Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Where the real money goes #1

Bristol City Council, who make so much of their aspirations for improving public transport, walking and cycling, are pressing ahead with plans to spend £40 million on a new road linking the A370 at Long Ashton with the A38 and the A4174 Hengrove Way. This will form another element of the Avon Ring Road and will increase the pressure for a further link between Hengrove Way and Hick's Gate on the A4 Bath Road where the Avon Ring Road currently terminates.

View Avon Ring Road in a larger map

To put the money in context £40 million is around 4 times the extra investment allocated to cycling for the whole of greater Bristol through the Cycling City project, which gives you a pretty good idea where their real priorities lie. This £40 million investment in new road infrastructure (£10 million per kilometre!) is just one of many planned and ongoing projects to increase the capacity to accommodate car traffic, which together add up to hundreds of millions of pounds of public investment. Such largesse in favour of the car allows major engineering works to be undertaken (e.g. the viaduct below), the kind of thing that is simply out of the question as far as cycling and walking are concerned.

Of course development of this scale never occurs in isolation and in this case it will be an integral part of the proposed Ashton Park 'urban extension' between Dundry and Long Ashton, which includes the proposed football stadium which is in turn dependent on a major new Tesco at Ashton Gate, or so we are told by the developer. Extra traffic generated by these developments, which include around 10,000 new homes, will probably more than offset the extra road capacity created so congestion is likely to continue to get worse.

Building road infrastructure just locks us even more rigidly into car dependence and makes a transition to a sustainable transport system even more difficult. Ring roads in particular encourage travel around the fringes of a city in patterns that are too dispersed to serve with public transport, walking and cycling. Public transport really only works on radial routes focussed on traditional city centres. Ring Roads undermine those patterns of movement so weakening the viability of existing public transport.

So what are Bristol City Council playing at? Do they have a coherent and sustainable transport policy or is it just a question of making gestures to cycling and walking while continuing with 'business-as-usual' aimed at perpetuating the unsustainable, car orientated growth of Bristol, even though few of us actually want that growth?

Later edit - Stockwood Pete has kindly supplied a link to the West of England Partnership report which the decision was based on . Also worth following up a Pete's earlier blog posts on this.

Laer still edit - The Bristol Blogger is back and has covered this issue too, in his inimitable style.


green tomato said...

Good post Chris, show how all those separate development plans link together.
Isn't it interesting how the article quotes several prominent people as pressing for the road scheme, but not one is an elected representative?

The money for this road will no doubt come from a successful bid from the regional allocation for transport initiatives. This money nearly always gets spent on road projects and is apportioned behind closed doors in an undemocratic manner by a quango. There has been a tendency in the past to bid for road projects not because they are the most needed improvements, but because they have the best chance of getting funding.
It is disappointing to see this trend continuing but I imagine the pressure, both within and without the council house, to put forward such schemes must be intense, and they already have considerable momentum - which those quoted in this article are trying to keep going.
Haven't the LibDem administration said they oppose the southern ring road? In which case why is this road different?

Chris Hutt said...

Good point about the influence of the Ned Cussens and Jon Savages of this world. They represent business interests who want unsustainable growth because it makes them profits. Not that there's anything wrong with making a profit but it shouldn't override everything else and it shouldn't be bolstered by taxpayer subsidies as this road scheme would be.

I should have mentioned that in this instance the City Council are wearing their West of England Partnership hat (along with the other local authorities) but I feel that WoEP is primarily a mechanism for distancing themselves from some of the more controversial decisions, like this road scheme.

No doubt if Jon Rogers were to comment he would say he wasn't keen on the road scheme itself but that we are tied into it through our 'partnership' with the other councils and the likes of John Savage. In that way WoEP serves as a vehicle for by-passing local opposition.

Chris Hutt said...

Even Mark Bradshaw, when he was newly appointed Executive Member for transport in 2007, said he was against the South Bristol Link Road. Then David Bishop started saying it wasn't a road but a transport link or some such weasel-worded term. Now we see another Executive Member go the same way, getting sucked into the system in the belief that BRT is going to change the world.

The BRT is tacked on to try to make it look like something other than a road but orbital BRT routes don't make much sense, especially when the intention is to serve Hengrove by a more direct link to the city centre.

Pete Goodwin said...

This is an extraordinary bit of sleight-of-hand, even by West of England standards.

They had - until now - offered five choices of road and/or rapid transit for the link scheme, (everything else, including 'do nothing' was ruled out). Consultees were invited to say which they preferred, mostly by ticking boxes, though some went into more depth.

The report passed by the transport execs on Thursday looked at the five and promptly ruled out 'rapid transit only' (lack of patronage on this orbital route) and the two longer 'road-only' options. That left a couple of hybrid schemes, both with a new road linking the A38 and the A370, plus the rapid transit. So what did they do? Create a couple of entirely new options, including the rapid transit PLUS the through road.

So the consultation - and the studies that went with it - was about something that never was going to happen. What a bloody waste of everyone's time and money!

Next thing will be (as you say, Chris) to drop the rapid transit component, which was never going to work anyway. I mean, who wants to go from Hengrove Park to the city centre by way of Ashton Gate? They've just been cutting back on the bus services in the Highridge area because they couldn't make them pay.

So there we are, Mr Savage. A ring road delivered at public expense to satisfy your old fashioned notions about business and transport, even in an age of climate change and peak oil.

Chris Hutt said...

Thanks for that excellent analysis Pete. I'm reading through the report you linked to and will add the link to the post. I think you've blogged about this too so I'd be happy to add some links to that too.

The sleight-of-hand in the consultation is familiar stuff, especially not offering a 'do nothing' option or a 'do something else' option. I recall much the same thing with the Avon Ring Road consultation back in the 90s when we were just asked which of two slightly different routes we preferred (neither of which avoided destroying the Railway Path at Siston Common).

Anonymous said...

Not sure if you have the answer to this but what would the carbon reduction be if you could get everyone who is able to cycle and walk to do so for say any trips under 3 miles? (in Bristol)Obviously there are more benefits than pure carbon saving but I would be interested to know and I thought you might, seeing as you know most things to do with 2 wheels.

Chris Hutt said...

Interesting extract from the WoEP report -

"Phasing - Options that include both Rapid Transit and new highway (4 and 5) for both phases could lend themselves to phasing, in that sections and modes could be delivered sequentially. For example, the phase 1 highway link between the A370 and A38 could be delivered first, followed by the full rapid transit and then the phase 2 highway, or vice –versa. However, this would result in an extended construction programme that would not match that in RFA2, which could have an adverse impact
on funding certainty."

That looks to me like a way that the BRT element might be ditched, or at least put on the back burner.

Anonymous said...

I start to wonder if Jon Rogers has gone over to the dark side.

I'm sure the LDs put out a statement saying they opposed the ring road. We not playing the ring road-link road game, are we?

Chris Hutt said...

In fairness to Jon Rogers, he (like Mark Bradshaw before him) can't just tear up everything that's been agreed by the various WoE partners over the previous 5 years or so, at least not without wrecking the partnership working which he hopes will deliver other things which he considers to be of more value (like BRT?).

So I expect he sees the South Bristol Link Road as a necessary evil. It's not easy being a politician because it's all about making compromises, hoping to do a little more good than harm at the end of the day.

Pete Goodwin said...

It was the previous LibDem administration, with Dennis Brown holding the transport portfolio, that changed the name from Ring Road to Link. The Ring Road was in three phases - A370 to A38, A38 to Hengrove (those two being what's being pursued now) and finally from Hengrove roundabout in a wide southern arc to Hicks Gate.

Even without that third controversial leg, the first two do make a ring road - continuing east to Bath Road, then along the A4 either eastwards to Hicks Gate and the Avon Ring Road, or westwards to Arnos Vale and the Inner Ring Road.

Remember too that the 'Callington Road Link' - using the disused railway track between Callington Road and Arnos Vale - is also in the bid programme, just a year behind this one. Gradually, the bits are being put in place.

And if you thought 'Link' was a bit of spin to disguise the fact this is a ring road, take a look at the Regional Spatial Strategy. There, it's called a 'transport outcome'!

Bristol Dave said...

So what are Bristol City Council playing at? Do they have a coherent and sustainable transport policy or is it just a question of making gestures to cycling and walking while continuing with 'business-as-usual' aimed at perpetuating the unsustainable, car orientated growth of Bristol, even though few of us actually want that growth?

I think it's fair to say that most of the council's policies consist of "making gestures".

I have to say even though our views on the car are poles apart I really can't see the point of this road. You can get between the two points the road would join using the A3029 -> A4174. The only bits where it gets really congested, even in rush hour, are at the roundabout by Sainsburys on the Winterstoke Road, and around the one-way system at Parson's green. The A1474 after that has never really been a problem for me, despite only being a single carriageway.

The main advantage of this plan to me would be to link the A370 and the A38, which seems to be where a lot of the traffic on the Winterstoke Road actually ends up, which could be done at presumably a lot less cost because it would be shorter.

The Bristol Blogger said...

Must say I'm with Dave.

What's the point?

How much traffic is traveling from the 38 to the 370 and vice versa?

Surely most traffic is commuter and is traveling from the 38 and 370 into the centre? (Hence pressure at Winsterstoke and Parsons Green).

Then there's airport traffic, which is either going into Bristol or needs the motorway network.

This new road addresses none of this. It's main purpose is to open up south west Bristol greenbelt to development.

Bigwok said...

The whole options consultation is misleading. The road between A370 and A38 has been proposed as part of the urban extension at Ashton Park. The developer already owns large portions of this area and has the rest under option to buy.

If they control the land then I don't really understand how the council can deliver an alternative? There hands are tide unless they want to commence expensive compulsory purchase.

Woodburner said...

"Do they have a coherent and sustainable transport policy?"
Well, no. Not when there is so much money to be made from these huge projects, which is why they get funding - big profits for construction & engineering firms. Cycle City is small beer for big business, so they won't get behind it except in spouting bike wash along with the Council. This is another step towards concreting over everything for us to drive over in our shiny cars which have provided more profits for big business. WoEP is a nasty undemocratic quango which spends our taxes on ever more traffic generating schemes which only, ultimately, benefit the friends of its members.

Bristol Dave said...

This new road addresses none of this. It's main purpose is to open up south west Bristol greenbelt to development

^^ This.

Anonymous said...

Mr Hutt, can you give an answer to the carbon reduction question. It might give some weight to your mission in life.

Cllr Mark Wright said...

Chris, see my post on the BB site for more info on why BRT-only route isn’t enough, but I must pull you up on two things. First, the link road isn’t an “orbital” route – that implies it satisfies a need to get from one suburb of the city to another. Its purpose is to be a direct usable link to the A4/M5/A38/A370 to enable goods transfer into and out of the region. The lack of this is what industry currently says persuades them not to invest in south Bristol. The second is, as pointed out by Green Tomato, this isnt Council money. If we had £40m we almost certainly wouldn’t spend it this way. It is highways money, which much be spent on highways – sad but true. Therefore, we will spend it on the most helpful highways to the deprived areas of south Bristol.

Years ago I was on transport ctte when we were told the highways agency wanted to spend £150m on a new bridge over the Avon and £100m on motorway widening, all to help take local traffic off the M5 and cut congestion. I pointed out that with £250m we could build an integrated public transport system in Bristol that would draw the local traffic off the motorways anyway. The response was that we wont be getting any public transport money form the govt. You had to laugh. This is the way public finance works in this country – the lack of proper localisation in tax-raising and spending means that bureaucrats in Whitehall who know nothing about the local road network get to decide what is spent where.

Re: suggestion that the BRT element will be ditched – I bloody hope not!

Chris Hutt said...

Anon, I have no idea how much CO2 might be avoided if all sub-3 mile journeys were walked or cycled.

I would research it if I thought it was important, but I don't.

To my mind there are far more important reasons for encouraging walking and cycling, and discouraging car use, like improvements to the quality of urban life, increased physial fitness, etc.

CO2 emissions arise from many sources and car use over short distances is unlikely to be a very significant source anyway.

Chris Hutt said...

Mark W,

As you know I've responded to your comments over on the Bristol Blogger (http://bit.ly/2PuFEA). But I'll also respond here to those points not covered elsewhere.

1. On radial/orbital, I would have thought the SBLR was obviously orbital, although it might be used as part of longer radial journeys or even as an alternative to a more direct radial route that is congested.

My point was that public transport running over radial routes (like SBLR) rarely attracts much patronage, a point acknowledged in the report to the WoEP.

Equally radial cycle routes are far more useful than orbital ones, as can be seen on the Railway Path for example where the radial section through east Bristol is much more heavily used for utility (as opposed to recreational) cycling than the orbital section through Warmley.

2. I take your point that the funding mechanisms do not allow you much freedom of choise about such infrastructure investments. But you could ensure that increased road capacity arising from the new road was at least offset by traffic restraints on other roads.

3. The WoEP report indicates that funding for the road element and the BRT element might not be simultaneously available. On that basis it's quite possible that the road might get built and the BRT not, especially if the more direct BRT route from the city centre to Hengrove is progressed.

If that were the case the BRT alignment would be available for a second carriageway (especially the railway crossing), so the road could be expanded to a dual carriageway.

Anonymous said...

To my mind there are far more important reasons for encouraging walking and cycling, and discouraging car use, like improvements to the quality of urban life, increased physial fitness, etc.

I couldnt agree with you more. What a privileged society we have, to be able to campaign on such issues. The nature of being rich I guess.

Chris Hutt said...

I don't think campaigning on such issues is only applicable to 'rich' societies. In fact quality of life issues are more important to poorer people because they often don't have a means of escape.

Besides this society is rapidly becoming less rich in comparison to the rest of the world with the decline in the value of the pound. Since we've exported most of our manufacturing capacity to China that relative decline may well continue for some time.

We may soon find ourselves increasingly dependent on providing education and tourism for wealthier countries which is perhaps another reason for making our urban areas less degraded by traffic and improving non-car transport options.

Anonymous said...

Have you been to Sub-Saharan Africa recently. I think there are bigger issues to campaign on. Cycling and walking campaigning is not at the top of the agenda for many of the world's poor. That is my point.

Anonymous said...

"Besides this society is rapidly becoming less rich in comparison to the rest of the world with the decline in the value of the pound."

I still feel pretty lucky to be honest!

Chris Hutt said...

I've never been to Africa, or Asia, but even if I had I doubt whether my 'understanding' of the situation there would have any more validity.

From what I have read, heard and seen via the media I would have thought that the safety of cycling and walking were even more serious issues in the third world than here.

For example in India, pop 1.1 billion, an estimated 270 people die each day from road collisions, overwhelmingly from the poorer classes and cyclists and pedestrians.

That's almost 100,000 people killed each year in India alone, more than double the per capita death rate in the UK.

The situation is similar in most developing countries, which account for nearly 90 percent of the world's 1.2 million road deaths annually.

Road collisions will soon constitute the world's third-largest health problem in terms of disabilities, death, and lost wages.

So objectively campaigning for safe cycling and walking should be right at the top of the agenda for the world's poor.

Anonymous said...

Take your campaign to the UN, I am sure Kofi will agree with you. 8 million people die through poverty every year. But I do believe your passion for cycling and walking is too great for any dicussion to take place. I guess you are fanatical. Cycling and walking is your mantra, maybe look up once in a while and see the world out there. But I think that is the trouble with the cycling world, it becomes so introspective it turns those who see the benefits of cycling off joining the campaign.(I am a cyclists) BTW Not sure cycling and walking is banded around too much as the answer to poverty reduction, not that I have read anyway. Maybe it could be the answer to the developing world's problems, then again maybe it is a tad more complex.