Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Cycling City - New for Old

There's an interesting debate going on in connection with Cycling City. What constitutes a "new" route as opposed to an existing route that has been improved in some way? The latest installment in this debate occurred yesterday with this story in the Evening Post claiming that "Two new links from the Bristol and Bath Railway Path could benefit cyclists and walkers living in Speedwell, St George, Redfield and Whitehall ".

The routes in question, shown on the map above (click to enlarge) by #24 and #25, are essentially existing routes (shown on the map below) which are already used by cyclists. However 'improvements' are proposed, including such things as light controlled road crossings and improved surfaces and realignments in places. So is it right to call them "new links"? As you can see from the comments on the article I accused the council of 'lying' over this use of the word "new" but Jon Rogers, the Executive Member for Transport, said -
This is a public consultation to create two new cycle links. True, the paths already exist, but the plan is to consult local residents and users of the Railway Path on improvements to the links to make them more suitable for cycling and walking. Words like "upgraded" or "improved" might strictly be more accurate than "new", but to accuse Bristol City Council of "lying" seems a bit strong.

Chris, we had the same sterile and pedantic discussion on the St Werburghs to Muller Road path, but if you travel along it you will see there is a "new path". The path is also "improved" and "upgraded".
The council press release for the opening of the St Werburghs path said "Bristol's trailblazing Cycling City programme has delivered the first completed kilometre of a new off-road cycle route". Note "route" rather than "path", so the "new" claim refers to the overall existence of the route, not some facet of it such as the new asphalt surface of the path. Yet it is well known that the very same route has been used by cyclists for at least the last 20 years.

The as yet non-existent link to Speedwell, actually built in 1980s.

The problem dates back to the beginning of the Cycling City project. For example the promotional leaflet issued in February of this year, at the first (so far) relaunch, included the map above which shows proposed "new infrastructure" (dark blue lines) and "new infrastructure on existing network" (broad cerise lines). So clearly the "new infrastructure" (dark blue) is by implication NOT on the existing network.

But the St Werburghs route (#2 on map above), which might reasonably be described as "new infrastructure on existing network" is in fact marked in dark blue and therefore as "new infrastructure" NOT on the existing network. Likewise the proposed "new link" to Speedwell (#24 on the map above) is shown as "new infrastructure" (dark blue) when it is in fact based on the existing network and so should properly be marked cerise). Are these "sterile and pedantic" distinctions?

Oddly enough the other "new link" (to St George) claimed in yesterday's Post story is shown merely as "existing network", but for a small element within it. So they can get it right occasionally, if only because they can't manage to be consistent about anything, even their deceits. The map shows many other examples of existing routes which are misrepresented as "new infrastructure", in fact most of what is marked in dark blue within the Cycling City area is existing cycle route.

Cycling City claims that it will deliver "13 miles of new track and 18 miles of improvements to the existing 73 miles of off-road track". So far, one year into the three year project, they have delivered less than half a mile of improved track. The 13 miles figure is pure fiction (and probably the other figures too, although I'm not yet in a position to prove that) and that fact will continue to be exposed on this blog until such time as the council come clean and withdraw all the false claims made in support of Cycling City.


Tim Beadle said...

"Cycling City claims that it will deliver "13 miles of new track and 18 miles of improvements to the existing 73 miles of off-road track"."

Meanwhile in Aarhus, Denmark, a new high-quality 10km segregated cycle path is installed for about EUR2m:

One wonders what the Danes would have built with £23m...

Jon Rogers said...


The semantics on when is a "new path surface", "new alignment" or "some new infrastructure" actually a "new route" or a "new link" is clearly obsessing you.

I will ask officers for their comments.


PS Aarhus is very impressive, thanks

Tacky said...

What happened to the cycle route next to route 24 that already joins the Brunel academy to the railway path via Chester park road? It was there this morning.

Maybe the council have given up calling it a cycle path as the Tescos shoppers park all over it anyway.

Chris Hutt said...

Jon, the reason why this is important is to prevent a repeat of the giant scam perpetrated by Sustrans 10 years ago when they fooled the nation into thinking they'd created thousands of miles of cycle route when in fact the overwhelming majority of it was existing network - mainly country lanes.

Sustrans got away with it because very few people were in a position to go out and check the reality over the whole country, but that isn't the case with Greater Bristol.

I can easily check every detail(in fact I'm enjoying doing it) and so far that has revealed a similar deceit being employed, which is not so surprising when you consider the Cycling England - Sustrans links.

I'm sure you will not want to be associated with such a scam so I suggest you set down some clear guidelines-

New paths are paths that do not already exist.

New routes are routes that do not already exist.

New links are links that do not already exist.

It's really very simple.

Noel said...

Its a genuine concern. for if the public are being told that 'new infrastructure' is being built they think they are getting something new for their money. The truth is they are only getting a new surface or an altered junction with a road on already existing infrastucture.

When we look back on this time in a couple of years and all this 'new' stuff has been done will we merely find ourselves with what we already had but with a better (and by then already degrading) surface?

But will the general public even know the difference? They will be blissfully unaware that precious little new improvements were made with their money. This money was just pissed away by a council trying to spend money they dont really want to spend becuase they dont really WANT to accommodate cyclists. Unaware that the the money was essentially wasted becuase they were lied to, repeatedly.

I dont think we want to look back on these years and think that way.

Bristol deserves better than this. Do we want to be the city that had the money and then did FA with it while other cities will take this opportunity to shine?

The st wherbergs path is probably the easiest route in bristol for them to have upgraded. What would have made more of an impact would have been to extend that path with a bridge over muller road alongside the railway to filton....

While its nice what they have done, it falls short, but all Joe Public sees is that we got a 'new' path when we so did not.

... Genuine concern from a genuine cyclist.

sued said...

Cycling City so far has been soooo disappointing. The infrastructure seems to be something the council really doesn't want to do. Closing roads and reducing speed limits would be great but for god's sake when are these things going to start happening? And how much can those things cost? The money seems to be gradually pissing away on pr and poor "improvements" documented on this and other sites. Surely there was enough in the kitty at the start for at least a couple of bridges. And what about the expressway over the M32? Haven't heard any more about that since there was a feasability study planned. There's only 2 years of this project left, and the money will all be gone and all that will be seen is a few invisible cats eyes and a bit of fresh tarmac. And of course a lot of enraged cyclists....

Noel said...

And do the officers have any comments?

The country is watching Bristol the "first cycling city" to lead the way... If leading from the back is the intended goal then I think we are achieveing.

This story has been covered here...

wav3ydave said...

Jon - Chris's point is entirely valid. You can't say something is a new route when it demonstrably is not. That isn't 'semantics' or 'obsessing'. That's lying, plain and simple. If I ice a cake I haven't created a 'new' cake, have I?

It's a double deceit in my opinion because secondly the 'upgrading' of routes does very little to further the adoption of cycling in Bristol. It'll make life easier for people that already use them, and that's about it. Where are the big plans? who's making the difficult decisions? If all we get for £23m is a bit of new tarmac and some lights, and nothing to alter the balance of traffic culture overall, then frankly the whole thing is a massive white elephant.

That bicycle motorway in Aarhus looks amazing. Couldn't happen here of course, though I've no idea why.

Mike said...

I think this is a very valid issue - not "merely" semantic.

Also, this pre-occupation with putting bikes on off-road paths bothers me.

We have roads everywhere - these are routes that (in many cases) have existed for pedestrians, bikes, horses, for hundreds of years. The way roads and their use is organised for cars to the detriment of all other users is not a given - it can change.

Much more investment is needed in re-addressing the balance of road use.

By being able to say £millions have been spent on (for example) surfacing existing paths, the authorities are both ghettoising bikes, and using up resources that could be employed in more radical and beneficial ways.

It all serves to make the bicycle the problem. Let us remember that it is the car that is the problem.

Chris Hutt said...

Lots of valuable comments above but I'd like to pick up on Mike's important point about whether the emphasis on special cycle routes is at the expense of normal cycle routes, namely the ordinary roads.

I've long felt that the promotion of segregated cycle routes undermines the case for making ordinary roads safe and convenient for cycling, but some segregated routes, like the Railway Path, are so good that they are well worth promoting.

However most segregated routes are not so good and some are very poor indeed. Notwithstanding my own proposals I think there is relatively too much emphasis being given to trying to create intensive off-road networks and too little attention being given to making existing roads safe.

There are tentative proposals for creating some 20 mph areas but that does not go far enough. We need a radical change in attitudes, particularly on the part of motorists, towards sharing the roads.

I hope to blog on this, with some practical examples, in due course.

Jon Rogers said...

Thanks Chris, Tim, et al

All good and fair comments.

I have inherited a Cycling City Project which prior to my involvement in March 2009 had failed to engage the public, councillors or even the cycling enthusiasts.

Against resistance, in little over 3 months, I have insisted that the proposed new and/or improved routes are published, not kept secret. That they are open to scrutiny and debate.

I have opened up the Stakeholder meetings to cross party and cross unitary attendance (and they are no longer held in private - I have specifically invited Chris H!).

I am constantly being attacked for the historic baggage, but if I start joining or echoing such attacks I risk undermining the project.

My position is to help the project try and encourage and enthuse people with the idea of cycling in Bristol. I want to work with everyone who shares that ambition.

I have again asked that officers and our press team are more concise in their use of the word "new", but please do pick me up again if we fail in this.

Best wishes


Jon Rogers said...

Wrote above at 9am, then didn't send til now, so not seen Mike and Chris's latest postings.

These are challenging topics. I am trying largely unsuccessfully to raise these issues in the media.

Sunday Streets is one possible way to help people feel safer on ordinary roads. I have a briefing next Tuesday on how we moght take forward options for Portway, City Centre and Downs. If any are progressed, then we will need to monitor carefully the impact on surrounding traffic, as that seems to be the major concern.

20mph scheme is another topic. I am impatient to move forward on this, and see it as a hook to involve residents in street design, traffic, parking and use as well as the simple slowing of cars.



Chris Hutt said...

Jon, as always thanks for the detailed response.

I responded more generally on the next topic but there's a few points I'd like to pick up on here.

From what I hear I think most people who take an interest in Cycling City appreciate what you're trying to do to make it more open and accountable.

But there is still a considerable degree of frustration with the 'inaccessibility' of basic information, not so much on my part (I expect no better) as on the part of people who are quite moderate and pragmatic and trying to work constructively with the project.

I'm told that although some information has been published it remains difficult to understand and interpret with for example route numbers and descriptions constantly changing so making it hard to follow progress, or with analytic tools withheld making data handling impractical (e.g. bristol streets).

I'm not saying this is done deliberately to obscure the facts, but if the officers wanted to obscure the facts this is exactly the sort of thing they would do.

I've explained before why I've declined your invitation to attend the Stakeholder Meetings. I really haven't got the patience for that sort of thing and besides there are plenty of others representing cyclists on that forum (although those receiving Cycling City funds probably shouldn't be).

Finally you complain of being attacked for the 'historical baggage'. Does that remind you of anyone, perhaps someone who had to defend the 'inherited' idea of putting a bus route down the Railway Path?


Bigwok said...

With on road routes in mind, I'm particularly keen to see what is being planned for the Greater Bristol Bus Network for the A4. A council officer told me at the Bike event at Temple Quay that its the first route design that really incorporates provision for cyclists.

I shall wait and see! its supposed to be on consulation this month, including a shop in Brislington, like the one on Church road when they did the A420.

20mph zones could also be straight forward. The issue is what roads should be should be included. Take Southville and Bedminster. Do you include North Street? Duckmoor Road? Dean Lane? if you don't does it really improve streets for walking and cycling?

Chris Hutt said...

Bw - "A council officer told me ... that it's the first route design that really incorporates provision for cyclists".

That's quite an admission. So the GBBN schemes for the A420 and A38 Gloucester Road didn't really take cyclists into account (not that I'm the least surprised at the fact, just the confession). That flatly contradicts the official claims.

Jon Rogers said...

The officer is being honest and open. Hooray!

The development of each Bristol GBBN route hopefully learns from the experience of the previous one.

I would therefore expect that the A4 Bath Road plans are better than the A420 which in turn are better than those for the A38 Gloucester Road.

I understand that there are plans to do a "refresh" on the A38 Gloucester Road GBBN Showcase route based on the experience of the later routes and the evolving road use, including increased cycling.


Bigwok said...

GBBN A4 proposals are now available on the Council website. Interesting to see the comparison with the A420 proposals to see what has been learnt. Dos anyone still have a digital copy?