Monday, 31 August 2009

A Bike Lift for Bristol?

As we all know only too well the hilliness of Bristol is a deterrent to cycling, especially for those considering cycling for commuting or utility purposes where getting from A to B sometimes means being confronted with quite a climb, around 30 metres at a gradient of 1 in 10 (10%) just to get up Park Street for example.

There are one or two other routes that give an easier climb of the Clifton - Kingsdown escarpment but they tend to be indirect and not at all obvious to the novice. For example climbing from the Centre to Queen's Road via Colston St and Park Row will give you a 40 metre vertical climb at a gentler average gradient of less than 1 in 20 (5%) and with just an extra 40% of horizontal travel compared to College Green/Park St.

But even long climbs at 5% gradient are off-putting to many potential cyclists so we need a bit of lateral thinking. Bike Lifts have been suggested before but no one has really identified a practical location for one (Park Street being far too complicated a location for anything like the Trampe). So this is by way of #7 in my 'Cycling City - Constructive Suggestions' series (more to come when I find the time) - a Bike Lift based on that fine examplar of the spirit of Bristol, the Trenchard Street multi storey car park.

Cyclists have been known to use the existing lifts in the Trenchard Street multi storey for decades but such makeshift arrangements are far from satisfactory. The existing lifts are difficult to access, too small and of course in some demand by legitimate car park users (who one has to admit do pay for them). Indeed one of the two lifts has recently been refurbished so that it can only be operated by someone with a parking permit or ticket (presumably to stop cyclists and others freeloading).

So I'm suggesting a new lift of the external variety attached to the structure on the south west elevation of the multi storey car park and linking the bottom of Trenchard Street (where the ground is level with the Centre) exclusively with level 8 of the multi storey which has a direct, level access onto Park Row (below) just above the Red Lodge and not far below its summit level. The height gained would be nearly 30 metres, about the same as climbing Park Street!

A new lift could be designed as a linked pair so that one lift cubicle was always down when the other was up to minimise delays. Intermediate levels would not be served, just Denmark St level and Park Row level, so accent would be rapid and direct. Entry and exit doors could be on opposite sides so bikes wouldn't need to be turned. The lift cubicles could be light and spacious giving some quite impressive views.

Of course such an installation wouldn't be cheap but I believe it could prove very popular with cyclists (and others who find climbing Park Street daunting) who would suddenly find that the Clifton - Kingsdown escarpment was no longer a major deterrent. Perhaps it might go some way towards changing the image of cycling in Bristol as something exclusively for the Lycra-clad super-fit.

The map below shows some of the principal cycle routes that could link to a Trenchard St Bike Lift. On the high side Queen's Road, Whiteladies Road and the University campus would become much more accessible and even the heights of Kingsdown and Cotham could be accessed with a further climb up Woodland Road. On the low side the main core of the city could access the Bike Lift via Denmark St (how apposite!) from the Centre and via Frogmore Street from the Hotwell Road direction.

View Trenchard St Bike Lift in a larger map

The Trenchard Street multi storey is owned and operated by the Council so there shouldn't be any fundamental problem in installing such a Bike Lift, given that the cost, Cycling England willing, could be met from the Cycling City budget. Apart from the benefits to cyclists and pedestrians the addition of a smart new external lift could be part of a much needed makeover of the multi storey, which must rank as one of Bristol's most depressing buildings.

Bristol City Council has the chance to take a lead with this, but they'd better hurry because other cities have bold visions for the future, such as Seoul with this (above) planned bicycle elevator. For Bristol this really could be the iconic symbol of a genuine move towards being a Cycling City and perhaps the world's first and best example of a bicycle lift forming a key part of a city's cycling infrastructure. So let's see what excuses Cycling City manage to come up with for not pursuing this one.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Banksy versus Cycling City

Banksy is an enigmatic character full of surprises, his works appearing unexpectedly and in unlikely locations. So perhaps we should all keep our eyes open for those incongruous interventions in our familiar urban environment which might just turn out to be examples of the maestro's work. Here for example is one of Cycling City's prime cycle routes through St Philips, a former traffic route now closed to motor vehicles. But what are these recent additions to the ubiquitous concrete kerbs and bollards?

Could what may at first sight appear to be a random collection of discarded tyres, pallets and assorted rubbish be the work of the master prankster himself? There is something strangely engaging about the distribution of the detritus, something that speaks to us of our inner contradictions and the social and environmental dysfunction that empitomises them. Subtle yet telling, the work catches us unawares as we pass by on our daily travels. Whether it is a work of Banksy himself or perhaps a younger pretender I do not know, but there is no doubting the genius of the creator.

Silverthorne Lane - anonymous (Banksy?) work (detail)

The appearance of this new work creates yet another dilemma for our beleaguered City Council. Whether to treat this as just another case of anti-social fly tipping and have the 'clean and green' brigade sweep it all away to oblivion or to recognise the underlying genius and indeed the potential of this work to bring a much needed economic boost to a deprived area. Perhaps this is something they should consult the public on, as they did over whether or not to remove the Banksy on Park Street. Otherwise on their heads be it if they make the wrong decision.

View Banksies in Bristol in a larger map

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Another Ghost Bike for Bristol

We now have details of the cyclist killed on Tuesday as a result of a collision with a van at the junction of Winterstoke Road with Brunel Way (below). He was 52 year old Bristol University professor Stephen Morris from Backwell. The Evening Post report gives us some idea of the tragic consequences of such an untimely death on the victims family, friends and work colleagues, especially close family members who suddenly find themselves without a partner or father.

View Cycle and ped injury incidents in a larger map

This is the second cyclist death in Bristol this year and there have been others on the urban fringe beyond the Council's boundaries including one on this same road (A370) at the other end of the Long Ashton bypass last December. We should not of course speculate about the causes of this collision and consequent death when so little information is available to us. However it is I think appropriate, while minds are focused on this tragic event, to note certain circumstances which may or may not turn out to be contributory factors.

The most obvious point to note is that, in common with the most other cyclist deaths, this occurred on a road with a higher speed limit than 30mph, in this case 40mph. In practice that means that speeds significantly above 40 mph are normal and largely tolerated by the authorities. Such speeds are simply incompatible with safe cycling. Where cyclists have no practical alternative but to share such roads a 30 mph limit would be more appropriate and might possibly have avoided this latest tragic death.

Sustrans have cobbled together some plans for a convoluted alternative cycle route which is now being developed by Cycling City but the route proposed will be of little use to utility cyclists and commuters who want to follow a fairly direct and fast route. So let's not accept for one minute that Sustrans type 'recreational' routes are any sort of solution to the problem of excessive speeds on main roads. Besides we've already waited 30 years for new infrastructure and the highway engineers have consistently failed us. We need determined action on excessive speeds now before more cyclists are killed. Two Ghost Bikes in Cycling City are enough.

Tribute to Nick Abraham, 29, killed by a motorist while cycling on the Portway in January this year.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Carnage in Cycling City

Almost every day there seems to be another report of cyclists being injured by vans and lorries here in Cycling City. Yesterday a Bristol Traffic reporter witnessed the aftermath of such an incident in Ashley Road where a cyclist in her 20s was run over by a left turning lorry.

The day before a 52 year old cyclist was hit by a van on Winterstoke Road and is now reported to have died from his head injuries (yes, he was wearing a helmet). Later on the same day a cyclist in his 20s was run over by a left turning lorry at Old Market. Last Thursday a cyclist in his 30s was run over by a left turning lorry at the bottom of St Michael's Hill. Finally (sadly only for the purposes of this piece) just four weeks ago a cyclist was knocked down by an ambulance at the bottom of Tower Hill.

View Cycle and ped injury incidents in a larger map

We cannot comment on the individual circumstances of these collisions beyond what basic information is given in reports (and even then we must be wary of accepting such reports as accurate). But we can make a few observations about the circumstances that seem to be common (though not necessarily contributory factors) to several of these incidents. Firstly all involved commercial vehicles presumably driven by "professional" drivers. Secondly three involved lorries turning left. Thirdly in most cases there were cycle lanes which it seems the cyclists involved were using.

If my experience is typical then cyclists need to be more wary of "professional" drivers than the average motorist. This applies to many bus and taxi drivers as well as those of vans and lorries. There are many reasons for this - they tend to be driving bigger, wider vehicles, they are under pressure to meet schedules and they tend to be over-confident and blasé, even arrogant. But should we not expect higher standards from "professional" drivers?

Left turning lorries are well documented as a problem for cyclists, especially the younger and inexperienced ones and it seems particularly women (as in yesterday's Cheltenham Road - Ashley Road incident and a string of recent deaths in London). This may be because lorry drivers are negligent about checking their left side for clearance before turning and because inexperienced cyclists have not yet learned to be wary of lorries. But should cyclists have to compensate for what is arguably negligence by the drivers involved?

In many cases cyclists are encouraged to overtake on the inside of potentially left turning traffic by the arrangement of cycle lanes. The Cheltenham Road - Ashley road junction is a classic where cyclists mostly going straight on are funnelled into a cycle lane on the left side of the left turning lane. This so obviously sets cyclists up to be in conflict with motor traffic that one wonders at the sanity of the world, or at least of the so-called 'cycling' officers responsible for it.

Final point - what support are these cyclists getting from Cycling City? If I was running the show the first thing I would do is set up a Cyclists' Support Centre, somewhere where cyclists could drop in and get a sympathetic hearing and practical support in their struggle to assert their right to use the public highway. But as we know almost the first act of Cycling City was to vilify cyclists who rode through red lights and so to fuel the antipathy to cyclists expressed in many of the online comments to the Evening Post reports.

Thanks to Bristol Traffic for the pictures.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Bristol Greenwash Companion

Thanks to a comment by Tim in the Greenwash Corner post I tracked down a copy of the Green Companion, delivered as an insert in the current issue of Venue magazine. It was marked 'free' (i.e. already paid for by we tax payers) so it was with a clear conscience that I liberated a copy from Borders for later perusal.

The Green Companion is published by the Bristol Green Capital Initiative whose website is, which is sponsored by The Bristol Partnership, who are, er, we don't know because their web site refers to an executive board but neglects to tell us who they are. Minor details I know and only a carping critic like me would try to make anything of such trivial omissions. It seems the website is due to be revamped because we find this tucked away on the site -
We apologise for the inconvenience caused and look forward to introducing you to the new Bristol Partnership website in the near future.

Jon House
Deputy Chief Executive
Bristol City Council

Last Updated: 20th November

The "near future" since last November doesn't seem to include the subsequent 9 months so it looks like we're dealing with local government here, as the name of the Sheffield policeman who now trousers £140k of our taxes each year confirms. Interestingly we also find this -
Last March, we commissioned a review of the Bristol Partnership, which gave us some hard messages. Since then we have been working hard to make the changes required but at the same time keep the work going.
Hard messages? Like you're totally dysfunctional and a pointless waste of tax payers' money? Of course we, who merely paid for this review, have no business knowing what it said, but we can all guess (but see later edit). I wonder if concealing details of who the Bristol Partnership are is one of the "changes required".

What about the Green Capital Initiative then. Do we know who they are? The website seems to confirm that it is merely part of the Bristol Partnership and the only clue we have as to who runs it comes from the contact list, a bunch of bureaucrats ensconced safely out of the way at the Create-a-job Centre on the city's western fringe.

Anyway back to the Green Companion. What's that about? Firstly it's not about asking questions and provoking debate. The 'Resources' section refers to a variety of nice, fluffy 'green' websites that won't trouble your cerebral cortex with anything more taxing than reading familiarly soothing words and half-baked notions of greenness like ecojam, bristol streets and the create centre. You certainly won't find a reference to this blog, the Bristol Blogger, Bristol Traffic or anyone else asking awkward questions and encouraging people to think for themselves.

But look who we do find with pride of place in the 'Money' section of the Green Companion, none other than Hargreaves Lansdown, whose co-founders Steve Lansdown and Peter Hargreaves have prominent local profiles. Steve Lansdown of course has green plans to build a new stadium for Bristol City Football Club on greenbelt land and to turn the existing stadium site into a giant Tesco Extra supermarket with 600 car parking spaces which many locals fear will undermine the viability of that ungreen anachronism from the pre-car shopping era - North Street.

Later edit. Thanks to a link provided in the comment below by the Bristol Blogger we now have access to a copy of the 'peer' review of the Bristol Partnership - here. There was no link provided on the Bristol Partnership website as per normal practice so I wrongly concluded that it wasn't available to public scrutiny.

Friday, 7 August 2009

Mea Culpa

We all make mistakes from time to time and yesterday I made a very silly one. I posted on this blog that it was the 25th anniversary of the official opening of the Bristol & Bath Railway Path. In fact that event was the 6th August 1985, er, 24 years ago. No excuses, it was just that I noticed that it was already the 6th and had in the back of my mind that the 25th anniversary was imminent then added 2 and 2 to make 5.

I realised my embarrassing mistake, as one does, at 5 a.m. this morning. I'm not sure if I'd already woken up or if the thought woke me up, but my second thought was to delete all traces of my error. Fortunately there hadn't been any comments made on the blog post so deleting that was easy enough. Even more fortunately the blog post didn't mention the date in question, only that it was 25 years ago, so no one would have known I'd got it wrong unless they did some research. It looked as if I might get away with it.

But then I thought about the ethics of it (after the event, also as one does). Wasn't I doing exactly what I often accuse the Council and others of doing - trying to cover up their mistakes rather than coming clean and saying "mea culpa"? Besides, what if someone did spot the mistake and my attempt to cover it up? That would be far worse than merely making the mistake in the first place. So a potent mixture of principle and pragmatism lead me to conclude that I had to fess up, not merely to the mistake but to the moral quandary it threw me into.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Greenwash Corner

Some of us were hoping that Bristol's richly deserved failure to be awarded European Green Capital status back in February might have dampened their spirits somewhat, but it seems that the Green Capital crap is still being peddled.

Over on the Bristol Streets site, which masquerades as a wholly independent site but is in reality a mouthpiece for pro council propaganda and to which council officers appear to have privileged access, we find a puff piece entitled "Bristol Still Green Even if not Green Capital", which includes the claim that -
"The competition has reaffirmed Bristol’s Green Capital commitment to be seen as the leading city in Europe for the quality of its environment and in the way it is tackling climate change."
Oh really? Losing has reaffirmed? I suppose that's what you call looking on the bright side (something I have to admit I'm not familiar with). But if Bristol's strengths are the way it is tackling climate change and the quality of its environment (stuff like transport and noise?), how come it lost? The same paragraph answers our question-
"It (the competition) has also given a clear indication of the priority areas of action needed to be addressed; these are climate change, transport and noise."

Monday, 3 August 2009

Bullshit Corner

Despite the Lib Dems taking control of Bristol City Council back in June, and even a recent plea from Venue magazine ("no more bullshit PR"), the tide of civic bullshit remains unabated. Even Cllr Jon 'openness and transparency' Roger's City Development department continues to insult our intelligence with such egregious extravagance as this below, highlighted by an opinion piece by Roger Tavener on Bristol 24-7.
(£92,000 a year)

Give 500,000 people the freedom of the city

One of Europe’s most successful, green and vibrant cities, Bristol’s progress is being slowed by congestion, with the associated issues of road safety and air quality. By delivering a visionary transport system which addresses these challenges, you’ll release opportunities, and give ½ million people the freedom to enjoy their city in the ways they want.

This is one of the biggest jobs in city transport. Spearheading one of the largest improvement programmes outside London, your remit is simply to drive a step change in the Bristol Transport offer, and deliver the 21st century system our residents deserve. In doing so, you will change people’s perceptions, influence travel behaviour, and prove that sustainable city transport is truly attainable.
Those of us who daily struggle with getting around this city might well be cynical. There are fundamental problems with reconciling the many contradictory expectations that people have when it comes to transport. We value personal freedom, in particular free (in both senses) access to the highway network where we like, when we like and in whatever vehicle we like. But we castigate the inevitable consequences of that freedom - congestion, pollution, social exclusion, conflict between different road users, obstructive parking and expensive and inefficient public transport.

The inconvenient truth is that no politician, even Honest Jon, is going to be able to deliver real change because when it comes to the crunch the turkeys aren't going to vote for Christmas (as demonstrated by the Manchester congestion charging referendum), however much some might insist it's the only way forward. So the politicians have to resort to sleight of hand, making extravagant gestures to foster the expectation of some future transport fantasy (above) so that we don't notice that nothing much has really changed. Even the bullshit above refers to changing "people’s perceptions" rather than the reality.

Later edit - here's the result of an automated bullshit detector test, highlighted words being from list that Local Government Association says should not be used. (thanks to Woodsy for that).

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Bridge of Thighs?

The Bristol Harbour Festival (cost circa £0.4 million) this weekend involves the closure of many city centre roads to allow the crowds to circulate more freely around the St Augustine's Reach area. Our old friend Prince Street Bridge is completely closed to motor traffic, as it should be, and the change in the ambiance on and around the bridge is palpable. People amble across in a relaxed, unhurried manner. Cyclists pick their way through gingerly, not daring to disturb the pedestrians in their way. For walkers crossing the bridge becomes something to savour rather than something to be negotiated cautiously.

Could Prince Street Bridge be like this on a daily basis? The numbers of pedestrians would be less and the numbers of cyclists more, and both would be in more of a hurry, but that is easily resolved by allocating one half of the bridge to each so the Arnolfini side becomes pedestrian only and the Redcliffe side becomes two way for cyclists. In that way all significant conflict is removed and everyone can enjoy crossing the bridge in a relaxed way, except of course for motorists but they have the nearby 4 lane Redcliffe Bridge, not to mention virtually the entire highway network, so are amply provided for elsewhere.

But it seems Bristol City Council do not want to explore such possibilities. As was first revealed here on this blog they plan to use the Redcliffe half of the bridge for Bus Rapid Transit (banning other motor traffic) and then cyclists will either have to share that side with the 18 metre long bendy-buses or share the limited width on the Arnolfini side with pedestrians, neither of which is acceptable.

As we see below from a picture taken during our brief summer the pedestrianised half of the bridge is already under pressure from current levels of use by walkers and cyclists. Further growth in numbers, which is to be expected and desired, may well provoke conflict unless more sensible use can be made of the overall width of the bridge.

One might wonder why general motor traffic cannot be diverted to more suitable crossing points right away as it will have to be if and when BRT is introduced. But that would allow people to become accustomed to a truly traffic free bridge and might result in opposition to the introduction of BRT.

So we must continue to suffer so that nothing may impede the introduction of their precious BRT, on which they pin such ridiculously high hopes. It is after all little more than a tarted up bendy bus with some exclusive lanes and junction priorities, not exactly a "step change" in public transport.