Friday, 18 April 2014

Babies, Blankets, Buggies, Buses & Bicycles

Life constantly changes and in my household change has been brought about by the birth of our third child, Poppy.

Of course, there is a highways/ transport angle with a new baby - this is a highways blog after all! Before I go on, an apology as I know that for some people babies are a complete turn off for a variety of reasons, but they are a part of the cycle of life I guess, so bear with me (see what I did there).

The run up to the birth was not easy and involved regular trips to our local hospital. The why is not important here, but the how is. Regular readers will know that I have a car (many people have more than one in outer-London as so we are considered a bit weird round our way!). Our car sits around most of the time gathering dust and this partly continued during the pregnancy, although it did more miles than usual recently.

My wife had a few stays in hospital and so the lunchtime routine was biking over to the hospital for a visit and then driving the kids over in the evening. I am fortunate to be able to bike to work and the regional hospital is close to work which enabled me to stick to two-wheels where possible (plus I have a very understanding boss).

The visits with the kids were by car because our (now middle) child is still on stabilisers and I didn't want to take them home late in the evening by bus. My wife had a few appointments which she did get the bus to and I met her by bike. The other factor to consider is the high cost of hospital parking - £18 over 12-hours, although discounts were available when the office was open (which it wasn't in the middle of the night!).

I wonder what Poppy's transport choices will be as
she grows up?
The day before Poppy was born, my wife took the other two kids with her by bus to the hospital for a routine checkup and I met them from work (by bike of course). The homeward journey was by bus with me racing them home (I easily won over the 4 mile distance!). That evening, we left the kids with relatives and went back by car. Within a few hours, she was born!

My first child was born at another hospital which was within easy walking distance, but ten years later, there has been substantial centralisation (and hospital land sell-offs) which puts the closest hospital at 4 miles for us. For many other people, our regional hospital is harder to get to and they have to take multiple buses, expensive taxis or drive and pay the charges. We also have the policy of "choice" in which health services we use, but for most people, there is no choice because of the lack easy non-car transport options - choice is limit to the closest service.

This illusion of choice shows the huge political disconnect between all sorts of public services and transport. Be it kids travelling (or being driven) across town to their school of choice or people having to spend half the day on buses getting to a regional hospital for treatment. Choice is easy when you can drive everywhere.

To be fair to our local NHS trust, they have a very busy travel champion who has tirelessly lobbied for more bus routes going into the hospital and has increased and improved cycle parking at the regional hospital (for staff and visitors). But, the local roads are congested and cycling feels far from safe, so travel planning needs to go far beyond the grounds. The hospital will be building new car parking soon to cope with the extra services being centralised.

As far as this blog goes, cycling will of course remain a large part of my thinking, but expect other things to creep in such as access to public transport and difficulties for pedestrians as our mobility changes with journeys being made with a push chair - it is amazing how more difficult travelling life becomes with a baby (if you try to avoid the car that is) and I will post some of the experiences. I have often said that anyone designing highway schemes needs experience life from a user point of view, although I am not suggesting that babies should be compulsory for engineers! Perhaps my posts will get you thinking.


  1. Congratulations on the new addition to the family!

    But just a note of caution on those future articles. Remember, as always, London (even outer London) is a different country to the rest of the UK. However difficult you think using public transport is, or apparently limited the choice down there, multiply that by several of hundred per cent for the rest of us.

    BTW, I don't particularly like the term public transport, I prefer the more American 'mass transit'. Once upon a time we had things called public utilities, not because the public used them, but because we owned them. Once privatised they quickly became 'utilities' and then 'statutory undertakers'. Since we (the public) no longer own buses or trains I don't see that they should have the kudos of being called 'public'. It elevates them beyond what they are - private companies wanting only to maximise profits just as much as Ford or Royal Dutch Shell - rather than services run purely for the benefit of all [comrade! ;-) ].

    (I half-suspect the reason the term has held on so long is that London - home of the policy makers and opinion formers - had London Transport running things for so long, whilst the rest of us got used to deregulation, 'bus wars' and the like. Not for the first, and certainly not the last time, what was good enough for the rest of us was apparently not good enough for the capital).

    Andy R

    1. Thanks!

      I good point, but being London-based, I do tend to be London-centric!

      The deregulation of buses was a huge mistake and it always amazes me that people are amazed that the people running services are in it for profit!

      I think we need more regional transport and Mayoral authorities such as Transport for London and the Greater London Authority. It is seems to be a model which at least pushes a region in the right direction.

      The TfL bus model is one of employing operators as contractors (a concession I guess) and it also operates like this on the Overground. If private industry is involved, I prefer this approach rather than the "market" free for all.

  2. Congratulations to you all. What a lovely Easter present.

  3. Getting to the hospital is so difficult in the UK that when Judy Hembrow was pregnant with her kids, that was when David learned to drive a car for the first time in case it was too hard getting to the hospital by bike. Parking charges at a hospital for visitors disgust me. I mean, you need medical care, it's your right, why should you need to pay for getting there, especially given that there are few to no practical alternates. Plus, people don't usually go to the hospital just for fun, they go there because either they have a medical problem or they are seeing a close friend or relative that does, and often quite hastily planned.