Monday, 18 March 2013

A38 high streets part 3: Gloucester Road shows "car parking" is a cargo cult solution

Parts 1 and 2 of the A38 tour, must have depressed everyone looking at the sights.

Filton Road: a shopping area reduced to a mini roundabout, some pig-pen barriers to keep pedestrians from crossing the road, and a row of run down shops -despite the free parking outside and in the car park.

Bedminster: a pedestrian precinct with nothing but a closed down booze express, check cashers, a low grade bakery and a motaman car parts shop.

Bleak. Yet what else does the A38 have to offer?

The best high street in Bristol. 

One the BBC Today program visited when they wanted to see what a thriving high street still looked like in the UK

A street with trees, cafes outdoors, bike parking that has bikes in, rather than two bent racks that look unwelcome by the shop forced to to put them in. The breadstore, below, always has a queue of people waiting to buy bread on a saturday
A street with five star reviews on Yelp.  A street recommended as a place to visit in Bristol tourist guides.

See that? Not "a place to drive through on your way to an out of town supermarket". Not "somewhere to take out a payday loan" (there is one of those shops, and a booze express, but they are discreet, not shops that are struggling to survive themselves)

Look at the difference with the other two. Independent shops. That's key. Less of the same chainstores you get that make every street in Britain the same. They are there: a sainsbury's lite, a boots, but they are only one or two of many.

What you do see is people walking around. Again, this looks like a Sunday, but some of the shops are open -and people are walking, or pushing a bicycle from shop to shop.
The road here is no parking at any time on one side, showcase bus and bike route on weekdays.
Between 8 am and 9:30 am, and from 4:30 PM to 5pm, any parking in the bus lane gets a ticket issued by way of the CCTV cameras mounted on lampposts.

No doubt those are exactly the tickets that Pickles was ranting about, the ones destroying the high street,the ones Mary Portas was implying are killing high street.


Well, here's some evidence neither of them know what they are talking about.

Instead of vans outside shops, you see people sitting outside having coffee. Next to them a traditional greengrocers. Go there on a Saturday and the butchers will be selling hamburgers, or whatever else they are cooking on the street, the fishmongers the same with fresh fish.

The independent retailers have made this a destination, the people come.

It's not about car parking. Saying "we need car car parking" is a mistake. It is looking at out of town malls, saying "they have car parking and are successful -if we add car parking, we will be successful".


They need to copy the high streets that are doing well. In Bristol, that is
  • Gloucester Road
  • St Mark's Road, Easton
  • Southville (adjacent to Bedminster)
 What are their secrets? At a glance
  • Interesting shops, making walking along the streets something to do for pleasure, to make the extra time doing that versus pushing a trolley round a supermarket a pleasant time. 
  • Cafes if you want to have some food or coffee. Not just chain coffee shops, but a variety of options.
  • Useful shops: greengrocers, ironmongers, butchers, fishmongers. A post-office.
  • Small supermarkets, not an ASDA "street-killer" class facility
  • A pavement that is pleasant to walk on, not somewhere for cars to park.
If you look at what Bedminster are trying to do, they realise this. They are trying to join up with Southville, trying to make it better. But with all that car parking, its a walking wasteland.

The very features that encourage driving: wide roads, roundabouts and parking lots, make walking so uninspiring and cycling so dangerous, that people don't walk there. They don't walk around. All you get are fat lazy bastards like Pickles himself, nipping in for a packet of cigarettes and some cheap beer.
If you hear anyone saying "parking is needed", or "10 minute parking outside shops should be encouraged", point them at Filton Road, Gloucester Road and Bedminster North street (they are all on Street view) and say "which of these streets would you like to shop at". Then say "which of these streets has the least parking facilities. Then ask them whether they realise they don't have a fucking clue and should shut up until they have something fucking sensible to say.

A38 High Streets part 2, Bedminster

Part 1 of this series looked at Filton Road. Now lets take the streetview camera across Bristol to another part of the same road, the A38. This time, Bedminster.

You can't actually get into North Street unless you are a delivery van or bus -here are some of the outside views.

From this side street, a building to let. In the distance, a check cash and loan shop.

From the western end, budget booze appears to be suffering, it has some polish shop signs above it, and another "to let" sign
 Getting into the through traffic bit, it's not any more welcoming. There's a pawnbrokers to the right. Further up the road is the S. Bristol branch of Motaman -the other one being on Filton road (RHS of the final photo in part 1)

Bedminster has been chosen for this part of the A38 overview for a key reason: it's a Mary Portas Pilot Town! Its run-downness -1 in 5 shops- is clearly obvious, the fact that the open shops -cash converters, pawn shops, check cashers show that the people who do come there have little or no money to spend, and aren't the people going to revitalise it.

Bedminster is trying to improve itself. Even Mary Portas herself, insightful expert in rebuilding high streets, has visited it.

Did she say "legalise illegal parking" here? Even she wasn't that stupid.

Directly behind North Street: 1 hour free parking
Behind that, a vast space of extra parking
And at the North end of North street (carrying on forwards past Motaman), there's the giant asda supermarket -with an even bigger car park.

The one thing Bedminster doesn't suffer from is a lack of parking.

It suffers from
  • A supermarket that over 20 years killed off day to day shopping.
  • Replacement shops like Booze express and Motaman failing to attract other customers. Even these two shops have now shut down.
  • Lack of money in the remaining visitors. You don't have two short-term loan companies and a pawnbrokers in a thriving area.
  • the fact that the asda supermarket blocks pedestrian and bicycle access from southville doesn't help.
Mary has her work cut out here, and we wish her well. Yet Bedminster proves something important

You can add hundreds of parking spaces to a run down high street and it will make no difference whatsoever.

Whatever they are going to do for the town, it won't be extra parking. At least it shouldn't be. Its inevitable that someone will be blaming the pedestrian only area for loss of trade, demanding it is reopened to ten-minute shoppers, but let's be ruthless here: it has done nothing for those bits of the street that are open to two-way motor traffic.

Will parking revitalise the A38? Part 1: filton

Mary Portas supports Eric "end the war on motorists" Pickles proposal to stop drivers parking  illegally for 10 minutes "to pop into a shop" from being ticketed.

Let's consider the implementation details of that

  1. How do you prove you just popped into a shop? A receipt? A witness statement? A CCTV camera? Impossible. All that leaves is the claim of the driver.
  2. How long is the cutoff time? 10 minutes? 11 minutes? 9 min? Again: it'll be a point of contention. Without witnesses, opinions of the driver again.
  3. Is it OK to drive from shop to shop, stopping for 10 minutes each time? You can see fat lazy bastards doing this -people who look like Eric Pickles. Is there a minimum time between parking illegally, or a minimum distance you have to drive?
No doubt Pickle's didn't think that through when he did his populist speech.

Let's turn instead to something else: the claim that this will benefit the high street.

Filton Road on the A38. This is the border between Bristol -behind the camera- and SGloucs.
There's some parking, but perhaps they can't deal with a giant influx of shoppers.

Maybe it's the lack of parking at peak times that has shut down a lot of the shops here. The lack of traffic hints the drive-by was on a sunday, but the carpet shop is open, unlike the abandoned "uniform centre"

The wide pavements are begging for people to walk on them -and if not, why not turn it into parking? Why not let people park on the zebra crossing and let them nip in to the shops here -so revitalise a high street clearly on its last legs.

Here's why not: turn round and there's a giant parking area for shoppers.

It's even highlighted as you approach, "Shoppers Car Park"

It is fucking obvious that having enough parking spaces for tens of cars, along with short-stay parking right outside the shops doesn't magically bring some mediocre high street back to life?

And why is this high street so mediocre? Because its so painfully car centric that it only welcomes people in a car -and once you get in one, you may as well drive all the way on to the ring road instead of shopping in such a run down street.

Encouraging people to park simply discourages people from walking to the shops -and once in a car, they can shop where they want.


Sunday, 17 March 2013

London: an example for the rest of Britain

The "Boris Plan" for London could mark the most profound change in cycling policy in the UK for decades.

It may just be slight increase in the pittance spent per year -less than one roundabout-, but it represents something more: a commitment to improve cycling provisions in the city, not for those people who cycle today, "the cyclists", as the local press like to whine about, but for everyone.

TfLs conversion of a lane of the Embankment from a coach park to a segregated route doesn't just aid cycling, it says to the world, "London is a modern city".

 Even if "dutch" is unrealistic, London knows that it has to compete as a city with New York and Paris -and they are pulling ahead of London.
Where the plans are under threat is in the local councils, a legacy of the 1980s destruction of the GLC. Admittedly, much of the blame there could be placed on Ken Livingston for taking a stance against thatcher, for adorning the south bank GLC offices with a counter of the number of unemployed. But the price of that splitting up is that the different boroughs represent their perceived interests.

Westminster is going to be the showcase. They hate cyclists with a vengeance, they treat pedestrians with disdain. They object to new bicycle docks, they build one-way rat-runs parallel to Oxford Street and Tottenham Court road, so removing the "quiet ways" that Boris mentioned.
Boris may have the willpower -now- but it will be up to the London cyclists, and press like the Times, to make sure that not only does he deliver, but his successors do too. And we are going to have to change the view of every council in the country that thinks cycling is an unrealistic transport option, that driving and parking is all that matters.
The London Project can do this, because now every city cycling group can say "this is what London is doing -they are moving in to the 21st century. Why are you stuck in 1972?"

We can also say the same to central government. Because now we can point to the odd £20M that gets recycled from previous press releases and say "you are taking the piss". We can say "why is TfL planning to spend more per year than you are claiming the entire country needs to spend on cycling". We can say "why doesn't the highway's agency look at what TfL are doing and recognise that the economic benefits of encouraging cycling justify the investment".

If we are ruthless, we can say "why are you frittering away so much on HS2, to seek votes in the north of england that your party has lost already? -and why don't you spend a fraction of it making the country somewhere that everyone feels is safe to cycle?"

(the pictures above are all from Lisson Grove, where the union canal goes through a tunnel, and cyclists are forced on the roads. Westminster Council has noted the desire lines, and put up barriers and signs to stop the cyclists getting where they want to go. At the bottom, Aberdeen Place clearly enough room for a segregated route, but echelon parking of vans takes priority. This shows their attitude.)

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Right to Drive vs Right to Live

Ignoring the -excellent- news from London, something bleaker from scotland:

Driver, 94, faces trial after denying causing death of cyclist by dangerous driving

"A 94-YEAR-OLD woman driver yesterday denied causing the death of a cyclist.

Alice Ross is alleged to have driven on to the wrong side of a road, mounted a verge, drove along a pavement and hit a couple who were holidaying in Scotland to celebrate their first wedding anniversary."

This could be where automated cars could help -though they may increase pressure for 94 year olds to drive.

"Ross has a special defence of automatism. She claims she was unconscious after a medical condition caused her to faint."

The "medical condition" defence comes up again and again -invariably after someone gets killed.

Which is surprising: is it just a coincidence that whenever these "unknown medical condition" situations arise, the driver ends up killing someone? Because if not, there must be a lot more people discovering their  "unknown medical condition" while driving -but only hitting a lamppost, or going into a ditch.

What happens then? Do you think they go to their doctor and say "doctor, I was in a crash and don't remember what happened? Am I safe to drive? ". Or do they say nothing, and keep driving.

The DVLA should know things like the frequency of license returns, how it varies with the country and the demographics, and could help identify groups who appear to be underreporting their problems. 94 year-olds seem to be one: why is someone that old allowed to drive a weapon that can kill anyone else on the streets? Since the age of 70, she will have been required to self-declare her fitness to drive every three years. If the GP records could be examined, and she has been found to have lied on that form, does that make her guilty of dangerous driving?

And what about the GP -in this case or any other?  The DVLA has guidelines on their responsibilities.

"If you do not manage to persuade the patient to stop driving, or you discover that they are continuing to drive against your advice, you should contact the DVLA immediately and disclose any relevant medical information, in confidence, to the medical adviser."

This means: medical confidentiality rules can be broken if the patient is not considered safe to drive -yet is continuing to do so.

For anyone -anyone at all- to use the medical defence, their medical history should be disclosed to an independent medical reviewer, and if found that they had symptoms which prevented them from driving, then the defence should not be allowed -maybe even amplified. If you drive after being told you have a medical condition that should stop you, then you are automatically a dangerous driver.

What about the GP? They have a conflict of interest here. Do they be nice to the patient they have got to know, or do they represent the needs of the rest of society. The number of "the fainting condition", "my fear of wasps" excuses that crop up is something that needs to be raised here.

All it takes is a letter from the GP and they could have their license removed.

If that doesn't happen, then both the patient and the GP are responsible for loss of lives in our streets.

Of course, that assumes the patient really does have the condition, not some lawyer using it as an excuse.

But even there -if the lawyer does get them off, that driver needs to have their license removed until it can be demonstrated that they are safe to drive. That's better than a normal "6 month suspended license"  punishment, as this says "until we are convinced that your mysterious appeared-without-warnings condition isn't going to come back, no car for you". Somehow we need to make sure that happens.

If the DVLA do take back your license, you actually get a free bus pass and discounted rail and oystercard prices. People who can't drive for health reasons get better treatment on public transport than people who can't drive for wealth reasons. This shows how much the "right to drive" has been institutionalised -to feel sorry for people who can't drive, because it is such an abnormality in an adult.

Even so, that free bus permit does help people adapt to not being able to drive, to have a car sitting there saying "drive me, drive me" . Which brings up an idea: why not make everyone whose license is suspended to automatically pay for a local bus pass for the first year of their suspension? Once you've spent it, you may as well get on the bus, rather than lie to yourself and say "I have no choice but to drive", which is what we get today.

Monday, 4 March 2013

We have seen The Man and He Drives

The ongoing cycle safety hearings in London have looked at barriers to cycling -fear of death in cities designed for fast moving cars, buses and lorries, not people.

It's telling that even the MP last week said she wasn't prepared cycle with children -that's a failed cycling policy. Fit adult cyclists -especially aggressive men- can get up to speed, merge into traffic, get into the right hand turn in a multi-lane gyratory. The rest: intimidated away.

Clearly this is broken society.

But today: the ACPO appear: "we don't enforce 20 mph limits"

The ACPO sound like these limits are being imposed from above, and nobody in society wants them.

Yet the residents of the streets where 20 mile limits were rolled out have wanted exactly that -campaigned for them, worked with councillors to get them pushed out. The councillors have invested political capital in getting the 20 mph limits pushed out -because they know they are important to their electorate. They spent real money on the legal changes and the signage.

The ACPO have shown they don't care about that, because they don't agree with the limits -and they decide what laws get enforced. If the police don't enforce laws then the indifference of magistrates "it was only an accident that you killed a boy", becomes irrelevant. Same for the CPS: downgrading driving offences for easier success rates and better statistics in their annual targets -not justice for road traffic victims.

The ACPO last came to national attention with their funding of undercover police to infiltrate (legal) environmental activism groups, and then provide the support (here a van) to break the law -after which they were prosecuted. The ACPO are clearly deciding which laws to enforce -and who the enemies of the state are. They are the people campaigning for a better society, for better cities.

The ACPO are not accountable to parliament; they are exempt from FoI legislation. It is in fact a private company to which we have outsourced the decisions as to what laws are enforced in the country -and hence what laws we really have.

The Guardan, Jan 2011, the state's pedlars of fear must be brought to account:
 It is not, as its name suggests, the police officers' staff club, nor is it a public body of any sort. It is a private company, incorporated in 1997. It is sub-contracted by Whitehall to operate the police end of the government's counterterrorism and "anti-extremism" strategies. It is thus alongside MI5, but even less accountable.
Acpo was once a liaison group. But, like all bureaucracies, it has grown. It now runs its own police forces under a police chief boss, Sir Hugh Orde, like a British FBI. It trades on its own account, generating revenue by selling data from the police national computer for £70 an item (cost of retrieval, 60p). It owns an estate of 80 flats in central London. While the generous logistical support it offered the greens was doubtless gratis, we do not know if E.ON UK, the operator of Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station, paid for security intelligence from Kennedy.
George Monbiot, the Guardian, April 2011: One good thing can come of Mark Kennedy saga – disbanding of ACPO:
it has been running what is, in effect, a private militia in the United Kingdom. Until the Kennedy revelations made its role impossible to sustain, it controlled a number of police units, employing public servants to perform tasks over which there was no direct state control. As so often happens where accountability fails, the units worked for those who have power, against those who don't.
Their activities go far beyond the constitutional role of the police, straying into work that is blatantly political. When, for example, local people in Oxfordshire protested peacefully against RWE npower's plan to fill the beautiful lake where they swam and picnicked with pulverised fly ash from Didcot power station, NETCU slapped them on its list of "domestic extremists". They had broken no laws and done nothing extreme.
it is becoming obvious that police chiefs in this country are out of control. They appear to see their role as protecting corporate power against the people, regardless of what the law says. To this end they are spending both public money and private money extracted from public hands, without obvious lines of accountability or constitutional authority.
They are behaving as you would have expected the Guardia Civil under Francisco Franco to behave: working for private interests against the public interest.

This is what we saw today: the ACPO, a private company, deciding that because they don't like 20mph laws, their officers won't enforce them. They don't exist. The signage, the effort, a complete waste.

Who is it making these decisions? Senior policemen who get driven round in chauffered cars. Policemen who clearly view the environmental movement as a threat. The policemen in charge of decisions to prosecute people from the Olympic Critical Mass.

Whether we want it or not: they are the enemy.

It won't matter what the national politicians do after this report, if they stop being a group of weasel worded "we give this our consideration" liars -because the ACPO will simply override them.

They are The Man.