Thursday, 7 January 2010

Get A Grit!

As we wake up today to find that all the slush and water from yesterday's slight thaw has frozen solid to ice, thanks to overnight temperatures that reached -7° C, many of us might have cause to wonder why nothing seems to be done about making at least some of our pavements safe to walk on. Even yesterday late afternoon some predictably lethal patches were claiming victims, like the Richmond Hill/Queen's Road junction highlighted here on Monday.

As also discussed here on Monday, Bristol City Council's policy is to grit the main roads but not the footways (pavements), leaving pedestrians to fend for themselves. The Council's justification for this seems to be that if they did anything for pedestrians at all they would then be held responsible for all pavements, although the same logic does not seem to apply to motorists. There are of course one or two exceptions, like the carefully cleared ramps up to the entrance to the Council House (below). At least they are keeping their own house in order.

All the Council appear to do as far as us lowly pedestrians are concerned is to refer us to their extensive collection of grit bins, although Cotham Councillor Neil Harrison does say on his blog that "Pavements on the main roads get gritted by the manual road cleaners on their normal rota". Well there was precious little evidence of that yesterday. The only pavements that had been cleared appeared to have been done on a piecemeal basis by adjacent shop keepers, as we see below in Park Street, which apart from being a major pedestrian thoroughfare is also rather steep and you might think something of a priority for gritting.

So what about these grit bins. I can confirm that all the ones I inspected (yes, I am that sad) are full of grit, but the grit isn't getting where it's needed because the Council seem to have overlooked a rather vital link in the chain. Just how do they suppose the grit is going to get spread on our pavements? Cheery teams of volunteers working selflessly to improve their communities? A nice idea but unfortunately that's not the nature of our society. So the grit remains untouched in hundreds of grit bins spread around the city.


But what about Cllr Harrison's claim that "Pavements on the main roads get gritted by the manual road cleaners on their normal rota"? It seems we spend £5.5 million of street cleansing, which averages out at about £10,000 a day, enough to employ a hundred or so Street Cleaning Operatives you might think. So what were our small army of Street Cleansing Operatives up to yesterday? I happened across one and followed discreetly for a while (that's about as good as it gets for me these days). Totally ignoring the snow and slush, he busied himself trudging around in a forlorn attempt to find items of litter to pick up. When our streets are crying out for gritting this is just totally stupid (not that I blame the Operative per se - I presume he was just doing as instructed).


By chance I came across some info about York's response to snow and ice. We see that despite being a relatively flat city they appear to have a comprehensive plan which includes treating the pavements on many strategic pedestrian routes with no less than eight downloadable maps showing exactly which pavements will be kept clear. So York's a bit further north and gets more snow, but is that really any excuse for Bristol City Council's comparatively pisspoor response?

Later edit: this post got 'retweeted' on Twitter a fair bit and there is now a #GritforBristol topic.


Jon Rogers said...

Hi Chris

We are putting our effort into keeping the main roads open in what is a difficult, and unusual (for Bristol) prolonged cold spell.

Neil Harrison, Gary Hopkins and I met with officers earlier this week and a number of issues were raised about which more in due course.

You may not be surprised to hear that we all agree that improvements can be made!

Your article is a useful bit of "grit" in the oyster!

Best wishes for 2010


John the Monkey said...

At least you;

1) Have grit bins and
2) Have grit bins that are full.

In that regard at least, Bristol seems ahead of the game...

Anonymous said...

Hmm. Interesting. In Germany (and I believe other places as well) Pavements are thresponsibility of the owner of the building they run past, so I was up this morning sweeping and gritting by our apartment (we take it in turns and it's our week) and getting grit from the grit boxes. It works very well: clear pavements by seven in the morning, or it's the householders fault if somebody is hurt. The gritters were out last night clearing the main roads as well.
They don't clear the cycleways though.

Chris Hutt said...

Jon, I know it's a very difficult situation for Bristol, being unused to these conditions, but -

1. Why on earth aren't Street Cleansing Operatives assigned to gritting pavements, using the grit available in the bins and transporting it in their barrows?

2. Likewise many other council employees whose normal duties can be postponed (for example yesterday the Christmas lights were being disconnected - couldn't that have waited?) or cannot be carried out because of the snow/ice?

3. How about relocating some grit bins (Queen's Road for example) to where they're needed instead of isolated on traffic islands? I would have spread some grit with my bare hands if there had been any available at the location.

What I see is a giant bureaucracy that can't respond to events because nobody can act on their own initiative and they'll all petrified by an obsession with 'health n safety' which ironically means leaving pavements in a treacherous condition.

Adam said...

I did the pavement outside my house and a few houses either side yesterday with a shovel, then I was exhausted so had to stop. Did similar last year but also managed a few crossings and inclines nearby and got some very funny looks while I was doing it. I think only one other person in our whole neighborhood has shoveled the snow from outside their house.

Are people lacking initiative? If it's obvious it's not going to be done by the council (at least this year) then why don't we (those who are fit and able) get on and help themselves and others around them?

As for grit, our nearest bin is quite a distance away and unless you've got a wheel barrow it's impossibke to transport any more than a couple of pockets full at a time.

Jon Rogers said...

Thanks for the comments.

I have had an officer response, first on gritting the council house ramp (which I fully support - it is up to all organisations to do what they can to improve access for public and staff)

"I would say the argument there is that, as an organisation, we were clearing our own forecourt, as we encourage other businesses to do."

Also responded, "Fast roads are dangerous in icy conditions - not just for motorists, but for the pedestrians they may take out at speed as they skid across onto the pavement. So they have to be the priority however unfair it may seem."

Paradoxically, there is evidence that icy road conditions reduces serious "accidents" as drivers naturally adapt their speed to the conditions. I understand that deaths from road traffic incidents goes DOWN in inclement weather!

The much stronger argument for concentrating on the major routes and bus routes is one of mobility. Keeping our city moving. Keeping bus services running. Keeping shops and petrol stations and hospitals operating.

"As the comment from Germany states, most citizens of cold countries are used to taking personal responsibility for the pavement outside their office, home or business. In 20 years without snow we've lost that community spirit a bit - but we need to encourage it to flourish again as it is clearly impractical, and a bit sad, for the council to replace that with our own staff's efforts"

I agree, and we need to be looking how we can improve things.

One suggestion was to stencil the telephone number 0117 922 2100 on all the grit bins, so people know the number to call when grit bin needs replenishing. We can also discuss (but not right now!) whether we have bins in right places, whether we need more (yes!) and whether we can be more speedy at refills.

I am a strong believer in the truism that unless one acknowledges and talks about problems, solutions are not going to happen!

Anonymous said...

Some friends of mine phoned the Council to report that their local grit bin was empty two weeks ago, at the first sign of inclement weather (Corner of Birchall/Fiddes Roads). The response - the Council came and removed the bin! Ridiculous!

Charlie Bolton said...

This is the second time in a year this has happened, albeit I can't remember the last really cold snap prior to that.

As JR knows, I handed in a petition last time asking for action.

I suspect it may have got forgotten as soon as the weather warmed up.

Jon, can you give us assurances it won't get forgotten this time, and you will come up with a plan?

Anonymous said...

I'm glad to hear that you are of the 'look-after-your-own-front-yard' school of thought, Jon - and I do hope you will extend that to ensuring your own ward gets gritted.

St. Paul's might not be top of anyone's priority gritting list at the council, but it sees enormous through traffic from people living here, working here or just parking here so they can pootle off elsewhere. Whilst Stokes Croft has been gritted, virtually all other roads have not - and as for the pavements, well...

Of particular concern is Cave Street/Wilder Street, which is a junction with reduced visibility and of an incline down onto a road with priority. In the current weather this means cars doing anything other than a crawl by the time they get to the give way lines on Cave Street slide across Wilder Street, whether they are turning left or right. I've seen numerous waltzing hatchbacks, some near misses with oncoming traffic AND pedestrians, and a crash into the fence of the car park opposite.

If we don't get a grit run soon, there will be broken bones, and given the speed some still drive along here (including the police, who still seem not to know what the 'Stop' sign at the junction of Wilder & Upper York Streets means), possibly a fatality.

Chris: The street cleaners have been gritting some pathways - I saw them doing so this morning on my way to work, eg 6:45 at the Bear Pit ramps. The team that maintains the Centre has been gritting fairly regularly (since before Xmas). I'm not sure who 'gritted' the Centre between the Alliance & Leicester and Horny Strumpet crossings today, though - that was an almighty fuck-up, creating a dirty, slushy causeway masking thick ice. It was safer walking either side of it on the snow. I saw more people falling over on that stretch of grit than all of the still-snowy parts of the Centre all morning.

Jon Rogers said...

I have asked about the bin "(Corner of Birchall/Fiddes Roads). The response - the Council came and removed the bin! Ridiculous!"

The officer response was...
"I do not understand the removal, will investigate.We have had two reports this morning of grit bins, possibly full being removed by third parties.I believe that they have being stolen and the contents being sold but cannot do much about this."

On a personal note (not council policy!) I know it is a bit anarchic, but can I suggest that where pavements are slippery and dangerous, but the roads are gritted and clear that people walk carefully along the gritted edge of the road towards oncoming traffic, so they can move onto the slush at the side if necessary.

I walked from St Andrews to Clifton last night and walked on the road the whole way, stepping aside if necessary, but my experience was that cars, lorries, taxis and buses slowed and passed me carefully often with a friendly, understanding wave!

Certainly here in St Andrews, families are walking safely down the middle of snowy roads, and cars are slowing and passing carefully.

It is what people do in the country when you are walking or cycling on narrow lanes.


Jon Rogers said...

Bristle said, "I'm glad to hear that you are of the 'look-after-your-own-front-yard' school of thought, Jon - and I do hope you will extend that to ensuring your own ward gets gritted."

In this context, my gritting concern is city wide. My ward gets no special treatment!

In our area, Stokes Croft, Cheltenham Road, Gloucester Road, City Road, Ashley Road, Lower Ashley Road, Ashley Hill, Cromwell Road and Glenfrom Road are covered. The gritting priority routes are published on the council web site.

The teams are doing a great job keeping the city moving.

MJ Ray said...

Some BCC officer writes: "As the comment from Germany states, most citizens of cold countries are used to taking personal responsibility for the pavement outside their office, home or business. In 20 years without snow we've lost that community spirit a bit - but we need to encourage it to flourish again as it is clearly impractical, and a bit sad, for the council to replace that with our own staff's efforts"

It's not that we've lost that community spirit, it's that bloody ambulance-chasers have people scared about getting sued if they clear council paths and someone falls after comments by council officers, MPs and Lords.

I suspect this sort of "we need to encourage it" is an attempt to avoid issuing a direct instruction to residents which would incur some liability.
Would the councils please actively tell people to use their grit bins, so that the council's insurance covers it?

Russell Kirkland said...

Hi John

What about the Bristol to Bath Railway Path?

This is effectively a major thoroughfare for cyclists and pedestrians, yet is not gritted or manually cleared.

Again, what does this say about BCC's commitment to Cycling City status?

badnewswade said...

Can't someone with deep pockets sue them for failing in their duty of care, ie for not gritting?

This is the kind of thing that leads to tax revolts. Why should anyone in this town pay them any money at all? They only seem to spend it on their pet projects, while actually running the city takes a very low priority.