Saturday, 28 February 2009

Signs of the Times 2

Bureaucrats do like their signs and none more so than Bristol's Harbour Master, whose offices are in the Underfall Yard at the western end of the Floating Harbour. Some think it's all getting out of hand, expecting people to blindly follow written instructions without regard to reality, but I suppose that is exactly how bureaucrats conduct their lives.

Despite the speed limit of 5 mph, barely more than walking pace, the Harbour Master has nevertheless gone to the extraordinary length of marking out the prescribed pedestrian route through the yard with yellow hatching! It seems nothing must be left to chance in the Harbour Master's domain.

How else would we know not to go swimming in the inviting blue waters, or not to walk off the edge of the quayside? Think how many lives have already been saved by these vitally important signs. How fortunate we are in having such a diligent Harbour Master.

I suppose the 5 mph speed limit is required to allow time to read all the signs. But what is this? Do we see signs of dissent within the Harbour Master's dominion? Or has this recycling bin been allocated for Bristol's erstwhile Labour Cabinet?

PS> For more bureaucratic signage bollocks check Bristol Traffic.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Lib-Dems bounced into power?

This evening's budget debate at Bristol City Council has upset the apple cart. The Lib-Dems have secured Conservative support for their budget amendments, defeating the budget of the minority Labour Cabinet. A particularly critical element of the Labour budget concerned the proposed incinerator favoured by Labour but fiercely opposed by the Lib-Dems. The successful Lib-Dem amendment said
No Incinerator: suspend any spending on phase 3 of waste procurement, with the aim of reaching consensus on phase 3 across all four authorities (£389,000)
The Labour Cabinet have decided that they cannot continue administering what has effectively become the Lib-Dem Budget and have resigned. the ball is now in the court of the Lib-Dems who, as the largest group, will be expected to form a new Cabinet. This follows a series of recent decisions by the Lib-Dems not to take control despite the withdrawal last year of Conservative support for the Labour Cabinet and even a motion of no-confidence in the Labour leader Helen Holland (below) tabled by the Tories earlier this month.

So it seems that the Lib-Dems may have been bounced into taking control of the council in the run-up to June's Council elections, something the Tories presumably wanted for political reasons (the Lib-Dems being their principal electoral rivals) and something the Lib-Dems didn't want, since the incumbent Party is bound to be associated with the many unpopular policies being pursued by the Council.

All is yet to be revealed, but did the Tories vote in support of the Lib-Dem amendments to achieve this outcome? Did the Lib-Dems know where it would lead? Were Labour in on it, indicating to the Tories that they would resign if the Lib-Dem amendment was successful? Will the Lib-Dems take control under their Leader Barbara Janke (below) or will they hold out for a coalition with another Party so as not to appear to be The incumbent Party in the run-up to June's elections? (see * below.)

Thanks to the diligence of James Barlow in following the web cast and breaking the news.

*The Bristol Blogger says that Barbara Janke's has been voted in as the new Leader. Later edit - this is confirmed by several sources. Post report here and BBC here.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Bristol European Green Capital - Not

Bristol City Council's bid to be awarded European Green Capital status has failed, with Stockholm and Hamburg winning through to be appointed European Green Capitals for 2010 and 2011 respectively. No doubt the Council will put a brave face on it and stress that they're still in the running for 2012 onwards. They've got a long way to go to be a credible candidate.

Monday, 16 February 2009

New Threat to Railway Path

You might think that being designated Cycling City might persuade Bristol City Council to take some pride in the success of the Bristol & Bath Railway Path as a long distance cycling route and the valuable contribution it makes to accommodating peak commuter flows in our congested city. But it appears not....

They are now proposing to introduce "traffic calming" on the Railway Path, in association with the current proposals to redevelop the Chocolate Factory at Greenbank. Followers of this blog will know well enough the long-running sorry saga of the Chocolate Factory and George Ferguson's attempt to squeeze a narrow terrace of housing onto the bank of the Railway Path under the guise of "cycle houses" and the clandestine land deal hatched between Ferguson and planning boss David Bishop.

The houses are proposed to open onto the Path with individual accesses so implicitly making claim to the Path as their communal "front garden", so cunningly avoiding the developer having to provide the land for this. But of course this sets up conflict between residents who will view the space in front of their houses as their "front garden" where their children can play and cyclists who view the Path as a relatively fast commuter route.

Having planned to set up the conflict in the first place the Council now seek a way to resolve it, hence "traffic calming" on the Railway Path. According to the report to Wednesday's Development Control Committee " ... the applicant (Squarepeg) has offered £130,000.00 for traffic calming on the surrounding streets and railway path.

The Parks Services Manager has more to say on the issue
"We would like to see a creative design for the length of the path affected by the development, so that it is treated as shared space so that visitors can be encouraged to stop, picnic etc, but also most importantly to calm cyclist speeds. There are ways that this can be achieved without imposing an urban feel and losing the intrinsic naturalness of the path experience....."

"I am comfortable in taking forward plans to calm cycling speeds along the railway path and to manage this as any capital project in a park – including public consultation and capital delivery. We have capacity to do this.”
So our Cycling City think they "have capacity" to traffic calm the Railway Path. Is this the same Cycling City who cannot organise basic maintenance without causing serious injuries to cyclists, the same Cycling City who cannot design a cycle path without creating blind corners (Clay Bottom) that cause serious injuries to cyclists, the same Cycling City who cannot resolve security issues that result in violent attacks on cyclists, the same Cycling City who still harbour ambitions to turn the whole Path into a concrete track for buses? Yes, the very same.

Those of us who have the misfortune to live in the real world rather than the Cycling City Corporate Fantasy World may recall the disastrous consequences of previous attempts to "traffic calm" the railway Path in the Kingswood area in the 1990s. Illegal speed humps, bollards and chicanes were all tried and several cyclists were injured as a result, resulting in successful damages claims being brought against Kingswood Borough Council (although there was no significant impact on speeds). Most of these ill-conceived attempts at traffic calming have since been removed.

Were the Railway Path a road the average speeds recorded would not be considered sufficiently high to justify any traffic calming at all, even if a 20 mph speed limit were to be adopted. Yet the Path is not designated a public highway and users do not enjoy the protection of Department for Transport regulations. So incompetent officers are free to experiment with half-baked notions of what might "calm" cyclists, putting our lives at risk.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Cars have their uses

Recent weather events remind us that cars have their uses in helping to keep highways clear of obstructions and debris of one sort or another. In freezing weather conditions cyclists are best advised to stick to the roads and give cycling facilities a miss because the roads will generally be salted and kept clear of snow and ice. But this is not entirely the consequence of the Council's road maintenance priorities being focused on motor traffic. The traffic itself helps to keep the roads clear by displacing snow, slush and water from the road surface.

Thanks to the Council's misguided attempts to encourage cycling we have a neat illustration of this at Prince Street Bridge (which some of you will have noticed is a bit of a cause célèbre on this blog) as pictured above and below. In the first we see how snow and slush collect on the motor traffic free side (left) compared to the side still used by cars (right) where even the footway is clearer. In the second we see that heavy rain leads to the creation of large areas of standing water on the motor traffic free side (left) but none on the side used by cars (right). In either case it would only require freezing temperatures overnight to turn the standing water or slush to ice to make the surface deadly dangerous.

Standing water on the streets seems to have become a prominent feature of Bristol from about the time that Avon County Council was abolished 13 years ago. I guess a generation of old style highway engineers, who foolishly thought their main responsibility was maintaining the highway infrastructure, disappeared along with Avon and were replaced with aspiring social engineers more interested in how they can bamboozle us into changing our individual behaviour to fit in with their targets for modal shift. Anyway, here's a long standing (well over 10 years!) seasonal body of water, Lake Pembroke (area 21 square metres), to be found at the junction of Pembroke Road and Queen's Road in Clifton.

Picturesque though Lake Pembroke is, passing traffic causes waves to wash across the western shore, totally inundating what vestiges of the footway remain above high water level, so soaking any pedestrians unfortunate enough to be passing. The remedy is of course to unblock the drainage gully located at this point, but that would involve someone from the Council having to leave the comfort of their nice warm dry offices to have a look and actually risk getting wet, which would really be asking to much of the poor dears.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Traffic in Decline

For the first time in 30 years road traffic is in decline, according to the latest data from the Department for Transport. The decline began last Spring but was particularly marked (2.2% down) in the Summer in response to rocketing fuel prices. However the decline has continued through to the end of 2008 despite fuel prices dropping back, due to the recession. All this is against an expected growth in traffic of between 1% and 2% a year.

Road deaths have also fallen by more than 400 to 2,610, about 5 times the usual annual decrease, although deaths of cyclists have increased. New car sales have slumped, over 30% down. In Bristol and other cities congestion has decreased by 5% (in terms of time wasted in congestion). Traffic on urban roads has decreased by about 1% compared to the previous year. The expectation must be that traffic levels will continue to decline as the recession develops, due to declining employment and discretionary expenditure in general being cut back.

Most of which is good news as far as I'm concerned, except of course for the increased death rate for cyclists. That is likely to reflect a sudden influx of novice cyclists who haven't yet developed survival strategies (like jumping red lights) to the extent of experienced cyclists. But leaving that aside, things are looking good from an environmental perspective. Of course the recession won't last forever but it gives us a breathing space to explore the potential for reducing our car dependence.

Yet Bristol City Council are still wedded to transport priorities based on the assumption that traffic growth will continue relentlessly into the future. Strategies for accommodating traffic growth like Bus Rapid Transit and Congestion Charging must be called into question. Much of the financial "justification" for public transport subsidy, such as the proposed expenditure on BRT infrastructure, is based on the time savings accruing to motorists as a result of reduced congestion. But if congestion is reducing anyway......

Friday, 6 February 2009

Councillor thrown out of Cycling City meeting

Yesterday's Cycling City relaunch turned out to be more interesting than I had expected. Leading Lib-Dem Councillor Dr Jon Rogers was physically ejected from a meeting of the Cycling City 'Stakeholder Executive Board', having been told that he wasn’t welcome because he wasn’t a Labour Councillor.

Jon Rogers Portrait

Dr Rogers, one of the few genuine cyclists on Bristol City Council and Lib-Dem Transport spokesperson, was told that he could not even observe the Stakeholder Executive Board held at Bristol's plush Marriott Royal Hotel. He promptly posted news of his ejection on the web site of Bristol Cycling Campaign and followed up today with a Press Release, saying

“We had cross party and cross unitary support for the original funding bid in March 2008. Since then Bristol and South Glos together have won the bid and it has been totally "Bristol Labour" focused. They have excluded other parties and they have excluded South Gloucestershire..... Rather than welcoming cross party support Labour are careering headlong on their secret, closed, agenda."
Cycling England must be loving this (I know I am). Their original decision to award the Cycling City funds to Bristol, despite the city's long history of neglect of cycling (culminating in last year's crass attempt to convert the Railway Path to a Bus Rapid Transit route) seemed perverse at the time but is now looking like a major misjudgment.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Cycling City - Another Launch

In June last year Bristol was chosen by Cycling England, a government funded quango, to become England's first Cycling City, with an allocation of £11.4 million to be spent on cycling, this to be matched by local funding so making almost £23 million in total. Six months on and there is little enough to show for it. They have only just managed to appoint a Project Manager!

An abortive attempt in December to persecute cyclists for doing what motorists routinely do (ignore traffic regulations) merely succeeded in stirring up the latent animosity felt between rival road user groups. Then last month changes were made to Prince Street Bridge, ostensibly to benefit cyclists but actually creating what is in many ways a worse situation than existed before.

There has also been a great deal of controversy over the 'governance' arrangements, particularly the way that local cycle campaign groups, including people who have devoted decades of their lives to the promotion of cycling, have been excluded from the development of the Cycling City project. Even the CC web site appears to have been forgotten about.

So when things start looking flaky - time for a relaunch, taking place today with a promotion at the Royal Hotel on College Green (don't worry if you miss it, they'll be another one along in a few months). The relaunch appears to be focused on the publication of a new promotional leaflet which, along with the usual empty rhetoric, includes a map (below - click to enlarge) showing what infrastructure changes are proposed.

As you might expect I've one or two criticisms of Cycling City. I'll keep my powder dry on most of it for now, but let's take a closer look at that map. It purports to show "new infrastructure" and "new infrastructure on existing network". You and I might naively assume that "new infrastructure" was a new route that did not already exist (otherwise it would come in the second category, wouldn't it?). But the Council apparently operate on a higher plane where such simplistic interpretations are transcended.

Many of the "new infrastructure" cycling routes proposed are not new at all but upgrades of existing routes, for example the current construction through St Werburghs and the routes to Henbury in south Bristol (the Malago Greenway and Whitchurch Railway Path already exist). Much of the "new infrastructure" is based on existing roads, like St Philip's Causeway (the Spine road), which is described in the text as "possible cycle access along the spine road...." Possible? that sounds a bit tentative. Have they thought this through?

Other examples of "new infrastructure" have already been provided as a result of new developments (e.g. the Cheese Grater bridge (below) at Temple Meads and the "new" links at Carboot Circus) and owe nothing to Cycling City for their existence. In fact both those examples replace previously existing infrastructure that was arguably better than what is now being provided. Some proposed "new infrastructure" to be provided as planning gain (like Wapping Wharf) looks unlikely to materialise in the present economic climate.

And what about the glaring omissions? Where on the map is the Bristol & Bath Railway Path south of Mangotsfield? Where is the Chocolate Path and the link under Cumberland Road? Where is the Riverside Path through St Anne's? Where are the Sustrans National Cycle Network routes like NCN 4 between the centre and the Downs? Naturally I don't rate rush Sustrans routes, but neither it seems do the Council.

I'm astounded at the Council's mendacity (or is it sheer incompetence?) when it comes to the mapping. Do they think we are all map illiterate and won't be able to see how misleading and devious so much of what they show is? Even taking the map at face value there is no way that the so-called "new infrastructure" is going to lead to a doubling of cycling. The bulk of cycling takes place on ordinary roads, roads like Cheltenham Road and Gloucester Road which have exceptionally high cycle flows and many reported problems for cyclists, yet these crucial roads are entirely ignored by the map.

Monday, 2 February 2009

A Red Wave for Cyclists

If you're interested in traffic management (and who isn't?) you've probably heard of the Green Wave - the timing of traffic signals along a route so that motorists released by one set of lights turning green will find the next set of signals turning green just as they approach so that provided they drive at the appropriate speed they won't be brought to a halt. The appropriate speed is likely to be around 30 mph so cyclists usually struggle to keep up with Green Waves.

Here in Cycling City we now have a 'special facility' for cyclists in the form of the new traffic signals on Prince Street Bridge, so we can get a pretty good indication of the latest 'pro-cycling' thinking of our transport experts at Bristol City Council. I've already reported on the new 'Go-on-Red' signal for cyclists travelling northbound, where cyclists are apparently invited to ride through the red light to access the motor-traffic-free half of the bridge. To complement this we have a special 'Red Wave' for cyclists travelling southbound.

A Red Wave is the opposite of a Green Wave, so instead of finding the next set of lights turning green as you approach you find them turning red, as now experienced by cyclists travelling south over Prince Street Bridge during the evening peak. The majority of motorists approach Prince Street Bridge from the Grove and they of course get a Green Wave so as they are released from the Grove the light around the corner on Prince Street Bridge will also be at green. But the majority of cyclists approach from Prince Street itself and find that a few seconds after the traffic lights at the Grove junction turn green for them the lights at the bridge turn red, just as they reach it.

Cyclists seem to have developed a variety of tactics to deal with this perverse set up. One is to jump the lights at the Grove to reach Prince Street Bridge before the lights there change to red. Another is to jump the red lights at the bridge itself. Another to use the narrow footway on the east side of the bridge (above). Another to swing across on-coming traffic to use the west side of the bridge (below). Many even wait patiently for the bridge lights to change back to green, which is positively saintly given that they have been deliberately set up to be caught by the red light. Perhaps they haven't yet realised that their incredible bad luck with the lights always changing just as they reach them is by design.

Of course there's nothing unusual about finding traffic light timings giving priority to motorists over cyclists here in Cycling City, but what makes the Prince Street Bridge example particularly galling is that the installation of the traffic signals was hyped as a major benefit to cyclists, is funded out of the cycling and walking budget (as confirmed by Cllr Jon Rogers' comment) and may well be part paid for from the Cycling City budget itself. It seems that Bristol City Council see no problem in using cycling funds to benefit motorists at the expense of cyclists.