No way on the F & B Way today

Le Grand Départ

After a week away with work, I was back in the saddle for my normal ride down to the office in Aberdeen this morning and as I rode along enjoying the sound of birds singing, I noticed that the council(s) had posted notice of a closure on the Formartine & Buchan Way. Being away I had missed the original announcement posted by Aberdeen City Council on 26th June 2013 (4 days prior to said closure), but that’s good compared to Aberdeenshire Council who only posted on their website on 1st July 2013, a day after it was meant to be closed! Now, this morning I hadn’t seen any of these releases and as there was no sign of any actual work taking place, no diversion signs and the whole route was open I rolled on down to the town.

Notice posted on F&B Way

Notice posted on F&B Way

The F&B Way is very popular with walkers, runners, horse riders and cyclists – both commuter and leisure – and on these Summer evenings as I head home I’ll often see dozens of folk from Dyce enjoying the route. With the Tour de France kicking off at the weekend there is always a surge in the number of folks biking at this time of year too and the F & B Way offers a safe off road route linking Dyce with the greenery of the countryside beyond – and a world of adventure for budding young cycle explorers in their school holidays.

That maintenance of the bridge is being carried out is good (I’d like to see the trains running again one day) but I’m concerned about the way the users of the route are being treated just now.

If we look in the press release we see that :

“Unfortunately it is not possible to provide a safe off-road diversion during the closure. Walkers and cyclists are advised to consider their options before heading out as they will have to start their journey north of the closed section.”

So it wasn’t possible to leave a small path for walkers and cyclists on the bridge while work was going on?  Its a railway bridge and its quite wide. Scaffolding is regularly put on pavements without closing them off, so why does this need to be shut? Maybe just so that the contractors get a convenient place to store their kit? At the moment I don’t know but I will post photos of the site as the work progresses.  Surely Aberdeen City Council’s official “Cycling Champion” Cllr Ross Thomson will have stood up for the interest of the cyclists of the granite city and argued their case and ensured that all was as good as it could be in terms of this closure?

Consider their options

As of tonight there are no diversions posted, so anyone unfamiliar with the area may be left at a loss as to where to go.  Lets go back to that press release “Consider their options“? What is that meant to mean?

Looks like there are 2 options open to folks

1. Turn around and go back the way you came or

2. Get out onto the A947

Now, the council PR goes on to state :

“Cyclists and pedestrians should be aware that the A947 can be very busy with traffic during commuter times.”

That’s putting it mildly – there can be miles of standing traffic on it in the mornings! Now I live near the A947 and I ride it for leisure (its fast riding) and utility (to get from A to B), but its not pleasant and while I’m not really too fazed by cars passing fast, I’m sure that many folk just won’t go out on it.

Walkers – and they are mainly dog walkers – will surely just turn around and head home (The A947 lacks pavements or trimmed verges, so walking along it isn’t nice).

Commuter Cyclists – some will no doubt give up (hopefully temporarily), most will take to the A947 and soldier on.

Leisure Cyclists – Tourers will no doubt find a way, but family groups with children will surely give up and go home which is the saddest thing of all.

So, if you are riding South (citybound) its a case of coming off the F&B Way at Parkhill and joining the A947 down to Dyce, no doubt passing lines of standing cars in the morning.

18:15, 1st July

Looking South at Parkhill Bridge (18:15, 1st July) – leave here to join A947 southbound

Heading North, it looks like you might be able to ride up the F&B Way from DyceStation to the bridge near Ian Mair Park (Dyce Juniors FC) and then go down to Dyce Drive and back to the A947.  You need to be extremely careful if you are going to rejoin the F&B Way at Parkhill as the lines of sight are terrible with the bend under the bridge and the traffic is heavy – bon chance!

Looking North to the bridge over the Don.  Heap of stuff dumped but track still navigable. (18:15, 1st July)

Looking North to the bridge over the Don. Heap of stuff dumped, track still navigable, looks like it will be blocked here in due course. Head down to the right to get to Dyce Drive and A947 North (18:15, 1st July)

Looking South from river bridge, (18:15, 1st July)

Looking South from river bridge, (18:15, 1st July)

So, we have an initial week and a bit shut followed by other possible closures in the next 16 weeks – hopefully with a bit more warning.

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Trumpie’s words of wisdom

In April 2012, following the erection of a wind turbine on an industrial site in the north of Aberdeen adjacent to a golf course, Donald Trump was quoted as saying :

Royal Aberdeen is a wonderful course – one of the jewels of world golf- and it has been destroyed overnight. I don’t know what is going on in Scotland. The whole course is destroyed now. It’s finished.

Destroyed overnight?

Finished?

Really?

Thus spake the omnipotent Trumpie so it must be true then ;-)

Strange that on the 19th September 2012, the BBC carried the following story :

Scottish Open to moves (sic) to Royal Aberdeen in 2014 in which after the announcement that the 2014 Scottish Open will be held at Royal Aberdeen, the president of the European Golf Tour, George o’Grady, is quoted as saying :

 “I had the privilege of watching the 2005 Senior Open and the Walker Cup in 2011 at Royal Aberdeen, a classic and challenging links course, which will continue in the tradition of great Scottish Open venues.

Destroyed overnight?

Finished?

Really?

Something for the weekend?

On Sunday, 21st October 2012 at 10pm, BBC2 will screen Anthony Baxter’s multi award winning documentary You’ve Been Trumped to an audience of millions. Last year I posted about the Aberdeen première of this monumental film, so now I’ll just quote some words of wisdom from the BBC’s Mark Kermode :

“There’s a brilliant documentary on BBC2 this Sunday called You’ve Been Trumped. Here I meet the director Anthony Baxter to talk about his film – which made me very angry – in a good way.”

Posted in Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire, Aberdeenshire, Aberdeenshire Council, Environment, planning, Scotland, Trump | Leave a comment

Pedalling on Parliament

On Saturday 28th April 2012 along with thousands of fellow cyclists I pedalled on Parliament.  I haven’t ventured down to Edinburgh since 2008, so a trip to the Capital is a big occasion for me but I felt that I really had to be there to show my support for the aims of the Pedal on Parliament  movement.

Ready to ride

Its taken me a couple of days to sit down and write this and I’m sure it will all be a bit confused but I thought it worth jotting down some things about the day, why I did the ride and the effect it has had.

I’ve always loved and enjoyed cycling, but haven’t really been on the bike much for the past few years. That all changed last year when I started bike commuting again and I’ve got right back into it. Its fun, its healthy, its faster, cheaper and more predictable than the bus and the weather isn’t really that bad once you are out in it.

One thing that’s changed a lot is that with the advent of the Internet, its possible to find out a lot more about cycling issues and to see what facilities are like in other places and compare them to our own so I started reading lots of blogs about cycling –  Copenhagnize, As Easy As Riding a Bike etc. – and got more and more aware of how dire the cycle infrastructure in Scotland is.

Now all those blogs are great and inspirational, but if there is one single thing that sums up what motivates me to strive for a better deal for cyclists its this “Letter from trauma surgeons demanding action on cycling deaths in London” published in the London Evening Standard.  This one is not for the feint hearted but reading it really made me think, enough is enough.

So having driven about 140 miles (I know Boo! Hiss! etc.) down from Aberdeenshire with the bike in the car I joined the Fife Feeder Ride  at Inverkeithing and then rode across the Forth Bridge and on to The Meadows in the heart of Edinburgh.  The ride in via roads and bike tracks was interesting as it was a chance to see what things were like down in the big City, and it was also good to be discussing cycling issues with my fellow riders and commenting on how the infrastructure we were using compared to that on our home patches.

After a final bit of on street cycling we were there at The Meadows and I couldn’t believe how many bikes were there already. Bikes of every shape and form – Unicycles, Tandems, Racers, Choppers, Tourers, Hybrids, Mountain Bikes, Folders, Fixers, Recumbents … and the ridership was as diverse as the bikes – young children and their parents, vetran riders, club riders, students, commuters – all gathered with a single purpose – to show our politicians that we want to make Scotland a safer place to cycle. The atmosphere was electric – and so very positive.

Cyclists assemble on The Meadows

We were marshalled onto the Middle Meadows walk and formed a queue ready to start. I thought I was near the end of the queue then I looked behind and saw that the entire road was filled to the end of the park and round the corner – this was going to be immense. After a minute silence for the fallen then a mass ringing of bike bells – and 3,000 bike bells certainly make a lot of noise – we were off – well sort of.  It takes a long time to get a peloton of 3,000 bikes moving through traffic :-) and it was ages before the bikes where I was finally got rolling and we inched our way forward then up George IV Bridge and onto the Royal Mile then down the Cannongate to Parliament.  Along the way I found it really surreal to look about and see iconic images of Edinburgh from my bike seat (its not every day I ride past Greyfriars Bobby ;-) ) while among a sea of cycles that stretched as far as the eye could see – both in front and behind of me.  The memory will stay with me for a very long time.

Wave after wave of cyclists arrive

We got to Parliament – elated – and rallied and heard speeches all set against the stunning backdrop of the crags and the Parliament building. I listened, I took some photos but most of all I was inspired to go home and campaign even more to try and get our politicians – local and national – to deliver the cycling infrastucture that we require.  Other countries have managed to embrace cycling, and I have a feeling that we can – and will – be able to make something big happen now.

A stunning setting for a rally

After all that there was the small matter of the ride back to Inverkeithing which, under the expert guidance of Michael from Sustrans was done via quiet routes and was very enjoyable – reminding me just how much fun cycling for the sake of cycling as opposed to commuting can be.  Even on that journey, we encountered some very poorly implemeneted cycle infrastructure – the bike path from Edinburgh to the Forth Bridge (part on National Route 1) is so narrow in places that bikes travelling in opposite directions can’t pass.  Surely this should be a flagship cycle route capable of making the journey of commuter cyclists from Fife to Edinburgh easier and encouraging tourists to head to the Kingdom to see its hidden gems?

Back at the 15th Century Inverkeithing Mercat Cross - one of many fine architectural sites in Fife easy to speed past in a car, yet easily accessible by bike.

I’ll wrap up by saying a big thanks to the dedicated group of folks who did such an amazing job in organising the POP event and to the Fife Feeder Ride for guiding an out of towner safely into and out of Edinburgh.  POP28 isnt the end of the story – its where we go from here that is the exciting part :-)

Finally please read the POP manifesto (oh go on its simple, sensible and non contentious !) and consider writing to your councillors and MSPs about it and sign the petition.

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Musings on Mary Slessor

So this weekend in the Press & Journal we read the headline that “Sir Ian Wood said last night that projects in Africa would benefit from the £50million he has offered to Aberdeen – should the City Garden Project be rejected” and whenever Aberdeen and Africa are mentioned, thoughts inevitably turn to arguably the greatest Aberdonian of them all, Mary Slessor.

The history books tell us that Mary was a Gilcomston quine and though her family flitted to Dundee when she was aged 11, we can easily imagine that the young Mary would be familiar with the Denburn and the wooded slopes of the Corby Haugh – perhaps Mary had occassion to take a drink of water from the Corby Well or even witness some of the legendary encounters between the Corbies and the Green Linties?  One thing that is certain is that while Union Terrace Gardens were not formally laid out when Mary left her native city in 1859, some of the mighty elms that grace the slopes of the Denburn to this day would have already been there when she was a girl.

When she left the town of her birth for the last time, could the young Mary ever have imagined where her journey would lead or that one day she would be cited among the most famous Scots and featured on a £10 note or that almost one hundred years after her death, close to the now culverted Denburn, a memorial would be erected to commemorate her achievements?

Mary’s story is one of amazing courage, devotion, self sacrifice and absolute dedication to improving the conditions in which her fellow humans lived their lives.

The Mary Slessor Memorial : It's not an apple, it's an urn :-)

The following quotes taken from the sign near the memorial give some background to Mary’s story :

This memorial to Mary, situated within sight of the place of her birth in the Gilcomston area of Aberdeen, is carved in local Kemnay granite, as unyielding and durable as Mary’s own faith and resolve to do what was right.  Designed by sculptor Mary Bourne, it has been carved by hand, echoing the shape of the water pots made by hand by women in Nigeria. The smooth rim of the memorial, attracting touch echoes the creative physical connection and is a reference to Mary’s tender side and her care for numerous outcast women and children

In the very centre of the memorial, a delicate plant shoot is beginning to unfurl its twin leaves. This symbolises the many twin babies saved by Mary from ritual murder, perhaps the most famous of her many humanitarian achievements.”

[ If you are interested in finding out more about the memorial, there is a nice set of pictures taken during its installation here – click on the “View Full Case Study Slideshow” to see them. ]

While granite memorials are nice, one of the most inspiring items we came across is the following article noting the launch of the Mary Slessor Journal of Medicine in 2010 by the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital, which gives an idea of Mary’s legacy in present day Nigeria :

The choice of the name, Mary Slessor Journal of Medicine was an easy one. Born in December 2, 1848 in Aberdeen, Scotland, Mary Mitchell Slessor left the comfort of her home on August 5, 1876 and set sail for Calabar. For 38 years, she labored in this southeastern cost of Nigeria, from Calabar extending as far as to the Igbo nation. Her works went beyond introducing Christianity to the people and building churches. She built, organized and taught women and children in schools.

She is even better remembered for her fight against the superstition killing of twins in this part of the world. Hitherto, twins were regarded in southeast Nigeria as products of evil spirits. They were promptly killed and their mothers ostracized. Mary Slessor fought this practice relentlessly, salvaged a large numbers of twins, their mothers and other so called outcasts and maintained their colonies which necessarily moved along with her missionary transfers. She introduces nutritional rehabilitation units in these colonies. She was one of the earliest to recognize and practice the social and economic empowerment of women as a means of checking abuse. During the small-pox epidemic, she worked as a nurse and also motivated the leprosy hospital at Itu a few kilometers from Calabar. Her grave stands today on hill, about 200metres across the University of Calabar Teaching Hospital. Perhaps, no other name would command more respect and love in this part of the world than Mary Slessor. Hence immortalizing the name of this pioneer missionary, an advocate of rights of women and children and a primary health care worker with this international journal, did not come with any difficulty.”

We are Moved to Comment that in this age of faux celebrity and routine lionising of the wealthy or violent, isn’t it perhaps time that we started to remember the achievements of the real giants – those who toil selflessly not for celebrity or wealth but merely to improve the conditions under which their fellow humans live?  Hopefully this little verbal rambling has helped bring to your attention some of the achievements of one of Scotland’s greatest daughters and, perhaps should you be fortunate enough to have a £10 note with Mary’s image in your purse or wallet, when you spend it you can say with pride “This is Mary Slessor, she was born in Gilcomston, she helped others“.

[ If you want to find out more about Mary, there are many books and if you dont fancy reading, there is a 2 part documentary by STV available on You Tube – Part 1 and Part 2 . ]

And finally …

Yes as with almost every discussion about Aberdeen in early 2012, the Union Terrace Gardens question comes up – and little would be gained by speculating how Mary would vote in the referendum were she allowed to – she would no doubt find voting a novel concept as in Mary’s lifetime women were not allowed to vote in the UK!  On the other hand, if we were to ask would this remarkable daughter of the Granite City rather see a £50M donation spent on what many regard as a vanity project in Aberdeen or on projects that could help improve lives in Africa?  From what history tells us of the life and work of Mary Slessor and her dedication to  the people of the continent to which she gave 38 years of her life, I think we all know the answer to that one.

So we are Moved to Comment that for a Win-Win result for Aberdeen and Africa, Vote Retain Union Terrace Gardens!

Vote Retain Union Terrace Gardens

Posted in Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Aberdeen City Council, ACSEF, Architecture, city gardens project, city square project, history, Scotland, Uncategorized, Union Terrace Gardens | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

The Seven Word Phone Call

“Masta!”

“Yes Master?”

“Bury it!”

“Yes Master”

(line goes dead).

Posted in Aberdeen, Aberdeen, media, newspapers, Scotland, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Seeing as its Australia Day …

So what obscure Aberdeen – Australia connections can be blogged about in the MTC style on Australia Day?

Well I could start by the most obvious one, the fact that there’s an Aberdeen in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales – and I’m sure I’m not alone in having stopped there and taken  a photo at the town sign (sadly in pre-digital camera days) to bring back and pin on a wall in the granite city, but that’s a bit too obvious for an MTC blog post.

What about some architectural reference? Yes of course, London’s Australia House “the oldest Australian diplomatic mission and … the longest continuously occupied foreign mission in London” designed by our very own A. Marshall Mackenzie & Sons – yes, that’s right, the self same same folks who created the “new” front to Marischal College and of course the magnificent Union Terrace Gardens that to this day form the green heart of the granite city.

What about something more recent? Something political? Well there was the visit to Darwin by Gordon McIntosh, Aberdeen City Council’s Director of Enterprise, Planning & Infrastructure late in 2011.  Not very much has appeared in the public domain about this visit.  Not suggesting there was anything particularly shonky about this trip just that with public finances tight, there should be a clear business justification for all  council expenditure – trips from North East Scotland to Australia’s Northern Territories included.  Being up front about expenditure helps build trust with the public.  So what was the business case for this trip? If it was paid for by the public purse then the public have a right to expect that travel was at economy class – lowest price, non-flexible. If the trip was paid for by someone else then who paid? Why? Did anyone accompany Gordon?  Who was visited? What meetings were held? What was the relevance of each meeting to the Aberdeen Council Tax Payer? What expenses were incurred what hospitality (including gifts) were received – and from whom? If you’ve seen this information in the public domain then let me know. Not seen anything of note on the council website about the purpose of the trip, only thing I can find is from a website in the NT which has this interesting snippet about Gordon’s speech in November 2011 :“Gordon McIntosh noted oil and gas industries sought cities that offered safety, health facilities, fully integrated transport network (Aberdeen’s include hydrogen powered buses).”

I’m assuming that the Aberdeen in the Hunter Valley hasn’t introduced any Hydrogen buses and that this comment refers to “our” Aberdeen, well back in November 2011, Aberdeen didn’t have any hydrogen powered buses that I’m aware of.  In fact “our” Aberdeen doesn’t even have an integrated transport system let alone “fully integrated transport network” – it has a barely functional bus network run by First for private profit, not public transport.  Interesting then that on 25th January 2012, ACC made a press release about hydrogen buses saying that “The project will see the first hydrogen bus deployment in Scotland, with up to a dozen buses operating in the North-east“. That last statement appears to back up the earlier assertion that there were not any Hydrogen buses in Aberdeen in November 2011.

So what exactly did Gordon say in his briefing? Who knows. Maybe there was an error in transcription by the bloke from Darwin – but this wouldn’t happen if the full text and any accompanying material used in all presentations given by council staff on official business was posted on the Aberdeen City Council website to allow them to be subjected to public scrutiny.  If it wasn’t “official business” then the citizens shouldn’t be paying for the council staff members trip or time. If an attempt is made to hide the material behind “oh its confidential” then a citizen has the right to ask “then why the XXXX were you presenting it to some blokes in Darwin?

Strewth it’s late – grab a stubbie from the eskie, bung another snag on the barbie and enjoy  your Australia Day!

Posted in Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Aberdeen City Council, Transport, Union Terrace Gardens | Leave a comment

And the winner is …

So, having failed to meet milestone after milestone, the City Square Gardens Design Competition has at long last drawn to a close and the Aberdeen City Gardens Trust has its final solution.

Was keeping two designs “in play” just a ploy to keep the competition going and let the announcement of the winner blur into the Union Terrace Gardens referendum campaign allowing the City Gardens Project to generate extra publicity for their scheme? Who knows, so lets take a final look at the two designs before we find out who the winner is.

Sterile, stale and uninspiring are just three of the words that have been used to describe the “Team 1scheme – a cross between Tellytubby land and a ’70s skatepark with myriad opportunities for graffiti artists and multiple jumping off points for the suicidal. Contempt for heritage is shown by the fact that the historical features of the gardens are wiped away with the distinctive (and listed) granite balustrades going the same way as the mature trees.  Reckon this one is the DSR and Keppie entry.

What's wrong with this image?

While it is the demise of the balustrades that initially catch the eye, look again. The blurred lights supposedly show motion but for an illustrator it sometimes pays dividends to find out something about the context of what you are working on.  This illustration shows cars driving on the right hand side of the road – and speaking as someone who cycles along Union Terrace most days, I can categorically state that cars actually drive on the left hand side here. Of course there is always the possibility that this illustration is intended to convey the notion that by the time the scheme was finsihed, following a successful outcome in the independence referendum, Scotland may have elected to switch to left-hand drive ;-)

While on the subject of Scottish Independence, it is interesting to note that the ACGT / ACC are apparently trying to tie in the City Gardens Project with a bid to become UK City of Culture in 2017.  It will be interesting to see what the stance of the 15 SNP councillors on Aberdeen City Council is here – why would they back an attempt to become a “UK City of Culture” in 2017 when our First Minister Alex Salmond is confident of leading us towards independence with a victory in the referendum in 2014?

The “Team 2” design – The Maggot – bears the hallmarks of a Foster design but while the Gherkin towers erect over the London skyline, this Maggot flaccidly flops over the Denburn.  It is interesting to note the lengths to which Norrie’s loons have gone to try and generate the illusion that their design retains the existing gardens.  On the Team 2 submission board under the tagline “Protecting the gardens, transforming the setting” there is an image which shows this grotesque maggot blended into an oblique aerial shot of Union Terrace Gardens giving the false impression that much of the park is retained as is.  Closer inspection reveals that the geometries presented do not equate to what is shown in the aforementioned image.  Of course, the illustrations also conveninetly fail to include  Stewartie Milne’s Triple Kirks development which has a large visual impact and in fact occupies some areas Team 2 have marked as gardens. The mature trees, Kelly’s Cats and the views of Union Bridge and the Denburn Viaduct would all disapear in the Team 2 scheme and the destruction of the mature trees (by either Team 1 or 2 scheme) has led one commentator to write about Union Treeless Gardens.

The lack of attention to detail shown by Team 2 is perhaps best illustrated by examination of their snowy shot ( second page of Team 2 submission board proposal linked above ) – lets home in on their representation of the arches under Union Terrace :

Detail of arches on Team 2 submission

The casual observer – or one in Switzerland – may not immediately notice anything wrong here – but to anyone with a passing knowledge of Aberdeen’s architecture there is a glaring error which conveys a lack of concern for detail.

The arches form a lasting homage to the Bow Brig

The Union Terrace arches have a definitive signature – and that signature is based on the auld Bow Brig – the stones from which form one of the arches and the motif from which is echoed in each of the arches …

In due course the stones of the old Bow Brig were put to new and important use, being incorporated into one of the arches of the arcade constructed on the upper part of the terrace of Union Terrace Gardens. Indeed the dressed ashlar band around the archway, which was a feature of John Jean’s little bridge became the template for all the subsequent arches along the entire terrace, creating a very impressive open arcade.” (writes David Miller in  Aberdeen A Heritage Remembered).

If Team 2 cant get simple details like this correct – how can we trust their costings etc. ?

In the City Square Gardens design competition, there is only one winner – Malcolm Reading Consultants who have made a tidy sum from running the competition.

On 1st March, the citizens of Aberdeen will have their chance to vote to decide whether they want to retain their public park or allow the developers to move in with their bulldozers and chainsaws.

Posted in Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Aberdeen City Council, ACSEF, Architecture, city gardens project, city square project, history, Scotland, Uncategorized, Union Terrace Gardens | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Hold the front page

With Aberdeen City Council and Stewart Milne Group going head-to-head at the UK Supreme Court in London today, you’d have thought there might have been a mention in the Press & Journal. You know, Aberdeen City Council and a locally based company meeting in the highest court in the land, not something that happens every day. I searched in vain but could find not a word.  The only mention of Stewartie was a full colour advert spanning Pages 12 and 13 of the aforementioned newspaper peddling the wee man’s hooses, including one “style” ironically called “The Wood” (surely not named after Aberdeen’s most famous tax avoider?).  One can only speculate that a tough editorial decision had to be made and some minor stories had to be left out to accommodate these adverts ;-)

Anyway, the proceedings were broadcast live for all to see and the judges will make their decision known in due course.

So, with Aberdeen’s big day in court not worthy of a headline or even a mention in the P&J, what was the big story ( ;-) )?  Geothermal energy from granite.  An interesting topic but as we have come to expect from the P&J it was a weak feature lacking in detail, effectively just churned PR puff that serves to reinforce the Energetica? Pathetica! tag that has become synonymous with ACSEF greenwash.

I’m not going to bore you with details about the potential or otherwise of geothermal energy but would like to focus on an image on the front page of the paper that highlights the weakness of the journalists and most critically, the editorial staff at the once respected Press & Journal.

Image on P&J front page 10/11/2011

A volcano in Australia is testament to geothermal power” Really? There are no active volcanoes in Australia – assuming that we are not counting a few active volcanoes on the remote and unpopulated Heard / McDonald Islands which are something like 4000 km from the Australian mainland – and thus not much good for geothermal energy.

Posted in Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Aberdeen City Council, ACSEF, Environment, Green, media, newspapers, Scotland, stewart milne | Leave a comment

First Bus transforming Park & Ride for Offshore Europe

A look at Park & Ride in Aberdeen

Aberdeen currently has two Park & Ride sites, at Bridge of Don (600 spaces) and Kingswells (950 spaces) with a bus service – First Aberdeen No. 40 – running between both via the city centre. These schemes are designed to reduce traffic congestion in the city centre and improve air quality by reducing the number of vehicles travelling all the way to the city centre. Initially, the service cost something like £1.40 return for up to five occupants of a car, representing a good incentive for car sharing.  The fares rose then the ticketing was changed to operate on a per person basis with £2.20 return fare in operation until July 2011 when First Aberdeen imposed an inflation-busting 27% fare increase bringing the fare to its current level of £2.80 per adult passenger.

This brutal fare rise prompted Aberdeen Central MSP Kevin Stewart (then also chairman of NESTRANS) to write to First Aberdeen : “I am extremely disappointed by the fare increases that First Aberdeen have decided to implement, and I find some of the pricing bizarre and perverse. For example: to raise the cost of a Park & Ride Day Return by a whopping 27.2% and a four-weekly Park & Ride pass by 6.8% seems daft at a time when we should all be actively trying to encourage people out of their cars and on to public transport. I realise that patronage of the service has been falling, but it seems that First’s solution is to drive even more customers away, and one wonders whether they want to continue with it or intend to go cap-in-hand to the Council to try and get a subsidy. This coupled with a 14.3% increase on a student four-weekly and a 16.6% hike on an academic term ticket is absolutely galling.”

The Park & Ride sites feature heated waiting rooms with toilets but in May 2010 Aberdeen City Council made all Park & Ride site staff redundant and the waiting rooms were soon shut. At Bridge of Don this meant there was no shelter at all for waiting passengers – and it sometimes rains in Aberdeen.

The waiting room eventually reopened in 2011, to the relief of the long-suffering passengers, though the service remained plagued by late running and operated by a rag-tag fleet of buses which didn’t do much to inspire confidence in the service.

The NESTRANS Park & Ride Operations Study (available here – large pdf download) highlights many of the challenges P&R faces in Aberdeen and presents traffic statistics up to 2008, which show that from peak patronage of just under 300,000 in 2000, passenger figures at Bridge of Don had plunged by 45% by 2008.  Interestingly they state “no clear reason for this has been identified” – they evidently didn’t look too hard – poor service reliability coupled with soaring costs surely play a part.

Aberdeen City Council even considered stopping the entire Park & Ride operation in 2010 (EPI_PSD06 makes interesting reading) but “This Option was rejected at the Corporate Roundtable as non-viable. Kingswells site could not be sold as anything other than a P&R, under terms of original compulsory purchase order. If the Park & Rides at AECC (Bridge of Don (BOD)) and Kingswells stopped operating it would also halt the delivery of future A96, A90 sites & the replacement of the AECC Park and Ride development, with associated decapitalisation of costs already incurred. This option would also include stopping any temporary Park & Rides for specific events“.

Interesting to note the perceived risks of canning the service - “Acceptance of this option would mean that the ACSEF would be unable to deliver on its Economic Manifesto including the Enegetica initiative. The Local and Regional transport strategies, Air Quality Action Plan, Climate Change requirements; Structure plan, Local Plan would also be unable to be delivered. There would also be a risk of a challenge to be able to gain a capiltal receipt for Kingswells as it was procured under CP. This option also makes ther AWPR; 3rd Don Crossing; Haudagain and Park& Ride new sites undeliverable.”

So, the whole Park & Ride concept is pretty much on its knees – certainly from the North of the City – and after all why would the avaricious Grabbit City Council want people to park on the edge of the city and take a bus to town when those self-same cars could be parking in council owned car parks and raising revenue for the struggling council (and remember this is the same Council that annexed the Royal British Legion’s Charity Car Park in Golden Square in 2010).

Offshore Europe 2011

Every two years, Aberdeen’s already creaking transport infrastructure grinds to a complete halt when the Offshore Europe trade show takes place at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre.  So it was a surprise to see STV News report on the 22nd August under the headline Park-and-ride to shut for oil week  – “Customers will not be able to leave their cars at the Bridge of Don park-and-ride site from September 5-10 as the area is being used as an overspill car park for the events taking place at the AECC. Service 40 will instead operate from Ellon Road (The Parkway). Alternative car parking will be available at Seaton Park for the week and customers will have to walk to King Street to connect with service 40. To aid this connection, an alternative stop will be provided outside Lidl for journeys to the city”.

What a kick in the teeth for the long-suffering commuters who endure Service 40 for the other 51 weeks of the year! There’s a three-day exhibition on so you can’t use the site … the bus is still running, just no parking available … kind of makes a mockery of Park & Ride … but not to worry First Bus suggest some alternatives …

Alternative Car Parking will be available at Seaton Park for the week” – OK, that would mean rather than reaching the Park & Ride via the dedicated access lane of the A90, drivers would have to travel south and across the already congested Bridge of Don, turn right across the flow of traffic heading for the AECC and park at Seaton Park.  Seaton Park has about 50 car parking spaces (Bridge of Don has 600) and these are actually used by visitors to the park.  Will there be additional parking on the grass? After the rain we’ve had it could be rather boggy. I doubt very many folk will bother going to Seaton Park then walk back to the main road, cross the road then catch the bus. If successful, this option will surely just generate additional traffic through the Bridge of Don chokepoint and further hinder traffic flow to and from the exhibition at the AECC.

Another great suggestion from First is that customers might be “able to arrange other options such as drop-offs at Ellon Road” – OK, so do First not get what a Park & Ride is? Someone drives to a site, parks their car then gets on the bus to town … so how many can get a drop-off at Ellon Road?

Then we see the greatest gem of all – “For those customers in possession of a 4-week Park and Ride season ticket, we will allow travel on services 1 and 2 for the duration of this week to provide a further option for customers to make the trip to and from the city centre“. So First sold people Park & Ride tickets with 4-week validity which cover this period when they decide to remove the service for a week and now they make the great concession of letting the passengers use the normal service buses, on Routes 1 & 2! What a joke, First should extend the 4-weekly tickets by a week to cover the period when they aren’t providing the service.

It all looks like a mess and a recipe for disaster … and it wont help generate much confidence in the Park & Ride service.

Lets go back and consider what Kevin Stewart MSP said on his website about the July fare hikes :

I suppose First feel that they can do what they like, as they have very little competition. How I wish that would change. ...

… When the management buy-out of Grampian Regional Transport led to the creation of the First Group, the bosses proclaimed to Aberdonians that “We Bought It For You”. However, in my opinion, there will be very few citizens of this city nowadays who would believe that’s the case.

Posted in Aberdeen, Aberdeen City Council, ACSEF, Green, Transport, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

“Boris Bikes” for Aberdeen?

Last week, Getabout the “sustainable transport partnership” of NESTRANS asked if it was time for a “Boris Bikes Scheme for Aberdeen?” … well at Moved to Comment we are in favour of anything that helps increase the take up of cycling as a mode of transport, but as ever we like to scratch the surface and see what lies beneath the media releases ;-)

For those who aren’t familiar with them these bike here schemes involve placing bikes at bike stations from where members of the scheme (who pay an annual membership) can hire them and then ride them to another station and leave them there.  Journeys under 30 minutes are typically free, with a hire charge for periods beyond that.

Getabout state that the bike hire scheme in London has “been a brilliant success” – well it certainly looks like its been a brilliant success for private outsourcing company SERCO who will trouser £140 Million for running the scheme for 6 years. Not all been plain trousering for SERCO though as Transport for London recently withheld £5 Million payments after it emerged that 15,000 users had been overcharged It does appear to be getting a lot of people cycling in London though, which is great.

In Paris, Dublin and Brisbane, JCDecaux – perhaps better know as purveyors of advertising laden street furniture – also run bike hire schemes.  We were impressed by the facilities of the Brisbane CityCycle scheme and were going to blog about it back in January 2011 but then the rains came down and the river rose and the floods came to the capital of the Sunshine State, so we let that one go … here’s a pre-flood shot of CityCycle Station 92 at the Thornton Street Ferry with bikes ready for action :

Note the bikeway right next to these bikes – Brisbane already had a good network of well used bikeways in place prior to the CityCycle Scheme getting off the ground and plans to have 150 cycle stations. As with everything there is political controversy around such schemes but perhaps the ultimate success metric for a bike hire scheme is not in the revenue but the number of people it gets cycling.  Someone who hires a bike a few times may well like it and decide to buy their own bike or resurrect an old one that’s been lying forlorn in the shed for years. We note with interest the figure of AU$8.2 Million for CityCycle budget for 4 years which seems good value compared to the cost of the scheme in London, although we believe that JCDecaux get rights to street advertising in Brisbane as part of their deal there.  [We will try and dig out more info on the relative costs for schemes on a per bike / bike station basis].

A recent article in The Guardian (4th Aug 2011) reports that the bike hire scheme in Dublin has 58,000 subscribers and has had 2.2 million bike hires which is very impressive. The 10 Euro membership fee for the Dublin scheme seems very reasonable.

Back to Aberdeen … would a bike hire scheme work in the Granite City? Possibly. The city is certainly compact enough for cycling to be a viable mode of transport – as to whether people would pay to hire bikes rather than buy their own, not sure.  For real mass cycling to take off, there would need to be some strategic investment in infrastructure to encourage cyclists to saddle up and a lot of driver education to make those inside the little metal boxes realise that the folks on the bikes are all someone’s  daughter / son / mother / father / wife / husband / friend / relative and they live, breathe,  bruise and break just like everyone else. Give them space, give them respect, give them time.

Aberdeen City Council aren’t exactly falling over themselves in making the city centre cycle friendly. For example consider the current plan to make Justice Mill Lane – currently a quiet alternative to Union Street for cyclists – a one-way street without contraflow cycle access.  The Aberdeen Cycle Forum comment that “the proposed changes are yet another example of the council ignoring the “transport hierarchy” of Pedestrians, Cyclists, Public Transport, Private Vehicles defined in the Scottish Government planning policy“, yet the council apparently plough on regardless. Perhaps if Aberdeen’s Lord Provost left the civic car in the garage and followed the example of London’s Lord Mayor Boris and got on his bike things would start to change ;-)

Transformational schemes such as the Woonerf proposed by Other Aberdeen could unlock the true potential of existing infrastructure and facilitate new connectivity within the city paving the way for a new more cycle-friendly – no, lets make that more human-friendly  – city centre for the 21st Century.

Posted in Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Aberdeen City Council, cycling, Environment, Green, planning, Scotland, Transport | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment