Thursday, 5 February 2009

Cycling City - Another Launch

In June last year Bristol was chosen by Cycling England, a government funded quango, to become England's first Cycling City, with an allocation of £11.4 million to be spent on cycling, this to be matched by local funding so making almost £23 million in total. Six months on and there is little enough to show for it. They have only just managed to appoint a Project Manager!

An abortive attempt in December to persecute cyclists for doing what motorists routinely do (ignore traffic regulations) merely succeeded in stirring up the latent animosity felt between rival road user groups. Then last month changes were made to Prince Street Bridge, ostensibly to benefit cyclists but actually creating what is in many ways a worse situation than existed before.

There has also been a great deal of controversy over the 'governance' arrangements, particularly the way that local cycle campaign groups, including people who have devoted decades of their lives to the promotion of cycling, have been excluded from the development of the Cycling City project. Even the CC web site appears to have been forgotten about.

So when things start looking flaky - time for a relaunch, taking place today with a promotion at the Royal Hotel on College Green (don't worry if you miss it, they'll be another one along in a few months). The relaunch appears to be focused on the publication of a new promotional leaflet which, along with the usual empty rhetoric, includes a map (below - click to enlarge) showing what infrastructure changes are proposed.

As you might expect I've one or two criticisms of Cycling City. I'll keep my powder dry on most of it for now, but let's take a closer look at that map. It purports to show "new infrastructure" and "new infrastructure on existing network". You and I might naively assume that "new infrastructure" was a new route that did not already exist (otherwise it would come in the second category, wouldn't it?). But the Council apparently operate on a higher plane where such simplistic interpretations are transcended.

Many of the "new infrastructure" cycling routes proposed are not new at all but upgrades of existing routes, for example the current construction through St Werburghs and the routes to Henbury in south Bristol (the Malago Greenway and Whitchurch Railway Path already exist). Much of the "new infrastructure" is based on existing roads, like St Philip's Causeway (the Spine road), which is described in the text as "possible cycle access along the spine road...." Possible? that sounds a bit tentative. Have they thought this through?

Other examples of "new infrastructure" have already been provided as a result of new developments (e.g. the Cheese Grater bridge (below) at Temple Meads and the "new" links at Carboot Circus) and owe nothing to Cycling City for their existence. In fact both those examples replace previously existing infrastructure that was arguably better than what is now being provided. Some proposed "new infrastructure" to be provided as planning gain (like Wapping Wharf) looks unlikely to materialise in the present economic climate.

And what about the glaring omissions? Where on the map is the Bristol & Bath Railway Path south of Mangotsfield? Where is the Chocolate Path and the link under Cumberland Road? Where is the Riverside Path through St Anne's? Where are the Sustrans National Cycle Network routes like NCN 4 between the centre and the Downs? Naturally I don't rate rush Sustrans routes, but neither it seems do the Council.

I'm astounded at the Council's mendacity (or is it sheer incompetence?) when it comes to the mapping. Do they think we are all map illiterate and won't be able to see how misleading and devious so much of what they show is? Even taking the map at face value there is no way that the so-called "new infrastructure" is going to lead to a doubling of cycling. The bulk of cycling takes place on ordinary roads, roads like Cheltenham Road and Gloucester Road which have exceptionally high cycle flows and many reported problems for cyclists, yet these crucial roads are entirely ignored by the map.


sued said...

Yes, I notice No. 41 on the map, indicated as "new infrastructure" is my route to work which has been in place since 2006. I think most of it was built by the developers of the Stoke Park housing, there was no evidence of council involvement during its construction. they're liars.

DocSavage said...

At the Fairfield 'public meeting' Andy Whitehead identified the lack of cross Bristol access for cyclists as a major issue for them to sort out. to get from north east to south west and so forth.
Nothing on this map solves that problem so have they just given up on that then?

The St werburghs route has been heavily used by cyclists, despite the lack of maintenance, for years, thats not a new one by any stretch of the most fertile imagination.
(lets see if they remove the steps from the railway bridge access though)
As you say, nothing substantial or fundementally different.

PS: Maybe some of the money can be put towards gritting footpaths and cycle ways which clearly isn't on their agenda at the moment. Castle Park and the St Pauls tunnels were a skating rink this week

Chris Hutt said...

If you look at radial routes from the city centre, which are obviously crucial in promoting cycling for commuting, there's absolutely nothing new except a few local links here and there.

The upgrading of the route alongside the M32 (29) could potentially be useful if done to a very high standard, but I can't see that happening.

Other than that there are potential benefits from the Main Road Reviews, but on past performance (Gloucester Road) it's unlikely that they'll do more than put in tokenistic bits of cycle lane which will be used for car parking.

The Council seem to be so lacking in imagination and creativity. I could identify half a dozen new routes and strategic links which really would make a difference, but what's the point when the Council's reaction to outside initiative is always so negative?

DocSavage said...

I contacted Andy Whitehead about 12 months ago with a proposal to use a thin strip of the wapping wharf car park (behind the Ind Museum, by the concrete fence) to create a direct, safe path that linked with the chocolate path without the need to fall off crossing the railway tracks.It's easily visible on google earth, and doesn't impinge on any parking (god forbid) his response was basically 'yeah,whatever - go away' )
With Sustrans happily supping with their council paymasters, there's no one (perhaps the CTC if it grew some balls/teeth) to get campaigning for properly designed routes, How about reviving Cyclebag?


Chris Hutt said...

Funny you should mention that docsavage. We are in fact revitalising the Bristol Cycling Campaign to act as a more effective voice for Bristol's cyclists.

There's an important meeting tonight (Cornubia 8 pm) where we will be electing a steering group to enable us to respond more quickly to the fast changing situation in which we find ourselves.

I'm obviously on the cynical wing but most campaign members still hope to retrieve something worthwhile from the Cycling City debacle. Perhaps with enough determination it may not be too late.

Cycle commuter said...

Surely the best bet for you is to get a job with the council and get it done right!

Chris Hutt said...

Cycle commuter, those are two mutually exclusive objectives. Anyone who works for the council has to make big compromises so they never get it done right. We've 25 years of history of so-called cycling officers failing to get it done right to prove it.

Cycle commuter said...

So if the council can't do it due to having to comprimise too much..who realistically can do it. The problem of comprimise runs across all campaigning for it poverty reduction or improving cycling. Should groups work with local and national government or work in isolation. If you decide to work with then comprimise is your only realistic option.

Chris Hutt said...

Agreed. There appears to be no answer to that dilemma. You have to choose between God and Mammon.

Of course there are always young people who naively think that they can find some way of combining making money with doing the right things, but in the end they become cynical apparatchiks concerned with little more than their status and pension plan.

The best hope for an individual is self-delusion, to be able to believe that one has found that elusive balance between making money and doing good, contrary to all the objective evidence. But those that manage such self-delusion have, by definition, poor judgment, so tend to compound problems through bad decision making.

Cycle Commuter said...

You world seems pretty dark!! So if you want to make money, you are unable to do good at the same time. So in that doesnt matter what you do to make money as if you try to do good you will fail anyway. Nice perspective on life!

Chris Hutt said...

It depends what you mean by doing good, of course. I'm talking about doing good above and beyond the extent to which it is embodied in some jobs, which is where the challenge lies.

For example it would be difficult (but not impossible) to argue that say health care workers don't "do good" in the course of their work. But when it comes to doing something for which there isn't an established market, like cycle campaigning, then the dilemma has to be confronted.

History can teach us a lot about what happens when people try to institutionalise "doing good". Look at the Soviet Union or Cuba to see what results from revolutions founded on the principle of doing good. Overweening government and stultifying bureaucracy (now coming our way, courtesy of Bristol City Council).

Just because my analysis is bleak and depressing doesn't make it invalid, although if you don't like it self-delusion is always an option.

Cycle commuter said...

I guess it makes it an opinion or perspective like any other. A blog is essentially about airing your opinions.

Chris Hutt said...

Yep, just that. You take them or leave them, as you wish.

Anonymous said...

Chris, there is a lot of chopping and earth moving down at the cycle path today, near the lawrence hill briege