Tag Archives: green

Turning My Family Green in Bristol (2010)

12 Jul

A year ago, my partner Donna, six year old Daisy and I were living in Manila, one of the most polluted cities in the world. Our road was so traffic-choked that everything in our apartment smelled of diesel. In the distance, huge chimneys pumped heavy metals into the air all day long. To my horror, I discovered that we were breathing in the equivalent of twenty cigarettes a day and shaving a decade off our life expectancies. The authorities had neither the funds nor the infrastructure to address these problems, so they were only getting worse. When my work stint was over, we came back to Britain determined to live a better life, if not exactly The Good Life.

Bristol seemed like the perfect choice. Its reputation for green spaces, cycle paths and general eco-friendliness preceded it. We got rid of our car and immediately noticed the savings on petrol, MOT, repairs and so on. We also cut our rent by moving to a flat in Hotwells without a parking space. This is a great part of town, within walking distance of Clifton Village and Down, the river and – sometimes at a stretch for Daisy this one – the city centre. All was going well until we realised that the nearest school with a free space was three miles away in Bedminster.

We started taking the bus. It seemed simple enough: a forty minute journey with one change in the city centre. However, we didn’t bargain for the Manila-like traffic jams (minus the smog of course) that blight both Hotwell Road and Redcliffe Hill first thing in the morning. Worse still, random vehicles – an ice cream van, a pink limousine, a Bentley – would park at our stop and dissuade the bus from pulling over, making us late for school almost every day. We got depressed. We questioned whether the government was serious about helping people – like us – out of their cars and onto public transport.

Now we have a solution: an adult-sized bike with child’s ‘tagalong’. It looks like something from a Victorian circus, but I don’t mind because I don’t have to pilot it! Instead Donna pedals her heart out up the hills of south Bristol, hoping that, one day, Daisy might pedal too instead of just sticking her arms out and shouting ‘Wheee!’ Nearing the school, they must brave cars driving on to the cycle paths because the road is too narrow, other cars parked on double yellow lines and speeding hypocrites who shout at them: ‘What you’re doing is so dangerous!’ So far, though, nothing bad has happened and Donna has kept her cool. I think I would have lost mine by now…

After an uphill struggle – literally and metaphorically – my family’s attempt to turn itself green is paying off. We’re no longer ‘blowing so much smoke around the world’ as Daisy puts it. I’d recommend the experience to anyone, but with two words of advice: watch out for cars and make sure your co-pilot pedals!

(Originally accepted by a magazine in Bristol that shall remain unnamed, paid for and then not used. Oh the injustice!)

Tagalongs and Gazelles: Green Family Transport

3 Mar

How does a modern Bristol family get around without a car? How does it make the school run, do the shopping, take day-trips? Walking can be time-consuming and tough on small kids. Public transport isn’t the answer either – it’s still pollutive and where I live on Hotwell Road buses don’t stop due to heavy traffic and bad parking. However, six months ago my family found the solution: a tagalong. These contraptions may look like something out of a Victorian circus, but they are sturdy, safe, free (after an initial payment of course) and highly efficient. And they’re just the tip of the iceberg – there are now many options for families wanting to ‘travel green’.

So what are the options and where can you find them? The not-for-profit Bristol Bike Project (http://www.thebristolbikeproject.org ) recycles, repairs and re-sells bicycles of all kinds. They also hire out a tagalong (£6 per day) which, as employee James Lucas explains, is ‘easily interchangeable between bikes’. Tandems (£15 per day/£35 for 3 days/£80 per week) are an alternative, ideal for family members of roughly the same height. The BBP keep their prices low to encourage cycling and plough all their takings back into the project. This sustainable approach recently won them an Observer Ethical Award.

Really Useful Bikes (http://www.reallyusefulbikes.co.uk/) in Rodford sells several ‘cargo bikes’, the Rolls Royces of green transport. Proprietor Rob Bushill tells me that ‘choosing the right one is subjective – it depends entirely on where you live and how old/young your family is.’ For the hills of Bristol he recommends the Workcycles FR8 which can carry three kids on a rear seat, an extra saddle with footrests and a Bobike mini seat behind the handlebars. James’ colleague at the BBP, Adam Faraday, lives on the flatter side of Bristol and his only problem is ‘the crazy designs of barrier they put in’. He also wastes time explaining his Danish-made cargo bike ‘to people who’ve never seen one before’. If the hills are too steep, you can always invest in a Sparticle motor (£650) – not hugely eco-friendly but still more so than driving.

There’s also space for luggage on the FR8. The Gazelle Cabby (£1400) has a vinyl passenger compartment with clips for a baby’s Maxi-Cosi. The quintessentially Dutch Backfiets NL (£1700) boasts a hardy wooden box (plus seatbelts) where you can put children, groceries, and plenty else. When the weather turns bad you can attach a waterproof canopy. 8-speed gears, roller brakes and a dynamo all make for a smoother journey.

Next to cargo bikes, the tagalong suddenly sounds rather low-tech! After an initial resistance to tagalongs, Rob is now a fan: ‘The more expensive ones are pretty solid, they can take a lot of bashing!’

With so many good reasons to stop driving – financial, ethical and environmental – the stage is set for a revolution in green transport. With its fine network of cycle paths, inventive community projects and well-stocked bike shops, Bristol should be at the forefront of that.

First published in The Spark Magazine Summer 2011.