Monday, 4 January 2010

Priorities Made Plain

However much Bristol City Council might talk up how important they think walking and cycling, their true priorities are laid bare for all to see when the snow falls. Here we have a view of Queen's Road, Clifton, from 1 p.m. on 21st December, a little more than 12 hours after the snowfall. The main roads are of course clear and operating normally but the pavement in the foreground at the junction with Richmond Hill, the main walking route from Clifton, remains untreated and walkers are already sliding around as the snow is compacted to ice.

This location is notorious for becoming treacherous for walkers after snow falls since it is heavily used, slopes markedly and is shaded from the winter sun by the adjacent block of flats. Yet there isn't even a grit bin at this location. One of the nearest grit bins is located on a traffic island by the Victoria Rooms (visible as a yellow lump in the distance below), convenient for use on the road but hopelessly inconvenient for the footways. Even four days later no attempt had been made to deal with the ice, other than to wait for a thaw, and the pavement remained treacherous.

 Down at the Docks it's a similar story. The south side quays are largely shaded by adjacent buildings from the low winter sun and by 25th December the snow had turned to an almost continuous sheet of ice and remained so for days afterwards. And this at a time of year when a walk, jog or bike ride around the Docks would be a very popular and necessary recreation. But the ice has clearly put so many people off, not to mention those who've ended up in hospital with sprains or fractures. Should it not be part of the duties of the Harbour Master to ensure that quay sides are kept safe for walking, jogging and cycling, the main ways in which most people interact with the Docks?

The Council's policy appears to be to grit and clear the main road network, but not including footways or cycleways, however important they may be. That is simply inconsistent with their new rhetoric about encouraging cycling and walking. This coming week, with sub-zero temperatures forecast for every night and some sleet and snowfalls, will see many more 'accidents' as people follow the Council's exhortations to walk or cycle to work. We have the right to expect strategic walking and cycling routes to be identified and treated in the same methodical way as the strategic routes for motor vehicles.

PS - It seems the Evening Post take a similar view.  Oh dear.


SteveL said...

You may be able to get some stats from our local NHS representatives on the #of people turning up with injuries -you'd need to compare it with a normal christmas week.

sued said...

I have to go into the parks (Eastville/Snuff Mills/Oldbury Court) to exercise my dogs, and they've remained lethally slippery. Usually there are hordes of people walking on Christmas day afternoon, but this year only the foolhardy were venturing out on the ice. The city has shown its true colours I think. As long as the roads work, to hell with what happens when you step from your car on to an ice rink! There was much puclicity given to the heroic efforts of the gritting teams before Christmas, but you'd think cars were the only things that mattered from the coverage. Staying home because of the treacherous conditions just isn't an option, we all need to get out to shop, work etc and can't do those things in our cars, we have to get out at some point!

Paul said...

Hi Chris,

Have to agree the gritting situation when it got cold the past couple of weeks has been pretty non-existent. I had to walk the Queens Road route on a couple of occasions and to say it was difficult was an understatment.

For the first couple of days there was pretty much no gritting done at all, roads or pavements.

Is the gritting of pavements a manual process or is there a device similar to a road gritter that can be used?

Chris Hutt said...

Paul, if you have a look at David Hembrow's blog ( or the Copenhagenise blog you'll see that paths (usually cycle paths in those cases) can be cleared mechanically where there's a political will.

However I believe it's still customary in many Germanic counctries for householders to clear the snow from footways in front of their houses (as I did here on 21st - it's easy when the snow is still flaky).

We can't expect the Council to clear all roads and footways but they should identify a strategic network and specific trouble spots (e.g. steep slopes) for walking routes as for motoring routes.

Paul said...

Hi Chris,

Thanks for the link, very interesting.

Very much agree about the strategic network and specific trouble spots for walking routes being treated as motoring routes.

I think part of the problem is funding. In the UK we are geared up for maybe dealing with 2/3(?) days of snow a year. This year there has been more, but some years there is less. If we wanted the Council to be able to deal with a potential 10/12 days of snow a year this would obviously have to be funded from somewhere.

At the moment people expect the Council to be able to deal with 2/3 days of snow, anymore and there is almost an acceptance by the public that travel will be made difficult, routes will be blocked, paths will remain covered etc...

I'm not sure if it is possible but are the figures for how much Copenhagen has budgeted for bad weather conditions compared to Bristol available?

Charlie Bolton said...

I handed in a petition a year ago calling for more gritting of footpaths.

I asked the great JR about it not so long ago. Wonder what happened?

Docsavage said...

our street remains lethal, I've salted the pavements outside us and on the sloping corner but there's still enough to bring down the OAP's and unsuspecting who attempt to leave their houses!

on another point, today the icy experience was made doubly interesting on my bike by the number of motorists who wouldn't move out of the' tracks ' on the side streets, they expect you (cycle/pedestrian) to make room. Add to this the number of cars driving with just a letterbox sized hole scraped in their frosty windscreens and you wonder about just staying home and going back to bed.

SteveL said...

I scraped the snow in a path outside my house, three days later was out with the ice axe getting rid of the nicely frozen layer of meltwater that had refrozen. But I think I was the only person in my road who did either.

I think the pavements were all left alone assuming that we would still clean our pavements like happy little citizens in the blitz sweeping up the mess after another night, or they assumed that the cold spell would not last and that waiting for things to melt was the right option.

All the side roads suffered as much as the pavements.

Jane Hopkins said...

On the Wednesday before Christmas when the pavements became lethally icy, I attempted to walk to the bus-stop for work (cycling was not possible). I slipped and broke a bone in my wrist. Frenchay Hospital's Accident Department was packed with patients with fractures, sprains and joint dislocations of all ages. The health cost of not gritting pavements must be huge.

Jon Rogers said...

Luckily the priorities for gritting are not the same as the overall priorities for transport.

My first briefing of the New Year includes an item on gritting. Thanks for all the feedback!

(It will also be my first with Peter Mann, our new Transport Director)

Charlie reminded me a month or so ago about his petition to increase gritting particularly of cycle paths.

Officers had apparently decided that no change in policy was indicated, but as I hinted some weeks ago, there is now to be a small policy change. I am awaiting detail and confirmation, but I think it will be a step in the right direction.

In the light of the experience of the last couple of weeks there are a number of questions I will be asking.

The point made by Jane Hopkins of the high NHS cost is one worth exploring with our NHS colleagues.

I have had anecdotal resident reports that some of the grit bins are being filled up again. Can people use to report empty or low bins?

I have also asked about the legal position of residents cleaning the path outside their house. One rumour was that if you cleared the path and someone fell you could be liable!

I think that we need a clearer policy and improved information sharing. I was asked on BBC Radio Bristol on Christmas Eve to publish a list of the priority gritting routes and officers, who are perhaps starting to get used to these "strange" requests, had the PDF map live on the net by lunchtime.

Any other ideas, suggestions or questions much appreciated.


Chris Hutt said...

Jon, thanks for the response.

I think Jane Hopkins' comment is very telling. I've slipped several times on ice myself but managed not to fall yet. But imagine how it is for elderly people or those less used to walking over uncertain terrain. While cycling I've noticed that off-road paths are particularly treacherous. I guess everyone out on foot or bike must be experiencing much the same thing.

So as you and SteveL say we need to get feedback from hospitals on the numbers being injured from falls to see how serious the problem is. Then the question is what, if anything, can or should the Council do.

We can't expect the council to keep all roads and paths clear of ice, but my guess is that the majority of the problems occur in specific locations where the winter sun doesn't reach and where moisture and standing water does not evaporate. Surely some of these 'black spots' could be identified, perhaps by the public using interactive mapping?

Chris Hutt said...

Jon, your colleague Gary Hopkins has posted a comment about this on Charlie Bolton's blog, as follows -

"The problem Councils have is that whilst the public accept,although not happily, that there has to be a priority for main rds and that their side Rd might not get done it would be a minefield if some pavements were done and not others.
The cost would be interesting to say the least."

I find the logic of that position rather dubious. Surely strategic walking and cycling networks could be identified and prioritised in the same way as is done for roads?

MJ Ray said...

@Jon Rogers - Liability for falls after grit bin use is a bit stronger than a rumour, with comments from MPs like and Lords like - I hope you find information to the contrary, but would the Lib Dems clarify this law if they could?

Cllr Mark Wright said...

Bristol is one of the most snow-free urban areas in the UK, and since the effects of global warming really kicked off in the 80's we have been spared snow so often that people my age are a generation who don't really know how to deal with the cold...

I wonder how people used to manage 100 years ago? Did they wear studded shoes? ;-) Cobbles are even worse in the ice - my wife slipped badly the other day on cobbles while delivering leaflets for me. (Bless her!) I also skidded off my scooter on black ice as well just before Christmas. Luckily I was only going about 7mph because I suspected trouble was in store, but the road was so icy I couldn't stop crashing over even with my legs down on the road.

Gritting pavements, while quite possibly opening up a can of worms (re liability etc) is something that probably should be considered for key routes. Part of the problem is that Bristol is so hilly, and some key routes become impassable in the ice - e.g. Park St, St Michael's Hill - because there isn't even the option of walking in the road there... unless you want to run the gauntlet of buses and double-parked delivery lorries!

Meybe we should consider key commuting routes (many of which will be in Cabot :-) ), outside shopping precincts, and paths from elderly people's homes to the nearest shop/bus-stop.

I'm not sure that we would have the resource or cash to do beyond that, given that lots of people really want more roads (i.e. their own road) done also.

Jane Hopkins said...

At 1415 today (Tuesday, 5th), I passed two empty grit bins - one at the Nugent's Hill/Sydenham Lane junction and the other at Nugent's Hill/Arley Hill Junction. If we have another big freeze tonight, as forecast, on top of the wet sleet that has fallen today, that whole area will become impassable for all as it was before and during Christmas.

Des Bowring said...

I can remember when we had mild winters - you could have a BBQ in the garden and
only wear 3 layers. Tell that to kids today and they won't believe you....

Libby Miller said...

Thanks for the info Jon (and all) -
I just found a map of bristol grit bins (here though you need to set a larger scale map to see them). I've not seen any bins in Montpelier (maybe just missed them though - and some nice people have gritted the worst parts anyway, so they must have got it from somewhere). This google map that someone's made for Sutton is rather nice.

Libby Miller said...

Sorry, I should have read the original post more closely - thanks for the map too, Jon. Just wish I could link to something that shows the specific area and the correct resolution like the Sutton gmaps one.

Chris Hutt said...

Libby, you can alter the Pinpoint map to whatever scale you want and to cover whatever area of Bristol you want. It's not as user friendly as Google maps but there are menus there is you look for them.

steve said...

Good on you for highlighting this Chris.
Personally I see nothing wrong with residents clearing the pavement outside their house after a snow fall, if the council would help by dropping off piles of grit in appropriate places.
In less residential areas, then the council should make clearing pavements a priority as many important people have to leave their cars in distant places and walk to work (sorry, thought I was on Bristol Traffic).
NHS stats and injuries: Sunday was the busiest day ever at Frenchay Emergency Department, due to ice related injuries. I imagine the same is true elsewhere and I have been told the ambulance service have had a record number of calls over the last two weeks.

MJ Ray said...

@Cllr Mark Wright asked "I wonder how people used to manage 100 years ago? Did they wear studded shoes?"

I think so, basically. Hobnails might help until the ice gets too hard.

I'm finding deep-tread boots sufficient if I walk with a wooden staff. Gets me some odd looks, but it saved me falling twice.

SteveL said...

Hobnail boots were used in mountaineering up until the 1930s, the first successful climb of the Eigernordwand by Heinrich Harrer and others marked the emergence of crampons as a new tool in the arsenal of the ice-climber's portfolio.

Now, I do have a nice pair of italian crampons, but it is not only overkill to use them, but the tarmac will wear them down. The ice is too shallow.

Chris Hutt said...

I was thinking of strapping some kind of wire netting to my boots. I'm already using my walking pole even if it makes me look even more of an old man.

Stefan said...

You might want to check out these things in the icy weather.

My sister put me onto them after she moved to Newfoundland.