Monday, 30 November 2015

How many people live around main railway stations in England and Wales?

A few years ago Alasdair Rae asked in a blog: How many people live in Manchester? It's a simple question, but the answer is far from straightforward. Do you count the population in the district of Manchester, which forms the core of the conurbation? Or is Greater Manchester, now formally a combined authority, the better unit of measurement? And how can you compare this population figure to other core cities? So instead of using administrative boundaries, Alasdair calculated the population figures based on Census 2001 data for those living in a 15 miles radius around the main railway station of Manchester and of the other core cities plus London.

Since this blog from 2008, data from the Census 2011 revealed that many cities gained population since 2001, in particular Manchester with a growth rate of 19%. In many core cities of the main conurbations this growth was driven in particular by large scale residential development in and around city centres realising some of the ideals of the urban renaissance project. So for this blog I updated Alasdair's analysis using 2011 Census data and comparing this to Census 2001 figures, summed up in the following table

I sorted the table by rate of percentage change between 2001 and 2011. It's not surprising to see that London shows the highest growth rate. But it's interesting to note that looking at this spatial scale puts the high growth rate of 19% in the city of Manchester in perspective once the wider city region is included. In comparison Nottingham and Bristol are showing slightly higher growth rates. At the bottom of the table are Newcastle and Liverpool. Despite high growth rates in and around the centres of those cities, developments in the wider city regions were more mixed.
The following map shows the location of the 15 mile buffers in combination with the table. It's worth noting that in some cases the unusual geography of a place makes comparison quite difficult. For example the places near the coast have a much smaller hinterland than the places inland. Furthermore Liverpool also includes parts of Flintshire in North Wales. And particularly the smaller conurbations like Bristol or Nottingham include large areas of rural hinterland in the 15 mile radius.

Some technical notes: I used point data of the location of the main railway stations in the core cities of England plus London and Cardiff, then created 15 mile buffers around these locations. Then I selected all output areas intersected by this buffer and used the figures for usual resident population available as part of the English Output Areas 2011, Clipped and Generalised with Univariate Census 2011 dataset at the UK Data Service. One advantage of using this datasource is that the 2001 population figures are contained in this dataset, recalculated for 2011 OS output area boundaries.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

St James Street - a new station for Merseyrail?

Last year I attended a planning conference in Vienna. And whenever I visit the city, I'm amazed by the quality, diversity and density of its public transport network compared to what I'm used to from the provincial cities of the UK. Last time I counted, there were 29 (!) tram lines, plus 6 underground lines and more than 100 bus lines for a city of about 1.7 million inhabitants. Here in the UK only London has a public transport system comparable in quality and density to Vienna, though at a much higher cost for the user.
On one of the events, a panel including Andreas Faludi and Klaus R. Kunzmann discussed the international perception of Vienna and it was a rather strange debate. While Vienna's residents like to moan and grumble about the city - often in the form of the local humour "Wiener Schmäh", to many planners and urban policy experts Vienna very much represents the urban development model to aspire to. Still - like in many other cities - also Viennese society is characterised by inequality. But unlike in many other cities, economically disadvantaged milieus are less likely to be socially and spatially excluded. One reason for this, as argued by the panel, is the high share of public sector run and owned council housing, the other reason is the high quality and affordable public transport, run by Wiener Linien.

In the UK there have been attempts to improve public transport provision over recent years, aiming to go beyond the very basic offers of a largely privatised bus network. Some areas like Greater Manchester, Sheffield or Nottingham have developed tram systems, which partly use old disused railway tracks.
Here in Merseyside plans to develop a tram network failed a few years ago, due to lack of support from central government and regional disagreements. Still, Merseyside has a fairly well developed regional railway system called Merseyrail. It's similar to the German S-Bahn or the Paris RER system, and it primarily uses sub-regional tracks, I assume mostly developed in Victorian times. So while it is useful for those living nearby a Merseyrail stop in the vast suburban territories of the region, it's less useful for the inner city neighbourhoods adjacent to the city centre, as the trains simply don't stop there. So, could there be a potential for Merseyrail to fulfil some of the roles of the failed Merseytram project in providing high quality public transport for inner city, often deprived, neighbourhoods? Over the years there have been campaigns to reactivate some of the numerous tunnels and disused railway tracks in and around Liverpool, including this
But given the state of public finances, it's unlike the current Merseyrail system will see major expansion. So what about building new stops on the existing network? There are two possibilities along the existing Northern Line. One would be between the city centre and Sandhills station towards the North. This could be located in-between the Eldonian housing development and Stanley Dock with the adjacent new Titanic Hotel. In the future, this might also give access to the Liverpool Waters scheme, provided this development will ever happen. South of the city centre a new stop could be established at the historic St James Station. While Merseyrail was until recently hesitant to consider any plans in this direction, this changed last week, with the Liverpool Echo reporting that Merseyrail would conduct a study next year on the possible reopening of St James station.

Being curious, I walked down to the historic station to get a better idea of the situation.
This map extract from OpenStreetMap shows the spatial context.
One can see the open tracks in the cutting just South of the main crossing between Parliament Street and St James Place, which is where presumably a new station would be located. The map also shows the adjacent Cains Brewery, currently derelict and waiting for redevelopment.

It was actually very difficult to get a shot from the derelict station and the track, as it is surrounded by high walls. While discussing it on twitter today, @SeanLXIV posted this photo which he took a few years ago.

Still - the following photos give an idea of the spatial context.

The following photo shows a yard used for storing building materials with the railway cutting in the background:
This is the cutting of the historic station from viewed from the South towards the Anglican Cathedral.
There is plenty of derelict land surrounding the site, which may offer potential for new station-related developments.
Just South of the brewery building is a block of buildings, partly used by businesses, partly derelict.
This includes some interesting graffiti for this metal recycling business.
The Cains brewery building is located next to the potential new station. After normal beer production has stopped recently, there are currently plans in development to reuse the iconic building for a leisure/retail development:

This is a shot showing the inside of the disused brewery site:

On the other side of Parliament Street, there is the Baltic Triangle, a mixture of traditional small businesses, derelict warehouses, new and re-used housing developments, and increasingly cultural/creative industries, and leisure uses.The bloggers at SevenStreets have recently questioned if the Baltic Triangle can really become Liverpool's 'Meatpacking District', but still it's fair to say that there is certainly something happening in the area.

One of the key advantages of the scheme would be that it would improve public transport accessibility of this area South of the city centre. If the Cains brewery site is being reused, this will become a major tourism and leisure destination, in combination with other facilities in the Baltic Triangle. Beyond this, the station could improve public transport offers both for the large number of new residents in the Baltic Triangle and for the relatively deprived neighbouring Toxteth. In addition one could consider making this a secondary public transport hub by rerouting some bus routes down Parliament Street which are currently going via Catharine Street from the South of the city towards Liverpool One bus station. This could speed up those buses and provide further access improvement for the area.
But, there are also some challenges. Re-developing a station along an active line inside a cutting is a major engineering task. Furthermore previous attempts at developing new stations inside a cutting/tunnel, e.g. Conway Park on the Wirral, have suffered from poor masterplanning and lack of functional integration into the neighbourhood and the adjacent town centre of Birkenhead. Furthermore European Objective One money, which helped developing the Conway Park station (6 million £ or a total cost of 18 million £ in the mid 1990s), is not available for Liverpool anymore. One can only hope that the growing urban design expertise in Liverpool City council developed over recent years will be applied in this project as well - and that the government in London will consider public transport funding in Merseyside on a similar scale to other city regions like Greater Manchester. What do you think? Comments here or via twitter are welcome.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Now get on your bike...

Good news! The UK central government announced yesterday to invest £94m to promote cycling across a few English cities and national parks. See for details this Goverment press release.

More specifically £77m will be spent in Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Newcastle, Bristol, Cambridge, Oxford and Norwich, while 4 of the national parks, Peak District, South Downs, New Forest and Dartmoor, receive a further &17m. It's good to see after all the public funding cuts of recent years, some investment in bicycle infrastructure outside of London. But the fact that many other cities lost out in the competitive bidding process for the funding, means that only some areas will benefit.

According to this BBC article in 2012 only 2% of journeys in Britain were by bike, certainly some way to catch up with other European countries. Often cycling is seen in Britain predominantly as a sporting activity rather than a means of transport. And the press event today was no exception, with giving references to the British successes in professional cycling in 2012.

This focus on cycling mainly as a sport and leisure activity is also evident when visiting a typical British bike shop. Many bicycles on offer are either pure road bikes, mountain bikes or hybrid bikes, often without practical features such as mudguards, chain protection or hub dynamo lights. Unlike the Dutch or German bike shops I know, finding practical utility bikes in a British shop is nearly impossible - the exception being the excellent British folding bikes such as the Brompton.
But it's such practical bicycles, like the Dutch Stadsfiets for flat terrain or the German Trekkingrad for more hilly environments, which are best suited for daily commuting in normal clothes whatever the weather. So, apart from the infrastructure investment, what is also needed to improve the attractiveness of bicycles is a different marketing by bike companies and shops offering practical bikes, which you can use with your normal work clothes instead of lycra shorts and SPD shoes before heading to work.

But how realistic is it to make cycling more attractive by infrastructure investments. And how have things changed over recent years? A few years ago, I worked with the travel-to-work data from the Census 2001. The following map shows the share of working age people per ward using their bicycle to get to work in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, while the data from Scotland shows the respective share combined for work and place of study.

One can identify the hotspots with a high share of bicycle commuters in Oxford, Cambridge, York and Hull, while the share in the flat Eastern terrains is generally higher, even in more rural areas. But the map confirms what the statistics in the BBC article above say - the share of cycling as a means of transport is very low. So how has this changed since the last Census? During that period some cities saw key changes in policy. For example London saw the introduction of the congestion charge zone, while under New Labour many other cities had seen modest but steady yearly investment in bicycle infrastructure, particularly in leisure routes. Unfortunately the detailed travel-to-work datasets from the Census 2011 have not yet been published. But the Census website contains a great new online mapping tool which can be used to visualise how the share of bicycle commuters changed between 2001 and 2011. The live map can be accessed via this Link and the following map shows two snapshots.

While the general spatial patterns remain the same in 2011 compared to 2001, the maps show two interesting trends. First, some predominantly rural districts, particularly in the East of the country show a decreasing share of bicycle as a commuting mode. This might be linked to a further increase in rural car ownership or in a decrease of the availability of local jobs accessible by bike. The second interesting trend is the increase in shares of bicycle commuting particularly in the inner London boroughs, but also in cities like Bristol.

So, will the proposed new funding significantly improve those shares of bicycle commuting? Well - many of the suggested measures aim at establishing new cycling superhighways, similar to the approach in London. Also, new bicycle paths are proposed, for example for key routes like the Oxford Road corridor in Manchester. While this can give the impression to novice cyclists to be safer, new separated bicycle paths do not necessarily make it easier and quicker to cycle, or only if one provides very wide and large scale bicycle paths similar to the ones common in the Netherlands.

The other aspect to consider is that particularly in inner city areas, the British housing stock is not very well suited to park and store a bicycle conveniently. If you want the bike to become a daily means of transport, the bike has to be easily accessible, stored safely, ideally on the street level. The reality is that British housing floorspace is one of the smallest in Europe, so place to store a bike within the house is limited. And safe bike storage on the street level in areas of terraced housing or flats is very rare to find.
To be fair to developers of new dense housing in inner city and city centre areas - they do provide bicycle storage. But it is in my experience often the cheapest solution, just to tick the sustainability box often put in the wrong location. So what is the practice in other countries? I plan to write in abother blog post about the German situation. In the meantime, I found this interesting blog post explaining the Dutch situation: - certainly lots of lessons to learn.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Dear Reader, welcome to my new blog! After years of consideration, I finally decided to give blogging a try.

I'm a spatial planner and researcher. One of my favourite parts of this job is exploring spaces and places, either by foot/bicycle or occasionally using statistical data, maps and GIS systems. I want to use this blog to share some of my observations, but also comment on wider planning issues.

Naming the blog
The first decision I needed to make, was choosing a title for this blog. I was looking for a title related to planning, but most popular titles had already been taken.Then I remembered that one of the Dutch terms for planning is "Planologie". It's a word that I always liked, due to its simplicity. So the title of this blog Planolog is derived from this.

What is planning?
Planologie is only one of the numerous titles for what planners do. Titles used in English to describe planning include Civic Design, Town and Country Planning, Urban and Regional Planning, City and Regional Planning or simply Town Planning and more recently the term Spatial Planning. In German there is a comparable variety of titles: Städtebau, Stadtplanung, Stadt- und Regionalplanung, Raumplanung and Raum- und Umweltplanung.

As a relatively new discipline, planning has it's origin in a variety of traditional disciplines such as architecture, geography, sociology, civil engineering or economics. In fact in many countries it is still commonly questioned if planning is an independent discipline at all, or not simply "applied geography" or "large scale architecture". Many early practising planners were in fact graduates of these older disciplines, often architecture and civil engineering.

Early examples in the UK of an interdisciplinary approach towards town planning led to the establishment of the first planning school called Civic Design at the University of Liverpool in 1909. This is the department where I'm currently working.

Still, in most countries, such courses did not exist, or only on a postgraduate level. Particularly in the 1960s there was a growing debate amongst planning practicioners and some academics that an independent discipline was needed in planning education. In Germany the first of these new departments started in the late 1960s based at the newly established University of Dortmund. The title for this new department was a new word for many practicing planners as well: "Raumplanung". In English this literally means spaceplanning, though the more common translation is spatial planning. After a few years of establishing the discipline, debates started about a coherent definition of Raumplanung. The result of this lengthy debate was a bold statement defining Raumplanung, painted on one of the large seminar rooms, more precisely the room 408 in GB III, for those of you who know the Dortmund school. When I studied in Dortmund in the 1990s, this statement was not visible anymore. If I remember correctly some people said it was painted over, apparently caused by fundamental disagreement with the statement. A few years ago the definition was rediscovered and painted on one of the outside walls adjacent the building where Raumplanung is based.

In English this can be translated as:

"Spatial planning is the democratic development of old and new cities, villages and regions, countries, localities and climes into habitats for a human society."

For those knowing planning history, one can certainly see that this is a definition from the 1970s as environmental issues are not explicitly mentioned in the text. Apart from this, many planners today would probably still agree with this definition.

What do you think? Feel free to comment.