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.


Jon Rogers said...

The cynic might say they do it to annoy you?!

There is a "site visit" with "stakeholders" to Prince Street Bridge and the team are collating the feedback and traffic data in advance of that.

The city council isn't nearly as responsive or open as you or I or indeed many of the officers would like, but the Lib Dems are determined to change that.

It would be good to think that voters will chose the Lib Dem approach rather than the Labour one, but time will tell.


Chris Hutt said...

But Jon, this happened on your watch, indeed under your nose. Couldn't you have told them to cancel the reinstatement of the north side barrier? Doesn't an Executive Member have the power to do that? What does 'Executive' mean otherwise?

Anonymous said...

the Lib Dems are a bunch of opportunist hypocrites, they don't care about policies, just so long as they get the votes - vote Green.

Docsavage said...

Hey Jon, what would get my vote is clear, decisive action.
good intention gets us very little in Bristol. Take the bull(shit) by the horns and make the changes you talk about.

As Chris asks, what exactly do you do if you just end up deferring to the shadowy nonsense that pollutes our council?

as for the 1m gap at the end of the cycle access perhaps someone might pass on the info found here:

where it clearly states giving 1.5 - 2m room.

Docsavage(angrier than usual) said...

oh forgot to ask Jon - any chance of getting our old, oh sorry *cough* 'BRAND NEW' cycle route from St Werburgs back?
your 16 weeks are up and the fences are still blocking things up.

or do we need a stakeholder visit for that too?

get it done man!

Jon Rogers said...

Evening Docsavage

As reported on Bristol Traffic ...

I have had the following officer response, "The path is due to be finished by the end of May at the latest."

Note the word "due"!


Jon Rogers said...

Chris Hutt asks me, "Couldn't you have told them to cancel the reinstatement of the north side barrier?"


My preference however is that the decision on the Prince Street Bridge trial should not be made purely on the basis of "Hutt rants", informed though they often are, but be evidence based and follow the planned site visit together with input from the relevant teams and full possession of the facts, including the traffic data.


Chris Hutt said...

Jon, I'm not suggesting for a moment that decisions should be made on the basis of my rants.

The point here was that leaving out the north side barrier (on the basis that no one has offered the slightest justification for it and it clearly inhibits the ability of cyclists to manoeuvre) could have been done on Monday at no public expense and would not in any way have pre-empted a more informed decision later.

However since you insist on evidence based decisions at all times could you please let us know where the evidence is available for us to see, particularly the traffic data?

Anonymous said...

So decisions should be evidence based together with input from the relevant teams and full possession of the facts?

Just like the Chocolate Factory land sale then? Or is that different?

Your officers just seem to do whatever they like in order to arrive at their predetermined position.

badnewswade said...

That barrier seems pretty dangerous. If you fall off your bike trying to manouver over it, the council are obviously to blame.

Remember kids - no win no fee!

Bristol Dave said...

What is the point of the barrier anyway? Even from a council perspective?

Chris Hutt said...

The point of the barrier? Perhaps someone from the Cycling City team can tell us on what 'evidence' it was based? Was there perhaps a history of cars from Prince Street trying to cross on the west half of the bridge, which would be the 'wrong' side?

Or was it just another example of the general incompetence of the officers who get asked to design these things, as evidenced by useless and often dangerous cycle 'farcilities' all over the city?

Gary Hopkins said...

Chocolate factory. Announcement very soon.

Jon Rogers said...

Morning all

.. evidence based together with input from the relevant teams and full possession of the facts? Just like the Chocolate Factory land sale then? Or is that different?

As Gary has teasingly hinted, decisions on the Chocolate Factory should be no different from any other decisions made by this council.

The Council needs full facts, and they should be shared and open.

The Council needs input not just from the teams involved, but also take into account the views of the public and others interested or affected by such decisions.

The decisions themselves need to be evidence based and capable of being justified.

Decisions need to be made in a timely fashion.

We also need to recognise that decisions are unlikely to please everyone!

Such decisions are difficult when there have been some fairly obvious flaws in the process leading up to such decisions.


Anonymous said...

So the barriers to control cyclists are put in but nothing can be done to enforce 20mph zones against nutter kids in cars doing 40mph through them. Why are the lib dems using the 20mph zone proposal to win votes when they know they are powerless to enforce it and send out emails in response to complaints and requests to prove it. I have an email stating this. I already live in a 20mph zone and having signs up makes no difference to the speeds people drive when they know there's no one around to enforce it and Bristol traffic management are helpless to installing new road calming shemes unless more than 8 people are injured in a year. Nope. Better to concentrate on the cyclist dangers, after all this is "cycling city". It's not like any cars are driven dangerousley enough to need any speed limit enforcement. It's not like anyones dieing under cars recently is it?

Chris Hutt said...

Anon, before we start blaming the Lib Dems for everything let's remember they only took control of the city council in February (although they did control it for a couple of years up till 2007).

It takes a long time to take effective control of a council and even longer to change embedded cultures. The question should be 'do we believe that they will genuinely try to do so?', as they claim. I'm still inclined towards giving them the chance (what's the alternative?).

Martyn Whitelock said...

Chris: excellent post and a very necessary example of revealing local council practices. I'm beginning to feel more sorry for the officers who have to deal with instructions from their 'superiors'.

Jon: I am an official stakeholder as I am a regular user of this bridge. How can I contribute toward the decision making? I am also concerned about the street architecture ruining the visual amenity of this particular part of the docks.

It seems the majority (visitors, pedestrians and cyclists) will have it ruined by the minority (vehicle traffic). What ever happened to the utilitarian ethic?

As a researcher, I'm wondering what the data will be measured against? I assume data was collected prior to any changes to the new pilot traffic system.

Perhaps if stakeholders were consulted at the onset of a project this would save a lot of frustration and expenditure, assuming the will to do this is there?

Chris Hutt said...

Martyn, you raise an interesting point about 'stakeholders'. Who are they? Who chooses them? By what authority do they represent wider interests? What competence do they have to represent wider interests?

I have never liked the term 'stakeholder' because it implies that those who aren't so designated do not have an equally legitimate interest. We should also be wary of the manner in which stakeholders may be selected or encouraged to come forward to give the council an easier ride.

I have declined invitations to become a stakeholder for these reasons. My personal views are not intrinsically more or less valid than anybody else's (as Jon Rogers rightly pointed out in an earlier comment). But the same applies to all those who have put themselves forward as stakeholders.

Martyn Whitelock said...

Yes, the concept and categorisation of what and who is a 'stakeholder' is a very complex issue in itself, and one I have explored throughout many years in research. Fundamentaly, it depends upon the objective of the project and thus all research is embedded within a political context. The best policy in my opinion is to obtain the views of as varied a mix of stakeholders as possible, though this is always restricted by time and budget, as well as being open to abuse for political means.

Jon Rogers said...

In my opinion, "stakeholder" is one of the many Orwellian Nu Labour words like "NHS Trust" which you can't and "Local Area Agreement" which is neither Local nor an Agreement!

I made a conscious decision when I took over to leave the terminology of Cycling City unchanged, but rather try to change the way it works. I baulked at being a "Cycling Champion"

I inherited an interesting group from Terry Cook, and have since invited others, including cross party councillors.

A better term might be "interested people". The meetings are no longer secret and I encourage officers to place as much on the internet as possible.

I suppose having 100+ people turn up to the site visit may be a little counter-productive, but all opinions are useful and valid. Feel free to join us, Martyn and Chris and others.

Many of the so called "stakeholders" are elected representatives of their respective organisations.


Chris Hutt said...

"I suppose having 100+ people turn up to the site visit may be a little counter-productive"

You really shouldn't worry about such a thing because (a) it won't happen and (b) if it did, it would be a fantastic indication of the extent of popular interest and potential support!

Let's make these things as open as possible. For a start it might help if we knew when the site visit is to take place and whether it is open to all.

Anonymous said...

Hopefully the Lib Dems will bow to public pressure on the cycle path.

They are obviously worried about losing votes to the Greens.

Otherwise look out for some direct action!

Ruth said...

The information I have (email from the Council's cycling city team) says that the site visit will be on Tuesday 16th June 2009 at 5pm, you're meant to register, and it reckons it will include 5-8 stakeholders with a further review if enough interest.