Friday, 23 June 2017

Bear with me whilst I talk about......bus stops!!

Bus stops I hear you ask, quizzically. Some of you will think I have finally lost the plot but bus stops are, in my opinion, a real lost opportunity, and I have been thinking about this for a good while.

In Bristol, with a new bus service on it's way, lots and lots of new and upgraded bus stops have appeared. They take up large amounts of pavements with their perspex walls, Adshel advertising and often LED type advertising that moves through several advertisements in sequence. the colours used are bright and brash and there is a frightening amount of plastic used in them. They might be practical but without a doubt they are far from pretty.

A new Bristol bus stop in all its glory!!

There are several things that bother me about this design. The seating isn't really seating and is more about perching to wait for the bus. Arm rests appear to be in place, which limits the amount of people who can sit here, but more importantly stops anyone from sleeping here. In a city where rough sleeping is an enormous problem, this type of design seems harsh and unkind. Of course I am not suggesting bus stops are an ideal place to sleep, or that anyone should do anything other than access the excellent services for the homeless in the city, but people do slip through the net and there is a problem so let's not make it harder on those who are far more vulnerable than ourselves purposefully.

However, that isn't really my point! My point is that with all the talk we hear of how to make healthy cities, bus stops, street furniture and the practical appliances that make the city run in a better way, ought to be included in the plans for the healthy city. A healthy city needs, of course, a healthy and engaged population, as well as spaces where nature and health can meet and why on earth shouldn't that be a bus stop? Whilst the city is often grid locked and people are often left waiting for buses for far longer than they had planned, why not make that wait as pleasurable as possible? But also why not utilise that space for other things? For example, why not pop a green roof on top of them? Like this great example in Sheffield.....

Not only does can this help to stop any flooding issues around the stop itself, but it automatically adds summer shade and winter insulation. With clever use of planting it could also create a great place for pollinators to feed and although it is never easy keeping a green roof green for 12 months of the year, it can be done with appropriate planting for the city. This stop obviously has electricity running to it, so the installation of a water butt and a simple pump system for irrigating in really hot weather is easily within the bounds of possibility.

Of course along with the green roof it might be ideal to add a solar panel in order that the unit, for that is what town banners would call this, becomes self containing and managing. Most stops would easily hold 2/3 panels and if sheep can graze on grass under the fields of panels in Somerset, it must be possible to put them onto the green roof of a bus stop? The solar panels obviously, not the sheep!!

But could there be more? And could that more be made into best practise so that all authorities can look at their bus stops in a different, healthier or more holistic way? Recently I have been doing a lot of work with a railway line here in Bristol where both flower and vegetable beds are implemented, but where also the train partnership have seen the importance of what we are doing and have added water butts to the platforms. Of course everyones first reaction is the they will be vandalised, which they have not I must add, but shouldn't we stop looking at what might go wrong and concentrate on the positives? 

If you look closely at this to the left there is still an advertising board. 

So let's look at what those positives are.........

Firstly massive community engagement around those spaces and a feeling from the community that people care and are interested in supporting that community. Which in turn means vandalism is unlikely because people are engaged.

Second more beautiful areas of the city, often in spaces that are not known for their greenness or for being places full of anything other than concrete. Bringing nature into these spaces is a vital and welcome change and anyone who has ever planted a flowering lavender in a grey city space, will know just how quickly those bees and pollinators come along. In the Bearpit Garden it was within minutes, quite literally!!

But thirdly, and in my view most importantly, it supports a healthy city, for people, for planet and for ongoing life in general. Standing at a railway station or a bus stop full of flowers, food, the gentle buzz of bees, with birds flying about, has to be better for every single living thing in the city, than standing staring at an LED advertising board that wants you to eat bad burgers or use a particular brand of washing powder. 

Now I know I am, in many folks opinions, a dreamer, but this is only not happening because we allow that corporate ideal that they, who ever they are, are in charge. But who said so? Why can't we demand better and more exciting beginnings and ends to our journeys? Surely making greener and healthier pocket spaces across the city has to be a great way of supporting people to get their hit of nature and persuading folk to use the bus instead of getting into the car? Many of us will be familiar with the green Bus Stop in Norwood, in London, a project installed by the Edible Bus Stop Co, who have gone on to create other pocket green spaces across London, but surely in all seriousness we need these spaces to be designed and installed as the norm by whoever is in charge of installing and maintaining bus stops. Here in Bristol that is the local authority. Now I hear you say, but Sara there is no money to which my response is these stops are costing an enormous amount of cash, with their electric advertising, lights, and constant maintenance following tagging and vandalism issues. Entire paths have to be dug up and relaid, often losing areas of grass as they go, and these are spaces where our children gather. They gather and see adverts for fast food, in areas where obesity is already a burgeoning problem. They see adverts for sweets and cakes in a city where cases of diabetes are rising faster than the NHS can keep up with, and for exotic holidays that they fear they will never be able to afford. Adverts for supermarkets in a city full of fresh, local and affordable food that producers struggle to sell. Need I go on? So let's get these companies sponsoring these spaces properly, and allow them a small, permanent advertisement that just says they gave the money to make this possible. If they really are interested in the health of the nation I would ask why they wouldn't?

Now it's fair to say not every bus stop across the country can look like the Edible Bus Stop, but with a little bit of thought, some local authority by in and some clever technology there is no reason why they couldn't all be greener? If we are really trying to green grey Britain, would' this be a fantastic beginning? What do you think?

The Original Edible Bus Stop.


  1. I agree with your sentiments, Sara. The excuse "it would be too expensive" just doesn't ring true when you see the huge amount of carbon-embedded materials an "ordinary" bus-shelter uses. I'm envisaging the commuters going to work each morning taking a bottle of water (re-fillable, of course!)- not for themselves, but for the plants at their bus-stop!

    1. Now there is an image I like Mark!!

  2. What a brilliant idea. Dreamer you may be but you are not the only one. You are so lucky in Bristol. Here, bus stops (including the one right outside the police station) rarely go more than a couple of weeks without being vandalised. Community planting areas are similarly attacked despite being in full view of houses.

    Though a green bus stop roof in Sheffield is scant consolation for the loss of so many street trees. I have visions of the council's contractors sawing off the support struts at ground level if the green roof grows.

  3. Yes let's not even go there re the trees in Sheffield-looks as though a very similar policy is coming here.......
    Bus stops here are vandalised all the time John but we have been lucky, and I touch wood overtime I say this, that there has been minimal damage to any of our planting areas! Who knows if that might last?