Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Cycling at Christmas - that's a £30 fine

As I write Mark Bradshaw, Bristol City Council's executive member for transport, is speaking on Radio Bristol and seems intent on making himself loathed by another section of Bristol's traveling public by fronting a joint Council and Police purge against cyclists who are trying to cope with Bristol's notoriously cycle-hostile streets by sometimes cycling on pavements. The hapless Bradshaw, who is not even a cyclist, presumes to tell us how we should conduct ourselves when he has little understanding of the issues.

For at least 30 years cyclists' groups have been pleading with Bristol City Council (and its precursor Avon) to make the road infrastructure safe and convenient for cyclists and pedestrians. We have even promoted, on our own initiative and at our own expense, a wide variety of ideas to address this including traffic calming, 20 mph speed limits, contra-flow cycle lanes and home zones, yet little of this has been implemented and the highway network remains overwhelmingly dedicated to giving priority to speeding motor traffic.

The manifest failure of the Council to heed the warnings has resulted in them being ill-prepared to accommodate the growing popularity of cycling. Their fumbling and bungling approach to Cycling City illustrates this very well. Is not the fundamental purpose of Cycling City to 'encourage' cycling? So what is one of the Council's first Cycling City initiatives - the persecution of cyclists to appease a minority of reactionary Evening Post readers!

Cyclists, being a smallish minority group, have always been perceived as convenient scapegoats to blame for society's traffic ills, as I can attest from direct experience sitting on a road safety committee 25 years ago (when cyclists did by and large obey traffic regulations but were nevertheless always cited as the greatest threat to road safety). So we now see that Bristol City Council's approach to Cycling City includes the encouragement and legitimisation of the scapegoating of cyclists!

Famous Jewish joke. A Nazi asked a Jew who is to blame for society's ills. The Jew says "the Jews and the cyclists". The Nazi says "Why the cyclists?". The Jew says "why the Jews?".

New Cycling City joke. Bradshaw asks a cyclist who is to blame for the traffic problems. The cyclist says "the cyclists and the Somalis." Bradshaw says "why the Somalis?".


MJ Ray said...

I don't get the Christmas fine reference. Can someone post the mp3 where it doesn't require a Yahoo!ID, please?

Chris Hutt said...

Sorry about the link. I guess it's only accessible for those who are signed up to the Bristol Cycling Campaign forum (although I'm told the forum itself is publicly viewable). I'll try to fix access to it later because it includes Josh Hart who puts the cyclists' case very well.

There's also a link to the Evening Post article which is linked to under the word 'purge', and via this URL -

Anonymous said...

Your photo looking along Newfoundland St by Cabot Circus raises some issues. I use this route daily, and it is one of those sections where it just isn't safe to cycle on the main road - which is basically the beginning of a motorway. Bristol City Council have recently designated several stretches of pavement around here as joint cycle/ pedestrian routes (not sure if it includes the bit in your photo), but with tiny and completely inadequate signs - so that cyclists endure persistent hostility from pedestrians who think they are breaking the law...

Chris Hutt said...

Well observed anonymous. There are indeed very small '[shared-use' signs placed high on some lamp posts where they are unlikely to be noticed.

I think the object of the exercise, as is usual with the Council, is to protect their arses while letting someone else (preferably cyclists as in this case) take the flack.

So if you're hit by a car on the road they can say you should have been on the footway. But on the footway the pedestrians give you dirty looks because they think you shouldn't be there which, given its limited width and clutter of street furniture, is a reasonable view.

Welcome to Cycling City.

Anonymous said...

The results of an annual city council survey reveal that approx 2 out of 3 Bristol residents finds pavement parking a problem. Where is the evidence that most of Bristol has a problem with pavement cyclists? If the council are merely reacting to the usual suspect whingers from the Evening Pest, then this nonsense should be easy to discredit

elizabeth said...

This is a case of beams and motes as usual. The council should start with its own abuse of the pavements. How many of its own employees - and police - does it prosecute or fine for driving and parking on pavements? How many pavements has it annexed for public parking? How many pavememts has it told restaurants and clubs to annexe for keeping their dustbins on? How many pavements does it repair as a result of all these abuses? And how many does it clean? How many people does it allow all over the city to park across and along pavements? Many pavements in the city centre are now out of bounds for people in wheelchairs or pushing prams. It is now a common sight to see young mothers pushing their buggies up the middle of the road, while people in wheelchairs are barely visible in the centre of this capital of "equalities impact assessments".

elizabeth said...

See James Barlow's speaking truth to power piece on this.

Darlington Councillor said...

Hi Chris. Thanks again for visiting my blog and leaving a comment.

Forgive the intrusion into Bristol matters, but the topic of cyclists on pavements is a hardy perennial around the country.

A few thoughts from one Cycling Demonstration Town to another (ahem)....

(1) Cycling on pavements is as real an issue in Darlington as it is in Bristol. You are of course correct that a lot of nonsense is written by the press about the issue, and that the risk posed to cyclists by cars and lorries on the road far outstrips the danger of poedestrians getting knocked over by cyclists themselves.

(2) In fact, there are rarely sufficient resources to adequately police highway regulations, so the whole thing is a nonsense anyway.

(3) I appreciate that Darlington is very different in scale to Bristol...however... we've had a not unrelated debate here about cycling through our pedestrianised area. Allowing cyclists to use our Pedestrian Heart has attracted controversy, and sharpened up the pedestrian vs. cyclist debate in the town.

(4) It's clear that the people who object to shared space between cyclists and pedestrians aren't just gutter hacks and opponents of the Town Hall regime (although they may well ride in on the back of opposition) - older people and those with a disability have real fears which should be addressed.

(5) Empirically, however, studies here have shown that cyclists pose little if any risk to pedestrians in the shared space environment, and accident statistics demosnstrate that cyclists are at much greater risk of injury using the town's ring-road rather than the Pedstrian Heart. A separate debate has started up about the risk posed by motorized scooters for the disabled, which has been addressed elsewhere.

(6) This is as much about perception as it is about hard facts. The Council in Darlington has tried to work with groups representing older people and those with disabilities to explain risk, and explode some of the myths around the perceived cycling/pedestrian conflict. Only by bringing affected groups round the table can the circle be squared.

(7) Finally, I'm sure Bristol will have as good and robust a relationship with Sustrans and Cycling England as we have had in Darlington. We've benefitted hugely from the advice (and the money!) that has accrued.

Changing travel behaviour can't be done via slugs of cash into cycling infrastructure alone - the Council also has to win hearts and minds, and persuade residents that they can make journeys safely, easily and more quickly by bike (or walking, or by public transport, depending on their journey spec).

Demonizing cycling on pavements is rarley a good place to start...

Best wishes,


Chris Hutt said...

Hi Nick, you're very welcome to comment here on Bristol matters. As you point out the issues here are paralleled elsewhere.

I agree with everything you say in your comment, except with regard to the value of the input of Sustrans and Cycle England, but we'll leave that one for now.

Cycling on pavements is a very difficult issue. At one extreme there are situations where it is simply the only safe place to cycle. At the other extreme there are undoubtedly some cyclists who behave in an anti-social and reckless way, riding too fast on pavements when there is no justification for it.

Between the extremes we have a vast grey area where account has to be taken of the age and experience of the cyclist, the geometry of the footway / pavement (sight lines, widths), levels of use, perceived and actual safety of the road alternative, etc.

Such complexity cannot be reconciled with a sensible enforcement strategy other than to ignore all but the worst extremes of reckless behaviour. Attempts to enforce the letter of the law soon run into public ridicule.

Ideally I would like every road to be perceived by everyone as a safe and appropriate place to cycle. This implies a big change in attitudes, especially by motorists and the police; and it's not at all clear how such an attitude change might be achieved.

I very much doubt that the Cycling City demonstration project will achieve the required attitude change, mainly because here in Bristol it's being directed by people who have a poor understanding of the issues, most not even being cyclists.