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?


Anonymous said...

As regards Bristol's imitation of Paris' cycle hire scheme, the paucity of Bristol's scheme was revealed almost as soon as it was announced.

Chris Hutt said...

You're quick off the mark Woodsy. That map grossly exaggerates the proivision in Bristol. Hourbikes are only available at Bristol Parkway and a few places on the UWE campus. That's it!

Anonymous said...

The Hartcliffe Way bit that really needs attention is the bit where it approaches Parson St. Cycles are forced to dodge barriers near the fire station, on the opposite side of the road here you'll find crumbling road verges along side Tileys and the Shell garage, also little provision is given to the route from Bishopsworth Library joining Hartcliffe Way.

Chris Hutt said...

Not to mention the cars that are permanenetly parked on the cycle route at the Parson Street end. But dealing with minor details like that doesn't justify spending hundreds of thousands of pounds, which is what they've got to do to get their hands on the Cycling England money.

It's really being driven by the 'need' to spend the money rather than the need to benefit cyclists!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Chris

I hope that some of these issues will be discussed at the Stakeholder Exec Panel this evening.

It would be good to review these schemes, pick out what is good and what is less good and more importantly, what could be better.

Cycling City is a great opportunity for Bristol. We have so many people who are excited and inspired by the possibilities, we just need to turn it outwards not inwards.

That is my hope and aspiration, and I will do all I can to make it happen. It would be great if we can engage with other like minded individuals across the city to do the same.


WestfieldWanderer said...

I hesitate to recommend yet another politicians junket, but it might be a good idea to go and see how to do the job properly:
David Hembrow's Study Tour.

So far, the Bristol mob have demonstrated that they have little interest and even less understanding of the job in hand.

Anonymous said...

Hey Chris - just to quickly report that the black signal boxes plonked in the cycle lanes on easton way have been moved to the side!
Impressive response to your blog?

perhaps more naming and shaming might help improve things!

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you've drawn attention to the River Street route. I was using this regularly in the autumn taking a youngster to school each day. As the building work proceeded on the shopping centre and car park we did expect something significant to extend the "Riverside" route into town.

Oh why oh why oh why did we let our hopes rise?

The reality is, to say the least, a huge missed opportunity. There was space to do a high quality job. But the design now deliberately prevents this!

Cyclists are left to negotiate a confusion of angled on-street parking - probably WORSE and more DANGEROUS than before!

I'd love to meet the designers of this route, not to mention a few others, to ask them how they manage to get it sooooo wrong???

Chris Hutt said...

DocS, credit should go to Cllr Jon Rogers too. He forwarded that blog post to his officers and got an immediate response which he then posted here. The officers admitted that they made a mistake there and said they'd get them moved.

If only we had more councillors like Jon Rogers, willing to listen to and engage with criticism. It doesn't make for an easy life for sure but it does get things done.

We should recognise that Jon is in a difficult position because he wants to be positive about the work of his officers but he also recognises that there is, shall we say, room for improvement.

Chris Hutt said...

@Roland, the River Street corridor is a great "missed opportunity", as you say. It has been a useful cycle route for decades, particularly when it linked to the former bridge across Bond Street and on to Castle Park.

Sadly the Cabot Circus development lead to the destruction of those links with little if anything in place to replace them. Yet the scale of the Cabot Circus development offered the opportunity to do something really exciting for cyclists, carrying them over Bond Street and into Castle Park on bridges in a similar manner to what was done for car park users.

It is galling that the revamped River Street, which is little more than a car park, and the gap through to Bond Street at the end should be touted as "new cycle infrastructure" when it is so poor compared to what was there before.

Anonymous said...

I reckon the Connect2 route and the Long Ashton Road route will together be a big improvement for those from North Somerset. It might not be quite as direct as the A370 dual carriageway parts, but still quicker than the existing alternative routes, and it'll be much safer than the A370. Together the two routes mean that the big hill up to the Ashton Court estate can be avoided (which is surely a good thing?!) and that there is an alternative route when the estate is shut.

Chris Hutt said...

Hi Helen. My 'analysis' applies to the specific elements listed by the Council and not necessarily to the longer routes of which the elements are parts.

In the case of the Connect2 route from from Long Ashton towards the city centre, I can certainly see the logic in looking for safe and attractive links within that corridor.

However the route planned to run from the Art College (UWE) back to Ashton Road (along the southern perimetre of Ashton Court Estate) is much less direct than the route currently being developed by North Somerset along Ashton Road itself.

On the basis of the Art College route being very indirect compared to the alternatives I have rated it as being "of limited benefit to cyclists", which I still think is fair comment.

I dare say that the Art College route will be prettier and will provide an escape from the traffic noise along Ashton Road, but there is another option that does that too, via Parklands Road and a new link across the playing fields to Ashton Road.

The Parklands Road option is identified in the Council's Cycling City leaflet as a planned route and is more direct than the Art college route, so the whole situation looks very confused.

In fact the whole Connect2 route looks like a dog's breakfast with a complicated profusion of parallel routes. I'll try to unravel that one in due course.

Anonymous said...

Great blog chris. This was all developed on mark bradshaw's watch - suprising he hasn't popped up to tell us that the infrastructure plans have never been secret, and were all designed by the libdems anyway.

anarchist said...

Great post.

Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

well well, me thinks you've forgotten that L
labour agreed to bid for cycling city status not the lib dems and certainly not chris hutt who opposed the bid and still does. wait for jon rogers to scrap the prince st bridge scheme before long to curry favour from the lycra brigade.fun ahead.bet bradshaw wishes he ignored the bridge and the bid too.JJ

Chris Hutt said...

JJ, didn't the Cycling City bid have all-party support? Labour happened to be in power at the time but I'm sure the Lib-Dems would have supported the principle of it.

The Prince Street Bridge scheme won't be scrapped because it is unthinkable that pedestrians should be forced back onto those narrow footways but I hope that the scheme will be modified to allow other options to be tested, including a complete closure to motor traffic.

I objected to Cycling City, and still do, because it is founded on false premises. For one thing I don't think it is the business of the state to try to determine how many people cycle. That is a matter for the individuals concerned.

Had the state the powers to determine such things there would probably be no utility cycling today. But despite the obvious disdain shown by the state towards cyclists over the last 50 years individuals have kept cycling alive, sometimes at the cost of their own lives, and it is due to their defiance of the state's antipathy that cycling is still an option today.

Anonymous said...

You can see why there is never any money spent on cycling infrastructure when you read the whinges on this blog.

Its the Bristol disease: sit back and moan how terrible everything is, and why its someone else's fault.

The Council did well to get this bid, and those who want to improve cycling should focus on working with others outside the cycling community to achive change not self-promotion.

Chris Hutt said...

Anonymous, this blog started less than a year ago. How do you explain why so little worth mentioning was spent on cycling in the previous decade when I said nothing publicly at all?

And as it happens the amount of money being spent on 'cycling' has increased markedly since I started whinging early last year. Pure coincidence I suppose?

And if we go back even further to 1982 when I first started whinging in earnest, it's interesting to note that cycling had previously been entirely ignored but was subsequently allocated some significant resources, which grew steadily through to the mid 1990s when I stopped whinging, after which investment tailed off. All co-incidental I suppose?

We might also ask what came of all the supposedly 'constructive engagement' that took place between non-whinging cyclists and the Council prior to my whinging of the last year. Oh yes, the proposal to run BRT down the Railway Path.

I'm afraid the facts don't support your hypothesis Anonymous. Cyclists have to assert their interests in a confrontational way, what you call whinging, or we get taken to the cleaners. That's the harsh reality.

Jon Rogers said...

Interesting debate!

I think you need both approaches. You need "Hutt grit" and "Anonymous oyster"!

I really appreciate the complaints and "whinges" as they help me push for more radical and dynamic action from inside and outside the Council House.

As Shaw said. "All progress depends on the unreasonable man"


Anonymous said...

ah I see now, so you've gone from ardent critic of the prince st bridge trial to somewhat of a fan! interesting - perhaps an apology to mr bradshaw would be in order - he took the rabid flak from richard eddy, evening post and others to get this done.
on cycling city I can't believe your stance that £11m extra to spend on cycling (not cyclists - there is a difference) is not a good thing.
I think you'll find the lib dems lead by steve comer, a more enlightened soul, were supportive, as were the greens and tories, but under barbara 'i'm in control' janke, who knows. JJ

Chris Hutt said...

As Shaw said. "All progress depends on the unreasonable man"

Amen to that Jon.

@JJ (last anonymous). JJ, if you want your comments to have credibility first check your facts. I've always argued for the complete closure of Prince Street Bridge to motor traffic as a way of greatly improving things for pedestrians and cyclists.

I've never disputed that the current scheme improves things for pedestrians compared to the previous status quo, but it doesn't do so for cyclists, which is what was claimed by Bradshaw & co. So my position hasn't changed at all.

Have I ever said £11 million extra to spend on cycling is a bad thing per se? It's all the strings attached, like the ridiculously short timescale and the arbitrary target, that I'm against.

I could happily spend £11 million on some really excellent new cycling infrastructure but not the sort of uninspiring stuff this council seems to prefer.

Jon Rogers said...

Evening JJ

Are your comments directed at me or at Chris or both?

I have certainly not objected to the extra £11.4m and many of us are doing all we can to see that the project is a success.

Like Chris, I do have some doubts about the target of "doubling".

I have been looking at the rapid 17% per annum growth in London since 2003 as described in the "cycling in London" report...


This has taken about 6 years to "double cycling".

Chris, there is nothing illiberal of encouraging options for travel!


Chris Hutt said...

I'm pretty sure JJ's comments were directed at me.

On 'targets', why do we need them? Let's just do our best to make cycling more attractive, above all by reducing the harassment and intimidation that cyclists experience on the roads, and then see what happens?

For all any of us know the amount of cycling might more than double, or treble, or quadruple, if we really changed the perception of roads as being dangerous places. They are not dangerous, but the behaviour of many road users is.

But having a target tends to lead one into measures designed to meet the target in the short term rather than make the more fundamental changes required for more enduring change.

Targets are a distraction for all of us. The likelihood is that this target, like others before it, will be quietly forgotten (except for me saying "I told you so") in a year or so when it becomes clear that it cannot be reached, so why not drop it now and focus on the things that really matter?

Martyn said...

Great post Chris. I like your use of metaphor... or is that sarcasm and irony rolled into one? ;)

Seriously, Prince Street Bridge is now very dangerous to pedestrians and cyclists alike. I stepped into the path of an oncoming city-bound car because I thought I had checked for any absence of traffic on the left side (as I have been socialised into doing all my life!) and wasn't aware of the traffic light status as they are so high up in the air you need to climb a ladder to see them! The materials look SO cheap and unaesthetic too. There must have been a better solution to all this horrid street architecture which has ruined the visual amenity of this historic area. How do these so-called city planners get a job???

Chris Hutt said...

The alterations carried out are temporary (12 months) to test out the configuration, hence the poor quality of materials. No doubt when a permanent arrangement is agreed we can expect something more sensitive.

I'm hoping that the opportunity will be taken to test out alternative configurations, including a complete closure to motor traffic, so that the final decision can be made in the light of practical experience of various options.

Perhaps you and others would like to contact jon.rogers@bristol.gov.uk to urge him to consider this approach?

Martyn said...

Thanks for clarifying the temporary configuration - I did wonder! Having been in Bristol for over a decade I've really noticed the increase in pedestrians around the docks, largely due to the increase in residential property, the 'gentrification' of South Bristol and hopefully people making better commuting choices.

I'm pleased people are enjoying one of the most pleasurable freedoms of the city - a walk round the docks. Complete closure to motor traffic would be a real benefit, especially since motor traffic can easily proceed round past St Mary Redcliffe church. Perhaps a petition might help this process... hmmm?