Monday, 29 June 2009

Cycling City - Constructive Suggestion #6

My last suggestion for south Bristol seemed to generate a more positive response than usual so here another idea to improve links between the city centre and the Southville / Bedminster area, an area that is mostly fairly flat and all within one and a half miles of the centre. General traffic routes are constrained by the River Avon and New Cut, so traffic congestion is high on the main river crossing at Bedminster Bridge.

Cyclists and pedestrians however have the option of using a number of traffic free bridges of which Gaol Ferry Bridge is the most popular. In fact Gaol Ferry Bridge is itself quite congested at times (above and below), with cyclists and pedestrians channeled into narrow 'pens' in a crude attempt to minimise conflict between them. If cycling continues to grow the limitations of Gaol Ferry Bridge will become even more critical. The other traffic free bridges are either remote from the main desire line (Ashton Avenue Bridge) or unsuitable for cycle use due to access problems (Vauxhall Bridge).

So how about a new pedestrian/cycle bridge over the New Cut, say halfway between Gaol Ferry Bridge and the next crossing point, to relieve the growing pressure there and perhaps give users a more direct link towards Prince Street Bridge? Such bridges need not be particularly expensive - perhaps around a million pounds - providing the approaches and abutments can be engineered fairly simply.

The most logical locations (shown as red links below) would feed directly into the best available links to Prince Street Bridge, either the link under Cumberland Road or near the southern end of Wapping Road. I favour the former link because it minimises conflict with motor traffic by passing under Cumberland Road and could make use of existing structures to provide abutments. There may even be a case for building bridges at both locations!

View South Bristol Routes. in a larger map

The map above shows how such bridges could link on in, including back to my last suggestion at Ashton Gate where a direct link can be made with the proposed Colliters Greenway to continue into Ashton Vale. Improved links southwards to the Malago Greenway would also be desirable and might be more readily achieved from a new bridge than from Gaol Ferry Bridge.

Providing the project was handled by an outside agency rather than the City Council it might all be achievable within a modest timescale and budget, possibly within the remaining two years of the Cycling City project. As with my other suggestions it's up to others to pick up and run with this if they think it sounds promising. But if we don't look at resolving the capacity constraints in corridors like this then cycling will not be able to grow to its full potential.

Cycle Bridge Chic - is it just me or are cycle bridges really sexy?

Friday, 26 June 2009

Car Free Sundays

The idea of occasional car-free Sundays when areas of the city centre are temporarily closed to motor traffic has been tried and tested in many major cities around the world but has as yet not been taken up in Britain in any more than a tokenistic way. But it now seems as if the time might be right to push for Bristol to be the first UK city to institute regular car free Sundays affecting a substantial area of the city centre.

Swiftly following on the heals of Jon Rogers' proposal for more car-free Sundays on the Portway has come a proposal by a leading Conservative Councillor, Peter Abraham, to instead make street closures in the city centre in the manner of our twin city Bordeaux. The Portway closure proposal got a rather mixed reaction, even from the anti-car lobby, since it's a bit remote from the heart of the city and is not normally frequented by those, cyclists and pedestrians, who might benefit the most.

The city centre however is becoming a more popular place to go on Sundays, partly due to the popularity of Sunday shopping but also due to increasing tourism and a more cosmopolitan approach to life. Even without a special event plenty of people would be around to enjoy a traffic free environment in the centre although there is obviously plenty of scope to encourage the integration of festivities and entertainments with car-free Sundays.

View Car free centre in a larger map

The extent of any such closure remains to be determined, but my guess is that it might be based on the limits shown on my entirely speculative map above. This would create a traffic free Park Street, College Green, Centre, Old City, Queen Square and Broadmead while allowing car access to Cabot Circus and almost all the other major car parks. Traffic by-passing the centre to the west would use Park Row, Jacobs Wells Road, Hotwell Road, Cumberland Road and Coronation Road.

If we want to see this idea progressed we must make clear our support and enthusiasm. Write to the Executive Member for Transport,, and comment on local web sites like that of the Evening Post. That's the way we demonstrate public support and overcome the moaning of the reactionaries of the pro-car lobby.

Here's some links to inspire you (thanks to TonyD from comments below) from New York and Vancouver.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Cycling City - Slippery Customers

Bristol City Council's Press Release announcing the opening of the "new" path from St Werburgh's to Muller Road said that it "features a sensitive, solar powered ‘cats eye’ lighting scheme". Jon Rogers is quoted as saying "Path width and lighting were seen as sensitive issues for some residents. So we looked at a way of making the path safe and useable (sic) but without the glaring nuisance lighting." So here they are, the TraxEyes -

As you can see they're really quite small and discreet, 70mm in diameter and proud of the path surface by about 7 mm. So do they work? I checked a little after 10 pm last night when I took these pics so can confidently answer "no". The very most these studs will ever do is emphasise where the edges of the path are, mainly for the benefit of those using the path without lights on very dark nights. Anyone with half-decent lights would benefit far more from reflective material. The amount of light given off by the studs is absolutely minuscule and bears no resemblance to the pictures on the website.

Above is the close-up view at 10.22 pm last night, still twilight at this time of year but dark enough for lights to be necessary. The glow from the greenish plastic is barely visible and of absolutely no practical use. What the TraxEyes certainly will not do is help path users to see other path users which is what really matters. They may even give path users a false sense of security and result in more cyclists using the unlit path without adequate lighting, or cycling faster than they otherwise would because it's easier to see the alignment of the path.

The other question one might ask is "are they slippery?". The answer is yes, they are slippery if you attempt to brake or turn sharply while riding over them, especially in the wet. The example pictured above is particularly dangerous, being on a steeply sloping junction where cyclists are likely to be simultaneously turning and braking sharply (when they are suddenly confronted by a path user who they hadn't seen around the blind corner). If the tyre makes contact only with the plastic disc traction is greatly reduced and if combined with braking or turning, let alone both, the result is that you may well find yourself flat on the ground.

Now all of this has been flagged up before and, I understand, communicated to officers. So why have they gone ahead with the installation of these studs on a public path, presumably without first having carried out such simple tests as I did? If this path was a road open to motor traffic there would surely be no question of using these studs without Department of Transport authorisation following exhaustive safety tests. But it's just a path for cyclists and walkers so we get to be experimented on like laboratory rats.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Cycling City - There's none so blind.....

One of the basic considerations in highway design is to have adequate sight lines at bends and junctions to avoid blind corners. Visibility should of course be appropriate for the design speed of the highway. It's so elementary it hardly needs more explanation....unless you happen to work for our Cycling City project it seems.

Here we have the only significant bit of Cycling City infrastructure to have been completed so far, the upgrading of the old path through the St Werburgh's allotments and alongside the mainline railway to Muller Road, now known as the Farm Pub Path. The engineering of the path is generally good but, as ever, the devil is in the detail.

Here's another example at the old Ashley Down station site, the high point of the path before it drops back down to Muller Road. The path from St Werburgh's comes up from the right in the foreground while the path on to Muller Road heads off to the left. The straight-though path passing through the subway also links to Muller Road at the junction with Shaldon Road but is not intended to be part of the main route.

Cyclists using the main through route are supposed to give way to crossing movements on the minor route, which of course they will be reluctant to do. That's why the century-old convention is for minor routes to give way to major ones, but such tried-and-tested conventions, like the need for sight lines, are routinely ignored by our Cycling City route designers who apparently know better.

Here's the particular problem at this junction (above), looking at it from the point of view of someone coming up from Muller Road on the main through route. You arrive at the intersection but cannot readily see if anyone is coming down the hill due to the fencing. Below is the view for someone heading down the steep incline to the subway - again they cannot see if anyone is emerging from the main route, particularly as vegetation obscures the limited visibility through the fencing. All that was required was for the fencing to be set back a metre or so at the corner.

Now you may be thinking this is another example of Chris Hutt making a mountain out of a molehill and exaggerating the significance of minor details. So here are some unsolicited and independent comments by another user which were recently posted on the Bristol Cycling Campaign web site -
"The new speed opportunities of this widened and well-surfaced path have
almost knocked me flying twice in as many days. Watch out coming UP from near the pub where you curve round to the 'T junction'. First time, unawares, I was enjoying the view, when someone hurtled past from the left as I was about to turn right. Today I was watching super-carefully, climbing towards the junction on LHS, when a youngster on BMX, apparently unable to steer leftwards or brake, sped down at me and just squeaked through on my left as I ground to a shaking halt! Hate to be a killjoy, but fear we may need cycling speed bumps or signage?"
You see designing cycle facilities is not something that can be left to the officer who failed to make the grade as a highway engineer. It requires much the same understanding of the dynamics of handling traffic as do normal roads. Speeds of 20 mph are not unusual and closing speeds (two cyclists approaching from opposite directions) could easily exceed 30 mph, enough to result in serious or fatal injuries. Design has to be based on realistic expectations of users' behaviour, as it is for general roads.

I have offered the advice many times in this blog that it is crucial that competent professionals are engaged to oversee Cycling City, but it does not appear to have been taken. We have technically demanding cycle routes being designed by people who seem to think they're designing footpaths. It's only a matter of time before people are seriously injured as a consequence of such design defects and they will be entirely justified in suing the council for all they're worth.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Cycling City - Constructive Suggestion #5

Time once again to temper my criticisms with some constructive suggestions, despite the total lack of interest exhibited by our 'Better by Bike' brethren. The officers may be averse to anything imaginative or innovative, but I haven't yet given up on the hope that one or two councillors might recognise the potential to create something of enduring value as a result of the Cycling City funding.

Constructive Suggestion #5 might be called the Colliters Greenway, a largely off-road cycle/walkway following the Colliters Brook corridor through the Ashton Gate area of south Bristol. The key to such a route achieving a decent standard of segregation from motor traffic and environmental quality is the link proposed here around the perimeter of the existing Bristol City football stadium (above), due to be redeveloped in due course.
Bristol City - Tesco
As you are all doubtless aware, the current proposal (link above) is for a new Tesco supermarket. I don't want at this stage to get into the pros and cons of that but whatever the outcome the link through the site proposed here would be very valuable. The supermarket plans show the main building to the east of the site and the bulk of the land given over to car parking - some 530 spaces I believe.

This Greenway opportunity, which has inexplicably been overlooked by the planners so far, might result in the loss of a few of those precious car parking spaces, but on the other hand it might well encourage people to walk or cycle to the store instead of driving, particularly since the Colliters Greenway route as proposed here would be flat all the way from the city centre, harbourside, and Hotwells through to Ashton Vale.

View Colliters Greenway in a larger map

So once again it's over to our elected representatives and anyone else who fancies a crack at breaking through the bureaucratic inertia of Cycling City. Do we want to seize this once-in-a-lifetime chance to secure a vital link in what could develop into one of the City's most attractive Greenways, given the right sort of political backing, or do we let the chance slip away as has happened so often in the past?

Monday, 22 June 2009

Cycling City - New Killer Lanes

I may have remarked before on the sheer incompetence of the so-called 'cycling officers' employed by our local authorities. Well here's a classic example from Cycling City partner South Glos (Bristol will be dealt with, yet again, shortly). It's a brand new 'facility' installed in connection with works on the bridge over the main line railway at Patchway on the north Bristol fringe (see map below).

Looking northwards from the bridge we see that the main road (and main 'desire line') swings around to the right to cross the A38 Gloucester Road on another bridge which can just be made out in the upper right of the picture. This bridge is strategically important to cyclists as it is the only decent means of crossing the A38 between Gypsy Patch Lane and Aztec West. Yet looking more closely (below) we see that the new cycle lane leads northwards onto the A38 and makes it very difficult and dangerous to follow the main traffic stream around to the right.

There have already been unconfirmed reports of a female cyclists being knocked-off her bike here and taken to hospital just a week ago. I tested it myself yesterday and found it difficult to establish my intention to follow the main route around to the right, despite appropriate hand signals (I should explain for the benefit of non-cyclists that hand signals alone are generally ignored by motorists. It is your 'positioning' as a cyclist that is most important and which sets up an expectation of your intentions with following motorists). Another cyclist (unknown to me) trying out the 'facility' reports -
"As I looked ahead, I could see that it did not offer a facility that I would be able to negotiate at 'commuting' speed. I thus looked behind and indicated right to move reasonably far out on to the main carriageway. My intent at this point was to avoid any motorist overtaking me and turning left (northbound), cutting me up in the process.

Shortly after, I heard a horn sound and was then overtaken by a car driven by a woman, with a man leaning out of the front passenger window shouting obscenities (including the words 'get out of the f*cking way, you are on a bike, not in a f*cking car'). Clearly, this person believed that I should have religiously followed the green cycle lane, however inappropriate for my journey."

Meanwhile more cycle 'facilities' are proposed by South Glos in the north fringe around UWE and Bristol Parkway station. The plans have already been condemned by local cyclists in deservedly forthright terms but it looks as if they are going ahead with them anyway. So much for consultation under the arrogant Cycling City regime.

Welcome to Cycling City. Incompetent 'cycling officers' ignoring cyclists' advice and turning out ill-conceived cycle 'facilities' that actually put cyclists at greater risk than would be the case with a standard highway design, coupled with aggressive and foul mouthed motorists ignoring hand signals and resenting the intrusion of cyclists into 'their' space. Until such time as we get shot of these "Better by Bike" Buffoons I suggest that every cyclist treats every new cycle facility with extreme caution.

Cycling City - Cycle Route Degraded

A useful 1.4 kilometre cycle route (below in red) using a road formerly closed to through traffic has been degraded by the road being permanently reopened to traffic to provide a commuter rat-run avoiding the parallel Avon Ring Road. The once attractive cycle route linked Frenchay with the University of the West of England (UWE) on Bristol's north-eastern fringe in South Gloucestershire. Cyclists now have to compete for space with rat-running traffic or use a narrow footway with blind corners.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

The Ashley Dilemma

I'm not usually that bothered about who gets elected in local elections. Whatever the outcome the same tired old officers run the council with elected members being little more than rubber stamps who get rewarded once a year by being given a few percent of the budget to squabble over and play pork barrel politics. Of course I'd like to see environmental issues being given more weight and so am inclined towards supporting Green candidates, although politically they are too far to the left for my tastes.

However in today's election I am genuinely hopeful that Jon Rogers (above right), the Lib-Dem candidate for Ashley ward, will win through. That is not because he is a Lib-Dem but because he is Jon Rogers. I'm not easily impressed by local politicians but I believe he has genuinely tried to act as a bridge between the concerns of local people and the machinations of local government, making good use of the medium that matters most these days - the Internet. That is surely what councillors are there for, yet few perform that role as energetically and effectively as Jon Rogers.

He is also concerned about environmental matters and takes a particular interest in transport related issues including of course impacts on walking and cycling. He has taken over leadership of the Cycling City project and those involved seem to think he is doing the right thing there in getting some revision of the unrealistic plans adopted by Labour. As noted elsewhere he played a prominent role in defeating the West of England Partnership's plans to turn the Railway Path into a bus route.

It so happens that Ashley is also the ward most likely to be won by the Greens, whose candidate is Daniella Radice (above). I've nothing to say against her but a victory for her would mean Jon Rogers losing, which in my view would be a very sad thing. Jon has proved himself to be an extremely effective councillor and Executive Member whereas Daniella is as yet an unknown quantity. I know that many others take a similar view. We'd like to see more Green councillors but not at the expense of the most effective 'environmentalist' on the council.

Were I an Ashley voter I think I would split my vote - Jon Rogers for local councillor and the Greens for Europe. If you are an Ashley voter please think twice before giving Jon the boot. It really would be a great loss to Bristol.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Brazza Shocka! - "Cycling City in decline"

Labour's transport spokesperson and former Executive Member for transport on Bristol City Council, Mark Bradshaw, has publicly criticised the Cycling City project that he was instrumental in 'winning' for Bristol just a year ago. Although the project has been widely criticised by cycling interests in Bristol, including of course this blogger, it has up till now enjoyed cross-party support from the elected members of the council.

Bradshaw's criticisms were first made public a few days ago when he commented on the Internet forum Twitter, accusing the Lib-Dems (who only took over in February this year) of "letting Cycling City role wither". This is an odd accusation to make when his Labour administration hadn't even managed to appoint a Project Manager in the 8 months that they were running the project. Poor 'interim' management was widely held to be responsible for most of the problems experienced during the first year.

Bradshaw's latest criticism, posted on Twitter on Monday, was that "Cycling City has now stalled and is in decline". This is an extraordinary comment, considering that Bradshaw forged close links with many of the senior transport and planning officers during his 22 months as Executive Member. It is quite possible that he is reflecting the private views of senior officers. Perhaps it is now recognised that Cycling City cannot achieve its over ambitious targets and Bradshaw sees this as the chance to distance himself.

Another surprising Bradshaw Cycling City comment of the last few days is his assertion that the "opportunity for
radical new thinking to achieve big shift being missed". Given the utterly uninspiring approach taken by Cycling City under Bradshaw's watch one can only wonder what "radical new thinking" he has in mind. Twitter's post limit of 140 characters doesn't allow for the exposition of any detail - perhaps why some politicians find it a comfortable medium.

Railway Path & BRT - Putting the Record Straight.

With electioneering in full swing and some marginal wards along the Railway Path corridor to be fought for, it's not surprising that Political Parties are playing up their involvement in stalling the plan to run Bus Rapid Transit down the Railway Path. The Greens are certainly entitled to do so, as are the Liberal Democrats who eventually came out against BRT on the Path despite their involvement in earlier stages of the plan's development.

But Labour have been trying to paint themselves as saviours of the Railway Path too, which might raise a few eyebrows amongst the hundreds involved in last year's hard fought campaign to persuade the Labour administration of Bristol City Council to drop the BRT plans. Mark Bradshaw, the Executive Member for transport from May 2007 until February 2009 has been prominent in making such claims and I've had a few run-ins with him on Twitter (see also my Tweets in the sidebar to the right).

But worst of all, as reported by the Bristol Blogger, was the leaflet distributed on behalf of Labour's candidate for Easton, Mohammed Arif. Apart from tastelessly using a picture of of a prominent local Green, Pete Taylor, who died recently, Labour were guilty of misrepresentation in that the petition being received by the Labour councillor in the picture was against the degradation of the Railway Path by the Chocolate Factory development and was nothing to do with the BRT plan.

Pete Taylor, supported by local campaigners including other Green Party activists, presents his Chocolate Factory petition to Labour Cllr Faruk Choudhury and Mohammed Arif (right) earlier this year.

So let's recap what happened over BRT and the Railway Path early last year.

From May 2007 Labour were running the council (with Tory support) and Mark Bradshaw was the Executive Member for transport and development. As such he also had a key role with the West of England Partnership. He 'inherited' a range of initiatives including the BRT plans to use the Railway Path.

Following widespread publicity from January 2008 onwards opposition to BRT on the Railway Path grew massively and the Green Party were early supporters of the campaign, although individual members of other parties were also prominent, for example Paul Smith, Labour's PPC for Bristol West.

Green Councillor Charlie Bolton submitted a motion to the April 1st 2008 Full Council meeting which was subsequently amended and supported by the Lib Dems to read (my emphasis) -
Council notes the strength of feeling expressed by citizens of Bristol against the proposed bus rapid transit route along the much loved Bristol-Bath railway path. Council further recognises that cycling is a more sustainable transport solution than the use of public transport, and that as well as a ‘commute route’ the railway path is a valuable resource for local people for walking, cycling and enjoying the countryside in the heart of the town.

As such, while recognising the vital importance of improving public transport in Bristol, council regards the use of the railway path for bus rapid transit as an inappropriate solution. Council demands that the railway path option is dropped and concentration is given to other routes.

Council calls on the Executive Member for Access and Transport to pass these views on to the West of England Partnership and to make clear to partners and government that this route is unacceptable.

Council further calls for extra investment in the path to enhance the experience of walkers and cyclists including measures to improve public safety and believes that this will enhance Bristol chances of becoming Britain’s first cycling city.
The strong wording - "inappropriate; council demands that option is dropped; unacceptable" is unequivocal and would have killed off the BRT on Path plan completely. However Labour, with Conservative support, defeated this motion by bringing in a 'wrecking amendment' which read as follows -
"Council notes the strength of feeling expressed by the citizens of Bristol against the possible shared use by rapid transit of the much loved Bristol-Bath cycle path."

"Council further recognises that walking and cycling are vital components of the strategy to encourage more sustainable and healthier travel behaviour in our city."

"While fully recognising the vital importance of improving public transport, Bristol City Council will oppose route proposals which undermine the current and future expansion of walking and cycling in Bristol, and, in particular, will oppose any threat to the current or future use of the Bristol to Bath cycle path."

"Council requires further information about the various route options, including those on roads and for these to be the subject of full public consultation."

"Council fully supports the Executive Member for Access & Environment in making these views known to the West of England Partnership."
There was a long debate on this on The Bristol Blogger but most commenters seemed to agree that the Labour motion consisted of weasel words which could be interpreted in whatever way suited the politicians and were basically meaningless, so keeping the threat from BRT to live another day.