Sunday, 22 March 2009

Is this Criminal Damage?

As widely reported last week, the Police in Bristol have arrested and charged someone for writing on the pavement with chalk. Up until now we had all assumed that those errant markings that we sometimes find on our streets were mostly harmless and occasionally amusing, to be ignored or not as we chose. I doubt that it had ever occurred to any of us that such markings might constitute Criminal Damage and be worthy of the attention of the Police and Courts, but it seems we were wrong.

Let's take this recent example at Old Market. At first sight it appears innocuous, a crude attempt to signify some token priority for cyclists. Sensible people just ignore it as they go about their business, as we see from the picture below. However not everyone is sensible. Some motorists might think it safe to follow the lane markings. Some cyclists might think these markings have some authority and offer them some protection. This would be a grave error. Anyone imagining that a cycle lane offers some kind of a safe haven is seriously at risk.

To lead cyclists to the inside of a tight bend on the inside of two traffic lanes that can barely be accommodated themselves, where the unaware cyclist is very likely to get squeezed on the corner, is, let's face it, downright irresponsible. It's not good enough to assume that everyone will have the good sense to realise the markings are mere token gestures which should be ignored. It will only take one novice cyclist who naively presumes that these markings offer some talismanic protection and we will have yet another cyclist on their way to hospital.

In the instance pictured below the bus driver had the presence of mind to ignore the lane markings and straddle the two lanes to give the cyclist adequate clearance. But is it realistic to expect bus drivers working long hours in difficult circumstances to remain so alert and conscientious? Is it really too much to expect that road markings should only be installed by competent people and actually deliver a safe and practical arrangement for sharing the road?

Thanks to the recent action of the Police in pushing back the boundaries of what is considered an appropriate area for Criminal Damage prosecutions, we at last have a remedy for this sort of nonsense. We know the people responsible, we know their names, we know where they work. The evidence is there on our streets, not in chalk which might easily be washed or worn away but in permanent and hard-wearing materials that can only be removed at considerable cost to the local taxpayer.

Green Bristol Blog says enough is enough. The culprits need to be taught a lesson. Our streets are not provided as blank canvasses for them to indulge in their childish markings. Only responsible and competent people with an understanding of the delicate 'territorial' relationship between different road users should be allowed to apply such street markings. Criminal Damage? - bring it on!


Jon Rogers said...

Fighting talk Chris!

How would you fancy joining the next Cycling City stakeholder panel meeting as a "participating observer"? The main topic is "infrastructure plans". Invite sent separately.

I am increasingly aware that some of the city's approaches to bike lane marking is idiosyncratic at best and dangerous at worse.


WestfieldWanderer said...

Things must change. And soon.
A comment on my blog sums up the situation very neatly...
Sure, there are still some bike-phobic ignoramuses around (and more than average on most town councils), but it's important to realise they're a dying breed. Your Joe and Jane Average realise there are plenty of good reasons to get around by bike; it just takes a lot of effort and courage to try doing things differently.

DocSavage said...

I work yards from this junction and cycle through it daily. When the council undertook the Old Market Scheme we received the outline documents (as usual for locals) and were asked to comment. I wrote in some detail about the obvious appalling design flaws they were proposing up and down the street , from the extra high raised kerbs, bottling 3 lanes into 2, no cycle lane down the street, just these stupid lanes that appear out of nowhere just prior to junctions. of course I got not a response, acknowledgment or anything (not that I expected it) Midland Rd now has one of those suicide lanes, (you get to choose which side you get knocked of from - parked cars or moving traffic)but the corner in question here is staggeringly dangerous (and I will credit the majority of Bus drivers here, they know it and give the corner a wide berth)what you didn't show Chris was how the cycle path on the opposing side of the street is meant to work with this junction. it forces you to cross the busy traffic to sit in the middle of the road in order to cross to be able use it!(and thats only when the lights are at Red - otherwise you have to wait for the traffic to pass) Further round the corner the new bus stop at Lawfords gate now pushes bikes out into the middle of the road when buses stop, the perfectly acceptable bus layby that was there paved over and pushed out to allow buses to stop in the traffic flow.
Perhaps we could avoid this and go down to River street and along the safe off street route that was there before - no! they've shut that access off to bikes.That now means we are forced onto the pavement access way around the back of the Pheonix Pub.
Sorry to rave on Chris, but I'm so bloody frustrated by these total clowns and the risks they are happy to escalate for cyclists in the name of their planning.
They should be held to account 100%, and made entirely culpable for the accidents that cyclist suffer as a consequence.
BTW Jon Rogers - I have asked to be included on the 'stakeholders' email list 5 times, so far nothing.
these panels seem nothing more than tick box exercises to fulfill statutory requirements. when will someone stand up and say enough is enough!

Chris Hutt said...

Doc Savage, please rave on, that's what blogs are for. I'm really very grateful for your regular contributions, especially when you have lots of personal experience to draw on.

There are those who will characterise my blog posts as being the carping and sniping (those are the words they use) of just one embittered individual who is not representative of cyclists in general. Comments such as yours show that I am not alone.

Anonymous said...

This is all about ticking boxes. Does not matter if the cycle lanes are not fit for purpose. All about appearing to do things for cyclists. It would be better if the council did nothing.

Chris Hutt said...

@ Jon Rogers,

"How would you fancy joining the next Cycling City stakeholder panel meeting as a "participating observer"?"

As you may know I attended similar consultative panels over more than a decade from 1983 onwards. My impression is that such consultative bodies, like meetings generally, achieve very little in relation to the huge amount of time invested in them.

Besides power does not reside with such consultative bodies. They are talking shops, designed to create the illusion of participation in the decision making process. In the end it's the officers who control things (unless the lead member is quite exceptional!).

Most of the problems I have highlighted here arise because of the prevalent officer culture, which is rooted in out-of-date notions of street management which defer to motorists.

If we are to make worthwhile progress that has to change but I can't see a consultative panel changing it. As I think I have said before, change needs to be driven by people with key positions within the hierarchy, the Cycling City project manager for example.

Without the right people in place there isn't really much hope. The officers will continue to conform to the expectations of their peer group and the dubious influence of self-serving quangocracies like Sustrans and Cycling England.

So I don't see much to be gained form observing / participating on Tuesday, unless some very fundamental changes are underway.

However I am happy to contribute in more productive ways such as showing you some of the many opportunities there are for useful and attractive cycling infrastructure that would encourage more to cycle.

snafu said...

"it just takes a lot of effort and courage to try doing things differently" ... either that or sheer bloody-mindedness! Never forget that the great british public consists of at least 50% "embittered individuals." We're a crucial demographic you know.

Oh, and isn't "participating observer" another of these chewy oxymorons so in favour up at the big house?

Anonymous said...

Then this would be *really* unpopular with the rozzers:

As for Bristol being a cycling city, that is a big, sad, ironic laugh. I moved here to avoid a massive commute by car (M4 hell) and now live in Old Market for easy access to the railway line route. Not a bad journey but in comparison the buses are awful - worse than some mass unemployment isolated hellhole in Wales (I should know!), and the general level traffic is a smelly nightmare. I would not consider using the car or bus unless I really had to, its too much trouble but those who do use the car clog up the roads. The whole infrastructure need a rethink and refocus away from the car. In short, Brizzy needs some wonderful carrots to encourage people, and not the dumb sticks currently employed.