Monday, 11 January 2010

Why Cycling City is Off Track

Tonight (but see PS below) I get my 15 seconds or so of fame in a TV programme, Inside Out,  going out at 7.30 pm on BBC 1. My brief appearance will be part of a 10 minute slot on Cycling City, also featuring Cllr Jon Rogers and a few other local cycling savants. Basically Jon will be seen shivering out on the St Werburgh's path being upbeat and positive while I will be seen shivering on Hartcliffe Way being critical and negative. We were both interviewed (separately) for about an hour or so, but little of what was said will find its way into the programme, perhaps just a few sound bites to fit the narrative.

One sound bite that I'm sure will be used is when I am asked if Cycling City is succeeding or failing and I reply....well, you guess. So why is it failing? Well in the first place it set itself hopelessly unrealistic targets, especially doubling the number of cyclists within the three years, and so by its own criteria it's bound to fail. If it was merely a question of setting over ambitious targets Cycling City might be forgiven - we've all been there. But the problems are more fundamental than that.

I blogged about these fundamental problems on many occasions but in essence in comes down to a lack of honesty and openness which we can trace back a very long way, through the previous Labour administration of Bristol City Council to Cycling England and Sustrans. All subscribe to the idea that you can and should spin a story even if it has little substance to back it up. The Sustrans National Cycle Network was an outstanding example of this and it was a remarkably successful sleight-of-hand since no one was really in a position to go and comprehensively check on what really existed, before and after NCN, on the ground.

But in Bristol it's different. It is possible for one person to explore all the existing and proposed cycle network and see exactly how existing routes are being presented as new ones (e.g. Hartcliffe Way above). But having based the Cycling City strategy on this deceit it's very difficult for the Council to back out of it - what would be left to give credibility to Cycling City? As it happens the more intangible aspects of Cycling City, like the publicity generated, may well prove to be the more significant in terms of encouraging cycling, but people expect to see physical changes on the ground and they are difficult to deliver, especially within such a short time scale.

PS. Having just posted this, I now hear that this Inside Out feature may be postponed and replaced with a 'snow' special. I'll update if I hear anything more definite.

PPS. Yep, it's confirmed that the Cycling City feature will now go out next Monday instead.


WestfieldWanderer said...

Probably being unnecessarily pedantic but the whole shebang gains little credibility when poor grammar is used:
"We apologies..."

Chris Hutt said...

Well spotted. There have been quite a few of those with Cycling City.

Mr Pedantic said...

Shame the BBC has bounced the schedule for the Cycling City tribute. I was looking forward to seeing it, as there appears to be a lot of progress (see also John Grimshaw's interview on Bikeradar this weekend, which appears very balanced and explains some of the issues with making major changes in a city this size)

Re spelling atrocities - I note that you refer to the Bowns in one of your posts on grit bins, Mr Hutt. Would this be a real location or is it the one most of us Bristolians know as the Downs?

Happy cycling.

Mr Pedantic

Daniel Huff said...

Do you have some past issue with Sustrans, while we're on the subject of openness and honesty?

Chris Hutt said...

Daniel, yes, I have issues with Sustrans. I once worked with/for them, for about 12 years in fact from 1982. I became disenchanted and concerned about the almost exclusive focus on off-road cycling and neglect of on-road cycling, amongst other things.

The Bristol Blogger said...

"The more intangible aspects of Cycling City, like the publicity generated, may well prove to be the more significant in terms of encouraging cycling."

I'm not even sure about this. Publicity and advertising tends to be effective for products people want.

It's widely agreed that if you want to sell things, you go away, find out what people want, produce that product and then advertise and promote it.

Taking an existing flawed product and throwing an advertising and promotional budget will achieve very little.

Chris Hutt said...

Mr Pedantic, well spotted to you too, although I'm suprised you could only find the one error. However there is a difference between hastily typed comments on a blog and the text for a public sign. The latter merits rather more care and, dare I say, proofreading.

According to John Grimshaw (the Bike Radar interview which you refer to) "Bristol have taken a little longer to get going but a huge amount of construction is underway now and I think you'll see real changes by Easter".

We will see, but I don't believe that for one minute. There is just one Cycling City construction project under way that I know of (Hartcliffe Way) and that is of debatable value. There may be one or two more up by UWE and Parkway, but certainly not "a huge amount".

If anyone thinks otherwise then let's have a list of this "huge amount of construction underway now". The lack of such background information is one of the enduring characteristics of Cycling City.

Mr Pedantic said...

There's quite a few schemes under way, according to the roadside signs across Bristol and South Gloucestershire, although I suspect that a few delays will be incurred in this current spate of bad weather - not all contractors are prepared to start works in the snow. Perhaps the proof readers should be sent out with you and Dr Rogers to do some gritting and show them the error of their ways!

It would be good to see some real change by Easter - after 30 years of campaigning you must be looking forward to seeing some results!

Chris Hutt said...

Mr Pedantic, I long ago gave up expecting to see any real change and nothing about Cycling City makes me think any differently. There may be lots of signs, gimmicks and freebies, but what is there of real substance?

Change does take place but incredibly slowly. Government and local authorities are particularly slow to change and only ever play catch up as the public mood moves ahead of them.

Anonymous said...

Cycling city? Bwahahahah! Pull the other one. So we get electric cars sometime in the future, its better as we are not breathing carcinogenic volatile organics but its still a car form factor and the roads will still be choked.
Public transport here is a hideous joke, it just loses so heavily on times, cost and reach.
Does Sustrans have a gritting policy by the way? Maybe cheaper to get spiked tires for my bike.

Gruntle over.