Orbit again

For part 1, see here

The main justification for creating the “Orbital” was as a response to concerns that the Royal Preston Hospital was too out of the way, particularly as getting there required changing at least once (at that recently Grade II Listed building I don’t talk about very much any more). The route of the “Orbital” (numbered 88A for the anti-clockwise service, 88C for clockwise) is predominately through built-up housing estates and the suburban outcrops, and for those on the fringes, it does provide convenience of a sort..
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In the last post, I stopped approximately halfway through the route, the RPH itself. Set in the low reaches of Fulwood’s sprawl, the Hospital is an accidental celebration of architectural lowlights from the 1980s onwards, it having been opened in 1983. Its entrance has developed, if that’s the right word, into a congested confluence of traffic, bus stops, ambulance bays and higgledy-piggledy car park. Safe? Possibly not. To be resolved shortly? Heck no.

Preston College is nearby (now rebranded as Preston’s College, if anybody fancies writing 1,000 words on that sort of thing). The service of choice for students leaving PC in either direction is the dedicated hospital number 19, which diverts somewhat from the “Orbital” route but lessens the case for having the anti-clockwise service bobbling around. I can’t possibly snap a queue of young people at a bus-stop, so I scurry on by (although, sidebar note: if you like to know this sort of thing, it seems lads are still perfectly fine with looking like this, so I clearly don’t know anything about society.)

I am told that, when very drunk at a bar in Manchester recently, I began banging on about Preston Bus’ number 23 service with ASDA on its display screen, and that makes me want to go out and punch a cow. Or never drink again. Anyway it exists and I use it for ice-breaking anecdotes so that’s me for you. The 23 and 88s follow each other through Sherwood, newbuild estate with rabbit-warren roads, all faux-red brick and pampas grass and what-have-you. The passengers for this part of the route are a quiet and polite bunch; three young folk wearing various degrees of fashion leave at an unremarkable part of the vast estate of businesses and offices that curl around the M6 motorway, including the HQ of the Lancashire Evening Post.  What that newspaper doesn’t know about chip pan fires, car boot sales and failed planning permissions is nobody’s business.

ASDA is the final big landmark on the route, a vast supermarket bounded by car parking on every corner. Everybody alights, so I do too, as it’s better to be considered strange than completely off-the-tree. Here is where the 23 also terminates, taking on board frazzled looking shoppers. A redundant ‘Real Time’ display stands impotent beside the three shelters for the 23 the two “Orbit”s, as they do alongside numerous bus-shelters across the city. Having persuaded bus companies to sign up to real-time displays, Lancs CC needed to find cost cutting somewhere, so off they went switching them all off, and off they have remained ever since. 20131011_170555

The next stage is the most convoluted, taking in what left over bits of the city exist between ASDA and the Ribble Valley. This begins with the straight path through well-to-do suburbia, built to fill in the gaps Fulwood needed to find during the housing boom. Homes on Squires Wood, one of the rabbit warrens passed on the way, will set you back between £142,000 and ‘offers over’ £155,000. From here it’s over the M6 and faraway, or at least cutting through the many adverts for the single Starbucks Drive-Thru {{sic}} that cannot, surely, attract that much passing trade. This could be just more misunderstanding of modern society on my part of course.

Over the M6 we go again into the Ribbleton citadel. Homes on Ribbleton Avenue are currently on sale for £180k (3 bed semi) and £239,500 (4 bed detached),  The “Orbital” has to take a detour away from the leafier bits as it takes in the post-war estate of Brookfield, where the streets are set out in elongated rectangles with the familiar industrial brown-brick of the time.

The word “Deepdale” is perhaps best known for being the home of Preston North End, where football was first placed in 1878. Insert wags suggesting the food/seating/team have not improved since then here. Deepdale is amongst the most economically challenged parts of the region, not just Preston, ranking highly in the deprivation statistics. Additionally it has one of the highest numbers of Muslim residents in the city, over 3,200 at the 2011 census. Deepdale Road is one of Preston’s most congested, particularly on match days, bringing to a standstill not just the road itself but the grid-pattern terraces to the west (named St George’s Road, St Cuthbert’s Road, St Matthew’s, St Martin’s, St Anne’s and so on) and to the east (names Linnet Street, Goldfinch Street, Falcon, Dove and so on and so on).

A smattering of coat and hat wearing people remain on the bus for the final stretch, some tapping away at their smartphones. This journey has taken me many hours, as I’ve nipped on and off, but for £3.30 it should take the average normal person who wants to stay on the same bus for no reason around 70 minutes. It may serve little tiny purposes for specific passengers, rather than being the Hospital runner it was planned to be, but it is clearly well used and popular. At the bus station, where the service runs around the enforced H&S fencing and one-way-system, passengers could even take advantage of the original intention for the building and walk straight over to a regional or national service without breaking sweat. But it seems everyone has a city centre place to go to, and plod away in the damp to get there. As do I, and this is where the journey ends.

The 88A and 88C, alongside numerous other services, travel across the former Preston to Longridge railway, about which you can read more here via BlogPreston.

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On the Orbital (1)

Launched in the early 2000s as a response (partially) to concerns that the Royal Preston Hospital was too difficult to visit for people in the outer suburbs, the Preston Bus’ “Orbital” is formed by buses travelling either clockwise or anti-clockwise through the city and into the outposts.and fringes. It is popular, although specific passenger numbers are not easy to confirm.

Whilst succeeding in linking some parts of Preston with some other parts; I don’t think the “Orbital” has quite mastered  convincing people of the benefits of a journey which could last over 40 or 50 minutes (the entire loop can take ninety) and cost £3.30 if buying an all-day ticket, as Hospital visitors may find necessary to do. Logic dictates that people living on the anti-clockwise route can get to the Hospital far quicker, and far less expensively, by taking the dedicated Hospital service. Nonetheless, the “Orbital” has patched over gaps in the original services to the northern communities, particularly the new-build estates encroaching into the rurals and greenbelt, turning into a regular commuter service for some.

Taking my lead from such blogs as Diamond Geezer and London Buses:One At A Time, I chose to spend an early Friday afternoon taking the “Orbital” on its clockwise route. Unlike those blogs however, I broke up the journey in three places – I trust that one of these being for the purchase of a Morrison’s salad bar selection is considered both valid and not an “accidental Partridge.”

I don’t think anything else has to be said about THAT BUILDING other than to confirm that, yes, it has been awarded Grade II Listed Status, and that beauty is 20131011_144528in the eye of the geek (or, to quote the Leader of Preston Council, the nerdy sociopath).

Preston Bus Station is the start and end of the “Orbit”, for both clockwise and anti-clockwise services. They run very regularly, and one follows the other, to allow for the limited number of actual buses to maintain the service even when rush hour and Preston’s notoriously cramped roads conspire against them. One complete loop probably could cost less than £3.30, but my decision to break up the journeys into chunks meant there was little choice but to pay the full amount for what is a “hop on, hop off” ticket.
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From the building of which I will no longer speak (….for now) the clockwise 88C makes its way into the city centre towards the Docks.

This first jaunt should give an adequate indication of the myriad problems of travelling through Preston – stop/start, juddery, slow, plagued by congestion, traffic lights and inadequate road layout. Praise be to the heavens, mind, for something is in place to be done! Whether this will work is a point most moot, however, and critics and cynics alike consider the proposals to be inherently flawed. Shared space can work, it has been proven to do so. Not perhaps as Lancs CC envisage, particularly as they foresee each and every existing bus stop congregated outside the railway station, which I see as being just asking for trouble. But what, as so many people are wont to ask, do I know.

Two Mormons(es?) on this bus, incidentally, chose not to use their audience for rapid-fire conversion techniques. One actually fell asleep, his head slowly, slowly dropping down as the rest of us (teenage girl texting her driving instructor, two Cissie and Ada types gossiping, two others keeping themselves to themselves) bobbed about. The Mormons left only five or so minutes later (the fast asleep one waking up as a puppy might, head flicking from window to window in momentary confusion) and by the entrance to the Docks, every seat was taken.

Preston Docks was not future-proofed when it was regenerated for what was, in the 1980s at least, the brave new future of shopping and living. The only road into the Docks sucks everything onto it, cars often  backed up for a mile or longer. There are no passing points along the entire site and no public crossings, for that matter, which forces anyone from child to pensioner to play chicken at day and night. Solutions for either problem? Nothing.

One Morrisions salad later (too few slices of beetroot, too much potato) I wander to Ashton Park, where many of the trees stand taller, prouder and fatter than they were when I was a lad, throwing conkers into the road and whatever else passed for high jinks in my day. The “Orbital” from here takes in the first of the major residential parts, that of Ashton and then Larches, the latter showing all the signs of typical post-war sprawl. This 88c is standing-room only, school children and families at the back, elderly couples up front, and love’s young dream somewhere in the middle.

We pass under the Blackpool railway, one-time site of Lea Road train station. Beeching would say, I assume, that this specific example of bustitution proves his theory right, although, of course, he was not blame for that particular station closing.

Cottam’s well to do and getting by home-owners left for their chocolate box houses with earphones and page-turners close to hand. The change at Cottam has been rapid and remarkable – from grass to garages, from fields to crunchy-gravel driveways, and all within the most boom of all boom times in the British economy. From here the service runs through the comfort of Cadley, all bungalows and two-ups and the church of St Anthony of Padua. This is Fulwood, which strangers can get to by travelling up the A6 and turning left when they feel house prices shooting up. By now I was travelling almost alone, with three gossips and a headphone-guy for company. We passed Fulwood Academy, newly renamed and entirely rebuilt, looking like an office for call-centres and companies that offer ‘solutions’, all curved walls, spot lighting and silver-grey tinted windows.

From here the journey reaches, by and large, its half way point. And so, I suppose, should this post.