Sunday, 31 October 2010

Whiteladies Road: a weekday dataset

Our last trip down Whiteladies road shows that on a weekend, yes, pedestrian shoppers did hold up through traffic. This implied that yes, the FirstBus/Showcase bus route plans to reduce pedestrian crossing options may benefit their schedules, but we were worried about the impact on us cars getting out from side roads.

This video is different as it's a visit by our expendable cyclist on a weekday morning, down the bus lane from Oakfield Road, and through the Triangle as far as University Road, where they head off. Commentary first, analysis later.

At 0:24 FH56CVV switches lanes early, but as everyone else in the RH lane who isn't turning right also goes left, they are forced to give way to the vehicles in front of them anyway.

From 0:29 to 0:40, a bike lane that even waltham forest would be proud of. Its worn-out nature hints that it's popular with larger vehicles, while the trees keep it bumpy.

At 04:40 A9VNG is in the ASL, but we suspect that it was in there when the lights change. Why the suspicion? One car in the pedestrian area and one in front in the yellow hatched "only enter when clear to exit" area stopping cross traffic from St Pauls Road and Tyndall's Park Road getting across. Incidentally, Tyndall's Park road (on the left) here is no left turn, St Paul's (on the right, into Clifton) is no right turn, so all congestion coming up from the Triangle is Whiteladies Road traffic. Note also this junction provides no time for pedestrians to cross when the traffic isn't actually allowed to drive -if only all major junctions in the city were like this, congestion would be much improved. The BBC offices are on the left, incidentally.

Following the cyclist who is commuting without helmet, body-armour or hi-viz clothing, we eventually discover what is holding up WL-road traffic, it's the "triangle" gyratory system, which our tax-dodger hits at 1:43. The underlying problem is that Whiteladies Road traffic is forced to give way to traffic coming from the right, which initially means traffic from Clifton. Further on, at 2:17 we get held up by traffic all coming into the city from the A4 or the Hotwells's Bridges and then up Jacob's Wells road.

There are four lanes here, one for parking, one turning right at the next junction, and two straight on, but that leftmost one is lost even to vans ignoring bus-lane signs, not just by the police car at 2:41 but by the taxi-rank at 2:53.

WN59UDP is held up by these taxis forcing them to wait with all the in-town traffic, so as soon as they can they cut left in front of the bicycle, through the pedestrians and up University Road -only to find that the Biffa refuse collection lorry is in the way and ignoring the important traffic being held up. Finally passing that, they can sprint up to Woodland Road, where as you recall the Evening Post was campaigning against two paid parking spaces going away, which we felt was overreacting as nobody parks their except arts students, and their tuition fee increases will eliminate that luxury.

However, today we can see that the paid parking area is also popular for parental dropoff outside Bristol Grammar School -and it actually makes for a nice, low-chaos dropoff area. Admittedly, there isn't enough of this short-stay parking right in front of the school, forcing some parents to stop in the double yellow lined areas, but the alternative would be parking on the other side of this (one-way) street, forcing the children to cross the road. Would you want your children to cross a busy road like this? Exactly. Parking on the double yellow lines outside the school entrance is the only safe place to drop your kids off and be sure they get to school alive.

Now, returning to the Whiteladies Road issue, what does the bus plan proposal change on this stretch? The Oakfield Road crossing will be moved further away from the road, so making it less useful to pedestrians trying to walk from Cotham to Clifton or bag. Plus one point. But, this makes it harder for cars to get out or over from these roads, so minus one point.

Heading in to town, the right hand turn to Clifton will be removed for all but buses. This will turn Oakfield road into the primary rat-run option, but as we've seen, the moving of the zebra crossing makes it trickier. What they aren't doing is extending the bus lane any further south, and they are leaving that toy bike lane in there. We say toy as its so half hearted that no rational cyclist will think they are welcome -what with the faded paint and tree roots, but its very presence implies that some people in the city do welcome cyclists. No, better to remove it and put a cyclists dismount sign up.

Entering the triangle is more informative. Congestion is caused here by traffic joining the road from other places (Clifton, Jacob's Wells Road), and whatever is slowing them down on their final journey. There are no pedestrian-only lights or zebra crossings to play with, so there's little that can be done to make pedestrians feel less welcome, no tricks to make the schedule more accurate.

And that's the key problem. The goals of the showcase route are faster bus journey times and a more predictable schedule. Removing and moving zebra crossings will only help with this out of hours, on weekends and midday, because on a weekday morning the problem is more fundamental: Erlang's Laws. Congestion is a result of the ingress rate of a queue being higher than the egress rate. The reason vehicles can't leave whiteladies road isn't that there are vast numbers of people struggling to turn up Cotham Hill (more on that another day), or any of the side roads, it is because the merging of multiple queues at the triangle creates a bottleneck which having one lane dedicated to bus stops and a taxi rank doesn't do much to help.

And do we care about mid-day firstbus schedules? No -and neither should anyone else. People using the bus at weekend and mid-day weekdays are either people who can't afford a car, people with bus passes, or people who have made some ideological decision to take a bus: passengers FirstBus can take for granted. If they want to make money, they need to get the commuter traffic, and quite frankly, changes to pedestrian crossings aren't going to do it. They may help us car commuters by reducing the number of pedestrians and cyclists, but given our dataset implies that the Whiteladies Road congestion is due to problems in the city centre, those crossing changes aren't going to help buses or our cars on whiteladies road at peak hours, which is when it matters to us as well as FirstBus.

Sorry FirstBus, but whatever datasets you have on congestion problems on Whiteladies Road, they were clearly collected by FirstBus or Council staff during their working hours, rather than during am or pm rush hours. This is the only explanation why your proposals don't just do nothing for us drivers while making pedestrians and cyclists suffer, they don't appear to help buses either.

That's the irony there. This proposal has already got the cycling campaign saying "oppose this it's anti-pedestrian and anti-cyclist", it's also anti-car, but we think it manages to be bus-neutral at the same time. That takes skill, that does.

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