Wednesday, 29 October 2008

A Pack of Lies

You know how it is when you read a newspaper report about something that you happen to know about and you're aghast at how many facts are just plain wrong, not to mention the malicious spin put on it to serve editorial purposes. So it is with Bristol City Council press releases.

The press release which contained the revelation about Prince Street Bridge having just one footway is in fact a masterpiece of deception with no less than ten misleading or untrue statements within its 16 paragraphs. Here's a breakdown.

Para 1. "the city council and its partners prepare ... to turn the south west's biggest city into one of the best places in Europe to be on a bike."

Wrong. It's ludicrous to claim that Bristol could become one of Europe's best places to cycle. It's never going to be in the same league as cities like Copenhagen (dk), Malmo (se), Amsterdam (nl), Ferrara (it), Basel (ch) and Muenster (de).

Para 2. “Plans …. include two new major ‘off-road’ commuter routes”

Wrong. The off-road routes proposed are not "new" but upgrades or extensions of existing routes and not even major ones at that.

Para 4. “Councillor Mark Bradshaw… said: Our city already has a tremendous range of facilities and routes for cycling”

Wrong. With the exception of the Railway Path, facilities and routes for cyclists are widely regarded as poor quality and ill-thought out.

Para 7. “The city council is prepared to take some tough decisions, such as tackling safety concerns on Prince Street Bridge”

Wrong. The tough decision would have been to close the bridge entirely to cars and assign one half to walkers and the other to cyclists. As it is they’ve opted for the easy option of keeping it open to cars and forcing cyclists and walkers to share an inadequate width.

Para 9. “One of the new ‘off-road’ routes proposed …. will link the city centre with Lockleaze …. via a new path between Hopetown (sic) Road in St Werburgh’s and Muller Road, Horfield.”

Wrong. The path from Hopetoun Road to Muller Road already exists and has been used by cyclists for 20 years or more.

Para 10. “The other new ‘off road’ route ….. will enable cyclists to travel into the city centre from south Bristol via Hartcliffe Way and an improved Malago Greenway”

Wrong. Cyclists can already cycle this route and have been doing so for 20 years. Upgrading the route does not make it “new”.

Para 12. “The first phase of Cycling City work also proposes to deliver an improved route for cyclists and pedestrians alike across the city’s Prince Street bridge.”

Wrong. There is no evidence that the route will be improved for cyclists who will find themselves forced onto half the width they currently enjoy and probably into conflict with pedestrians.

Para 12. “This narrow swing bridge over the historic Floating Harbour has a slim pavement on one side only and poses a danger for cyclists…”

Wrong. There are pavements on both sides and there is no evidence of significant danger from this to cyclists.

Para 12. “The Cycling City proposal will see the introduction of more space for cyclists …”

Wrong. Cyclists will have less space than they enjoy at present and it isn't even clear how pedestrians will benefit.

Para 13. “Initial improvements … will include new direction and information signs for the popular Bristol to Bath ‘Railway’ Path through eastern and central Bristol”

Wrong. The Railway Path does not go “through” central Bristol, just east Bristol.

As if all that wasn't enough the author of the press release, Simon Carplan, made a comment on the Bristol Blogger site yesterday complaining that his colleague Kate Hartas had been criticised for writing the misleading press release when in fact he had written it (but not put his name to it).

Carplan went on to claim that "the decision to focus on the proposals for Prince Street Bridge in this piece of publicity .... was deliberate and designed to ensure that the council were open and honest with the public about the scheme". But the news about Prince Street Bridge is hardly the focus of the press release, that being Cycling City.

It would be closer to the truth to say that the Prince Street Bridge news was ‘buried away’ inside the Cycling City news. It doesn’t get a mention until the 7th para and isn’t dealt with until 12th para. That doesn’t sound like a “focus on the bridge” to me, given that they knew very well that it was easily the most contentious element.

And it really is stooping low to try to ‘blame’ the Prince Street Bridge restrictions on cyclists so we get the flak in the Evil Post. Cyclists, rightly or wrongly, get a lot of resentment from motorists and pedestrians. Fanning the flames by saying the traffic restrictions are required to benefit cyclists is hardly consistent with the stated aims of Cycling City.


t1mmyb said...

Simon Carplan? Was that intentional? Funny :)

Chris Hutt said...

I've got so used to writing Carboot instead of Cabot (Circus) that it sort of happened subconsciously, but then I thought it somehow apt.

I was thinking of referring to Kate Kartax (Hartas) too but thought better of it (until now).

Docsavage said...

The latest tirade in the Evil Post sums up the situation we face in this fair city.
It seems whipping up hackneyed, bigoted anti-cyclist hysteria is fair play for the paper that time forgot.
Good to see the Tory leader getting in on the act too.
So a united front then in forging Bristol into a leading European cycling haven.

Chris Hutt said...

I feel that the root of the problem is the lack of leadership of the calibre necessary to carry through such fast paced change.

Public relations is also important, but that doesn't mean trying to dupe the people by misrepresentations! It should mean identifying the commonality of interest and appealing to that so that a large constituency is engaged in a positive way.

For example I would much prefer that the project was a joint pedestrian/cycle project. We are all pedestrians to some extent so that avoids the idea of pandering to a minority. It also recognises that pedestrians must be well provided for alongside any cycle provision, and vice versa (Prince Street Bridge being a case in point).

Sadly there is a measure of condescension on the part of Cycling England in the manner in which they are allowing us to spend what is after all our own money.

elizabeth said...

I agree with you Chris that pedestrians and bicyclists should be considered together in the new arrangements for the city. At the moment it is equally unpleasant for both groups, quite apart from their being in conflict with each other through lack of consideration by the authorities. One is left all the time thinking the council officers can't possibly ever walk round Bristol themselves, or they wouldn't tolerate the squalor and many obstructions on the pavements, the danger from the traffic, the very short time allowed at many major crossings (e.g. the one in Queens Road outside Browns), and the pollution, to which pedestrians and bicyclists alike are daily subjected - all over the city, not just in the centre. Once upon a time we had a Chief Planning Officer who walked to work (Ian Paterson), and while he held office the improvement for pedestrians was noticeable. Then along came the Brown Boom and everything changed for the worse as motor traffic and inward migration proliferated, without any attempt on the part of the authorities to cater for either increase, or mitigate their effects on the people of Bristol.

Pedestria said...

Well said Chris and Elizabeth. There's often too much whiff of confrontationalism and cycle machismo in the air.

Chill out cyclists! Love walkers - most folks do it and we're much stronger together than divided.

Good to hear that our Mighty Council is considering Josh Hart's new railpath route.