Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Cycling City - Those Unofficial Conference Minutes.

I wasn't able to attend yesterday's Cycling City conference - "Gaining Momentum" - due to a throat infection that I haven't shaken off yet. Uncontrolled violent coughing doesn't go down too well at such events. A pity really, judging from the rather critical Evening Post report. Normally one would expect any problems to be glossed over for such a public event but it seems that enough may have been said to substantiate a fairly negative article, even if the headline itself drifted off into speculation.

However a copy of the unofficial minutes have come my way (one of the few perks of being a blogger is the occasional and mysterious appearance of such things in one's inbox), apparently having been left behind on a table. Having read them I now suspect I got off likely. Whoever wrote these notes (and I genuinely have no idea who it was) is (a) brilliant (so all BCC's employees are in the clear) and (b) obviously had the conference scenario down to a tee so I suspect it wasn't his first, although it may be his last.
Cycling City conference  Gaining Momentum


Cllr Dr Jon Rogers (Executive Member,Transport): (Welcome): You're all lovely! 3 cheers for Cycling City! I love you all, even the bloggers (shows slide of Green Bristol blog)...I love your friendly criticism! Traffic lights are green - lets go! Evening Post loves me now too! 3 cheers for Cycling City!


Jan Ormondroyd (Chief Executive Officer): (Opening remarks): I've got a bike! I'm all wobbly! 3 cheers for Cycling City! I want it!


Philip Darnton, Chairman, Cycling England: (Keynote address): 3 cheers for Cycling City! Why is Bristol so important to Cycling England? Because there are only four of us and our jobs depend on it! Now's the time to pull together! Its easy! Just spend all the money, and then tell us how much cycling has improved!  You can do it! Oh yes you can! Oh YES you can! Pleaeeeese! I'm such as nice chap!


David Bishop (Strategic Director): 3 cheers for Cycling City! Yes we really want it. Oh yes we all do. We want a sustainable Bristol a congestion free Bristol and cycling so important  - we mean to succeed, errm (looks at notes and sits down)


Hugh Annett (Director of Public Health):  Cycling is healthy! 3 cheers for cycling!


Ed Plowden (Programme Manager): (breathlessly rushes on. we're doing this and this and this and this and this and this and we're going to do this and this and this and this and this (images flash by on screen). phew ! (mops brow); time for a cuppa!


Convenor: Now we'll have a pretend workshop. Talk to the people on your table about the things on the postcard for 45 minutes.


(45 mins later) - Convenor: Now wasn’t that fun. Next we have Silly Question Time. If you listened very carefully at the start you'll have heard me whisper that you should write your question on the card which is in your recyclable delegate bag with the free squeezy water bottle. I have 5 questions for the panel. First question is (reads card) ... ?????


Panel:David Bishop: 3 cheers for cycling city!


Convenor: Next question "Are you sure you've got the balance between hard and soft measures right???"  Now that's a hard one.


Panel - Ed Plowden: Absolutely yes. My balance is fine. They've taken my stabilisers off! Watch me go down Gloucester Road! Wheeeee….!


Convenor: Next question is "Are you listening to the voices of experience???."


Philip: It's SO important that people with experience think they're being listened to.And everyone one else too. Listening is so important.


Convenor: Question: "Will you maintain the cycle paths???


Panel (Ed):  That’s a good one - will we or won't we? The answer is we'll make them so they can be maintained. 3 cheers for cycling city!


Convenor: No more questions!


Philip Darnton: (winding up): This is such a great day! Now's the time to pull together! No more silly squabbling! Just do it! You'll be able to say to your grandchildren: Oh yes, I was there…...I was there when it all started at Gloucester County Cricket Club on Monday 26 October 2009...I heard the Chief Executive say "I want it!" 3 cheers for…………


(Here the notes end with mark of a broken pencil lead..)

31 comments:

Jon Rogers said...

There - see what you missed!

Chris Hutt said...

Jon, my main problem with this 'conference' is that there isn't really any 'conferring' going on.

It's about pushing the established Cycling City agenda, talking it up and getting everyone behind it. That's not 'conferring' in any real sense. If the notes above do capture the essence of it then I'm glad I wasn't able to come.

I don't envy your position with Cycling City. You've got a fundamentally defective mechanism there - a punctured tyre if you like - but you're determined to pedal on furiously regardless, thinking sheer will power can overcome the laws of physics. It's pointless. You've got to stop and fix the puncture.

Stopping to mend the puncture will certainly slow you down in the short term but it will pay off in the longer term. And despite the ludricrous efforts of Cycling England to compress 10+ years of 'evolution' into less than three it's the longer term that matters.

Anonymous said...

Sore throat or not, you had the opportunity to 'confer' but didn't take it, unlike the other 80 delegates. This city needs ambassadors for cycling to get on board and make it happen. Standing on the touchlines throwing stones will get us nowhere. Perhaps your inner tube is full of hot air?

Chris Hutt said...

If the City needs cycling ambassadors perhaps they should stop treating past ones like shit.

Anonymous said...

I am sure the Cycling City team feel the same about the 'defective mechanism' and 'punctured tyre' comments. Must be very motivational for them.

Chris Hutt said...

What goes around comes around.

Jon Rogers said...

Chris - no one's treating you or anyone else associated with cycling, past or present, "like shit".

There is some great stuff happening. The schemes are being amended because of input from you and many other stakeholders.

Poor bike lanes are being removed. Officers are being expected to follow good practice, and cycling audits are becoming mainstream.

For example, our ride in Eastville Park has changed the course of that planned route for the better.

This parody of the minutes is amusing, but make no mistake, the Chief Executive, the Director of City Development, Head of Parks, Director of Public Health, etc, etc are all indicating that this will happen.

I believe it is in the interests of all those who want to see a greener, more sustainable future for Bristol to get involved at whatever level.

Jon

Chris Hutt said...

I was referring mainly to events in the distant past Jon, although having my business wrecked by the BRT on Path proposals wasn't much fun either.

As for now I fail to see how the disingenuous protestations of a bunch of grossly overpaid, self-serving bureaucrats is going to make anything happen except their final salary pension schemes.

I thought as a Lib-Dem you might see the value in bottom-up strategies for change but you seem to be sold on a classic top-down approach with Cycling City, so much so that you think paying someone £180k a year to say "I want it" is going to make it happen.

I believe in the bottom -up approach. If you could just stop tipping the playing field so steeply in favour of motorised transport for a moment and then let people work it out for themselves.

We don't need to be told how to ride bicycles by some stooge with a clipboard or encouraged by being given free water bottles. We can sort that sort of thing out for ourselves.

But we would like to see some action against those who systematically harass and intimidate cyclists (something predictably absent from Cycling City).

thebristolblogger said...

I'd like to confirm, from my experience, that the council does indeed regularly treat people "like shit".

As a councillor Jon, I've no doubt that they run around responding to your requests, answering your emails, speaking to you politely, letting you speak at meetings etc, etc.

It ain't like that for everyone unfortunately. Quite the opposite.

Anonymous said...

stop tipping the playing field so steeply in favour of motorised transport...

How is that chip on your shoulder Chris?

Anonymous said...

"If the City needs cycling ambassadors perhaps they should stop treating past ones like shit."

I finally understand where this blog is coming from.

Chris Hutt said...

Well done Sherlock.

Anonymous said...

Didn't realise it was based on so much bitterness. Get over it!! Somehow I doubt it..you would be lost without it. You are a very angry man.

Daily Cyclist, Bristol said...

'Well done Sherlock'.....so should we take your non-attendance at the event on Monday and this comment as an acknowledgement that your grievance with the council is actually a personal one?

The opportunity was there for you to join a forum of local activists, stakeholders, council officers, politicians, employers, etc and say your piece, rather than resort to schoolboy humour with those tedious minutes.

There were differences of opinion and approach on Monday, but that didn't stop most people there from working together towards solutions and considering what they could do to support a cycling culture - not just for the cognoscenti, but for everyone who might consider cycling.

The key message I took away from the event was that it would be easy to knock Cycling City and watch the whole thing fail or get behind it, irrespective of our past standpoints.

So where are you on this, Mr Hutt? Putting nails in the tyre or working towards making it a success with many others?

Kind regards

A concerned cyclist and resident of Bristol who was there on Monday

Chris Hutt said...

Oh dear Anon, your comments are all so clichéd and predictable.

Anger serves a purpose. It empowers us to fight back against aggressors. Without anger we'd forever be running away. Sometimes you have to turn and fight.

Anonymous said...

Not turning up on Monday looked like running way!

Anonymous said...

'Oh dear Anon, your comments are all so clichéd and predictable.'

There you go again.....this is the response of someone who knows he's losing the argument - knock other commentators rather than put a rational argument forward. If you had the bottle you'd have turned up with a packet of strepsils and put up a defence of your arguments on Monday.

Chris Hutt said...

Daily Cyclist, first if you read the blog post you will see that I was unable to attend the conference for health reasons.

However contrary to what you say there would have been no worthwhile opportunity for me to say my piece, as is clear from the 'conference' program and the 'minutes' posted here. The main speakers were exclusively pro Cycling City in its present form so hardly a forum for sensible debate.

Whoever wrote those 'minutes' cleary took an equally cynical view of the value of the event as a 'conference' and I've heard from others too that it wasn't worth attending. So opinion is obviously divided.

You can choose to support Cycling City if you want to but I will not support something founded on deceit and lies. Nor will I support something designed to create yet more burdensome bureaucracy, yet more state interference in our lives and yet more greenwash and hypocrisy.

Cycling City is failing because it was ill conceived as a typical piece of NuLabour spin that completely ignored the reality on the ground and the history of how cycling survived and prospered in spite of official neglect.

It's a typical statist, top-down, we-know-what's-good-for-you program designed to bring all us freedom loving cyclists into order, to force us off the roads and on to sub-standard cycle 'facilities''for our own safety' and gross inconvenience.

Just look at the Prince Street Bridge fiasco for a practical example of that. Look at the hours of unpaid work we had to do to unravel the truth and to force the council to do something moderately sensible there.

Cycling is by its nature a bottom-up response to travel issues. It doesn't need the state to promote it or organise it or corral it. All we need is the protection of the law, protection from harassment and intimidation, the one thing that Cycling City is conspicuously failing to deliver.

Chris Hutt said...

Anon, if you can pause from your tirade of corny clichés for a moment and just look at this blog.

Do you not see that I am here defending my arguments? Do you not see that it is open to anyone, even you with your tedious and tiresome comments, to criticise what I say?

Where can you find anything remotely similar on behalf of Cycling City? So who's "running away"?

The Bristol Blogger said...

I fear the vested interests doth protest too much.

Chris is simply scrutinising and holding power to account - vital in any democracy.

Attending briefings with state apparatchiks and then attempting to silence dissent with personal attacks and smears is something else entirely.

Presumably, by the same argument, Woodward and Bernstein should have just attended official White House press briefings and left Nixon to get on and deliver?

If you're so interested in people's motives what are say, the motives of Jon and David Bishop, in sucking up to the road building industry in South Bristol and First Bus?

Or is it that only people you disagree with have ulterior, personal motives?

Anonymous said...

Gosh this is a little heated. Having just left the world of cycle and walking..it always amazed me how fragmented it all was..attacking each other etc. The radicals attacking the less radicals, those who don't want to work with the state, those who see it as a necessary evil..often it appears to happen inside a bubble the wider world don't even notice.

Chris Hutt said...

Well observed Anon, but don't you agree that almost all human life exists in bubbles that the wider world doesn't even notice?

And why shouldn't the fundamental dichotomies of human experience manifest themselves in each and every one of those bubbles?

So not so surprising really, given that cycling attracts the interest of an educated and intelligent section of society.

onthelevelblog said...

Go Chris go! It is a testament to the fact that you are really on to something with this blog that you are attracting so many 'anonymous' people to read and comment. It's clear from their hysterical and irrational put downs that you are really ruffling some feathers. And hilarious that those too afraid of identifying themselves in a public forum are accusing YOU of running away! Carry on, my friend!

Anonymous said...

If you don't want anonymous comments, don't offer the option!! See you anon.

Chris Hutt said...

The facility to comment anonymously is there for people who have a legitimate reason for not wanting or being able to identify themselves, but they could at least sign off with an alias.

If a lot of people post anonymously (or if one person posts anonymously lots of times) without signing comments it becomes difficult to follow a thread. It's just a matter of having a little consideration for other people trying to follow a discussion, that's all.

Anonymous said...

Chris Hutt:
"Having read them I now suspect I got off likely. Whoever wrote these notes (and I genuinely have no idea who it was) is (a) brilliant (so all BCC's employees are in the clear) and (b) obviously had the conference scenario down to a tee so I suspect it wasn't his first, although it may be his last."

You'd be surprised Chris, I expect it probably is a BCC employee fed up with the usual round of political bullsh*t mixed in with some cycling radicals infighting. I wouldn't want to work for cycling city and have to put up with spin from the upper management of the BCC and councillors and the same old cr@p from you and the cycling nutters. The cycling ambassadors of this city need to grow up and form some kind of concensus on what Bristol needs so that the BCC can actually go away and do it.

Chris Hutt said...

You could be right Anon. I just couldn't resist the 'BCC employees in the clear' line.

But who are these cycling ambassadors? As far as I'm aware all cyclists are equally entitled to claim to reresent cycling and so there's never going to be a consensus. The same is true of motorists and pedestrians of course.

Cycling City was originally set up to exclude people like me from getting involved, although Jon Rogers has tried to open it up this year. But even those cyclists who've tried to get involved through the Stakeholder Panel are feeling very frustrated at being ignored.

I'll venture a simple summary of what cyclists want - to be able to cycle around this city and beyond without being harassed, intimidated and endangered by motorists. Can BCC deliver that? It seems not.

Anonymous said...

Chris Hutt:
"But who are these cycling ambassadors?"

I thought you were supposed to be one of them...

Chris Hutt
"But even those cyclists who've tried to get involved through the Stakeholder Panel are feeling very frustrated at being ignored.

I'll venture a simple summary of what cyclists want - to be able to cycle around this city and beyond without being harassed, intimidated and endangered by motorists. Can BCC deliver that? It seems not."

Are they being ignored Chris or is it that they're asking for and expecting too much? Personally I'd love to see Bristol become another Amsterdam or Copenhagen but the changes that need to be made require much longer run in times and preparation than the Cycling City timescale allows for. Imagine the sea of red tape, the planning, the numerous consultations and politicing that take place to get a Dutch or Danish style system of cycle lanes in place. It would take far longer than the time limit placed on Cycling City.

The Cycling City scheme is nothing more than a sham dreamed up by government at a national level to keep the cycling lobby happy. Real change in attitudes to cycling can only be done by Westminster and the DfT through more money and changes in the law and road design rules. We cyclists should try to get the best out of Cycling City but also should also be realistic as to what can be achieved otherwise nothing will get done.

Chris Hutt said...

As you probably know I have no authority to call myself a cycling ambassador. Not I suppose does anyone else although some seem to set themselves up as such.

Anon "Are they being ignored Chris or is it that they're asking for and expecting too much?"

That's a good question. One of the things that the cycling stakeholders are asking for and not getting is that new cycling infrastructure is designed and built to the standards set by the Department for Transport. Is that too much to ask?

Another thing the cycling stakeholders are asking is that infrastructure investment should be focused more on the inner city and less on the outer suburbs (where almost all the investment is currently going).Is that asking too much?

Is it too much to expect to be able to cycle on the streets of Bristol without being harassed, intimidated and endangered? I regard that as no more than a basic human right.

I agree that your aspiration for Bristol to become like Amsterdam or Copenhagen is unrealistic. That is not what I argue for on this blog. We need to develop a policy and strategy that addresses the issues that confront us today, not the issues that confronted the Dutch and the Danes 30 years ago.

"The Cycling City scheme is nothing more than a sham dreamed up by government at a national level to keep the cycling lobby happy."

Much as I'd like to agree with that, I don't think it's that simple. I expect Cycling England sincerely believed that they were doing the best that could be done for cyclists under the circumstances. But when you look at the £100 million CE funding from a national perspective it's only 0.5% of around £20 billion spent on transport.

"Real change in attitudes to cycling can only be done by Westminster and the DfT through more money and changes in the law and road design rules."

This I disagree with. My experience is that real change comes from the people and the economy rather than central government. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with the law or road design. It's the attitude of people that matters, especially those driving cars who currently think they literally own the roads.

"We cyclists should try to get the best out of Cycling City but also should also be realistic as to what can be achieved otherwise nothing will get done"

Not sure about that one. There's very little to be got out of Cycling City in broad strategic terms, although plenty of scope for pocketing some money on some cycling related pretext. I see Cycling City as much as a threat as an opportunity. When it fails many will say cycling itself has failed. We need to make it clear that Cycling City is not 'cycling'.

Anonymous said...

Chris Hutt:
"One of the things that the cycling stakeholders are asking for and not getting is that new cycling infrastructure is designed and built to the standards set by the Department for Transport. Is that too much to ask?"

Chris, who will be doing this? It will be the same people who are also trying to do the 20 mph zones, the BRT and RPZ schemes for Jon Rogers all at the same time. Isn't it election time for him next year so I expect he wants it all done NOW. The result will be a fudge up as the council officers rush to do all four major projects at once.

Chris Hutt:
" Another thing the cycling stakeholders are asking is that infrastructure investment should be focused more on the inner city and less on the outer suburbs (where almost all the investment is currently going).Is that asking too much?"

Please give me some examples Chris and define the inner city. I use a nice cycle path from Muller Road to St Werburghs each day is that the outer suburbs? What projects would you like to see in the city centre? A bike lift to avoid Park Street perhaps or have you got something equally ridiculous to suggest?

Chris Hutt:
"My experience is that real change comes from the people and the economy rather than central government. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with the law or road design. It's the attitude of people that matters, especially those driving cars who currently think they literally own the roads."

It's the people and the economy which is at fault here and why there won't be much if any change. The majority of the populace are motorists and so upsetting such a majority of voters for an unpopular minority (us cyclists) is not going to happen. It's all very well with councillors supporting exciting new cycling initiatives but support soon vanishes when the councillors get angry constituents and local businesses bending their ears because they [the angry constituents and local businesses] don't like the scheme, the councillors soon cave in. We live in a democracy which is both a blessing and a terrible curse.

Chris Hutt said...

My understanding is that different people work on different projects so there wouldn't be any overlap between cycling infrastructure, 20 mph, BRT or RPZ until you get to quite a senior level. However at senior level there are problems because they are short of a 'transport supremo' (for want of the proper title) until Peter Mann starts in January.

I don't think it's fair to blame this on Jon Rogers' electoral ambitions. Most of what you mention are ongoing commitments, often on behalf of West of England Partnership, which Jon has recently inherited. They all have a momentum of their own.

As far as I'm aware the only one that Jon Rogers has 'fast tracked' is 20 mph, and good on him for that. But given the controversial aspects of many of these they aren't things anyone would want to rush into for electoral reasons.

Chris, who will be doing this? It will be the same people who are also trying to do the 20 mph zones, the BRT and RPZ schemes for Jon Rogers all at the same time. Isn't it election time for him next year so I expect he wants it all done NOW. The result will be a fudge up as the council officers rush to do all four major projects at once.

"Please give me some examples Chris and define the inner city."

I'd call the St Werburghs path 'inner city', just. But most of what is coming on stream in the next half year or so will be Hartcliffe/Hengrove and around UWE and Parkway in South Glos.

"What projects would you like to see in the city centre?"

In infrastructure terms I think the Clifton Triangle desperately needs sorting out so cyclists can go north-west along Queen's Road. I'd like to see this done as part of a major traffic diversion scheme to reclaim most of Queen's Road from the car and create a high quality public space to compliment the fine building there. You may accuse me of bias since I live in Clifton but I'm sure that such a scheme would go a long way to boost cycling.

There are of course all sorts of other infrastructure changes that could be valuable. I've mentioned for example the potential for creating new bridges over the Cut to improve the links with Southville.

As for the bike lift idea I put that forward in all seriousness. Of course it needs to be established that there are reasonable grounds for expecting it to pay its way but I'm sure its worthy of investigation.

"It's the people and the economy which is at fault here and why there won't be much if any change."

I disagree. The economy is grossly distorted by massive subsidies towards motorised transport and car use. Congestion for example is generated by giving away valuable peak time road space.

Likewise human nature is distorted by the car culture. When people are interacting on foot they share space quite happily even in congested conditions but once in cars they become aggressive and violent.

"It's all very well with councillors supporting exciting new cycling initiatives but support soon vanishes when the councillors get angry constituents and local businesses bending their ears because they [the angry constituents and local businesses] don't like the scheme, the councillors soon cave in."

Agreed. That's why we need a carefully thought through policy and strategy. Something Cycling City has neglected to do.