that exists and develops through time, like loyalty and responsibility. It implies a knowledge of what is valuable, what must continue, where to strive to repair and regenerate, what should not be discarded.

Change can come in many forms. The fossil fuel bonanza of recent centuries has enabled people to become detached from each other and pursue their individual desires without reference to local resources or communities. As a consequence, these communities and resources are no longer available to support us through the next major change as this cheap and abundant – but not renewable – fuel begins to run out.

‘Peak oil’ is the term used to describe the point where new fossil fuel discoveries no longer compensate for the steadily decreasing production of existing oil fields and coal mines. It does not mean the end of fossil fuel. There is still time to adapt to a sustainable lifestyle, a change which will be driven by the increasing cost of energy as this source becomes more scarce.

Resilience and sustainability are closely linked. As an unsustainable practice is doomed to eventual failure, it is not a resilient practice either. Sustainability tends to start at the luxury end of the market and work downwards while resilience focusses on need and works upwards.

Sustainability asks “could you involve less air miles when choosing which food to buy?”

Resilience asks less comfortable questions such as “how much food can you access within walking distance of your home?”

Think about that last question. In what circumstances would it become important? Is your local food supply enough to sustain you and the people in your area? For how long?

You fill up your car, you drive to the supermarket, you buy food. The whole process takes hours at most. Growing food takes months, requires land, needs work. Waiting until a global situation outside your control disrupts the fragile transport network upon which we depend will be too late.

Our lifestyle is far from resilient and we need to act now to correct this. We must take control of the process of change and turn it to our advantage.