Tuesday, 14 April 2009

New Infrastructure or Old Rope?

Old habits die hard in Bristol City Council. Despite pledges from the new Cabinet Member for Transport and Sustainability, Jon Rogers, for a more open and honest regime, we find the stream of misleading press releases remains unabated. Take this simple report in today's Evening Post (which we must presume to be based on a Council Press release although nothing is shown at the time of posting on their site) under the headline "Plans for new Bristol cycle route"-
Views are being sought on plans to create a cycle link between Muller Road and Constable Road in Horfield. Bristol City Council is building a cycle route from the city centre to the north of the city as part of its £22.8-million Cycling City project. Work to build a path between St Werburgh’s and Muller Road has begun and the council has drawn up proposals for the route from Muller Road, through Petherbridge Way, along Dovercourt Road and into Constable Road.
Innocent sounding enough, but totally misleading. The cycle route "being built" by the City Council to the north of the city is not "new" at all but has existed and been in use by cyclists for decades. For the most part the work consists of improvements such as path widening and surface upgrades. Generally welcome stuff but hardly justification for claiming a "new cycle route". Even the "link" being "created" is not "between Muller Road and Constable Road" as claimed but is just 100 metres from Petherbridge Way (B&Q access) to Dovercourt Road. All the rest of the 1.2 km from Muller Road to Constable Road already exists.

Granted this short link at the bottom of Dovercourt Road could be useful if well designed (a big 'if'). It will save about 100 metres (about 30 seconds of travel time) compared to the nearest available existing route and may link more easily into the upgraded path from St Werburghs. The Council's own background paper gives a perfectly reasonable outline of the proposal so why not just announce it as a useful link rather than pretend it constitutes some major new route?

Sadly most of the proposed Cycling City infrastructure is of the same nature. A sprinkling of more or less useful links, new or upgraded, along existing cycle routes but talked up into being completely new cycle routes. How does this wilful misrepresentation fit with Jon Rogers' call for openness and honesty? Someone somewhere just isn't getting the message.


The Bristol Blogger said...

Interesting how public servants in the council's communications department are allowed to hand an "Exclusive" to a local private for-profit business.

Shouldn't any news release be openly published on their website first for us all to see without having to buy the Post?

Aren't we already paying for this information?

Why is the city council helping to boost the Post's circulation?

Noel said...

There is a dirt track alongside the railway from B&Q to Filton Abbey Wood. I dont see why this cannot be turned into a cycle route rather than what is proposed.

They could have us coming from St Werburgs across Muller road on a bridge and on up to filton alongside the railway all traffic free.

My guess is the land is owned by some railway company but surely an agreement could be reached.

Chris Hutt said...

By far the best link across Muller Road would use redundant trackbed on the railway bridge as proposed by Josh Hart's Cycle Expressway concept. That would really be something to get excited about.

Chris Hutt said...

BB, I guess the Press Release was sent out a few days to all local media ago but has not yet been posted on the BCC site. I've highlighted this problem before and thought that Jon Rogers had spoken to the PR dept about it.

Perhaps the Post don't like people being able to see how many of their stories are just cut-and-paste jobs from press releases.

Jon Rogers said...


In this case, I think you may have presumed too much, Chris!

There is no Council press release. If there was, then it should appear at much same time on the web site. These are standing instructions and are, as far as I am aware, implemented.

I think these words are probably the Evening Post interpretation of the Council consultation finder, which says,

"Changes to cycling routes at Muller Road / Lockleaze Road""Consultation Overview Current
We are still drafting these
proposals and will take into account any
comments made when finalising our future designs.
Further local consultation will take place once
the scheme reaches the detailed design stage.
Some of the issues you may want to comment on:
• Accessibility
• Increasing Walking & Cycling
• Security & Lighting
• Anti Social Behaviour
• Motorcycle Misuse
• Road Safety "
It does go on to say, "This consultation exercise is part of Bristol City Council's Cycling City project we are proposing to build a new pedestrian and cycle route from the City Centre to the North of the City. Consultation Drop in Session on Monday 27th April at Jack Knight House, Dovercourt Road. It is NOT Thursday 27th April, as stated on the consultation leaflet. "Perhaps you think of "building a route" as only about brand new routes, rather than introducing crossings, signage, safety features and separate cycle and pedestrian stuff?

You may think I am over touchy about my reputation for openness, but I can assure you that it is very important to me. The culture of the Council won't change in a few days, a few weeks or frankly in a few months, but together we can get an open and accountable service from the City Council of which we can all be proud.


snafu said...

"Why is the city council helping to boost the Post's circulation?"

Perhaps, like some, they would claim that a local newspaper is a valuable community service that needs support.

Chris Hutt said...

Thanks for the response Jon. I'm glad to hear that you're touchy about your reputation for openness. I am too and I also think it very important.

In correctly presuming the City Council to be the source of this story I should have referred to more than just press releases, but I couldn't think of a good generic term - perhaps "council publicity" would cover it?

To answer your question - "Perhaps you think of "building a route" as only about brand new routes, rather than introducing crossings, signage, safety features and separate cycle and pedestrian stuff?" - the answer is yes I do (especially when the phrase used is "building a new route") and I suspect most people would think the same.

Specifically the statement "we are proposing to build a new pedestrian and cycle route from the City Centre to the North of the City" is simply untrue. The route identified already exists bar two proposed local links, both of which parallel existing links and in only one case offers a significant advantage over the existing link.

It has long been possible to walk or cycle from Lockleaze or Parkway to the city centre along the route identified. The measures proposed may make the route more attractive to walkers or cyclists, but that isn't the same as "creating a new route".

The distinction is an important one. If we start to accept that improvements to an existing route "create a new route" then words become meaningless.

The Town Planner said...

"Perhaps you think of "building a route" as only about brand new routes, rather than introducing crossings, signage, safety features and separate cycle and pedestrian stuff?"

I've got an idea for a BRAND NEW city. It'll have brand new shiny signs, traffic lights, kebab shops and pubs. We can get a dirty great grant to fund it. We could site it around the cathedral. We could even call it something new and inspired; Bristol perhaps.