Thursday, 30 October 2008

Rewriting History

Bristol City Council's Simon Caplan must be feeling more than a little embarrassed about the press release that has now been ridiculed on several Bristol blogs because he's only gone and altered it after the event. For comparison here's the original version and here's the new version. Both versions bear the date of 23rd October, although the second version appeared yesterday, 29th October.

I've not been through it properly yet but one difference is that "This narrow swing bridge ... has a slim pavement on one side only.." has become "This narrow swing bridge ... has a slim pavement on each side only...". That change was expected because the first statement was so demonstrably untrue. Mr Caplan has also added his name as the author and added the following paragraph -
Some inaccurate and misleading reports in local media have wrongly suggested that the changes will ban motorists completely from the bridge. This is not the case - and road access via Prince Street Bridge will continue to be available in both directions..
There is surely an important point of principle here. Press releases are the main instrument by which the Council informs the public of its activities and so must have some status as documents of record. Anyone looking at the press release will naturally think they are seeing what was issued to the media on 23rd October, but they will be seeing a version amended almost a week later. There does not appear to be any note to say that the original has been amended. This is clearly liable to mislead.

The City Council surely have a legal obligation, not to mention a moral one, to be honest in its dealings with the public. Senior officers such as Simon Caplan must surely understand that. So how can he have made those amendments without giving clear advice that the press release had been amended, together with an explanation for his reasons for doing so and a link to the original press release? I'm no expert on these matters but to my simple way of thinking this is plain wrong.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

A Pack of Lies

You know how it is when you read a newspaper report about something that you happen to know about and you're aghast at how many facts are just plain wrong, not to mention the malicious spin put on it to serve editorial purposes. So it is with Bristol City Council press releases.

The press release which contained the revelation about Prince Street Bridge having just one footway is in fact a masterpiece of deception with no less than ten misleading or untrue statements within its 16 paragraphs. Here's a breakdown.

Para 1. "the city council and its partners prepare ... to turn the south west's biggest city into one of the best places in Europe to be on a bike."

Wrong. It's ludicrous to claim that Bristol could become one of Europe's best places to cycle. It's never going to be in the same league as cities like Copenhagen (dk), Malmo (se), Amsterdam (nl), Ferrara (it), Basel (ch) and Muenster (de).

Para 2. “Plans …. include two new major ‘off-road’ commuter routes”

Wrong. The off-road routes proposed are not "new" but upgrades or extensions of existing routes and not even major ones at that.

Para 4. “Councillor Mark Bradshaw… said: Our city already has a tremendous range of facilities and routes for cycling”

Wrong. With the exception of the Railway Path, facilities and routes for cyclists are widely regarded as poor quality and ill-thought out.

Para 7. “The city council is prepared to take some tough decisions, such as tackling safety concerns on Prince Street Bridge”

Wrong. The tough decision would have been to close the bridge entirely to cars and assign one half to walkers and the other to cyclists. As it is they’ve opted for the easy option of keeping it open to cars and forcing cyclists and walkers to share an inadequate width.

Para 9. “One of the new ‘off-road’ routes proposed …. will link the city centre with Lockleaze …. via a new path between Hopetown (sic) Road in St Werburgh’s and Muller Road, Horfield.”

Wrong. The path from Hopetoun Road to Muller Road already exists and has been used by cyclists for 20 years or more.

Para 10. “The other new ‘off road’ route ….. will enable cyclists to travel into the city centre from south Bristol via Hartcliffe Way and an improved Malago Greenway”

Wrong. Cyclists can already cycle this route and have been doing so for 20 years. Upgrading the route does not make it “new”.

Para 12. “The first phase of Cycling City work also proposes to deliver an improved route for cyclists and pedestrians alike across the city’s Prince Street bridge.”

Wrong. There is no evidence that the route will be improved for cyclists who will find themselves forced onto half the width they currently enjoy and probably into conflict with pedestrians.

Para 12. “This narrow swing bridge over the historic Floating Harbour has a slim pavement on one side only and poses a danger for cyclists…”

Wrong. There are pavements on both sides and there is no evidence of significant danger from this to cyclists.

Para 12. “The Cycling City proposal will see the introduction of more space for cyclists …”

Wrong. Cyclists will have less space than they enjoy at present and it isn't even clear how pedestrians will benefit.

Para 13. “Initial improvements … will include new direction and information signs for the popular Bristol to Bath ‘Railway’ Path through eastern and central Bristol”

Wrong. The Railway Path does not go “through” central Bristol, just east Bristol.

As if all that wasn't enough the author of the press release, Simon Carplan, made a comment on the Bristol Blogger site yesterday complaining that his colleague Kate Hartas had been criticised for writing the misleading press release when in fact he had written it (but not put his name to it).

Carplan went on to claim that "the decision to focus on the proposals for Prince Street Bridge in this piece of publicity .... was deliberate and designed to ensure that the council were open and honest with the public about the scheme". But the news about Prince Street Bridge is hardly the focus of the press release, that being Cycling City.

It would be closer to the truth to say that the Prince Street Bridge news was ‘buried away’ inside the Cycling City news. It doesn’t get a mention until the 7th para and isn’t dealt with until 12th para. That doesn’t sound like a “focus on the bridge” to me, given that they knew very well that it was easily the most contentious element.

And it really is stooping low to try to ‘blame’ the Prince Street Bridge restrictions on cyclists so we get the flak in the Evil Post. Cyclists, rightly or wrongly, get a lot of resentment from motorists and pedestrians. Fanning the flames by saying the traffic restrictions are required to benefit cyclists is hardly consistent with the stated aims of Cycling City.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Robbing Peter to pay Paul

The latest twist in the Prince Street Bridge saga leaves some questions unanswered. In the first place why did Bristol City Council's Press Release claim that the bridge had only one footway when it plainly has two? A simple mistake? Yes, a mistake to put that in the Press Release but there must be something behind it, such as a plan showing only one footway, a plan of what the council intend perhaps.

So why would the council want to remove the east side footway? To widen the carriageway to allow wider vehicles, like buses, through? It certainly fits with their intention to create a BRT route from Ashton Vale to Emerson's Green via Prince Street Bridge and Temple Meads. Adapting the existing bridge would be vastly cheaper and quicker than having to build a new bridge and we know how anxious Bristol are to force BRT through quickly in the face of growing public scepticism.

Given that the west side footway is already unable to accommodate the number of pedestrians crossing, removal of the east side footway would only be possible if the west side footway were substantially widened, which can only be done at the expense of the roadway on that side, effectively closing it to motor traffic.

So there we have the rational for the changes. BRT is the driver, the overriding demand which is providing the impetus for the council to finally confront the Evening Post fronted car lobby. Previous attempts to restrict car access to Prince Street Bridge on behalf of cyclists and pedestrians haven't got anywhere, despite quite widespread support, so something has clearly changed.

On Friday the Evening Post responded to the proposal in its characteristic pro-car, anti-cyclist manner with the front page headline "FARCICAL" below a picture of the hapless Mark Bradshaw standing in front off the bridge. An editorial chimed in with outrage that half the bridge should be given over to "the minority of people who cycle into the city" calling the partial closure to cars "spiteful, short-sighted and wholly without merit". Strong language indeed.

But then on Saturday the tone changes dramatically with a piece acknowledging that opinion is divided and quoting some supporters of the proposed partial closure. It seems that little opposition is likely to materialise, even from Richard Eddy's Conservatives. So has someone had a whisper in Post editor Mike Norton's shell like, perhaps explaining that this is really paving the way for the all-important BRT, which Norton supported so strongly when launched early this year?

And what about cyclists, who are supposed to be the principal beneficiaries of the scheme. Apart from taking all the flack for this "spiteful" scheme, what's in it for us? We will effectively lose the right to use the east side roadway and will find ourselves competing for space with pedestrians within the 3.5 metre width of the west side of the bridge, which at peak times could provoke a lot of conflict. Is that a benefit? I'm not at all sure, but for sure we will be paying for it all to the tune of £40,000 out of Cycling City funds.

Maintaining the status quo at Prince Street Bridge just isn't an option anymore, so the real question is not whether but how it changes. Compared to the alternative of complete closure to motor traffic and the allocation of one half to pedestrians and the other to half to cyclists, what is now planned is bad news for cyclists and pedestrians and good news for motorists, who will at least retain use of the bridge. Perhaps that was the message that finally got through to Mike Norton.

(See below for lead post and also Bristol Traffic , Southville Roads and Bristol Blogger.)

Saturday, 25 October 2008

A bridge too narrow?

Bristol City Council have finally summoned up the courage to push through changes to bring to an end the intolerable situation on Prince Street Bridge (map) where large numbers of pedestrians have to use footways just 1 metre wide, too narrow for two people to pass comfortably, with traffic passing just inches away.

Previous attempts to resolve this situation have seen the Council back down in the face of objections from some motorists, vociferously articulated through the Evening Post, who believe that any restriction of car traffic on Prince Street Bridge will have a knock-on effect elsewhere, mainly on the nearest alternative route crossing the Floating Harbour via Redcliffe Bridge.

Significantly widening the narrow footways is not possible without displacing motor traffic since the adjacent roadways are themselves only 2.4 metres wide (the width of a bus) and wide vehicles are already prohibited. The Council also want to run buses over the bridge as part of their proposed BRT route from Ashton Vale to Temple Meads which would not be possible with the current arrangement.

The Council Press Release attempted to slip the news out buried in with lots of other detail of measures proposed for the initial stages of the Cycling City project, but it seems that the Evening Post spotted it and gave it front page treatment under the headline "farcical", backed up with a biased editorial comment, in line with its previously hostile and extremely partial coverage. The relevant section of the Press Release is -
"The first phase of Cycling City work also proposes to deliver an improved route for cyclists and pedestrians alike across the city's Prince Street bridge. This narrow swing bridge over the historic Floating Harbour has a slim pavement on one side only and poses a danger for cyclists, pedestrians and motorists as they compete for limited road space. The Cycling City proposal will see the introduction of more space for cyclists and pedestrians on the same side as the existing footpath, with traffic lights providing alternative one way working for motorists - carefully managed to keep traffic moving smoothly during peak hours."
Of course the Council managed to get the facts wrong, stating that "This narrow swing bridge over the historic Floating Harbour has a slim pavement on one side only". Really? As the pictures here show it has footways on both sides. So where did they get this notion that it only has one footway from? My guess is that they've let slip that they intend to remove one of the two footways in order to allow buses to cross.

If so then it looks as if all the pedestrians and all the cyclists are going to be pushed onto the west (left in pics) half of the bridge which is only 3.5 metres wide overall. During peak times pedestrian and cycle flows are already large and likely to grow, especially if conflict with motor traffic is diminished and the route from Southville (Gaol Ferry Bridge) to the centre and Harbourside (via Pero's Bridge) become increasingly attractive.

Two-way cycle and pedestrian paths each need to be at the very least least 2 metres wide if conflict is to be avoided and when flows are as high as they are in this case at least 2.5 metres would be indicated. So there is clearly no chance of accommodating separate cycle and pedestrian paths of adequate width.

What about a common shared path then? This would be the optimal way of using the restricted width (so probably not what is planned!) and would be similar to the situation on Pero's Bridge (width 3 metres), but given the higher flows of commuters in a hurry, and especially the much higher number of cyclists, it must be questioned whether this is wise.

At present cyclists have the use of 2.4 metre roadways in each direction and pedestrians have 1 metre paths on both sides. The proposed changes, if they include scrubbing the east side footway as suspected, will effectively halve the overall width available to cyclists and pedestrians combined, yet the Press Release claims "The .. proposal will see the introduction of more space for cyclists and pedestrians...". Only Bristol City council could manage such an absurd claim.

However the 3.5 metres is sub-divided between cyclists and pedestrians we both will end up with less space than we currently enjoy, albeit replacing conflict with cars for conflict with each other. There have been many earlier examples of the Council attempting to 'improve' conditions for cyclists by forcing them onto footways where they come into conflict with pedestrians and such conflict is becoming an issue of major public concern. Do we really want more of it?

There is an alternative. If both halves of Prince Street Bridge were closed to motor traffic and one half (the west side) allocated exclusively to pedestrians and the other exclusively to cyclists both would enjoy relaxed and safe conditions. A complete closure to motor traffic would also improve conditions on the approaches to the bridge as Wapping Road would then become largely motor traffic free rather than full of queuing cars with engines running.

Needless to say the Evening Post and certain businessmen based in Queen's Square would go ballistic if faced with such a proposal, but sooner or later that reactionary attitude has to be confronted if we are to make any real progress towards a civilised and healthy city environment, so why not now?

Cycle commuters waiting for Prince Street Bridge to open in 1964.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Signs of the times

Bureaucrats like signs. Signs give them the illusion of doing something about a problem without actually having to go out and confront real people, sparing us the interference in our lives. Signs serve a further useful purpose in giving us some insight into how the bureaucratic mind works, as in this example in front of the new Museum of Bristol on Harbourside.

In the beginning the bureaucrats were well intentioned, with the recognition that this quayside is an important and popular cycle route, despite the obvious hazard of the railway lines. The quayside is normally much wider but work on the new Museum of Bristol has required about half the width to be fenced off , so taking away much of the space cyclists need to manoeuvre around pedestrians and across the rails, which have to be crossed at an angle approaching 90° to avoid the wheel slipping into the groove.

Just to compound the problem the Council have since placed a rubbish bin at a crucial pinch point where the railway points restrict the options for cyclists still further and they are allowing cars to be parked on the narrowed quayside. Not surprisingly all this is causing cyclists some difficulties, so what is the response of our Cycling City fathers? You guessed it, more signs!

The original sign sensibly dedicating the quayside as a shared path was first supplemented by the blue sign saying "cyclists are advised to dismount", but apparently this didn't protect the bureaucratic backsides adequately so we now have the yellow sign saying simply "cyclist (sic) dismount" (presumably to read through and interpret the plethora of conflicting signs).

So when the inevitable accidents happen the bureaucrats can blame the cyclist for being so foolish as to have cycled on a dedicated cycle route when clearly and unambiguously advised not to. Much simpler for them than actually doing something practical like finding a sensible location for the rubbish bin or banning car parking on the narrowed quayside, let alone temporarily filling in the grooves of the rails. It seems that "consider other path users" applies to us but not to them.

But the Council are learning from their past mistakes. The newest sections of Harbourside quayside to be opened to the public on the opposite side of the water have a simple and uncomplicated message for cyclists - NO CYCLING.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Parking Round Up

Results from the Residents Parking Scheme survey carried out this summer may emerge this Thursday when the Sustainable Development and Transport Scrutiny Commission receive a verbal report which may tell us which areas have shown support for the proposed RPS. If so this will catapult the issue back into the headlines so it seems timely to revisit the parking issue.

Bristol Traffic and Southville Roads continue to do excellent work highlighting just how hopeless the situation has become with almost universal contempt shown for parking regulations which simply aren't enforced. Southville Roads has raised its game by printing business cards which can be left on windscreens to congratulate motorists on their inclusion in the blog.

Thanks to those blogs there's now quite a substantial database of offenders building up which opens up the possibilities for Parking Snap! For example Bristol Traffic identified this monstrosity contributing to congestion around Clifton -

- while I've just recorded it in its regular 'home' in the middle of a pedestrian refuge near the Cumberland Basin. So Googling WR56UUH will soon produce a growing collection of entries for this one.

We can also have a little competition to see which area of Bristol exhibits the worst parking behaviour. I'm specialising in Clifton, Hotwells and Harbourside but my more occasional forays into other areas produce some interesting results, particularly around Ashton Gate on match days. Here's V960JBH showing how to put Bristol City Council's investment in safe and convenient pedestrian crossings to good use, just outside the City ground.

Back on my regular patch Ambra Vale provides rich pickings, with the inevitable Range Rover T525AJB obliging by almost completely obstructing the pavement -

- while Fiat OV58EYK sets a new paradigm for avoiding parking on double-yellows. Just park in the middle of the road, why don't you. Actually I shouldn't complain about this since it provides cyclists with a convenient, protected traffic-free lane to negotiate the steep climb.

Finally we have a rare thing, what appears to be an official sign forbidding pavement parking, this one down on Broad Weir near Carboot Circus.

However the affect is somewhat spoiled by the police car WX07VDG parked on the pavement just 50 metres away!

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Carboot Circus eclipsed

Carboot Circus, barely 2½ weeks old, is about to face a newer, bigger more avaricious competitor. At the end of this month the Westfield Centre in west London opens and is set to put poor little Carboot Circus firmly in the shade. It's everything that Carboot Circus is, but much more so. Westfield Centre has 1.6 million square feet of space, 260 stores, 50 restaurants, a 13 screen cinema, parking for 4,500 cars, several new tube, rail and bus stations (60% of visitors are expected to use public transport) and is costing £1.6 billion to build.

Westfield is aiming for exactly the same market as Carboot Circus, with 'anchor' stores including House of Fraser, Marks & Spencers, Debenhams, Next and Waitrose, plus a range of prestigious high-end names like Louis Vuitton in its exclusive 'Village' area (definitely no peasants). It also has a wavy roof of glass panels, multi-levels and proper hanging gardens, but that much more impressive in scale. If you believe such nonsence, it will create 7,000 new jobs (or rather transfer them from other ares, including no doubt a few from Carboot Circus).

Carboot Circus made much of their catchment area extending to areas like Swindon and the Cotswolds, but for such areas west London is only a little further and public transport connections are that much better. So many shoppers, particularly the high spenders for whom train fares are small beer, may look disdainfully at Westfield's poor imitation in Bristol. Carboot Circus' brief reign as having a unique style is already coming to an end.

Meanwhile Carboot Circus suffered another mishap on Sunday evening when a power cut halted the showing of films at the Showcase Cinema, forcing hundreds of customers to be ushered out. Another example of over hasty construction leading to faults?

Welcome to Southville Roads

I'm not sure if I started it all back on May 18th, but some of my earliest sidebar posts were pictures of badly parked cars, followed by my first blog on parking on 1st June. The excellent Bristol Traffic promptly took up the theme and has since turned it into an art form with creative sarcasm. Now my Google searches have picked up another blog on the same theme - Southville Roads - started at the beginning of September. I've added a link to my sidebar.

I like his style (assuming it's a he - it usually is since women generally have better things to do with their time than vent their frustrations via a blog), not quite as wryly detached as Bristol Traffic but still witty and with the anger more evident. That's my baby.

So that's Southville covered and Cotham/Clifton tends to feature in Bristol Traffic, leaving 30 odd wards still crying out for their own version of Bristol Traffic. Blogspot blogs are very simple to set up and cost nothing in money (although plenty of time, once you get addicted), so how about it before the market gets saturated?

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Vocal but Deluded

Back in the spring the Evening Post was persuaded to abandon it's traditional, rabid anti-cycling views in order to give a clear run for the council's Cycling City bid. The editorial change of heart was no doubt influenced by having badly misjudged the public mood earlier when they backed plans to convert the Bristol & Bath Railway Path into a route for Bus Rapid Transport, plans that provoked such unprecedented public opposition that the Post was forced eventually to side with the people.

For a while it appeared as if the Post might be a reformed character, willing to look objectively at the issues and even to give positive coverage to proposals to promote cycling. But once the Cycling City funding was in the bag the cracks began to appear in the pro-cycling facade as the Post's baser instincts began to assert themselves. Recent comments by 'Cycling Champion' Terry Cook have led to some provocative headlines, notably Thursday's 'Let's make Bristol city centre bike-only', based on an off the cuff idea voiced by the hapless Cook that has no official backing whatsoever.

Finally the facade fell away with Thursday's "On your bike" editorial comment, according to which "we need to stop pandering to the vocal but deluded cycling lobby". Who is this 'vocal but deluded cycling lobby'? Terry Cook perhaps? The Evening Post itself just a few months ago? If so the comment might have some justification, but as far as the wider 'cycling lobby' is concerned it is far from the mark. For a start most cyclists are rather taciturn and often sceptical of plans such as those put forward under the Cycling City banner.

So it seems that the Evening Post has reverted to type, so to speak, and we now see the resumption of trench warfare as a valiant band of pro-cycling commentators slug it out with the anti-cycling brigade in the letters and comments columns of the Post. If you can spare a few minutes during the day why not have a bit of fun and join in?

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Cycling City Crisis

Why is it that everything with the initials CC in its name turns out to be such a let down for cyclists? We have Carboot Circus, (Bristol) City Council, and of course Cycling City.

Bizarrely the City Council were awarded Cycling City status back in June even though they continue to back profoundly unpopular plans by West of England Partnership to convert the city's one outstanding cycle route, the Bristol & Bath Railway Path, into a Bus Rapid Transit route.

Not an auspicious start for the 3 year project and things have continued in much the same vein, with local democracy being an early victim as vested interests position themselves to pocket the £20 million of taxpayers' money being thrown at Cycling City. Ordinary cyclists have found themselves very much out in the cold, even to the extent of being refused entry to consultative meetings.

So anxious are the Council to keep trouble makers (i.e. anyone who doesn't agree with what they say) out of the decision making process that they went so far as to nominate the person who they wished to be the representative of the Bristol Cycling Campaign (hmm, another CC) on the Cycling City Stakeholders' Panel, an outrageous presumption that the Cycling Campaign meekly accepted.

But there are thankfully a few local cyclists who take exception to the arrogance of the Council and their acolytes. Led by the redoubtable Joshua Hart (above), they are making a last ditch attempt to gain some influence over the process of determining where the funding should go at a meeting of the Stakeholders' Forum (no, not the Stakeholders' Panel - confusing, isn't it? It's meant to be.) to be held at Fairfield High School, Allfoxton Road, Horfield this Wednesday at 6pm.

It has to be said that the prospects do not look good. Word is that the spending plan has already been stitched up amongst the vested interests, including of course local charities like Sustrans, who will no doubt find themselves with substantial roles (and funding) in the Cycling City project. The termination of the project in a little more than 2½ years makes for rushed decisions and short term thinking.

But who dares wins, in the end. So now is the time for the city's cyclists to ask themselves whether they are content to have their tax money spent to bolster the prestige of the incumbent vested interests or whether they want their tax money spent in a manner that is targeted firmly at making Bristol better for cyclists. If they don't show what they're made of now they may never get another chance.