Monday 23 July 2012

Bus Station Frustration [2]

Milton Keynes was designed for the motor car.

In the early days, as the City was developing, the authorities actually advised all newcomers to "get a car"! This from a Wikitravel page on the internet, even today:-

Travelling by car is usually preferable as one of Milton Keynes's saving graces is its road network, although during rush hour, it can get somewhat congested in some areas. The dominance of the car is greatly helped by the road layout - the main roads of the city are laid out in a grid system ...
... with roundabouts at the intersections, so getting about is quick, although predictably less so in rush hour. The grid is formed of numbered 'H' roads running horizontally on the map and 'V' roads running vertically.
Visitors who drive to Milton Keynes often get lost on these roads because they all look the same; the main roads are in tree-lined linear valleys to reduce road noise so there are few landmarks visible to navigate by. A map is recommended for people who are new to the town.
The City Centre was to be a vast slab running from the shopping centre (bottom, right of centre) via a "Business District" to the railway station away in the distance. But it took until May 1982 before the station opened, followed in 1983 by the now unused bus station.
See also "Bus Station Frustration [1]" (read again).

Most passengers wanted to go to the shopping centre and thus the bus station remained distant from sources of custom and, in a word, useless. Come privatisation and exposure of the weak network to the challenge of commercial operation, nobody fancied paying bus departure charges and most services ran to a line of stops almost outside the station entrance.
Even in decline, the bus station provided layover space and staff facilities, then these facilities disappeared. Disappeared is not the right word. The waiting area is still intact ...
... the snack bar is still there ...
... and the grand marbled sign ...
... announces locked doors.

There are even a few gently rotting departure bay signs ...
... to remind us of what it once was.

So in 2012 the main bus interchange is on the street at the central shopping centre ...
... where main operator Arriva has its "MKube" enquiry office.
Meanwhile the City council has just completed several millions of pounds of of work to improve the stops immediately outside the station, effectively creating a bus station (bottom) in full view of ...
... a disused bus station (top right). A picture from Northampton correspondent, Alan, allows a reasonable comparison with the original set of station stops as shown above.
Local rumour has it that the new roadways were too narrow until a big cheese came down from Arriva in Sunderland and complained! Hopefully the bus drivers will find their way through the traffic management?
So a reputed £4 million is arguably unnecessarily spent.

When the Milton Keynes Project started back in the sixties, the powers that be announced that this new town would not make the mistakes of previous new towns. Hmmm?

 Next Blog : Tuesday 24th July 


  1. "When the Milton Keynes Project started back in the sixties, the powers that be announced that this new town would not make the mistakes of previous new towns."

    Quite right. Ditch the past. make new, improved mistakes.

  2. As an MK resident I can give a slightly alternative view on this.

    The bus station is architecturally impressive, sure. But in reality it should never have been built in that form, IMO. Or at least not unless the town centre had been built further west, straddling the railway. But there are good reasons, e.g. security of the quiet office area on weekends/evenings because people end up walking through it, why it actually works quite well as-is.

    Milton Keynes' town centre, ever since the railway station opened (which I was sure was after the bus station, but I stand corrected), has been very distributed in traffic terms, with some people wanting the old Food Court and Xscape, some people wanting the shopping centre, some wanting the offices and some wanting the railway station.

    Therefore it is a very natural application for cross-city running with no city centre terminus, as is now the practice.

    It's also a good example of European-style integration, with buses (now in the new "bus station" but before at on-street stops) right outside the station on the "Bahnhofsvorplatz", well, Station Square, a feature common in Germany but not in the UK. The result of buses being so close to trains as well as the fast roads is that buses can actually match cars for commuter journeys to the station in some cases. Hide the buses from the trains and it won't work half as well.

    Then there was the Coachway, which while it moved Nat Ex out of the centre meant that it is practical for them to give MK far more services. The new Coachway is a very nice building indeed, and is connected to the town by a number of services including the now half hourly X5.

    I'm not saying MK hasn't made public transport mistakes - really, the whole grid layout is a mistake if you want to have a public transport based city - radial or beads on a string is better. But what happened with the bus service is anything but a mistake. Compared with recent changes in Birmingham, it means the bus can offer a very nearly door to door service, and people like that.

    The bus station itself, FWIW, was used as a depot outpost for a long time, with the cafe populated mainly with bus drivers. Only when the bit out front was closed off as a base for Station Square work did this cease and the cafe close.


  3. By the way - the bit about the lanes being built too narrow (based on Merc/Plaxton Beavers rather than the big buses used nowadays) is a fact, not local rumour. The Council even admitted it, and the almost complete roadway was smashed up and redone once it was noticed.

    I can't find the actual news article but I believe the BBC reported it at the time, and I saw it take place.


  4. Neil. Like you, I thought that the bus station preceded the railway station. I still think that way but "Milton Keynes transport" tells me 1983. More research needed. I have a fading vision of a trip to MK, passing this superb bus station in the middle of nowhere. Chum Alan (my Northampton contact) can't remember either. I have bus timetable leaflets dated 1979 with no mention.

  5. The problem with Lenin's Mausoleum (aka MK Bus Station) was it was stuck in a kind of no-mans land. Too close to the station to be served additionally but to far to be considered an interchange (and from memory off-set just enough to not be obvious as you leave the station). Added to this is the fact that the office development planned to bridge the gap between the town and the station failed to ever really materialise and it is all just a little spread out. It would have been better to build the city with the station at its centre, shops heading out one way and offices surrounding but the city predated the station and integration & environmentalism was un-thought of. MK does have a plus side that the station is actually well linked to the town centre (and much of the surrounding suburbs and villages) as the bus operators use the station as a terminus/layover spot as there is room to do so, not all the services continue to the station but a large number do.

  6. There's something that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside when I read a well-structured, article like this. Good work.

  7. the long queues are always irritating. Bad day!