Posts filed under 'sustainable transport'
Flashback to the successful Friends of the Earth Scotland campaign 2007
“A great city let down by its elected representatives”, BBC Scotland environment and science correspondent David Miller sums up last night’s Newsnight Scotland tram story, possibly the best news coverage so far of this extraordinary mess. The thunder is still rumbling around the city today and it has a long way to roll yet.
But last night’s story asked some very important questions. Not least, where is Jenny Dawe, city council leader. As Miller said last night, if this was happening in London you can bet Boris would be all over the media.
Edinburgh’s media does have some questions of its own to answer. The Evening News has consistently focused on the myths and mischief making of politicians with a party axe to grind. Where was the journalistic investigation into the contract, where the forensic analysis of budgets, where the curiosity about the contractors? How have Bilfinger Berger managed to complete other projects around the world without this difficulty and is it true that the Scottish government has placed a gagging order on the company?
Today as Alex Salmond grants a public enquiry, the city council is faced with the official version of that leaked report claiming it will cost more to scrap the tram than carry on. So the Evening News has published poll results claiming most people in the city want to scrap the tram. Like all polls it begs more questions than it answers. I for one am passionately in favour of the tram. But like most people I know (whether for or against the tram) I cannot understand how the project has become such an extraordinary disaster, or who is to blame. (And I am not at all sure a public enquiry is the best use of public cash).
Apart from lack of leadership and gobsmacking inefficiency, my main criticism of the council is that it has utterly failed to present an inspiring case for the tram. It shouldn’t be difficult. The tram is a fast and energy-efficient way to connect communities across a city with a growing population; it increases social mobility and reduces congestion, air pollution and carbon emissions. These are benefits which should suit the green claims of the Scottish Government. Now the SNP represents so many urban constituencies maybe the tram could begin to look more attractive?
They (and the Evening News) might take a look at Linkedin where Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce has been conducting a civilised and balanced debate with many good reasons for not scrapping the tram. Even as I write a wonderfully sane and intelligent discussion is live on the Better Nation blog. With luck some of the writers will stand for election to the city council next year!
June 23rd, 2011
Berlin town planning with a purpose
Some homecoming. For a week we explored the most exciting city in Europe. We rode trains, trams and buses to the centre and one sunny day we took the train in the other direction to discover the public housing estate that was inspired by Britain’s first garden cities. We marvelled at the plain good sense of building a housing estate on a train line. What a pity Edinburgh lacks that kind of civic imagination. Or generosity even. You’ll have had your tram Leith?
On the outskirts of Berlin, we walked through autumn trees to see an estate that houses 15,000 people. Onkel Toms Hutte, designed almost 100 years ago by Bruno Haut and Hugo Haring, could almost be a council estate in Britain if it wasn’t for the bright colours and gardens of mature trees softening, screening and separating the blocks of houses and flats. No litter on the ground. No shutters on the shops either.
But the best part is that these houses are not cut off from the rest of Berlin. Unlike the bleak housing estates that ring almost every British city, Onkel Toms Hutte is connected by a public transport system that really works.
U bahn trains run every five minutes taking people to work, study, play or shop in the city centre. Or just mooch about as we did, wandering from the Bauhaus to the Botanics, going to the theatre and art galleries, rummaging in shops, talking politics in the bar; blurring the line between East and West Berlin. We could get from the quiet suburb where we were staying with friends into Alexander Platz (a distance of maybe 10 miles, Berlin is a big city) in just over 30 minutes and our tickets could be used on buses and trams too.
Ah, trams. The point about trams which often seems overlooked in Edinburgh is that they are designed for growing populations in crowded urban environments; they carry more people than buses, they speed through the traffic. In short, they are fast. Leith Walk is long and congested with buses as well as cars. Sometimes buses sit nose to tail and at rush hour they crawl, crammed with people. Adding more buses will increase congestion without solving the transport problem. Leith needs the tram.
I am glad to find the Caledonian Mercury politics writer, Hamish Macdonell, urging city leaders to find the brains and balls to complete the tram line so that it runs as intended from Newhaven to the airport. It’s not exactly the Utopian vision of the early garden city planners but its a hell of a lot better than the council’s present cowardly cop-out.
Green ‘ampelmann’ says go in Berlin
October 13th, 2010
Blue sky thinking: what Edinburgh needs.
On a grey Edinburgh summer’s day I jump off a bus painted with blue skies and fluffy white clouds and on to the tram in Princes Street. It isn’t going anywhere of course but it’s still a great ride if only to dispel myths and misconceptions rumbling around town.
The tram project is not wildly over budget, the council is not planning to axe other projects to pay for it and the line will run all the way from Newhaven to Edinburgh airport.
That’s the gist of TIE’s Myths Buster bulletin. Busting myths is important in a cynical environment but I long to hear someone speak with blood stirring passion about the benefits trams will bring. Even when you are just standing on the motionless tram Edinburgh suddenly feels like a different place: smart, efficient, connected.
So Richard Jeffrey (the chief executive of TIE is surely a man with thick skin) urges politicians to have courage. Reading yesterday’s media coverage of Jeffrey’s energetic outburst I was also interested to see a quote from an old newspaper colleague of mine.
Howard Johnston, editor-in-chief of Tramways and Urban Transit, says Edinburgh needs to get its act together as pretty soon there will be so many cars in the city it will seize up. I paraphrase just a little.
Even Kazakhstan has trams: flashback to the brilliant Friends of the Earth Scotland 2007 campaign.
LRTA – “a new magazine for a new era of city transport” – is refreshingly evangelistic about trams but it also speaks authoritative good sense. One editorial argues that public opposition to tram construction might be reduced if the cost of moving utilities was not included in the price. Edinburgh’s ancient utilities – water, sewage and gas pipes – would have been replaced sooner rather than later even without the trams.
That puts a different slant on those shock horror newspaper stories claiming that it has cost £350m to construct only 18% of Edinburgh’s tram project. The £350m spent so far includes utility work as well as purchasing the trams and acquiring land etc plus that 18% of track laid – which, according to TIE, was always the deal agreed with the council. There’s lots more like this on the Myths Buster but don’t expect to find it prominently quoted in the local press.
Sadly the only passionate voices we hear are those rubbishing the scheme without much regard for the facts. But that is because those are the voices that are reported.
As it happens Howard Johnston and I did our newspaper training together a long time ago in a friendly newsroom producing the old EMAP Spalding Guardian and Lincs Free Press. We did a bit of council bashing when necessary from time to time but it was not our mission to undermine every project proposed by local councillors.
Back on the tram, I’m told more than 50,000 people have hopped aboard since it arrived on Princes Street and – according to the man on the tram and the LRTA’s Edinburgh page – most people seem to like it. But you won’t read that in the local press either.
(The blue sky bus is a feel-good story in itself but more of that later…)
July 21st, 2010
The success of our business depends on listening to people and responding to what they tell us. [Tesco Corporate Social Responsibility]
Here’s a shocking revelation in our local community newsletter. Shocking but probably not surprising. Tesco will not be paying a penny towards the construction of Edinburgh’s tram route although it is perfectly – and surely deliberately – placed to gain custom from three tram stops on Leith Walk. But that’s not the shocking bit.
According to the latest issue of the Spurtle, Tesco – unlike other developments on the tram route – is exempt from making contributions to construction costs. Planning regulations require only new developments to make a payment and technically the new Tesco Express coming soon to Picardy Place at the top of Leith Walk is not a new development, merely an internal refurbishment of an existing store.
No, that’s not the shocking bit. Nor is the fact that a planning department source told Spurtle there was absolutely no way round the technicality. The truly gobsmacking bit is what the planning official said next:
It would be unreasonable even to request some payment
on a voluntary basis.
Why? What is remotely unreasonable about asking for a donation towards the cost of a transport system which (assuming the line actually runs that far) will deliver customers right to the store doorway. Now Tesco has bought the old Scotmid in Duke Street that means Scotland’s largest private sector employer has three stores carefully positioned by tram stops along Leith Walk (one at the foot, one at the top and one half way up opposite McDonald Road). (See Spurtle and city planning rules for more)
In the week that the earth moved in Westminster it is always sobering to remember who really holds the power. Tescotowns could well be the future for many parts of the UK as the Guardian reported recently – whole communities of shops, homes, schools and public places owned by a company with the vision, confidence, clout and cash that local authorities are sadly lacking.
And there are no planning regulations to stop them – and no political will to change the planning regulations to protect the interests of small, independent retailers.
But maybe there is another way. (Of course I think we should limit the number of Tesco stores in town but neighbourhoods should at least get some cashback benefit for every new store in their area.) Let’s take Tesco’s word that they care about communities and the environment. Their very nicely produced Corporate Social Responsibility report lists at length the investments they make in good causes as well as what they are doing to reduce their carbon footprint. Green transport is one of their priorities and they are changing to rail wherever they can – especially in Scotland.
So maybe they would be only too happy to invest in a tram system which could eventually connect communities across the city centre (as well as bringing customers to their store) – and reduce Edinburgh’s carbon footprint and congestion at the same time. Tesco says their success depends on listening. But first we have to ask. If only the council wasn’t so shy.
May 13th, 2010
Trams connect east and west Berlin
What’s not to like about trams? Why does Edinburgh insist on digging itself into a dismal hole instead of exciting people with a picture of what a modern transport system means for the city? Come on, it’s a horrible wet day, let’s go for a YouTube ride on a tram…maybe starting in Barcelona for a taste of optimism and forward thinking.
But first I must explain why I need a trip out of town. Last night I heard a truly depressing account of the infighting which is delaying progress of Edinburgh’s one tramline. It was a private meeting so I won’t name names (oh, it’s so tempting!) but I will repeat the quote attributed to the new chief of TIE, the company with the daunting task of getting a tram onto the streets of Scotland’s capital city by 2011.
Every time the Evening News prints a negative story about the trams
it adds another £10 million to the price.
That’s Richard Jeffrey, formerly the boss at Edinburgh airport, who needs to convince a formidable coalition – a negative mass of malevolent media, misguided politicians and misinformed public – that trams are an essential part of a 21st century public transport system in a city which aspires to being a European capital.
There were happier times when as one Libdem councillor put it ‘consensus broke out’ at least for a few minutes in the City Chamber three years ago. I remember feeling quite moved when on 22 December 2006 I watched the chamber rise (with one exception) to cast their vote in favour of investing in the tram. (and went home to blog about it.)
Of course there are some places where you can go by boat…
But no more looking back. Now we can actually see the tramlines on Princes Street it is really time to look forward. And though TIE is trying harder to add a touch of genuine enthusiasm to their website I think they need much more razzamatazz. Since they will get no help from our local press, here’s how other cities do it.
A few moments on YouTube is a bit of a treat especially on a rainy day. It shows how trams can bring style, speed and spirit to city streets. Places like Helsinki and Amsterdam sell the city to tourists with tram videos. Ok, I know I am biased but try this ride on a Paris tram, sliding through suburbs, along the Seine, up tree-lined boulevards, seats emptying, seats filling up…oh to be in Paris.
But you don’t even need to go to mainland Europe. Here’s an upbeat view of Manchester (with a kind of Avengers soundtrack), or Dublin, or Croydon where joblessness fell and house prices rose in areas connected by tram. In each city to ensure good connections trams are integrated with buses – just as they will be in Edinburgh. Enjoy the ride.
No, no trams…just a reminder that Edinburgh can be fun and creative (see FEAST) we just need to make sure the city fathers remember that too.
November 6th, 2009
Sun in the south of France: getting here was almost as much fun.
It was raining when we reached Paris but I didn’t mind. After Scotland’s cold apology for summer it was warm, welcoming rain and within minutes of getting off our Eurostar we were clinking glasses of wine in Terminus Nord. If we had come by plane we would still be trying to get out of the airport; instead we are sitting down to a three course meal before catching the next train. So comfortable it is tempting to stay but we are only half way on a 1200 mile journey towards the Spanish border and the best could be yet to come.
This is the way to travel. I had a book in my bag (Alice Walker’s You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down) but no real intention of opening it. After months of hacking away at the word face all I really wanted to do was look out of the window and watch the miles glide by: buddleia and graffiti marking the way in and out of stations; fields and trees blurring into a soothing green line as the train picked up speed again.
I have no idea how much CO2 we saved by travelling on a train, I simply enjoyed every minute of not being on a plane; none of that nonsense of taking your shoes off coming through security, none of that mind-numbing trek through shopping malls. There are plenty of shops at the new St Pancras Eurostar terminal but they don’t feel as if they are the point of the place.
Ray and I were rediscovering a more human way of travelling, enjoying the journey almost as much as the destination
Perhaps I am perverse, waiting on a station platform is not everyone’s idea of fun, but we were on holiday and Ray had built in stops along the way. To see Jean and David in Oxfordshire we took a detour via Didcot, to visit John and Sue’s amazing adventure in France we got off our comfortable SNCF train at Gourdon. In this small town near Cahors there are lively demonstrations against plans to close the station and all power to the protests!
One of the views that inspired Charles Rennie MacIntosh but you have to get out of the car to see it.
After a week of gentle meandering we reached the Mediterranean where the sun shone on Collioure. Ironically, having travelled all the way by public transport, the one thing we didn’t like about our destination was the constant stream of cars in and out of this otherwise delightful old-fashioned family resort where musicians play every night in a different square.
But by day Collioure is congested. The town car park is permanently full and there are cars parked on every verge and spare patch of ground. Walking along the busy road from our tiny apartment down to the harbour Ray and I saw cars pull up briefly so tourists could snap the views that inspired Matisse, Derain and our own Charles Rennie MacIntosh. Sometimes they didn’t even bother to get out of the car. If I was mayor I would ban the buggers.
Collioure is beautiful but it could learn from Dubrovnik and Venice: old towns are much more beautiful when you can walk round at a leisurely pace without the noise and smell of traffic.
Rant over. We would go back to Collioure but would look for an apartment in one of the narrow old streets away from cars. And we would definitely go by train. All in all, I reckon we covered 2,500 miles on 11 trains. Plus one tube, two metros, one RER suburban train and one coach – to see Betty in Glinton on the way home we took a Sunday diversion to Peterborough and, of course, UK railways seize up at weekends.
I will now ask Ray for prices and railway booking details…
Almost home: Glinton was our last stop on the return journey to Edinburgh
July 18th, 2008
I’ve just been to Bruges and back without setting foot on a plane. Bruges, by the way, is a beautiful place; one of those living museums (like Venice and Dubrovnik) that still manages to give you a feeling of real life in a quirky time warp of its own making. But for me probably the best part of the trip was the luxury of travelling without wings.
Packing for the trip, I enjoyed waves of relief thinking we would not be forced through the cattle crush of airport security. Boats and trains have sharpened their search for potential terrorists but the process is still faster and much friendlier.
Then I remembered how much I enjoy travelling by boat. ‘Embarking’ has a ring of adventure, it feels like you are setting off not just getting on board: the journey more than a tedious means of getting from one place to another.
Admittedly, the shiny Blue Star ferry from Rosythe to Zeebrugge doesn’t creak as invitingly as boats used to – and there’s a lot of sales jingling on the loudspeakers to make sure we all know where to spend our money – but there is comfort, good food, windows to watch the sun set behind the Forth Bridges and the sheer bliss of being rocked to sleep in crisp white cotton sheets. You don’t get that on EasyJet.
We had a flat-calm crossing. Maybe the cabins wouldn’t be so blissfully womblike in a storm but I kept wondering – in the event of sanity returning to our management of the planet – how difficult it might be to re-adjust to a slower pace of travelling. Does travel really have to be fast to be efficient?
With wifi on board and mobile technology in our pockets it is possible to make good use of the time between destinations. I finished some work as we were easing our way into Zeebrugge (admiring the windmills lining the harbour): from sailing up the Forth at 5pm to disembarking in Belgium at just after 11 am next day, the journey felt surprisingly short. And so easy.
In fact the ferry was an afterthought – Sunday rail services from Scotland are so hellish we cut our losses on a Guardian Eurostar special offer by crossing direct to Europe by boat (even with the ferry cost it was cheaper than spending a night in a London hotel after an 8 hour train journey from Waverley to Kings Cross). But we made it home by Eurostar just a week too soon to see the grand new terminal at St Pancras Station for ourselves.
New high speed connections from Wednesday November 14 mean we can make the journey from London to Bruges in just three hours (1.51 hours to Brussels), shaving 20 to 25 minutes off all Eurostar journeys. But of course there will still be the same old slog on any other train journey through the UK.
From the old Eurostar terminal in Waterloo this time we made our way (none too swiftly) by tube to Euston to get the sleeper back home. A long trail but at least we had the relative luxury of a bed for the night. And more of those crisp, white cotton sheets.
November 9th, 2007
Ray Perman finds a quicker, more comfortable alternative to flying. And, to coin a phrase, it doesn’t cost the earth.
It has always puzzled me why anyone would fly from Manchester to London rather than take the train. By the time you drag out from the city centre to the airport, allow for your check-in time and the slow trudge through security, have the hour’s flying time and then get in to London from any of the airports, the whole journey must take you at least three hours. Whereas the train takes at least half an hour less. Yet they do it. Train, I’m happy to say, is taking an increasing share of the market, but 40% of passengers still go by air.
From Edinburgh or Glasgow the time balance is more marginal. I left central London at 2.45pm last week and was home by 7.30pm, having had a relaxing journey and caught up on my emails with the in-train wi-fi. By air the time would have been at best an hour shorter – provided the plane had left on time. Trains are not immune to delays, but CAA figures show that they are still more reliable than air travel.
And they are much more comfortable. You get a larger seat and a proper table and can move around when you want to. Euston and Kings Cross are not my favourite places, but when you catch the train you only have to be there a few minutes before it leaves. UK airports (except the Isle of Barra) are now degrading and depressing places and you are forced to spend at least an hour there.
I’m just booking a month ahead and I see that the cheapest Easyjet flight Edinburgh-London is around £30, but onto that I have to add the cost of getting to and from airports at either end – a minimum of £15-20 and possibly over £30 if I take a taxi rather than bus at Edinburgh. The cheapest rail fare is £35 or I can go first class for £56, with free tea and coffee, food brought to my table and free internet.
And I haven’t yet mentioned climate change. Who says we have to make sacrifices to save the planet?
September 28th, 2007
The Road to the Isles is getting straighter. That’s good news for holiday makers with carsick kids and haulage drivers winding through some of the most beautiful scenery in Britain. But it’s not so good for wonderful old woodlands laid waste to make way for the bold, broad ribbon of tarmac unfolding a new straight A830 all the way to Maillaig.
Further down the coast: rare west coast woodland is protected on the SNH nature reserve at Taynish.
I had very mixed feelings on our last trip to Canna. I remember long, tortuous journeys, racing for the ferry with green-faced boys in the back seat threatening to offload their breakfasts at every passing place along the singletrack road. Now you can put your foot down and sail past Arisaig with only a sideways glance to catch sight of the golden sands. Our latest trip from Edinburgh to Mallaig took just under four hours, 17 minutes shorter than the AA estimate, and we weren’t rushing. When the final phase is finished the journey will be even quicker.
I know my feelings would be much simpler if I lived and worked anywhere along that route. Even with the new road this part of Scotland still feels extraordinarily remote. The remoteness is part of the allure but it is hard work trying to make a living in isolated shrinking communities where kids leave to go to college and rarely come back.
There are cheering signs of new bustling business in the little fishing port (and on the small isles). Not surprisingly Highland Council greets the road as great news for the local economy. But all progress has a cost and I wonder if the cost of road building ever includes the cost of the impact on the local environment.
Healthy survival of any human settlement requires good routes for trade and services. For the Highland Council this last £22million investment, with the help of European money, is a ‘lifeline for the community’. The loss of woodland must seem a small price to pay. But I think, or hope, that loss of our natural landscape may soon need to be factored into the cost of any new development. Those old trees on either side of the old A830 supported their own bustling community, a rich and complex mix of plants and living creatures: birds and bats thriving on West Coast midges. What was their value? Where and how will they be replaced?
Ironically, running alongside the A830 is an alternative route to Mallaig, a railway offering the most beautiful train journey in Britain running along the coast, passed heather tracks and through old trees. The young Polish hitch hiker we picked up on the road home said it was ‘like a fairytale’. Couldn’t we invest a few million to encourage more people to rediscover the magic of this way of travelling?
September 21st, 2007
Here’s an appeal from Friends of the Earth asking campaigners for Edinburgh’s tram to pass on a pdf depicting Alex Salmond (biggest fish of the SNP) as Borat. I can’t work out how to upload the pdf so, even better, here’s a photo of someone outside the Scottish Parliament getting across the message that even Kazakhstan has trams.
Obviously not Mr Salmond who is much too big a fish to fit into Borat’s trunks. (Thanks to Friends of the Earth Edinburgh for use of this photograph).
Today’s the day we will find out whether the SNP is really prepared to take part in consensus government, or whether they will simply ignore common sense, the Auditor General’s (generally favourable) review and the overwhelmingly majority cross-party support.
Time then for the final phase of the campaign. Bring out Borat.
I was at the Friends of the Earth meeting in May when the Borat offensive was revealed. It was a small but cheering affair attended by Labour and Lib Dem councillors as well as some friendly activists (still bearing the bruises of the Congestion Charge campaign). A creative plan of action was drawn up to counter the SNP proposal to ditch the tram.
Never mind the no-hopers who frequent the online comments of the Evening News, the tram has not only unusual cross party support from Labour, Tories, LibDems and Greens, but full backing from the business sector too. (At the recent City Region Conference, the Chamber of Commerce pressed the case for the tram with impressive vigour.)
FoE are seasoned campaigners so as you can imagine there was some serious strategic discussion at the campaign meeting. But some laughs too as we debated how to find a volunteer prepared to run through town dressed as Borat. I am impressed to see they actually found someone to do it!
So please pass on on the message. Keep pressing for the tram. And while you are at it, stop off on the way to gather some good ammunition from Transform Scotland and the new website dedicated to myths and truths of trams in Edinburgh.
June 27th, 2007