Wednesday, 29 April 2009

A Cyclist Apologises

As a cyclist I wish to apologise, not for cycling through red lights (which I often do), not for cycling on pavements (which I sometimes do) and not for cycling the wrong way down one-way streets (which I occasionally do) but for this, or rather what this portends when it drops through your letter box.

This leaflet in itself is, like Our City, just another waste of time and money which will help the Council meet it's targets for paper recycling, but if you can bear to read it, it warns that you should expect a visit from a cycling advisor in the next few days. And that's the default position. If you don't want to have a visit from a cycling advisor, thank you very much, then YOU had better phone the Council to beg them not to send one (although as a special concession to the modern age, you are cordially invited to exercise the option of cancelling your forthcoming visit by a cycling advisor online or by email).

So this is how the extra £11 million of Cycling City money will be spent? Unsolicited interference in people's private lives, cold-calling to 'encourage' people to cycle to help the Council meet another misguided and wildly ambitious target, that of doubling the number of cyclists in just a couple of years? It's one thing to offer' free' advice to those who actually request it (although I don't see why it should necessarily be 'free' to the consumer when it clearly is no such thing to the supplier), but to doorstep, to call uninvited at people's homes 'offering' this advice to all and sundry can hardly be ethical or cost effective.

In fact I find it difficult to think of anything more likely to further alienate the majority of people who choose not to cycle from considering the option. Can you see the masses taking up cycling because a woman/man from the Council said what a good idea it would be? Is it not more likely that they will resent the intrusion, resent the waste of (their tax) money and resent the poor judgement of the Council in expecting such doorstepping to work.

How much is this costing? Naturally we are told nothing of this. But the web site referred to on the leaflet is hosted by consultants steer davies gleave, the same consultants who thought that running BRT down the Railway Path was such a good idea (no sense of irony, these bureaucrats?). The likes of sdg don't come cheap, not because the poor chaps and chappesses trudging around Bristol's forgotten housing estates will be paid anything to shout about, but because the senior partners take such a fat cut to fuel their lavish, BMW driving, international jet setting lifestyles.

So I extend my apologies, and I suspect those of a good proportion of Bristol's cyclists, to all those of you who find the quiet enjoyment of your homes interrupted by a visit from a cycling advisor. Please remember, this is not done to benefit mere cyclists but to further the vital process of transferring taxpayers funds into the pockets of fat cat consultants.


Anonymous said...

Our area now has an 'active transport' advisor who can tell us how to get work.

Presumably because we don't know?

Jon Rogers said...


I will investigate, and before anyone quips, yes I have read all the officer documentation on Cycling City!

When I took over Terry Cook's role I asked for all information relating to cycling city to be placed on the web.

I hope this is some little experiment, but I will check. The sort of thing I am looking for in adult engagement needs to be much more dynamic, for example...

Thanks for bringing it to our attention!


Chris Hutt said...

This technique of cold-calling at people's homes is known as 'doorstepping' and has been employed 'successfully' (we are told) in relation to encouraging higher recycling rates.

However there is a big difference between something like recycling household waste where every household has an interest and where the Council itself has a legitimate interest, and promoting cycling.

Most households will not be interested in cycling and even those that are will be unlikely to want to engage with a cycling advisor whose advice appears to be targeted at non-cyclists.

Perhaps as you say Jon this may be just a small pilot scheme to test out the idea, in which case no great harm done, but it might be helpful if the Council's cycling city website could put us in the picture as to what is going on.

RufusR said...

Interesting post, which I feel I must comment on. Your arguement is a strange one and isn't really cohesive. I'm a recent reader of your site and agree that the Cycling City project isn't really going anywhere at the minute. But then when some of it is implemented, you complain.

Now, I am not a great enthusiast of Personalised Travel Plans (PTPs), which the 'doorstepping' basically is, but it's proven to produce modal shift here in Bristol itself ( PTP is one way of promotion and one that gets information straight to people who may otherwise have no knowledge. A website is a useful resource, but surely we (and I say we as I am a keen cyclist and a transportation professional myself) need to get EVERYONE cycling to make a difference. The majority of people in Bristol probably aren't going to go searching for a website for info. And even if they did, what are they going to find??? May I point you towards your earlier post ( the lack of mapping? And what about people who have no internet access? For example low income homes who probably have the most to benefit from cycling (reduced car fuel bills, increased health etc) They need to be engaged and PTP is a direct way of doing it and one with probably more results than a 'launch day' reported on some random page of the local paper. But that needs to be done also, as local papers are resources that need to be used. Again, I don't read them, but many people do - engagement with all sections of society is vital. As for costs, I would recommend reading the Bristol Cycle City delivery strategy doc, which notes £3.3 million for 'smarter choices' which PTP probably falls under. From what I've heard, be thankful that it wasn't significantly more, as some sections of the council only wanted to deliver smarter choices for the whole project.

Admittedly, you're not going to be interested, you can say no. But people who would otherwise have no thought about cycling might just go 'oh, that's not a bad idea'. And I am not saying it's perfect, but it's engagement and that's what we need. We need to get away from cycling being viewed as being undertaken by hi-viz jacketed red-light runners and make it so normal in everyday life that no-one thinks twice about cycling to town.

Finally, you complain that the council has only just appointed a project manager 6 months in and then you complain that they bring in consultants with a good track record (for the record I have no affiliation with BCC or SDG) in PTP. Again, conflicting argument?

Bagpuss said...

I'd much rather they either put the money in to sorting out better cycle lanes on the roads - particularly my route to work, or perhaps put the money into cycle training for adults. I've only learnt to ride a bike in the last year or so, and I'm far too nervous of the traffic to cycle in to work - instead I have to resort to Worst bus. Route planning is of no use to me - I know the route, it's just not safe to cycle.

Anonymous said...

Not sure if you (Chris, Jon or anyone else exploring ideas) but if you access might I advise you to read the a report carried out by Mintel in January 2008 into the UK bicyle market. It raises some interesting points, and supports some of Rufus' points.

'The profile of non-cyclists is as follows:

-more women than men

- older age groups

- less affluent households

- heavy viewers of conventional TV, indicating a sedentary lifestyle

- Daily Express or Daily Mirror readers

- living in London – which may reflect the lack of facilities to store a bike or simply a preference to use public transport instead of a bike

And higlights that cycling needs a 'social catalyst'.

Chris Hutt said...

RufusR, I'll respond to yours later, since it requires something quite detailed and considered.

Bagpus, to my mind you are the sort of cyclist, or would-be cyclist, that we ought to be helping. In fact I'd be surprised if there wasn't already something in place to help you, so it might be worth enquiring of the Cycling City project. If they aren't offering you what you need then let us know.

If I was running the show I would set up something like a Cyclists' Aid Centre (CAC? erm...) in a small shop or office somewhere central, something friendly and informal where cyclists feel they can wander in and discuss their problems with a sympathetic person, face to face, someone 'on their side' who knows the ropes.

In your case I expect it would be a question of looking at your route to work and your own cycling skills to identify what the problems are and then to identify strategies for resolving them.

It may be that the problems are largely down to the behaviour of motorists, driving too fast or overtaking too close, but it might also be that your own cycling style needs developing, or that the road system needs some modification.

Whatever it takes it should be done because you, like everyone else, have a perfect right to cycle anywhere in the city without being in fear of motor traffic. That really should be non-negotiable.

Jon Rogers said...

Interestingly I was given a copy of the form and an associated booklet this evening at the Sustainable Development and Transport Scrutiny Commission meeting this evening, by a member of the public who is currently working in Bishopston "doorstepping" and talking face to face with residents on their transport options.

I understand it was funded by Cycling City last year as part of an existing contract with Steer Davies Gleave, so avoiding some of the commissioning issues that have been slowing progress.


Chris Hutt said...

Thanks for that feedback Jon. The leaflet was flagged up by someone on the Bristol Cycling Campaign site who'd only just come across it and no one else seems to have any knowledge of it, so it seems to be another example of the way Cycling City activities were carried out with little if any public awareness or scrutiny before you took over.

I think there is a distinction to be made between general travel surveys (PTPs, etc) and this leaflet which appears to be exclusively about cycling.

While most people will have some interest in general travel issues only a minority will be interested in cycling, so the doorstepping approach may not be appropriate.

Bagpuss said...

Hmm adult cycle training mentioned in their leaflet but nothing mentioned on the website, will give them a call when I get a chance and see what's on offer.

Chris Hutt said...

Bagpuss, there's also an email address given - Do let us know how helpful or otherwise you find it. I suspect the adult cycle training might be rather good but that there will be little action on the aberrant behaviour of motorists.

Chris Hutt said...

OK RufusR, here's my response to your detailed comments.

First I accept that my attitude to Cycling City is "damn them if they do, damn them if they don't". But that's what politicians do all the time, so nothing unusual. This is a blog, not a dissertation. Anyway my underlying motivation and attitude doesn't undermine the validity or otherwise of specific points.

On specifics, the leaflet shown does not appear to be promoting Personal Travel Plans (PTPs) but appears to be exclusively dealing with cycling. I think that the experience with PTPs isn't likely to apply to cycling in isolation since it will appear relevant to far fewer people in the first place.

Besides I've heard that the 'good' results from PTPs may not be very robust. I've not done my homework on this yet but I've heard that while people report lower use of cars they don't increase their use of alternatives like cycling, so may just be adapting their behaviour temporarily to please the researcher.

I'm not against advice and support being offered to cyclists and those interested in taking up cycling. I'm all for it and have done a fair amount of that sort of thing myself over the years.

But I question the wisdom of doorstepping - unsolicited calling at people's homes. I suspect that many people will react negatively as I suggested in my blogpost.

You argue that we need to get "everyone cycling to make a difference". I know there is a widespread consensus around this idea, but I don't accept it. I hope to go into this in a future blogpost but for now I'll just say that I do not accept that the right to cycle on public roads without fear of harassment and intimidation should be conditional on being part of a majority group.

Minorities, be they cyclists or whatever, have the same rights as majorities. Yet Cycling City seems to be predicated on the opposite, that cyclists' rights cannot be enjoyed until they become a majority group.

I hope I've addressed most if not all of your points. By all means comment again if you feel the debate is worth developing.

adf said...
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adf said...
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Chris Hutt said...

Thanks for all that adf. Funny how a provocative blog post draws out information that even the Executive Member wasn't aware of, let alone the wider public.

I notice that the cycling advisors don't tell us how much this exercise is costing us or about the involvement of Steer Davies Gleave.

adf, my question 'is this how the extra £11 million of Cycling City money will be spent?' was not meant to imply that all the money would be spent this way but that this was an example of how the money would be spent. Sorry if that wasn't clear.

Thanks in part to this blog we already have some information on the general mix of expenditure and I assumed readers were generally aware of that. The questions remain - how much of our money is being spent on this particular exercise and is it justified?

There is an underlying issue about how far the state should intrude into people's private lives. My view is that unsolicited cold-calling - doorstepping - to promote one transport option over another is going too far. I believe people are capable of making up their own minds and do not need to be cajoled or bamboozled by agents of the state.

Just imagine how we would feel if the overwhelming majority were cyclists and a small minority of motorists had managed to secure taxpayers' funds to pay for 'doorstepping' to encourage more people to drive. The principle is the same.

adf said...
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Bagpuss said...

It's funny how they have contradicted themselves regarding cold calling - not that long ago they distributed stickers which could be placed on the door to let people know that cold calling was not welcome. I know they aren't selling anything, but knocking on the door uninvited falls into the same catogory in my eyes.

Also interested to know why Bishopston was chosen as the starting point for the advisors - surely it would be better to start in a less affluent part of Bristol where people are less likely to have access to the internet and information.

Re emailing regarding cycle training - email sent at 9am this morning, no respone as yet.

DocSavage said...

I can't wait for the bell to ring!
I'll invite them in and quiz them at length about the endless shortcomings in cycling provision I experience daily on my cycle commute through town.

Anonymous said...

"quiz them at length about the endless shortcomings in cycling provision" DocSavage.


Good post, Chris. I think you're right to look askance. This sort of irritating official behaviour is what is apparently known in the trade as "soft measures".

Such measures neatly remove the onus from the authorities and put onto individuals.

But let's not forget here, that it is none other than these same authorities who have paid themselves very handsomely over the last decades for designing and building a transport system which is almost completely dependent upon fossil fuels and the private motor car.

Only now they're realising just how badly they've screwed up and now they're panicking, far too late, about how on earth they're going to get out of the mess they've made.

Jon Rogers said...

I have had the following officer reply Saturday morning...

"In brief:

this is part of our campaign to offer people cycling as an alternative. Personal Travel Planning is an evidence based approach, proven to achieve a good modal change (see below) and when I am back in the office I can forward you some of the summaries of that evidence if you like - in the meantime you might be interested in this page:

This sort of work is also being undertaken by Sustrans in Brislington and Knowle (another email and some info to follow immediately)

The reason we have set SDG to do the work in Bishopston is that MOSAIC (the geo-demographic marketing tool) predicts that people in this area are likely to consider cycling as a viable option, and that they respond well to direct mail. Apparently we have already had 25 people "opt in" which is better than expected.

In more detail
Personalised Travel Planning (PTP) is a well established, cost-effective approach that has been widely used across the country and previously in 7 projects in Bristol. The Bristol projects have been delivered by Steer Davies Gleave & Sustrans who are two of the market leaders in delivering PTP.

Research for the DfT has shown that PTP projects typically result in a 10-15% mode shift away from private car use. PTP is recommended by DfT as a key element of the package of Smarter Choices measures that Local Authorities should consider as part of the Local Transport Plans.

The Cycling City PTP projects will focus specifically on encouraging more people to cycle and will offer advice and an enhanced offer of support to potential new cyclists (compared to the primarily information-based approach of mainstream PTP projects). There are 2 main parts to the PTP programme- working with businesses, and working in residential areas (in areas identified as being most receptive to cycling, and in year 2 of the project, around the new cycling infrastructure). Cycling England have commended the approach being taken forward on this project.

The main materials for this first PTP project are not fully developed, therefore a temporary flyer and a holding page on a temporary web site are being used until the design for materials is finalised and the new cycling City web site is operational, in order to allow people to sign up to the project before the main delivery phase begins."
There is a second email which I can forward if it would be helpful.

Best wishes


Martyn Whitelock said...

Bagpuss- I'd also like to recommend people in your position contact Life Cycle UK:

Lizard Watcher said...

I once worked for a company that specialized in "soft measures". It was the biggest scam I have ever seen. We were supposed to increase the number of people using buses in a certain area... apparently, we suceeded in doing this... by persuading people who walked or cycled to catch the bus... no joke!

We spent ages harassing old people who lived in sheltered accomodation, trying to persuade them to use the bus. On several occasions I was told "Go out dear? I can't even go out of my front door without help". On one occasion, my phone calls followed an increasingly angry nurse around a sheltered housing block as she did her rounds of the old folk.

The whole thing was reviewed by a bunch of academics who proclaimed it a great success. They did no real research into what really happened, but just swallowed everything they were told by the management.

In addition to their shoddy work, the company also tried to avoid giving staff their holiday entitlement and minimum wage,and their data protection systems were crap too. They also didn't vet staff, even though we found out details about where, how and when children went to school.

Soft measures are bollocks!

Martyn Whitelock said...

Lizard Watcher: I can quite believe it. I have many skill sets, including many years in academia. All research IS political and always influenced by what drives it, ESPECIALLY whoever funds it!

"Soft measures are bollocks!"
...and do little but keep beaurocrats in jobs!

Anonymous said...

"There are about 10 cycling advisers who seem to have been hired for 6 months and are about a week in"

"Well I suspect that £11m pounds goes a lot further than this, so don't be silly!"

6 advisors @ £20k pa for 6 months is £60k. With on-costs that's £75k. Throw in - what? - £25k for office space, admin IT etc.

Here in the real world £100k for something "a little disorganised" is a vast amount of money.

And only in the alternate local authority financial universe would someone call you silly for saying so - on the basis, it appears, that £100k is less than £11m.

Is £100k an acceptable amount of money to waste? That's over 80 households' council tax.

And the council wonders why they're universally loathed and derided?

Anonymous said...

"... areas identified as being most receptive to cycling ..."

Mmmm ... still on the delicious low hanging fruit. But that's easy. Shame about the rest huh? Those potatoes will just have to stay couched in their sadly named 'people-carriers'.

So when DO you think they'll get around to the rest ... maybe 2025?

Bagpuss said...

Finally had a reply to my email enquiring about cycle training. no responce to the question, simply an offer of a 45 minute visit from a 'Cycling Advisor...' I've mailed them back an reiterated the same question.