Sunday, 15 June 2008

Bizarre claims

As you would expect Bristol's bid for Cycling City status describes a city that few Bristol cyclists would recognise as their home town. Hype and hyperbole is too be expected, but one claim in particular goes well into the realms of fantasy. Bristol City Council claim that, if their bid is successful, they will have stemmed the rise in car use in just 3 years!

Now I suppose we must look carefully at what the dictionary definition of stemmed is. Collins says that to stem is to stop or hinder the spread of, so Bristol could plead they only intended to mean that they would hinder the rise in car use, but most of us, I think, would understand stemmed to mean stopped in this context. This is a remarkable claim since halting the rise in car use is proving extremely elusive throughout the UK.

For Bristol in particular such an objective, desirable as it might be, seems to be totally inconsistent with all the serious transport studies carried out in recent years, notably the Greater Bristol Strategic Transport Study (which predicts a 34% rise in the number of vehicle trips in the morning peak and an increase in the proportion of journeys made by cars) and the Joint Local Transport Plan. In addition we now have projections for population growth for Bristol City alone of 27% over the next 18 years, double what was previously expected.

I don't want to give any particular credence to the GBSTS or its methodology and there are of course many provisos that must be applied to any projections, including to note that the Greater Bristol area is similar to the old Avon County Council area whereas the Cycling City bid applies to the Bristol urban area (the City and the contiguous built up areas of South Gloucestershire) where traffic growth will be more constrained. But there is such a gulf between the traffic projections being made for the Greater Bristol area and the Cycling City bid expectation to stem the rise in car use in just 3 years that one can only conclude that someone somewhere has become seriously detached from reality.


James Barlow said...

I'm hoping that we don't win this bid. Remember that it's a matching grant structure, so if we "invest" £20m that's £10m of taxes we've already paid plus an extra £10m of Council Tax.

Has anyone ever looked for a correlation between cycle usage and topography?

I've been doing some business in Portsmouth, and I do notice quite a lot of cyclists of all ages, and it's also pretty apparent that the city has a flat, easily ridable terrain. The country with the greatest percentage of travel made by bicycle over other forms of transport is the Netherlands, also famously rather flat.

Could Bristol every offer a comparable environment, without the application of a lot of explosives to Park Street and Clifton? That's certainly one of the reasons for the success of the Bristol-Bath Railway Path: its exploitation of the gentle gradient created at great cost by a prior generation of railway engineers.

Chris Hutt said...

There's no reason that I'm aware of why the Council shouldn't still invest its share in cycling even if they don't win the Cycle England share, so I don't see that winning will cost Bristol more than losing, quite the contrary. Either way the sums involved are minor compared to those proposed for motorised transport infrastructure.

If the cycling investment is justified on a cost/benefit basis then Bristol ought to be willing to fund it, just as it should for other transport investment. There are decades of neglect of cycling to make up for.

There is of course a strong correlation between cycle usage and topography, but I believe cycling levels in Bristol have nevertheless been quite high compared to similar but flatter cities, so topography is not the overriding consideration.

Poor/expensive public transport, congested roads and parking charges are likely to make cycling a relatively attractive option, even with hilly terrain.

Besides much of central Bristol is the flood plain of the Avon and its tributaries and is relatively flat, as are some plateau areas like Clifton. Main roads like the Gloucester Road often provide gently graded inclines from flood plain to plateau.

My concern with the Cycle England money, as with TIF money for example, is that it's perceived as "free" money and therefore spent less wisely than if it was recognised as money taken directly from our fellow citizens. I'm also not at all sure that Cycle England are sufficiently independent of interest groups who wish to see funds channeled in their direction.

Anonymous said...

£20m would be money well spent if it went towards decent, long term infrastructure of the quality of the Bristol - Bath Railway Path.

However the suspicion is that we'll get a load more weird road markings, a few more daft cycle lanes to nowhere and some badly-placed cycle racks.

The rest, as Chris points out, will be divvied around various cycle organisations to squander on the usual PR/marketing/promotional activities and short-term-well-paid-jobs-for-the-boys where some fairly lumpen efforts will be made to persuade us out of cars and on to bikes while delivering excuses on why the vehicle-reduction targets they set themselves are not really achievable.

So, on balance, I'm with James. Let's hope we lose.

I'm also heartily sick of bids. We've now had City of Culture, Green Capital, Digital City and now City of Cycling.

It's like this City's got an identity crisis. Why can't we just be the City of, er, Bristol?

Chris Hutt said...

This time I'm in agreement with you BB. Jobs-for-the-boys is already much in evidence. People who once counted themselves as campaigners for cycling have since taken the Queen's shilling and have become supporters of the half-hearted half-measures favoured by the Council. In this way the tradition of radical cycle campaigning in Bristol that dates back to the 80s has been undermined .

Charlie Bolton said...

Curiously enough, I was speaking to a cyclist last night who pointed out that having separate cycle and car-lanes is more dangerous for cyclists than them going on road (the reason being the accidents which occur at the junctions between the two.

No idea if it is true, but it has a ring of truth.

My understanding of the Cycle city bid is that it is largely not aimed at putting in cycle lanes, but more at measures which actively encourage cycling.

Either way, the announcement will be on Thursday morning

Chris Hutt said...

There's long been a debate about the merits or otherwise of trying to segregate cyclists from motor traffic. Some of the cycling links in the sidebar give examples of the arguments.

Generally speaking the Cyclists' touring Club (CTC) and others have argued for doing nothing that might suggest that cyclists are relinquishing their rights to the road network, whereas Sustrans have argued that cyclists should develop alternative routes to avoid the most unpleasant and dangerous roads.

In practice alternative routes tend to be of poor design and construction, badly managed and maintained, indirect and unsafe. The Railway Path is in some respects the exception, although even it has suffered from bad management and maintenance as recent events have shown.

On the other hand the absence of motor traffic on segregated paths does allow for a much pleasanter cycling experience and the popularity of some paths cannot be denied. I think the jury is still out on this.

Charlie Bolton said...

yes, I was speaking to another experienced cyclist who made the same points really. He pointed out that the original report goes back to Milton Keynes and its redways. (I lived in MK for 3 years, so know what they were like - or more particularly how MK was designed for the car).

And he suggested that the Sustrans approach would be to say, the problem aint the cycle paths, it is the engineering at the junctions.

I guess you have heard about the cycling city bid by now

Chris Hutt said...

Yes, I've heard about Bristol winning but I'm still not sure what to make of it. On the face of it it's surprising given the recent controversies, although not when you consider the pivotal role of Sustrans, who have clearly done some deal with the Council in the aftermath of the Railway Path debacle and whose erstwhile CEO is a prominent member of the Cycling England board.

Manchester and Leicester (the other short listed cities) must be feeling pretty cheesed off. Perhaps if they'd drawn up plans to convert their best cycle routes to guided bus ways they might have been in with a chance. Talk about mixed messages.