I’ve quite enjoyed looking up new technologies over the last few weeks as I write about sustainable transport. There are certainly some striking innovations in the pipeline, and I’ve got more of them to feature in due course. But we do have plenty of sustainable forms of transport already – buses, trams, cycling, or as I mentioned last week, walking. One of the most obvious ways of reducing transport emissions is to get more people using those alternatives, and to do that we need to make them more attractive.
Buses are one of the most sustainable forms of transport, but they’re also one of the least glamorous. They lack the romance and drama of the train, and they get caught in traffic. Depending on where you live, they may also be dirty and antisocial, or just too infrequent to be of practical use.
Here’s an idea I came across at the Ecobuild convention that I really liked, one that might just breathe a little life back into the bus: the edible bus route.
Led by an activist landscaping collective called Edible Bus Stop, the plan is to create a series of new public spaces all along the route of London’s number 322 bus, which runs from Crystal Palace to Clapham Common.
Several sites have been identified on the route, places that are under-used or neglected. The team then works with the local community to re-imagine the space, and create it together. Volunteers take on responsibility for the site, and the team can move on to the next one. Examples so far include this unimaginative section of pavement, which was redesigned as the ‘hoopla garden‘:
Or this one, which inspired the whole idea. Residents have been gardening this little patch alongside a bus-stop since 2011, and it now has benches, beds made from recycled kerb stones, and lots of herbs and fruit trees.
The Edible Bus Route is an ambitious scheme that links all these sorts of projects together. Each individual site builds community and local pride, and together they green the city and create pollination corridors. By making the route more attractive, it will encourage more people to use the bus, but its contribution to sustainable transport extends further than that.
It might seem a little counterintuitive to suggest that the static urban landscape has a role in sustainable transport, but the quality of our streets really matters. I am often surprised at the number of people who drive to local meetings here in Luton. I know folk who will drive 200 yards rather than walk it. Part of that is habit, where the car has become a deeply embedded default option for getting anywhere. But a large part of it is the street itself. If that 200 yard walk is along grey, gloomy and rubbish strewn pavements, then we can hardly blame people for taking their own private transport.
To stop dangerous climate change, we have to fix car culture. It’s no use lecturing people on that. We have to make the alternatives more appealing. Clean and safe streets, with attractive and imaginative public spaces, could make all the difference. If people have a sense of ownership over those spaces, having helped to design and create them, then that will be even more powerful. As the Edible Bus Route project demonstrates, the bus stops may be as important as the bus.