Tag Archives: roads

The Beginning Of The End?

As noted last week in my third and final post of 2018, there is a reason for the lack of posts. After attempting to post weekly in 2017 (I failed, but the longest gap was six weeks) and complaining frequently that I didn’t have time for everything (I always seem to have too many projects on the go) I was advised to stop blogging. The time spent writing didn’t seem worthwhile given that I have received very few genuine comments (lots of spam though) and I am not aware of viewer numbers. I initially intended to phase out the blog, completing the backlog of partly written posts (mostly holiday travel reports) and then bringing the whole thing to a stop. My general level of busyness however has ensured that the partly written posts have stayed that way.

Direct Rail Services class 57 locomotive with 'Northern Belle' coaches crossing a bridge over a road in Goodwick, Pembrokeshire.
Over the limit: a class 57 leads the ‘Northern Belle’ through Goodwick on route to Fishguard Harbour. This is one of my most-recent photographs on Flickr.
Those posts might appear one day, and I have one or two ideas for new posts for this new year, but no promises. Either way, as far as this blog is concerned I think we have reached the beginning of the end. A further setback is that Flickr have decided to introduce a 1,000 photo limit on free accounts. I had over 1,120 photos hosted on the platform, some solely for the purpose of this blog, and have therefore been forced to start deleting some photos. Any new pictures for the blog will therefore have to be hosted elsewhere (I’m using old photos that I had already uploaded to Flickr at the moment).

But enough about me. As 2018 drew to a close I received two e-mails requesting that I contact the five Assembly Members representing my area in the National Assembly for Wales to ask them to vote against the proposals to build a second M4 around Newport. Apparently, the Assembly were expected to vote on the scheme by the end of that year. It soon became clear that the vote would not in fact take place until early 2019, but when it does I feel that the outcome will be profound. Sophie Howe, the Future Generations Commissioner For Wales, has spoken out against the project. The decision on whether or not to proceed could therefore have wider implications than decisions on previous road projects. For the first time a major road scheme could be shelved due, in large part, to the need to reduce car travel and greenhouse gas emissions; rather than purely on cost grounds or because of local environmental issues.

New bridge under construction at Severn Tunnel Junction
On the edge of the levels: Severn Tunnel Junction is the nearest I’ve come to a photograph of the Gwent Levels, which the proposed new M4 would run through.
Cancellation of the second M4 could therefore, at long last, be the beginning of the end for the traditional ‘predict and provide’ car culture; and the start of a meaningful shift towards sustainable transport. It might even set an example to other nations that building infrastructure is not always compatible with the need to combat climate change. If it sets such a positive precedent, it might just save life on Earth. On the other hand, if the decision goes the other way and the new motorway is built it would suggest that all the well-meaning legislation that aims to protect nature and the climate are worthless. The Future Generations Act, heralded as ‘groundbreaking’ by its promoters, would suddenly appear toothless and pointless. A dangerous precedent could be set; with road building and traffic growth continuing to be a favoured policy in government as it has been since the era of Dr Richard Beeching’s infamous ‘axe’. Climate change would likely become unstoppable; it could be the beginning of the end for many species.

Apologies for ending on such a pessimistic note, but remember that is just one possible outcome. The plans for a second M4 could yet be abandoned; for all our sakes let us hope so. Either way, 2019 could be a crucial year; let’s do humanity proud.

Beyond World’s End?

The previous instalment of this travel-report series concluded after leaving Oxford on Tuesday 22nd March 2016. This post brings the story of our ‘short holiday’ to its end with an account of the last day of the trip, Wednesday 23rd March.

Sika deer in Woburn Abbey's deer park
I’ve Seen The Sika: Sika Deer In Woburn Abbey’s Deer Park
In the morning, after my brother had been dropped off, the three of us (my mother and grandmother, plus myself) headed over to Woburn Abbey. While their safari park is a segregated tourist attraction, a public road runs through part of Woburn’s deer park. This had been an interesting feature of many of our journeys between our accommodation and the various places we had visited, and we drove through another part of it on route to the Woburn Abbey car park.
Oriental-style structure on rocky outcrop across a pond in Woburn Abbey Gardens
Spirit Of The East: Oriental Architecture In Woburn Abbey Gardens
Together we took a quick look around the Woburn gardens which, slightly unusually, featured a number of structures of oriental architecture (some of which I thought worked aesthetically). I then returned to the car and sat listening to music while my elders visited the house itself.

My brother wasn’t doing a full day, so our next move was to go and collect him, before heading into the centre of Milton Keynes for the first time. We didn’t like what we found; the place was all very grey and dreary. Long, straight, dual carriageways flanked by car parking with a slightly shabby shopping centre.

Photo by Tom Parnell of Silbury Boulevard in Milton Keynes
Post-Apocalyptic: Silbury Boulevard, Milton Keynes (photo by Tom Parnell).
The overall impression of the place was ‘post-apocalyptic’. I’m not kidding, something about it reminded me of the scenes set in Pripyat in the game “Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare”; Pripyat being the city that was abandoned due to the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster.

Photo by Tom Parnell of Midsummer Boulevard, Milton Keynes
Depressing View: Midsummer Boulevard, Milton Keynes (photo by Tom Parnell)
Being me, I blame the car. Milton Keynes appears to have been designed around it; the grid of roads (many being dual-carriageways), the acres of asphalt/concrete; all designed to support a population of motorists. At the time of writing, the Wikipedia article on Milton Keynes states that the central area was not designed as a traditional town centre. Instead, it is like out-of-town shopping centres (a “car-culture” idea, probably impractical to use on foot) but in the centre of town. Even ‘Milton Keynes Central’ railway station is on the edge of the central area, the wrong side of one of the dual carriageways, rather than dead-centre. Maybe there was a good reason for that; but I don’t know what that might be. Just like motorways, Milton Keynes itself (what we saw of it, at any rate) is characterless, uninspiring and depressing. Although there is some greenery, even this is standardised and fails to prevent the place looking artificial and near-lifeless (again, just like motorways and most dual-carriageways).

Photo by Stephen McKay of Midsummer Boulevard, Milton Keynes
Beyond World’s End? Another view of Milton Keynes’ Midsummer Boulevard (photo by Stephen McKay)
Almost needless to say, we didn’t stay long. But what was the best way home? I’m writing this some time after the event, so my memory is hazy, but I think I directed us along the A421 and A4421 to Bicester, then the A41 and M40 to avoid the Oxford ring road, then off the M40 at junction 8a onto the A40 briefly then the A329, B4015 and A415 to Abingdon where my plan unravelled. The traffic was terrible and it took us some time to get through the town. My mother, in the driver’s seat, was therefore rather displeased with my navigating (I think I may have had an alternative in mind, and may have even voiced it, but since that was using minor roads I doubt that would have gone down well either). Anyway, we eventually made it to the A34 and headed south towards the M4. On the way, I noticed that one of the minor roads alongside the A34 led to a place called “World’s End”, we drove right past it. This was the inspiration for the title of this post; very appropriate given that parts of our trip had been something of a culture-shock. I’m opposed to the proposed second M4 around Newport, and various other bypass projects, on the grounds that creating more space for more cars encourages even more car use, leading to increased pollution and congestion (leading to more tarmac and so on in a vicious circle). But having seen Milton Keynes, I wondered if it is already too late; have we already spiralled beyond the point where the car addiction is fatal to life on this good Earth?

Returning to the journey, having joined the M4 at Newbury and travelled some distance along it, we had to turn off the motorway for fuel (at junction 18, I think), having just missed a service station. The road to Pennsylvania was “chock-a-block” with traffic so we headed in the opposite direction, hoping that the petrol station I could see on the map would be open; it was. It was on this little detour off the motorway that Mum cheered, having seen some cows in a field (she was suffering from ‘withdrawal symptoms’ caused by all the concrete and arable farming). Once back on the motorway, we made our familiar drive home along the motorway and A48 to Carmarthen and then on into the land of the living and home. What a relief; these few days were a real eye-opener for me.

Photograph of N.W. Wales mountains from a Cambrian Coast train
Beautiful West Wales: a view from the Cambrian Coast Line between Dovey Junction to Pwllheli.
So, if you want to escape the post-apocalyptic concrete wasteland of southern England on your next holiday come to the west of Wales; but leave your car at home, we don’t want our country ruined in the same way. Use our ‘delightful’ bus services.

Happy New Year (this post was scheduled to appear in the last minute of 2016, so by the time you read this it is probably 2017).

Saying Soup

When trying to come up with a catchy title for this post, I toyed with several common sayings. “Drop in the ocean”, “reaping the whirlwind””, “tip of the iceberg” and “heads in the sand”; all seemed appropriate to the content of today’s post. Last night on radio 4 two news stories, or possibly three, caught my attention.

Super Voyager train at Carlisle
Before the storm, Voyager at Carlisle back in August
The first was that there has been severe flooding in the north of England, in and around Carlisle. I looked in vain through my Flickr uploads for a suitable image of flooding, but I digress. The cause apparently was a record-breaking amount of rainfall. While we cannot blame any particular severe whether event on climate change, the report stated that this is a record which has been broken several times over the past 15 years. What used to be 1-in-100-year events are now happening in a much shorter space of time. The good news is that nobody seems to be in denial anymore, climate change as a result of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is an accepted fact. Good, now can we please finally get on and take some serious action to deal with it, before it gets really bad? As we have come to expect following these events, the government has defended its investment in flood defence schemes and promised more. That’s all well and good, because greenhouse gas emissions have been high in recent decades and climate effects lag behind emissions (there’s the iceberg/ocean reference). But this is only treating the symptoms, it is high time we treated the cause. And, apparently, we are starting to: this morning I heard that greenhouse gas emissions actually decreased slightly this year compared to last year (largely thanks to China reducing coal consumption), but we need to cut emissions faster.

The second item of note last night, though I’m not sure if it is a separate story, was that the rain had caused a landslip which has closed the West Coast Main Line north of Carlisle, and the weather was so bad Virgin didn’t bother with rail-replacement buses. This morning, I read that lines in north Wales have also been closed due to the weather. The radio suggested passengers at Euston bound for Scotland go to Kings Cross and take the East Coast Main Line instead. At this point my Dad blurted out something about paraffin budgies (that’s what he likes to call aeroplanes, apparently). I said that would only make the problem worse (more planes = more greenhouse gas). Which brings me nicely to the other item of note on radio 4 last night. Apparently, there are rumours a decision on whether to build another runway at Heathrow is likely to be delayed by six months. I think something was said about an environmental review into the proposal. I got the impression that this would focus on local air quality and noise issues around the airport, but if the politicians observing the flooding had any sense they would see aviation for what it is, a huge contributor to the greenhouse gas problem, and rule out airport expansion once and for all. That would be a good first step in the programme of decisive action that we need to curb climate change. Dear Prime Minister, get your head out of the sand, show leadership and boldly stand up and say no to Heathrow expansion..

I don’t comment on the ISIS/Syria situation, the issues appear so complex I have decided it is beyond my comprehension, but George Monbiot (I like quoting him, don’t I) isn’t afraid to find examples from that debate. “During his statement on Syria, Mr Cameron told the House of Commons that “my first responsibility as Prime Minister … is to keep the British people safe”.” Mr Cameron, ISIS is not the only threat out there. We’re not safe while our power stations burn fossil fuels and biomass without carbon-capture technology, while aviation continues to expand, polluting as it goes, and while you’re government promote private motoring by building roads while you cut public transport. Climate change is a grave threat, but we know what we can do about it, it is time to start doing those things.

Scar On Sustainability

Bridge over the new A477
Road to ruin
In terms of sustatinable integrated transport, the A477 St Clears to Red Roses Road ‘Improvement’ is anything but. I was aware of plans for the ‘A477 St. Clears to Red Roses’ road project, but not that work had started. I was therefore rather supprised a while ago when I learnt that the new road had been openned.

OS map of St Clears to Red RosesThe result of the project was the divertion of a section of the A477 (St Clears to Pembroke Dock) onto a new route of over 4 miles between Llanddowror, near St. Clears, and Red Roses, bypassing both settlements. While motorists probably welcome road bypasses, they are bad news for public transport. To explain why, let me return breifly to the topic of TrawsCymru. The review published relatively recently recomended keeping the journey time down by avoiding detours to serve villages along the route. Local services, such as Cardigan to Aberystwyth via Aberporth and New Quay, are important but are much too slow to attract anyone who has a choice to use the service for an end-to-end journey. However, if the Aberystwyth-Carmarthen service was to ommit Lampeter there would be a significant loss of revenue from passengers making shorter journeys.

A477 new road photo by St Clears Red Roses on Flickr
Speed For Cars
The ideal bus route therefore is one which follows the same road as the motorist, without any detours, but still passes through plenty of settlements that help fill up the bus with those doing shorter trips. Bypasses leave the bus providers with an impossible choice, use the bypass and lose the passengers from the town/village bypassed or divert through the settlement and lose the through traffic due to the extended journey time compared to the car. Modal shift in the wrong direction. In my interest of TrawsCymru and my knowledge that the Pembroke Dock rail branch is quite twisty, I have pondered a Pembroke – Carmarthen – Llandeilo – Llandovery TrawsCymru route. To my horror I discovered that, with the possible exception of Milton and Broadmoor, the bus wouldn’t have anywhere to stop and pick anyone up between Pembroke and Carmarthen (unless it made detours) now that the new St Clears – Red Roses section has been built since nearly everywhere has been bypassed.

Construction of new A477 road
Ribbon Of Destruction
So, not only has Pembrokeshire’s countryside been blighted by yet another ribbon of tarmac but the transport planners have put another nail in the coffin of sustainable transport. Will they ever learn? Apparently not, now they want to build a bypass for a bypass in the form of the M4 motorway round Newport (the big one in south-east Wales that is). We can only hope that does not go ahead.

The images used in this post are a little different from my normal practice. You can still click them to enlarge, but they are not mine. The photographs are taken from the official ‘St Clears Red Roses’, on Flickr and the map is from the Ordinance Survey, using their online OpenSpace API.