A piece in yesterday's Evening Post has prompted me to revisit Bristol's recently gained Cycling City status. In the article Suzanne Savill reminds us that the City council have an unfortunate tendency to latch onto targets for change which have little basis other than wishful thinking. She cites in particular Chooseday which was launched last year with the aim of persuading people to give up using cars on Tuesdays. Needless to say there's been no discernible effect and in the end its failure will merely serve to confirm the cynicism of most observers.
There is a real danger of Cycling City, with its arbitrary target of doubling the number of people cycling in Bristol, failing to make any real impact and leading to a general conclusion that "cycling has been tried but failed to deliver". Although the investment of £11. 4 million to be matched from local sources is substantial, it is well within the capabilities of the City Council to waste such sums on half-baked token gestures that deliver little in the way of tangible benefits.
This is not the first time that Bristol City Council have set themselves a target for dramatically improving the environment for cycling and boosting numbers. They adopted a cycling policy with similar aims in the 1990s. Needless to say it failed to materialise and was quietly forgotten. Will this be the fate of Cycling City? Probably, based on past experience, only this time there's some serious public funding involved which may make a difference.
So where will this £11.4 million (or £22.8 million including local matched funding) actually go? The claim is that it will be spent on "cycling" or even "cyclists", although you can be sure that ordinary cyclists won't see any of it, least of all those who devoted years of their lives to putting cycling on the agenda in the first place. But "jobs for the boys" will certainly feature with vested interests to pay off such as Sustrans and Life Cycle, who will doubtless find a good chunk of the funding channeled in their direction.
Beyond that a lot will disappear into small schemes of dubious or marginal benefit to cyclists, as has been the case so far. Schemes designed primarily to benefit motor traffic will dip into the cycling pot on the strength of some cycle "facility" provided, as we are finding with the Blackboy Hill proposals. It seems one major new off-road route is planned but again we must look at Bristol's poor track record. Their past efforts are typified by the Malago Greenway which has very poor continuity and a superfluity of access barriers which make cycling the route a frustrating experience.
I'm all for cycling achieving its potential but wonder whether having Bristol City Council promoting it is really the way to win popular support. This is, remember, the same Bristol City Council who failed so spectacularly to secure investment for a tram system, who have blundered over the promotion of BRT (guided busways on cycle routes), who have failed to make Prince Street Bridge safe for cyclists and pedestrians and who seem to provoke public outrage an every opportunity.