Tag Archives: traffic in towns

Tracked hovercrafts and straddling buses

The Ministry of Transport’s 1963 Buchanan Report on the future of traffic in towns may have thought of jetpacks and hoverboards as a potentially real future for individual private travel, but it didn’t ignore public transport entirely.  Obviously, in 1963 the railways were obsolete, but the report suggested there was some scope for “multi-passenger units”, particularly ultra high speed devices on long journeys between dense population centres.

The most delightful is this fabulous art-deco “tracked hovercraft”.  Happy 1960s families, where the women all wear skirts and sit cross-legged and the men all read big important newspapers, drive their car into the bottom deck and sit in airline-style comfort on the upper deck.  It’s not clear whether “tracks” in this solution refer to rail tracks or to caterpillar tracks — the diagram appears to show elements that could be interpreted as either.  Perhaps it has both, for ultimate flexibility.

The report says:

It is possible, of course, if serious technological studies were undertaken, that a whole range of new ideas for moving people and goods in cities would be produced.  It is indeed to be hoped that we are not at the end of our ingenuity in the matter.  The bus, for example, for all its convenience, does not appear to be the last word in comfort.  The travelator seems to offer much scope for development.  Continuously operating chair-lifts might be used in a highly attractive way between points of pedestrian concentration to augment existing means of travel.  Conveyor belts, pneumatic tubes, and pipelines might well be developed for the conveyance of goods, perhaps even justifying rearrangement of commercial processes to facilitate their use.

Monorails and moving pavements were the future of public transport in the 1960s — at least while we were waiting for our moon bases and space elevators.

Just some things to bear in mind when you consider the Shenzhen Huashi Future Parking Equipment Company’s (!) dream of the straddling bus:

Once upon a time, highly educated and expensive civil engineers were required to invent absurd transport solutions. Now all you need is an idiot who knows how to open photoshop.

For those unfamiliar with the city, Shenzhen neighbours Hong Kong; it was a fishing village right into the late 1970s when China created a “special economic zone” encouraging market capitalism here.  The city now has a population estimated to be 14 million squeezed into the limits of the SEZ, and is one of the fastest growing cities in the world.  It’s an entirely new city, conceived late in the motorcar era, and full of the wide boulevards you would expect in modern car dependent Chinese cities.

Shenzhen is the future.  At least, it must feel that way to the people who live there.  The Chinese are in the middle of great change: social progress, economic development, and technological revolution.  This is their 1960s, and more.  They’re putting men into space to prepare the way for the space elevators.

They’re also struggling with the sort of problems that European cities were struggling with the the 1960s.  In the picture above you can see how this little city street is too narrow to accommodate conventional buses.  Conventional buses keep stopping and starting, and this causes congestion as Important People in cars have to slow down and move over into one of the other four lanes available to them.  Therefore there is a need to invent the straddling bus, which will not impair Important Motor Traffic — those SUVs and executive saloon cars can happily drive under it (albeit, only having been considerably shrunk in photoshop).

It’s a genuinely clever idea.  You might wonder whether they’ve considered safety, and turning cars, and height clearance.  Of course they have.  The engineers have thought of everything and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t work in Shenzhen.  Just as there was no reason why hovertrains and moving pavements shouldn’t work…

Memo to Philip Hammond: Hoverboards project

Continuing the 1963 Buchanan Report on the future of transport in towns, over the page:

A development which may offer a more direct challenge to the motor car, assuming the problem of noise can be overcome, is the air-cushion craft.  It seems to give scope for development of a small personal machine, useable perhaps eventually on ordinary pavements as a substitute for walking.  Yet it may be questioned whether it would really take this form, whether the urge to put a perspex cover over it for weather protection, to use it at higher speeds, to add extra seats, and to affix luggage containers, would not soon convert it into a motor car in all respects but the possession of wheels.

[...] It may have a different source of motive power so that it is no longer strictly a motor vehicle, it may be quieter and without fumes, it may be styled in some quite different way, it may be produced in smaller forms, it may be guided in certain streets by electronic means, it may have the ability to perform sideways movements, but for practical purposes it will present most of the problems that are presented by the motor vehicle today.

These days if you drop a criticism of car addiction into a conversation somebody will be there with a defence of car use: you could have the bigger carbon footprint.  Somebody driving their compact fuel efficient car to the shops once a week might have a smaller carbon footprint than somebody taking daily long-distance rail trips.  Congestion?  Sure, but that won’t make much of a difference to their carbon footprint.  They might drive into somebody?  Sure, but that won’t make much of a difference to their carbon footprint.  Particulate pollution?  That’s not a greenhouse gas.

Everyone seems to have forgotten that there were already multiple major problems with our transport and town planning long before we discovered our CO2 problem.  We need a solution to them all, not an excuse to ignore all but one.

(With a tip of the hat to Carlton Reid, whose joke I’m stealing.)

Where’s my jetpack?

From page 24 of Traffic In Towns, the 1963 Buchanan Report to the Minister of Transport:

The future of the motor vehicle

[...] it would be foolish to embark upon drastic and expensive alterations to towns to accommodate motor traffic if there were any serious doubt as to its continuance as a means of transport.

The possibility most usually canvassed is that within a measurable time some kind of individual jet-propulsion unit will be developed, of which a rudimentary form has already been tried out in the U.S.A. for military use.  This may well come about, but the problems of weather, navigation, air-space and traffic control appear so formidable that it may be questioned whether such a device would ever be practical for mass use, for either freight or passengers, in the crowded conditions of the modern city.  One only has to think of the rush-hour conditions in any large city to realise what would be involved.

The history of transport is a history of revolutions — cart horses on tracks, narrow boats on canals, steam engines on rails, and cars on roads.  I guess in the 1960s, era of progress, revolution, and invention, it was obvious that this periodic replacement of one technology by another would go on forever.

Weekly War Bulletin, 27 Nov

The Evening Standard learn that only 1 in 3 hire bike users are women and then dictate that this is because women are scared and don’t want to get sweaty.  Of course.  Not because men are too scared to commit to buying a bicycle of their own, or because all the men’s own bicycles are broken and they’re too embarrassed to take them to the workshop and admit that they can’t fix them, or because men want to be able to ride sitting upright and with a basket without being called a girl, or because women with their frivolous romantic novels about wealthy gentlemen and swooning ladies enjoy taking the train while men with their very important spreadsheets and reports don’t.  In gender asymmetries there’s always something wrong with the women, and it’s just obvious that this has something to do with fear and sweat.  Right, Evening Standard?

The hire bikes will finally open to spontaneous unregistered users next week, months over schedule (but a few weeks earlier than the xmas prediction that we were last given from TfL).

The London Cycling Campaign step in to timidly ask the question we’ve all been asking: er, should the hardened criminal killer of Catriona Patel really have been free to drive his truck over the cyclist in the first place?

The big news this week, though, has been all the wonderful things that the coalition are doing for the railways!  (Nobody mention that these are merely the few Labour rail projects that the Tories are not cutting.)  Thameslink goes ahead in full (nobody mention that the Tories will make it eighteen years late rather than sixteen), the Paddington lines will be electrified to Dave, Gideon, and Phil’s old home, Oxford (nobody mention that the Tories will drop the electrification further down to Bristol, Cardiff, and Swansea), there will be hundreds of new carriages (nobody mention that the Tories will order fewer and later).  Thanks, Tories!  The amount of cash saved will probably almost pay for the overspend on the futile M25 congestion relief work.

ATOC didn’t do quite so well at disguising their bad news: despite their best efforts to cover up, the media spotted that there was going to be another massively above inflation rail fares hike this new year.

Meanwhile, Virgin Trains, they of the chronically overcrowded WCML, are apparently holding new carriages hostage, demanding a franchise extension as ransom before they will extend their trains.

And Network Rail have cut £200m costs.  The directors must deserve another £200m in bonuses for that.

Rural bus services might also suffer from fares fiddling.

It’s just too dangerous to ride a bicycle in London.  It is if you’re the deputy prime-minister, anyway: Nick has to take the ministerial car to protect himself from missiles and hit men.

But boo hoo, local authorities want to raise the penalties for illegal parking, you know, to be an actual disincentive.

I thought everyone had already arranged to be on holiday during the Olympics, but apparently some people still haven’t been frightened off — so All Newspapers have been roped in to spread the word of the apocalyptic traffic chaos that will hit London.

This weekend, Oxford Street will be how it should always have been: pedestrians only.  Incidentally, this morning the postman turned up with a tatty copy of the 1963 Traffic in Towns (aka, The Buchanan Report to the Minister of Transport on the long term problems of traffic in urban areas), one of the earliest government documents to acknowledge that British towns and cities might not be able to comfortably accommodate widespread motor vehicle use.  Its author even in 1963 said that Oxford Street, “the most uncivilised street in Europe”, “epitomizes the conflict between traffic and environment”.  (Their solution is given at the bottom of this post.)

The helmetcam doesn’t lie: 88% of accidents involving cyclists in Australia are caused by bad motor vehicle drivers.

Cutting Cycling England wasn’t about cutting cycling: it was just about bringing it in-house to DfT, where it will be transparent and get the attention it deserves.  So nobody mention that the first CE-funded projects are going under.

Imagine if workmen knocked off early leaving the Blackwall or Rotherhithe tunnels closed without warning — the Standard would howl and the mayor would seek to fine the contractors.  Seems nobody cares when it’s the Greenwich or Woolwich foot tunnels, though.  Bath don’t seem to think that pedestrians and cyclists need alternative river crossings when their bridges are closed, either.

There’s a good chance of Bristol getting a citywide 20mph limit.  It’s a shame individual cities have to introduce this one-by-one at £500k a time, though.  Surely it would save on printing signs and cluttering the streets with them if we simply made 20 the default for built up areas…

Probably we will never ever see a weekend of full tube service; certainly not until 2012, though.

Got an old rusty bicycle that’s of no use?  Want to do your bit for the War On The Motorist?  Chain it to the railings outside MI6.  You’ll have all the roads in Vauxhall closed while they blow it up.

This is no more “news” than “tubes go on stike” or “rail fares rise”, but: yet another study says speed cameras save lives.

Twat leaves injured blind pensioner on the side of the street.  But the twat happened to be on a bicycle and the street happened to be a shared use de-motorized street: therefore all cyclists are dangerously selfish lycra louts -or- all shared use paths are dangerous.  Delete as applicable.  Obviously, no such conclusions can be drawn from somebody driving their car into a woman and leaving her to freeze to death in a Somerset ditch.

MP upsets constituents with bad parking-fine advice.  Apparently the Motorists were upset because they were caught by cameras that were designed to tackle anti-social behaviour.  Because middle-class crimes like blocking pavements, taking disabled parking bays, or leaving your car in the way of buses and ambulances are perfectly acceptable and social behaviours.  At least drink-driving is no longer acceptable to the middle-classes — if it’s a Labour MP doing the drink-driving, that is.

Here are the numbers on kids and roads: how many are forbidden from walking and cycling by their parents, and how many have been hit by cars.

One single police force are putting up billboards reminding Motorists how to drive.  As the comments thread points out, that’s the War On The Motorist, that is.

Some councils fill in potholes, some don’t.  How well does yours do?

Double yellow lines will “deter” car users from parking in Cambridge bike lanes.

Your moment of zen: from Traffic in Towns, a plan for the modernisation of Fitzrovia, including the Euston and Totenham Court Motorways, and the widening of Oxford Street to approximately 7 times its current width, for parking purposes:

And Virgin Trains, they of the chronically overcrowded WCML, are apparently holding new carriages hostage, demanding a franchise extension as ransom before they will extend their trains.