With transport high on the political agenda, the race is on to provide a swift and efficient mode of transport that is as convenient and fast as the car, but avoids the by-products of the car - congestion and pollution. The strategy of government departments is to prioritize public transport networks.
The ubiquitous bus lane, a much despised means of shoe-horning diesel powered double-deckers through the existing system, has proved to be a false promise. The romantic vision of trams works on the same principle as a bus lane - except that nobody seems to realize this yet, presumably caught up in nostalgia.
Taxis, mini-buses and car-sharing have a certain appeal but are often considered to be too expensive, uncomfortable or too dictatorial, respectively. Now, a new prototype, which has been in genesis for several years already, is about to come on stream.
Ultra, the urban light transport system designed and built by Advanced Transport Systems, has the benefit of looking futuristic - science fiction-style. It is also elevated above the roadway, avoiding disrupting the existing transport system.
Advanced Transport Systems is currently in the process of negotiation with Cardiff City Council and it is hoped that the first Ultra service loop will be in place by 2003, travelling around the Welsh Assembly buildings and County Hall.
Each module is wider than a conventional black cab and holds four people in comfort at a steady 40Km/hr on 2kW of electric power - thus using 70 per cent less energy per passenger mile than cars, trains or trams. The pods are big enough to take shopping, pushchairs and even bicycles.
Buses travel at an average of 13Km/hr, once stopping and starting is taken into account. The Ultra system will be three times faster because the stations are 'off-line'. Pulling each pod off the main network will allow the rest of the system to run with nominal disruption and, because of the size of the pod, passengers can 'name' their destination on pre-paid tickets and make a nonstop journey, as with a taxi.
The developers have thought out queuing and ticketing and suggest that 95 per cent of passengers will have to wait less than one minute for a pod.
There may not be opportunities for glamorous station architecture, though, as the Ultra pods will probably embark from within existing multi-storey car parks, making park-and-ride a viable alternative to taking the car into the main central district. The overall capital costs are predicted to be one tenth of a motorway lane, using one quarter of the land.
The 2m wide guideway is supported on slender columns that should cause minimal encroachment into the carriageway below. Ultra is the nearest thing to a futuristic vision of public transport that we are likely to see for a long time, although there are bound to be protests along the way.
For more information contact Martin Lowson at Advanced Transport Systems tel 0117 974 4733 Gas and air Plenty of media coverage has been given to Chetwood Associates' award-winning Sainsbury's ecostore in Greenwich. However, information about the site's petrol station has been difficult to obtain, arguably because of the conflict between serving the environment and serving cars. The new petrol station tries manfully to mediate between the two objectives and - whatever the comments of environmentalists about the project's success - it has resulted in a very fine looking structure.
The 500m 2canopy utilizes 'as many environmentally benign and passive technologies as possible', including 'natural lighting' (sic), passive heating, wind generators as well as rooftop solar panels from Solar Century.
For a capital cost of £35,000, the solar panels alone produce 6.75kW (with a per annum generation of 5,900kWhr) to power the lights and pumps, and the system is connected to the National Grid as well as being linked to Sainsbury's on-site central heating and power unit, which distributes surplus electricity to other buildings. Other features include an on-site monitoring unit displaying the solar energy being generated.The unit also logs the cumulative total of the 'free of charge' electricity generated.
The calculation of the carbon saving pre-empts the requirements of the new Building Regulations Approved Document Part L. The building is estimated to offer a saving of two tonnes per annum on systems operation - the equivalent to the CO Roof fetish Tiles made from recycled car tyres and nappies sounds a bit far-fetched, but Euro Bati Concept (EBC) of Worksop, the sole importer of a German rubber slate, believes that it is the manufacturing idea of the future.
Reclaimed tyres are cleaned and stripped of wire before being melted down.The manufacture mix then has modified high-density polyethylene (HDPE) added, which is taken from the offcuts from the cutting process for baby's nappies. Because of the need to be soft on baby's skin this HDPE is virgin grade, containing no extraneous matter.
Once processed, the slates are cut to size and delivered to the UK for site fixing.
Approximately two car tyres make 1m 2of slates.
The appearance is remarkably good and although guaranteed for 20 years, the tiles are expected to last, in normal conditions, for 40 to 60 years, with no surface or core degradation.The slates are centre fixed (they do not need pre-holing), and lap as per normal slates although additional guidance is given by EBC. Nails should be at least galvanized clout nails but stainless steel annular ring shank nails are preferable.
Any replacement work - which should be necessary less frequently - can be slotted in much more easily than with conventional rigid slates, due to the flexibility of the rubber.