Saturday, 30 May 2009

Critical Mass - cycling as it should be

Perfect weather, smiling faces and part of the Rinky-Dink bicycle sound system greeted the best part of 100 cyclists who turned out for Friday's Critical Mass bike ride. Critical Mass is a regular feature in many cities around the world and has been celebrated in Bristol on and off for about 15 years. The object is to celebrate cycling and to show how different the city would be if cyclists were the dominant form of road traffic.

Of course not everyone sees it that way and motorists in particular can get frustrated that they are being delayed, although that's not the express intention of the ride. There have been unpleasant incidents in the past when motorists have tried to force their way through the cyclists, but yesterday seemed to go relatively smoothly. The general impression was of a bunch of cyclists taking over the road and enjoying themselves.

I broke off to take a few snaps from various vantage points like the pedestrian bridges over Rupert Street and Lewins Mead and it was an impressive sight. My feeling is that Critical Mass is becoming less confrontational and more celebratory over time, which is as it should be. There will always be motorists who object to being held up once a month, but they should reflect on their own Critical Mass, aka the rush hour, which brings most of the city to a standstill twice every day.

So it seems like the time is right to expand the appeal of Critical Mass so that instead of a hundred cyclists we have a thousand. Perhaps we might even get a more supportive attitude from the police, dealing promptly with any aggression from motorists. I'm sure they'd be welcomed by everyone if they came on bicycles. Critical Mass is about cultural change, something that we undoubtedly need and something that happens whether we like it or not.

As cyclists we are doing no more than motorists routinely do - taking to the streets and showing what our culture is about. Motorists are inconvenienced, but to a minuscule extent compared to what they in turn inflict on our city daily. Critical Mass gives us all the chance, just once a month, to have a taste of how different things could be, which is surely something we all need to explore.

Critical Mass starts at 6 pm on the last Friday of each month, starting at the Centre opposite the Hippodrome. See you on the 26th June.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Cycling City - Constructive Suggestion #4

Despite the rough ride I had with Constructive Suggestion #3 for daring to suggest a link impinging on the Narroways Hill Nature Reserve, I shall press on with #4, which is for a change in South Gloucestershire rather than Bristol City, although still in the Greater Bristol area covered by Cycling City. The map below shows the current Cycling City proposal (green route) for a cycle route through the north fringe from Brentry, around the west end of Filton runway, through Cribbs Causeway and on to Patchway, Aztec West and Bradley Stoke.

View North Bristol cycle routes in a larger map

Those that came on the exploratory ride two weeks ago will recall that the overall route is surprisingly attractive but that Cribbs Causeway itself, with its mega sheds, car parks and disorientating network of roundabouts, is rather a forbidding prospect to the cyclist (and even to many motorists). The cycle route proposed by South Glos attempts to find a route through all this but in doing so ends up ludicrously convoluted, particularly where it approaches the centre of the Mall from the south-west and then has to detour almost 700 metres around the southern tip of the long block and back towards the centre on the north-east side to pick up a rather pointless bit of cycle path.

Now a 700 metre detour around the outside of the Mall may be mildly amusing the first time it's followed, but this route is supposed to serve regular cyclists making purposeful journeys and they are soon going to tire of such an obviously daft deviation from their 'desire line'. A commuter using the route twice a day would clock up an extra 350 kms (approx 25 hours of cycling) in the course of a year just on that detour alone! Once again we have to question the competence of the officers charged with devising these routes.

Ramping up - little used infrastructure could help cyclists

But in the uncharacteristically constructive spirit I adopt for the purpose of this series I have identified an alternative route, shown in red on the map, which as you can see provides a far more direct link through Cribbs Causeway yet still gives good access ot the Mall and better access to many other retail outlets. My route is 994 metres overall compared to 1,676 metres for the proposed Cycling City route, which is therefore almost 70% longer! Both routes involve some new construction and include two road crossings so implementation costs are unlikely to be very different.

Finally it's interesting to note that much of the overall route is presented by Cycling City as 'new infrastructure' (map below, click to enlarge) and yet most of it already exists and is readily usable. For example in the section we are looking at that marked by the number 18 will be 'new infrastructure' but that marked by 15 already exists and just requires some localised upgrades. The links marked 17 were to be provided as part of the Filton North Field development which has recently fallen through so won't happen within the Cycling City time frame (a possibility that hangs over much of the proposed 'new infrastructure').

When Jon Rogers returns (subject to the will of the voters of Ashley) to the Cycling City fray in June we must hope that such blatantly misleading documents and maps as that above, which date from the dark days under Labour's 'championship' of Cycling City, are finally withdrawn and replaced with something that fits with the new spirit of openness and transparency.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Cycling City? My Arse

They're back. Those ugly, obstructive and largely pointless concrete kerb barriers at each end of Prince Street Bridge that were mercifully taken out at the end of last week, leading me to speculate that we might be about to get something sensible, something that doesn't funnel cyclists into narrow gaps where they are in conflict with each other and pedestrians, something that doesn't force cyclists to cycle the wrong way along narrow cycle lanes.

How silly of me to think that the Cycling City team might have been making some sensible modifications. It turns out that the concrete barriers were only removed for Sunday's 10 km run and were to be reinstalled. The south side barrier went back in on Monday and the north side barrier yesterday, despite a plea made here for at least the north side barrier to be left out, since at the time this had not been done and could easily have been stopped. The north side barrier in particular serves no useful purpose since traffic coming from Prince Street would not normally drive on the right hand side of the road anyway.

We know that the matter was brought to the attention of senior officers in the Cycling City team since Jon Rogers, the Executive Member, reported back with their comments on my blog post on Monday afternoon. There was plenty of time for a simple phone call to ask the contractors not to reinstate the north side barriers. No costs involved, no work to organise, just a simple phone call. But no, it seems such common sense has no place in Cycling City. As one wag observed ....

No doubt the Council will manage to organise the removal of the above comment at some public expense, even though most of us agree with the sentiment expressed. That involves spending our money on something pointless so that's OK, whereas a simple phone call to achieve a significant benefit at no public cost whatsoever is, it seems, out of the question.

To me this minor matter says it all about what is wrong with Cycling City and government in general. We pay a fortune for Executive Members, Chief Executives, Strategic Directors, Project Managers and Senior Engineers, yet none of them seem to be able to make even the simplest decisions without reference to expensive consultants, time-consuming consultations and endless meetings.

We pay through the nose for a top heavy administration that results in sensible powers being sucked away from the individual officers actually dealing with issues at a practical level in order to amass power around the top of the hierarchy as they try desperately to justify their grossly inflated salaries and pensions. There are elections in three weeks, a chance to show what we think about the councillors whose votes underpin this useless, self-serving system.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Prince Street Bridge - Changes Afoot

The physical features to enforce the traffic restrictions on Prince street Bridge appear to be changing. The ugly kerbing has been removed and replaced with traffic cones, although those are surely a temporary feature until something more permanent is installed. My guess is that bollards will be installed instead which will allow cyclists to percolate through the closures instead of being funnelled into narrow, sub-standard gaps by the footway.

This is progress of a sort, although one has to ask why this wasn't done in the first place. Indeed on the approach from the Arnolfini side there is no need for any physical restrictions at all since there is no reason why motor vehicles should attempt to cross on the 'wrong' carriageway. It is only the southern, Wapping Road approach where any deflection is required in the first place.

The removal of the kerbs will particularly benefit cyclists travelling south from Prince Street who formerly had difficulty diverting from the cycle lane across to the narrow cycle gap when they found the lights changing to red against them (which they often do due to the lights being set to favour car movements). Now they should be able to switch across with relative ease.

The question remains whether the Council will contemplate a total closure to motor traffic as requested by many cycling interests and others to deliver a significant overall benefit to cyclists as befits the funding from the Cycling City budget. However we now know that they intend to run BRT bendy-buses over Prince Street Bridge on the half currently open to motor traffic, controlled by traffic signals in the same way as at present.

We must assume that they will want to maintain the current arrangements for motor traffic in order to keep open the option of using the same arrangement for BRT. If they trialled a complete closure and it was popular and successful, leading to its adoption on a permanent basis, there may well be significant opposition to a subsequent degradation of the environmental improvement arising from the introduction of BRT bendy-buses.

So we have a situation where the demands of BRT are denying cyclists and pedestrians the sort of environmental improvements that they need and deserve if we are serious about encouraging the only truly green modes of transport.

Lest we forget - those daft kerbs

Friday, 8 May 2009

Psst! Wanna buy some data?

Hey, wanna buy the email addresses of all the firms and individuals who've signed up with Bristol City Council with an interest in providing services to their Cycling City Project? Think of the 'targeted marketing' opportunites that could open up. Shall we say half a ton for 350 addies?

How did I get my hands on all those email addies? Well, to be honest and transparent about it, guv, the Council's Cycling City team handed the whole lot out to each and every person on the list, all 350 of them, by not blind copying! Effing unbelievable innit? Commercially confidential information just copied willy-nilly to every Tom, Dick and Harry. Look, let's call it a pony for the lot. Can't say fairer than that guv.

You've already been offered the list for a score? OK, make it a tenner. I'm robbing myself but I've gotta admit it's a buyers market when half the shysters and scammers in the west have already got their hands on it. There you go, guv, but better get your spam out before the poor sods have had time to change their email addresses.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Confused? So are Cycling City

Bristol's Cycling City project have briefly ventured into the world of blogging with a blogspot site set up on behalf of the "Elite Team" of Cycling Advisers who it seems (GBB passim) are employed by those clever consultants who dreamt up the brilliant idea of running buses down the Railway Path, Steer Davies Gleave. Nice to know that Bristol City Council have put Cycling City in such safe hands.

I suppose this venture into the blogosphere is in response to Executive Member for Transport Jon Rogers' call for more "openness and transparency" but these seem to be concepts that our consultant friends have some trouble with. On the one and only post of the blog we are told -
Welcome to the Bristol Cycling City cycling advisers' blog! This is the online home of Bristol’s first team of Cycling Advisers, who will be doing their bit to help the Cycling City project double the number of cyclists in Bristol by 2011.
So the number of cyclists is to double by 2011 is it? Thats only a little over a year and a half away! That's quite a tall order by any standards, but who are we to question the words of such reputable consultants as Steer Davies Gleave? Oh, but Steer Davies Gleave have already questioned it for us. On the very same page the blog sidebar announces -
Bristol is the UK's first Cycling City - an opportunity for Bristol to double the number of cyclists over the next three years.
So now it seems the target is to be met over three years, not one and a half years as we are told on the blog post. Or does the blogpost supercede the sidebar? Who knows? Not Steer Davies Gleave for a start, since they are obviously in two minds about it. Still with such an eminently flexible approach to the time scale we can be a little more hopeful that the target, whatever it is, will be reached. No doubt the details of the target will be made public in good time, presumably after they have decided it has been met.

Steer Davies Gleave must be blogging newbies because they seem to have overlooked certain blogging conventions like, for a start, not altering blog posts after some criticism has been made of it in order to invalidate the criticism. Their original post was titled Good Morning Bishopston and referred to their "elite team of cycling advisors". Now, after I posted a mildly critical Tweet about it, we find it altered to "Good Morning Bristol", and "our first team of cycling advisers".

No problem about being unsure how to spell adviser, or even changing Bishopston to Bristol, but trying to invalidate my reference to elite isn't really on, although I suppose they redeem themselves slightly by leaving in the other reference to their "crack team of cycling advisors" in the sidebar. All the same they might be well advised to drop references to "crack" when doorstepping in certain areas of Bristol.

But even worse than altering posts to invalidate subsequent criticism is not to allow comments to be posted (yes, I made one, perfectly civil it was too), especially when the format adopted actually invites comments. The comments system is a vital part of blogging since it allows others the opportunity to question and criticise blog posts, so ensuring that a fair degree of that fabled "openness and transparency" so highly valued by the Executive Member, who is of course no stranger to these conventions himself.

Since preparing this post Steer Davies Gleave have now gone and pulled the blog completely! So that's GBB 1 - SDG 0 so far in the blog wars. For the sake of the historical record I've recreated the SDG blog here. This is exactly as the blog appeared, bar a few minor details like the posting date (was 30th April), for its brief life.

The pics by the way have nothing much to do with the story but are my little contribution to the Bristol Cycling Chic theme.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Cycling City - Constructive Suggestion #3

No response from the Council on my previous suggestions of course, but undeterred (or spurred on perhaps?) I shall continue my series of constructive suggestions for new cycling infrastructure with an idea that we explored on our ride last Sunday.

We were heading back towards St Werburghs from UWE, just north of Stoke Park, initially following the long established cycle path (which I recall proposing around 1990) which links UWE and Lockleaze around the perimeter of Hermitage Wood. Faced with the rather bleak prospect of a long descent through Lockleaze and then a climb back up along Muller Road we agreed (I lead, they followed) to test out out a potential off-road link (just to left of hedgerow below) past the Purdown Telecom Tower.

Pic credit to Matt Taylor

The route picked up the historic ridge route, Sir John's Lane, and then to the open space down to Muller Road. The slopes here get pretty steep (as one of our company found to her cost) so careful path alignment is needed to achieve manageable gradients. There's already a proposal for a bridge across the crest of Muller Road to link Fairfield School to proposed playing fields on Purdown so this could provide an excellent public link for cyclists and walkers too.

View Purdown to Montpelier in a larger map

Our route could then continue along Allfoxton Road to Narroways Junction where the redundant railway formation could be used to link across St Werburghs to Montpelier, so creating an almost continuous off-road route from UWE to Montpelier with of course numerous local links, in particular to the top of the intriguing Boiling Wells Lane to link directly down to St Werburghs. The route would link at either end to good cycling routes so enabling say Clifton to UWE or Easton to Bristol Parkway.

The old railway bridge abutments at Narroways - new bridge opportunity?

As before I offer these ideas up for public discussion and even, if you believe in miracles, official action. To be fully appreciated the route needs to be followed on the ground (it is mostly accessible now) to get some idea of the stunning views from the Purdown Ridge. To my mind this route could give Bristol's cyclists something to get excited about, something sorely lacking in the official Cycling City proposals. Comments welcome.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Sunday's Exploratory Ride

Another plug for the bike ride I'm leading this Sunday. Well, not so much a ride as a potter, or pootle, cycling a bit and then looking at points of local interest, so you don't need to be particularly fit or fast (I'm neither these days). This 15 - 20 mile ride will explore existing and potential cycle routes in north Bristol. We aim to end up having 'lunch' at St Werburghs City Farm by about 3 pm and there will be one or two breaks en route (first one at Blaise).

Cribbs Causeway would you believe

The ride will be mostly on quiet roads and paths with only the occasional short link on anything busy and will follow the river Avon downstream to Sea Mills then the Trym upstream to Blaise Castle Estate, one of Bristol's gems, where we can take a quick look at some quirky local features which might surprise a few of you. Joining the ride via the 10.40 am train arrival at Sea Mills station is an option too.

Stage two of the ride will search out a route to and through the Cribbs Causeway shopping centre and on to Patchway and Bradley Stoke where quite a lot of paths have been built over the years. The plan is to return via Bristol Parkway station, UWE and Stoke Park, another of Bristol's landscape gems, and then the Frome Valley back to St Werburgh's. You may leave the ride at any point or time since we will never be that far from central Bristol.

Stoke Park - cars give way to bikes (in theory)!

Although the ride is within the urban area of Greater Bristol, it is surprisingly green and pleasant with a good proportion on traffic free paths in green corridors, generally flat with just a gentle climb up the Trym valley. Weather forecast looks good so if you fancy giving it a try just turn up at the Arnolfini 10 am on Sunday.

Trym valley