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Blackpool residents urged to have their say on decarbonising transport plans

Transport for the North has put together a decarbonising transport strategy in response to the obviously escalating climate emergency situation.

As a coastal place Blackpool’s likely to be vulnerable to sea level rises due to ice melt thousands of miles away (get your glaciers now). We may need to make quite radical life style changes to fend this threat off, going a lot further than altering our transport habits. It’s definitely worth taking a look at this draft strategy; this is the north taking a lead, which has to be a good thing.

Studying an environmental degree in the early ‘80s, you’d think that global warming would be well on the agenda, but in fact acid rain and the death of Scandinavian lakes was the environmental issue du jour. One has to remember this is pre-miner’s strike. Anyway, shortly before this there was a theory that we were headed for a new ice age. I do remember my tutor mentioning global warming a couple of times: jet exhausts would balance out carbon dioxide emissions and there’d be no warming – as he said “What a way to run an atmosphere?” Another lecturer recounted how she’d mentioned the threat to Brazilian conference delegates: the Brazilians reckoned that moves to preserve the rain forest, a carbon sink, were a communist plot to block their development.

There'll be more of this.

Now we seem to understand that energy companies knew of and have been covering up global warming for decades and have funded so-called think tanks or rather spoiler organisations. I understand the idea was first touted in the 19th century, but here we are.

In short, suddenly climate change is very very real!

More electric mass transit needed; steel wheel on steel track.

Going even further back, the 1976 drought was supposed to be a once in 50 year occurrence (people forget that 1975 was a lovely summer too). But droughts interspersed with flooding seem to have become increasingly regular events since then. Meanwhile increasingly sophisticated computer modelling, data availability and scientific interest have brought us to the realisation that the ice age idea was rubbish and that we’re faced with a warming world. One sometimes wonders how obvious the rapidity of change has to be before people notice it; the reduced number of frost and snow days, the extremities of rainfall, reducing arctic sea ice, growing land inundation and salination and melting tundra. One tends to think that this kind of process will not be noticeable in one’s own lifetime: well sorry – I know I’m getting a bit of an old man now – but the change is very noticeable and could be leading to an existential crisis.

So after all the warnings that we’ve had and despite the several and apparently successful worldwide climate conferences that have been held, here we are with a climate crisis and a need to decarbonise our lifestyles pretty damn quick.

It seemed that the pandemic might help achieve some environmental goals; all that stuff about being able to hear the birds singing, which entirely predictably doesn’t seem to have lasted. Is the coming COP26 going to sort everything out?  Probably not.  If you want to keep it a bit closer to home, the main stream media was recently showing Blackpool inundated – will the sea wall save us? Not if the estuary levels rise and it goes round the back.

Blackpool's Euro iv buses. The next vehicles might be electric.

Transport generates a substantial portion of our total emissions and crucially a portion that we can do something about by choosing low-carbon modes, particularly cycling and walking. Now, getting towards the possible end of the pandemic, traffic levels are back to pre-covid levels. There may even be more, think of those people who have used their holiday money to buy a car or a motor home. This means that all public transport is now under pressure. Cycling conditions are probably worse than they’ve ever been, despite Government rhetoric and funding. Who is willing to give up that car? Who feels fit enough and safe enough to cycle to work? Who will brave the ‘nutter on the bus’? Public transport fares have been allowed to rise, a big hit for the socio-economic groups that use the bus and bad enough for train passengers. You can drivel on about the ‘passenger should pay’ as much as you like, forcing fares up is hardly likely to encourage modal shift to public transport.

Car ownership is seen as convenient, preferential to other modes and more affordable. So people may express support for environmental goals, but when it comes to actually switching modes, commitment may wane. Some will want the little people to use the bus while they carry on driving, and with reduced congestion. Oh, and “Get those wobbly cyclists out of my way!”. Decarbonising transport isn’t going to be easy. Well, the choice between changing lifestyles and having them abruptly changed by flooding or other environmental catastrophe (but most likely flooding) is becoming increasingly stark. People need to start evolving their lifestyles now, or they can have an eco-police state. Back to the ‘80s, how we laughed at that idea, but we’re not laughing now.

Government’s stress on electric vehicles (EVs), which have their own sustainability issues not least the use of potential ‘blood’ metals in the batteries, might make some emissions difference but leave the congestion problems that gum up the economy, the waste of land for parking and the generally negative effect of private cars on the public realm and safety. Despite their low running costs, EVs are likely to remain outside the means of lower income groups for some time. Now there are strong moves to electrify the bus fleet, which with modal shift would decongest and reduce emissions. However, it has been notoriously difficult to achieve modal shift to bus, even if it is electric. Enhanced support for more light rail and trolley bus systems, far more likely to achieve modal shift than electric buses, has yet to materialise. The former is particularly good for reducing particulate emissions as it uses steel wheel on steel track. However, rubber wheeled trolley bus is far more particulates effective than the equivalent number of private cars, depending on occupancy. Decarbonising transport means electric systems.

Car ownership is seen as convenient, preferential to other modes and more affordable. So people may express support for environmental goals, but when it comes to actually switching modes, commitment may wane. Some will want the little people to use the bus while they carry on driving, and with reduced congestion. Oh, and “Get those wobbly cyclists out of my way!”. Decarbonising transport isn’t going to be easy. Well, the choice between changing lifestyles and having them abruptly changed by flooding or other environmental catastrophe (but most likely flooding) is becoming increasingly stark. People need to start evolving their lifestyles now, or they can have an eco-police state. Back to the ‘80s, how we laughed at that idea, but we’re not laughing now.

Government’s stress on electric vehicles (EVs), which have their own sustainability issues not least the use of potential ‘blood’ metals in the batteries, might make some emissions difference but leave the congestion problems that gum up the economy, the waste of land for parking and the generally negative effect of private cars on the public realm and safety. Despite their low running costs, EVs are likely to remain outside the means of lower income groups for some time. Now there are strong moves to electrify the bus fleet, which with modal shift would decongest and reduce emissions. However, it has been notoriously difficult to achieve modal shift to bus, even if it is electric. Enhanced support for more light rail and trolley bus systems, far more likely to achieve modal shift than electric buses, has yet to materialise. The former is particularly good for reducing particulate emissions as it uses steel wheel on steel track. However, rubber wheeled trolley bus is far more particulates effective than the equivalent number of private cars, depending on occupancy. Decarbonising transport means electric systems.

“…the choice between changing lifestyles and having them abruptly changed by flooding or other environmental catastrophe (but most likely flooding) is becoming increasingly stark.
People need to start evolving their lifestyles now, or they can have an eco-police state. Back to the ‘80s, how we laughed at that idea, but we’re not laughing now.”

In the absence of the kind of radical global steps that are needed – and remember that emissions are still growing – some local action and personal responsibility is likely to be needed, otherwise at some point people might have to be forced out of their cars. A report in today’s mainstream media notes that councils are chickening out of low traffic neighbourhood schemes and ripping out new cycle lanes, effectively following whinges from local drivers: that certainly doesn’t bode well. So hurrah for Transport for the North, which has put together a decent stab at a Decarbonisation Strategy and this is open for consultation until the end of August:

https://transportforthenorth.com/decarbonisation/

People in the North West are encouraged to have their say on this strategy, available using the above link (the deadline for responses is midday on 31st August 2021). The draft strategy has been developed by the region’s political and business leaders, sets out the ambitious goal of achieving near-zero carbon emissions from surface transport by 2045.

One of Blackpool's inter-urban bus services. Electric trains also available.

The strategy enjoys considerable political support. Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said:

If we are going to tackle the climate emergency, we need to work together and make sure we are all pulling in the same direction, towards a decarbonised transport network. I’m glad that the North is leading the way with this strategy as it will support Greater Manchester’s own ambitions to achieve carbon neutrality by 2038.

Steve Rotheram, Metro Mayor of the Liverpool City Region, said:

In the Liverpool City Region, we’re committed to doing everything we can to tackle climate change, including doubling the number of green jobs in the region, going net zero carbon a decade before national targets and taking action to radically green our transport network. It’s fantastic to see communities from across the North coming together to combine our efforts and do our bit.

Tim Wood, Interim Chief Executive at Transport for the North, said:

Reducing carbon use across our region’s transport network is an essential part of tackling the climate emergency – one of the greatest challenges of our time. We’re thrilled to be consulting on how the North can lead the UK in slashing carbon emissions.

Very strong words from political and other leaders. Let’s hope that this will help spur action, not only in the north but across the whole of the UK. People need to recognise that climate change is a genuine existential threat and it could happen in their own lifetimes, and certainly their children’s.

If you keep rationalising your existing transport habits; you may as well try and grow gills. I read that Limits to Growth (1969), a work I thought long since discredited, has been reappraised and found to be just about spot on for societal collapse round about 2040 – deep joy! That is unless something is done about climate change, and quickly.

So on that note why not have a shufti at TfN’s strategy. At the end of the day it’s about safeguarding you and your family.

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  • I have worked in the housing and transport professions for several local authorities, specialising in policy, strategy preparation and bid writing. Having always had an interest in film, the visual arts in general, theatre, music and lterature, I thought it would be good to combine the writing experience with these interests to contribute to altBlackpool. In addition to writing, my hobbies include watercolour and pastel painting, photography, woodwork, cycling and vegetable gardening.

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