Friday, 27 March 2009

More Brunel Bungles

Bristol's Cycling City project seems to have an unlucky streak when it comes to trying to link schemes to our local engineering icon I K Brunel. Back in December this blog exposed the underhand attempt by the City Council and Sustrans to quietly drop their previous commitment to bring back into use Brunel's Swivel Bridge which lies forlornly under the shadow of the 1965 high-level swing bridge at the Cumberland Basin.

The story was picked up by the Evening Post, who reported the claim made by Sustrans' President John Grimshaw back in December 2007 that the use of Brunel's bridge would be "the icing on the cake" for the proposed cycle route. Grimshaw said "One key part will be the reinstatement of Brunel's so-called forgotten bridge". Then late last year the City Council apparently decided it was a daft idea after all and opted for a new crossing built on top of the existing lock gates (which may find English Heritage less than impressed).

So you would think the Council might tread warily in seeking to find some new pretext to associate this cycle route link with Brunel. But not so. Yesterday their latest proposals for the new link across the top of the lock gates were published, entitled the Brunel Lock Link, so named of course because it's a link designed to provide a new crossing of a lock built by, er, Thomas Howard.

Brunel did build a lock nearby, an upgrade of an earlier lock built by Jessop, but it proved inadequate and was abandoned in favour of Howard's new entrance lock, built in 1873 and used to this day. The abandoned lock is already crossed by a replica of Brunel's Swivel Bridge (foreground below) and the proposed cycle route will also use this crossing, but it still seems a rather tenuous connection with the Brunel name when the principal feature will be a crossing of the Howard Lock which signally fails to use Brunel's original Swivel Bridge.

The odd thing about this Sustrans / City Council obsession with establishing a Brunel themed link across Howard's Entrance Lock is that it actually fails to serve the main desire line for cyclists which will be towards the city centre, much better served by the swing bridge over the Junction Lock at the other end of the Cumberland Basin. If English Heritage cotton on to this they may be even more reluctant to agree to what would inevitably be a discordant addition to the historic lock structures.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Cycling City - Labour's Lies Unravel

When Lib-Dem councillor Jon Rogers took over Bristol City Council's transport brief from Labour's Mark Bradshaw last month he called for a more open and accountable approach, particularly as far as Bristol's Cycling City project was concerned, and rightly so. But can he have imagined how much deceit would be revealed?

River Street -new cycle infrastructure, apparently.

Bristol was awarded Cycling City status last June
and the then Labour administration wasted no time in presenting visions of great things to come. Remember talk of a citywide bike hire scheme modeled on Paris' Velib scheme? Remember talk of traffic wardens on bicycles booking motorists for blocking cycle lanes? Remember talk about making the whole city centre traffic free? Then the autumn of reality came and those first green shoots turned to dead leaves, to be quietly cast onto the compost heap of political hype.

This year's crop of green shoots appeared early with this Press Release in February, promising us £17.6 million worth of infrastructure improvements comprising 13 miles of new cycle track, 18 miles of improvements to existing off-road tracks and 21 miles of on-road improvements on major routes into the city. That's a total of 52 miles of route which sounds impressive....until you look into it. For a start 39 miles of that is just existing route which, it is claimed, will be improved in some way, which could be quite minor stuff like putting in street lights or signing.

So really we're looking at just 13 miles of allegedly new cycle 'track'. But watch out for those Nulabour weasel words - cycle 'track' isn't the same as cycle 'route'. An existing cycle route might have a cycle track built along side it and then become counted as 'new' infrastructure, yet for practical purposes little may be gained.

One such example is Hartcliffe Way (above), where cyclists already have the use of the carriageway (the road - safer when going downhill) and the shared use footway (useful when you're going uphill and perfectly adequate given the minimal number of cyclists and pedestrians), so what is to be gained by building yet another path/track/route (call it what you will) on the other side of the road?

Today, just hours before tonight's meeting of the Cycling City Stakeholders' Panel, more details of the proposed routes and links are being made available on-line. At the time of blogging we have 17 elements posted, although the details remain sketchy in many cases. But there's enough there to attempt a rough and ready analysis of what's being 'offered', which I've done as follows-
  1. Elements that have been implemented irrespective of Cycling City and none of which provide significant new infrastructure - Lawrence Hill overbridge, River Street (reinstates what was there before - see pic above), Mead's Reach Bridge (simply replaces Valentine's bridge).
  2. Elements of little if any benefit to cyclists - Prince Street Bridge, Dovercourt road to Bonnington Walk .
  3. Elements that already exist, to be 'upgraded' but with little benefit to cyclists - Hartcliffe Way, Long Ashton Road, Cumberland Basin Road, Speedwell link, St Georges Park link, St Matthias Park (Cabot Circus).
  4. Elements of existing cycle route to be upgraded with significant benefits to cyclists - Ashley Vale Allotments
  5. Elements of new cycle route but of limited benefit to cyclists - Connect2 Ashton Court, Stapleton Road, Hengrove Park links.
  6. Elements of new cycle route potentially with significant benefits - Muller Road to Dovercourt Road.
So on the basis of that assessment we have just three elements out of 17 that are of potentially significant benefit to cyclists (depending on design details) - the proposed link under Temple Way (to be funded by now bankrupt Castlemore Securities?), a short link from Muller Road to Dovercourt Road and the existing path through Ashley Vale. That's it. That's supposed to deliver a doubling of the number of cyclists. Welcome to Cycling City Fantasy World.

Hartcliffe Way - new infrastructure?

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Is this Criminal Damage?

As widely reported last week, the Police in Bristol have arrested and charged someone for writing on the pavement with chalk. Up until now we had all assumed that those errant markings that we sometimes find on our streets were mostly harmless and occasionally amusing, to be ignored or not as we chose. I doubt that it had ever occurred to any of us that such markings might constitute Criminal Damage and be worthy of the attention of the Police and Courts, but it seems we were wrong.

Let's take this recent example at Old Market. At first sight it appears innocuous, a crude attempt to signify some token priority for cyclists. Sensible people just ignore it as they go about their business, as we see from the picture below. However not everyone is sensible. Some motorists might think it safe to follow the lane markings. Some cyclists might think these markings have some authority and offer them some protection. This would be a grave error. Anyone imagining that a cycle lane offers some kind of a safe haven is seriously at risk.

To lead cyclists to the inside of a tight bend on the inside of two traffic lanes that can barely be accommodated themselves, where the unaware cyclist is very likely to get squeezed on the corner, is, let's face it, downright irresponsible. It's not good enough to assume that everyone will have the good sense to realise the markings are mere token gestures which should be ignored. It will only take one novice cyclist who naively presumes that these markings offer some talismanic protection and we will have yet another cyclist on their way to hospital.

In the instance pictured below the bus driver had the presence of mind to ignore the lane markings and straddle the two lanes to give the cyclist adequate clearance. But is it realistic to expect bus drivers working long hours in difficult circumstances to remain so alert and conscientious? Is it really too much to expect that road markings should only be installed by competent people and actually deliver a safe and practical arrangement for sharing the road?

Thanks to the recent action of the Police in pushing back the boundaries of what is considered an appropriate area for Criminal Damage prosecutions, we at last have a remedy for this sort of nonsense. We know the people responsible, we know their names, we know where they work. The evidence is there on our streets, not in chalk which might easily be washed or worn away but in permanent and hard-wearing materials that can only be removed at considerable cost to the local taxpayer.

Green Bristol Blog says enough is enough. The culprits need to be taught a lesson. Our streets are not provided as blank canvasses for them to indulge in their childish markings. Only responsible and competent people with an understanding of the delicate 'territorial' relationship between different road users should be allowed to apply such street markings. Criminal Damage? - bring it on!

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Ideas for Cycling City

Driveways crossing cycle paths are a big problem. Who should give way to whom? Here's how they resolve things in Japan.

Nicked from Tom Vanderbilt.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Carbon Bullshitters

This one's already been covered by other bloggers but it's a classic so here goes. It comes from an Evening Post story posted last Friday which reported that an Easyjet passenger flying from Bristol to Inverness had inadvertently carried some shotgun cartridges onto the plane in his coat pocket and that this had not been picked up by the security screening at Bristol Airport, although they managed to detect and confiscate his toothpaste and aftershave.

But the really interesting bit of the story, apparently unnoticed by the Post reporter or editor, is that the passenger was one of a group of four from the 'green consultancy' Carbon Managers, of Beckington near Bath, who were on a business trip to plant trees in the Highlands of Scotland. I need hardly spell out the contradictions in this. According to the Carbon Neutral flight calculator the four of them together will have generated no less than 1,200 kilograms of Carbon Dioxide by flying the 750 kms between Bristol and Inverness, plus of course that generated by driving at either end, hotel accommodation, etc.

It would of course have been much less damaging if they'd travelled by train, even taking account of the longer distance by rail (900 kms instead of 750 kms). According to CO2 balance their CO2 emissions if travelling by train would have been around 440 kgs, although if the four had shared a small car this would have brought the figure down to 330 kgs of CO2. But even these levels of CO2 emissions are nothing to be complacent about since they're still more than the emissions of one person making the return flight.

The strangest thing about the story is that it didn't appear to occur to these so-called 'green consultants' that publicising their flight to Inverness to plant trees might not make terribly good publicity. I guess they are so out of touch with the green debate that they thought it was the most natural thing in the world to do.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Boxing Not Very Clever

Cyclists swerving to avoid a car being driven into the contra-flow cycle lane near the Centre yesterday evening when a traffic incident in Old Market caused gridlock of the whole central area. The Old Market "incident" was apparently an elderly couple being dragged under a bus, resulting in the man being killed and his partner being seriously injured. As usual we won't know the details of exactly what happened for many months, thanks to what sometimes seems like a conspiracy of silence to stifle any debate about road safety.

But we can observe and debate the scenes recorded by these pictures. What we clearly have is persistent encroachment onto the Yellow Box Junction, in contravention of the law, the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions 2002, regs 10(1) & 29(2), which requires that you do not enter the box junction unless your exit road or lane is clear. It's eminently sensible stuff designed to keep the junction clear when the lights and priorities change. Who could argue with that?

But this being Bristol, there doesn't appear to be any enforcement, so rendering the whole thing ineffective. In the case of the junction of Anchor Road with College Green abuse of the Yellow Box Junction causes particular problems and real danger for pedestrians and cyclists due to the presence of a two-way cycle track passing through the junction, delineated by the large white square dots. A lot of buses pass through the junction and create the greatest problems by frequently blocking the pedestrian crossings as well.

So here's another challenge to our new Executive Member for Transport & Sustainability, Dr Jon Rogers. You want to get Bristol moving Jon, so how about enforcing the Yellow Box Junctions? We have the technology. All we need is the political will.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Cycling City: The Grim Reality

When Bristol won Cycling City status last year most cyclists were overjoyed, imagining that the investment of £23 million of public money would make all their dreams come true, but of course there were doomsayers, notably me, who warned that Bristol City Council simply didn't have the competence or the "culture" to do anything worthwhile beyond lining the pockets of the legions of consultants and Quangos who cling parasitically to all publicly funded projects.

It's too early to say "I told you so" but we can say "what you see is what you get". Here's an example (above) from the long established designated cycle route through St Philips where it passes under the railway. Because the road is closed to motor traffic it becomes neglected by the authorities, off their radar. They drive around and see what drivers see, not what cyclists or pedestrians see. An example of the "cultural" issues that need to be addressed if Bristol is to be a Cycling City.

Here's another (above), this being part of Sustrans' National Cycle Network NCN3 near Callington Road in Brislington. Again it seems that 'off-road' means 'off-radar' as far as the authorities are concerned. And what are potential cyclists going to think about the status, safety and attractiveness of cycling if this is presented as an exemplar for cycle routes?

The current proposals for Cycling City identify this "traffic-free" route above, lurking under the M32 viaduct and blighted by constant noise and pollution, as proposed for "new infrastructure on existing network" and worthy of "enhancement". Any ideas? Short of wholesale redevelopment of the corridor it looks like a dead loss to me. This route is an "alternative" to Stapleton Road. So what's wrong with Stapleton Road itself? Why shouldn't it be a safe and attractive route for cyclists? If the object of Cycling City is to promote cycling in a positive way, shouldn't cyclists be seen to take pride of place on our main thoroughfares where everybody can see them, not diverted onto seedy back alleys?

Further along the same route we find an example of what can only be called "incompetence" on the part of highway engineers. Isn't it a no-brainer not to place black steel posts in the middle of a black-top road? It certainly wouldn't be permitted or even contemplated if motorists were using the road, for fear of the consequences of the all too likely collisions, especially in conditions of poor visibility, but if it's a road just for cyclists and walkers then such basic safety considerations are forgotten. Why?

Another example of the same "thinking", or rather lack of it. This cycle track (right of the white line) is part of the Cycling City "new infrastructure" along Easton Way leading to the M32 subways. The new traffic lights on the M32 roundabout are controlled via this box. So where to put it? In the middle of the cycle track of course. And for good measure let's paint it mat black so it's difficult to see at night. Job done. Yes, these people actually get paid for doing this! The message? Lack of intelligence or common sense need not hold you back. Just apply for a job with Bristol City Council.

This is how it should be done (Grove Road, Redland), and how it is done when those poor vulnerable motorists are involved, who must be protected from even their own stupidity, not to mention that of highway engineers. No expense is spared in making obstacles in the road conspicuous - lighting, kerbing, white lining on the road, white and yellow bollards of collapsible plastic to minimise the consequences of a collision. But look at the cycle provision - fine in principle but look at the levels and the sharp turn required to clear the parked vehicles. Again an inherently dangerous design for anyone foolish enough to try to cycle through the approved gap rather than just going against the no-entry signs.

Finally subways, of which quite a large number are being incorporated into the Cycling City route network. This example is at Hengrove Way but is typical of many in Bristol that cyclists are expected to use because the road junctions above are not managed in a way which is consistent with safe cycling. The picture speaks for itself.

So it seems that there are fundamental problems with the "culture and competence" of Bristol City Council itself which have to be addressed if anything worthwhile is to come out of Cycling City. Progress towards that fundamental change is not yet out of the question since Cycling City still has two years to run and the new Executive Member for Transport and Sustainability, Jon Rogers, is taking personal charge. As a cyclist himself he seems to appreciate the need for a root and branch reform of the Cycling City project and a review is currently underway, but he should not underestimate the resistance to cultural change within his own council.

Friday, 6 March 2009

It's the Cycle Route wot gets it.

Anyone cycling around Bristol will have noticed that whenever any road works are carried out it's almost always the cycle route, track or lane that gets sacrificed to accommodate the works. Here's an example in Whitchurch Lane, south Bristol where a road widening scheme is underway to improve car access to the new development in Hengrove Park. In this case even the footway gets blocked off (with no alternative available), even on a Sunday when no work is taking place.

The Hengrove Park scheme includes a new cycle path to replace this cycle lane and is therefore receiving Cycling City funding, even though it was already planned and would have been carried out anyway, so in effect Cycling City funds are subsidising a road widening scheme. Some people think that's OK because there's a benefit to cycling, but does turning south Bristol into a mini Los Angeles with massive road schemes and huge scale development really benefit cycling?

If this cycle route is so important that it is designated as part of the new strategic multi-million pound Cycling City network, why do the authorities think it acceptable to deprive cyclists of what little comfort is afforded by the cycle lane during the road works? Could it be that there is negligible cycling demand on this route and it is being designated as part of Cycling City purely as a pretext for tapping into CC funds?

Hengrove Park was once the site of Bristol Airport (1930 - 1957) and is now looking rather forlorn, so some investment must be welcome, but does it need to be so resolutely car-orientated, with massive areas given over to car parking and access roads? Would it be asking too much for Hengrove Park to be developed as an exemplar of car-free living, given that it could be the focus for a lot of "alternative transport" investment with rapid transit and cycle routes, something worthy of Bristol's Green Capital aspirations?

Back to cycle route closures. Here's a recent example from nothing less than Sustran's National Cycle Route NCN 3, which runs form Bristol to Land's End, which was closed off next to Bristol Dog's Home beside the River Avon south of Temple Meads. The Closure signs didn't even acknowledge it as a cycle route! A diversion along the busy local road network was vaguely indicated.

In this case we find that the closure should only have taken place when works actually required it, yet it remained in place for weeks, including week-ends when absolutely no work was in progress. On one occasion when I visited, the works causing the Path to be closed consisted of two men in hi-viz jackets leaning against a fence (vaguely visible below - click pic to enlarge). Such is the priority accorded to users of the much vaunted National Cycle Network in our Cycling City.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Taxi Attack

One of the joys of cycling in Cycling City is the occasional attack by one of Bristol's taxi drivers. I don't know what it is that makes them so belligerent, perhaps it's being stuck behind a wheel all day, moving yet sedentary - very unnatural. I guess they think they can vent their frustration with impunity on lowly cyclists, which actually they normally can because, as I know from bitter experience, there's no way the police will ever take any action, even if there are independent witnesses.

Tonight's escapade involved taxi no. 258, reg. DG52EYA, driven by an overweight Asian gentleman (that last term used facetiously). I was cycling back, somewhat ironically, from a 20's plenty for Bristol (promoting lower speeds) meeting in town and was just turning off Queen's Road, Clifton into Lansdown Place (right background above) at about 10 pm, when I noticed a people carrier type taxi trying to overtake me on the inside of the bend, on the right hand side, even as I was turning at the narrow junction. I held my position and this prevented him from completing his manoeuvre.

That's when the deliberate harassment started. He repeatedly honked his horn at me and then drove along beside me, still on the right hand side of the road, telling me I should keep to my side of the road! I decided to try to get his number so edged closer to him until I eventually brought him to a stop, after much honking of his horn, so getting myself in front of him and writing down the taxi and registration numbers on the back of my hand. At this point he got out and tried to grab my bicycle and a little tussle ensued, with some rather unimaginative epithets thrown in by him - words I don't accept on this blog but if I said "you f...... c..." I think you can work it out.

I then let him go on his way, having secured the identifying information. But then remembered that I had my camera with me, so set off after him again, catching up with him at the end of Mortimer Road where it joins Clifton Down Road, where he was waiting to join the end of the taxi rank queue. I stopped behind him and took the picture above. My hands were shaking so I'm afraid it's a bit blurred. At this point he got out and starting shouting obscenities at me again, asking why I was taking a picture of his taxi and trying to push me over.

Being a cyclist of many years standing (or should that be sitting?) I'm quite used to handling this sort of aggression, especially from taxi drivers. The thing is not to escalate the physical side (unless you fancy your chances). A bit of pushing and shoving is no big deal once you've calmed down. So I eventually extricated myself and set off home, determined to tell the world about the kind of people who Bristol City Council consider to be fit and proper persons to hold taxi licenses.