Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Total Twenty for Bristol

Just a quick post to remind you all that today is the last day of the formal consultations on the proposed 20 mph pilot areas so please get your comments in if you haven't already (see here for details). But the campaign doesn't stop here so let's keep plugging away at local councillors and officers so that they know this issue isn't going to go away.

The big issue is not whether the pilots go ahead but whether they go ahead as Total Twenty areas where all residential streets are covered, or as timorous, tepid twenty/thirty areas where speed limits chop and change in a confusing way. The streets the officers want to keep as 30 mph  are the streets where cyclists and pedestrians are in the most danger, have the most difficulty crossing and are subject to the most harassment. Leaving these streets unchanged renders the whole exercise largely pointless since the streets currently proposed for 20 mph already have speeds of that order anyway.

Many of us have questioned the need for Pilot schemes in the first place. We already know 20 mph areas of the sort proposed bring some benefits so what is there to trial? But what we don't know in detail is how much more might be achieved by a Total Twenty approach including all residential streets without exception. That would be something worth trialling, giving some purpose to the Pilot schemes. In the unlikely event that a Total Twenty approach turned out to be counter productive then something useful will have been learned.

And if Total Twenty proves to be an altogether better approach then that would surely be something that Bristol could be very proud of having pioneered. Bristol likes to think of itself as innovative and entreprising. Well here's a chance to prove it. After all what's the worst that could happen with Total Twenty? It's hardly likely to deliver worse conditions that we have with the 30 mph limit. If the city council can't find the courage to seize this opportunity to make a step change then they will show themselves truly deserving of the odium heaped upon them by certain bloggers.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Cycling City - Another Failed Website?

Bristol's Cycling City project doesn't seem to have much luck with websites. For a start the Council's Cycling Portal rather ineptly lists the London Cycling Campaign as a 'related site' but makes no mention of the slightly more relevant Bristol Cycling Campaign. Geography fail I think. Then back in May a Cycling City blog was launched (facsimile) but was promptly pulled when they realised that readers were able to post public comments!

More recently we have been treated to a more elaborate (and no doubt expensive) effort called Cycle West which at least managed to list the local cycling groups rather than those in London. But we now hear that this too is to be pulled and replaced with a completely new site (yet more expense, but don't worry, it's only Cycling City money) under the Better by Bike banner. The new site is still under development but can be viewed in its present form here.

So what was wrong with Cycle West? We are told nothing of course but an educated guess would be that no one bothered to visit it because, basically, it's just a lot of them telling us what we should do and precious little of the vice versa. The overall approach is predictably patronising. Take for example the pictures used; almost every cyclist is shown wearing a helmet and a hi-viz jacket, conforming to the nanny-state's perception of cycling as a dangerous activity requiring their intervention to protect us.

Any blogger will tell you that what gets people engaged are interesting, provocative posts with the opportunity to respond publicly so setting in train debates that can roll on and on. Debate is vital since it allows ideas to emerge and be tested. Bristol we are told is a city of ideas, but despite the rhetoric the free expression of ideas is anathema to an overweening state as embodied in Bristol City Council.

Endless spending on new web sites in a futile attempt to find the magic bullet does seem to be endemic with government. If only they could understand that the magic bullet, as demonstrated by the success of the blogosphere, Twitter and Facebook,  is to provide a neutral forum to empower the people and enable them to take some control of their own destinies, but this of course is contrary to the basic instinct of government that nanny knows best.

Cycling is about individual freedom and risk taking, not something to be regimented and controlled by the state.

And what about this constant name changing? First we have Cycling City, but then Cycle West, now Better by Bike and who knows what next year. Is this good marketing? I'm no expert but I would have thought establishing a solid brand identity would be a high priority. The Council seem to be intent on endless confusion.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Green Bristol Blog on BBC Radio 4

This Monday morning at 11 am Radio 4 are broadcasting a 30 minute programme looking at Bristol’s Cycling City project, based on interviews with local cyclists, including this blogger. The BBC site actually refers to interviews with “a couple of cycling visionaries who sense that a better world is within our grasp” – I wonder if I’m one of them? The presenter and interviewer Miles Warde is a regular cyclist and asked some very pertinent questions so it should be informed and interesting.

I expect there will be positive and negative opinions expressed and, judging by this nicely written piece by producer Christine Hall, one of the more positive ones will relate to the subsidised cycle training being provided by LifeCycle.

This training is receiving hefty Cycling City subsidies, £25 for each first one hour session, leaving the trainee to pay just £5 for a session supposedly worth £30. However the existing subsidy budget (£25,000) allows for just 1,000 people (see * below) to receive the subsidised first training session. Not many in relation to the numbers who appear to need some educating about their cycling-in-traffic technique if my experience is anything to go by.

As is often the way with state subsidies this one tends to redistribute wealth in favour of the wealthy since the training sessions are disproportionately taken up by the relatively affluent middle classes. It’s also inefficient as most of the middle class beneficiaries are quite capable of getting much the same guidance on cycling techniques from books, magazines or the internet without the need for public subsidies. And as we see again and again with Cycling City the funds are channeled into schemes that just happen to create jobs for the boys and girls.

Later edits.

Radio 4 - Bristol: Cycling City - iplayer here and MP3 recording available here

Also this provocative blog post by Mike A, a former Bristol cycling campaigner, in response to the programme. He makes his points quite independently  of me in case anyone suspects collusion. 

And another blogger comments here.

* A comment made below corrects my figures. In fact £10,000 of Cycling City money provides £25 subsidies for the first training sessions of 400 people.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Why Solve it when you can Sign it?

With Cycling City money being diverted to fund such frivolities as the Bristol Do and other manifestations of the 'bread and circuses' approach to promoting political apathy, anything as mundane as an actual cycle route is likely to suffer from neglect.

Here we have what would, in a true Cycling City, be one of the most prestiguous cycle routes - the old River Avon towpath between Bristol and Bath. Some sections near Crew's Hole have been upgraded but from Conham to Hanham and beyond it remains largely unsurfaced, often overgrown and in places difficult even to walk.

For the most part the outstanding problems are quite minor like these potholes that collect water and untrimmed vegetation. Not beyond the wit of man to solve you might think, especially with the help of an alleged £23 million of Cycling City money. After all this riverside route has great potential as a strategic route linking Keynsham to Bristol and connecting on to the Railway Path at Bitton to provide an attractive alternative Bristol to Bath cycle route (see map below). Surely just the sort of thing that a Cycling City project should give high priority?

View River Avon - Netham to Keynsham and Bitton in a larger map

But in this case the 'wit of man' is the wit of one of those useless bureaucrats who much prefer to erect warning signs than actually fix problems. And what a thorough job he's done of it. Can there be any category of human activity or any class of risk not accounted for? Bristol City Council must be proud of such a comprehensive piece of arse covering. Whatever kind of accident you might contrive to have, it's your fault because you were warned. Job done.

Curiously our 'man' seems to have lost his wits when it came to the signs to discourage, if that is the word, cycling and horseriding. The red circle always signifies a prohition, so a red circle around a bicycle means no cycling. But the diagonal red bar could be taken as a negation of the message, so 'no no cycling'? So to be unambiguous our man spells it out underneath - no cycling. But then adds the word 'advisory'. So that's perfectly clear then, er, just ignore the signs.

If only the time and money that was spent on these ridiculous signs had been allocated to sorting out some of the actual problems. But that would require a bit of common sense and a willingness to get one's hands dirty, both of which appear to be in short supply in Bristol City Council. Perhaps if we organised some pothole filling as an 'international art work' or a 'multi-cultural celebration' they might be willing to allocate some resources. How about the Conham Caper, or Rider Broke? But should we apply for the Arts Council grant first or the Cycling City grant?

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Spending the Cycling City Millions #2

While those of us doing serious work on identifying and promoting opportunities to enhance cycling remain very much out in the cold, it seems any project that touches on the more frivolous side of cycling will be showered with Cycling City money. Cycling City's 'Better by Bike' logo crops up attached to all sorts of events, including for example the New Cut celebrations in May and this weekend's Bristol Do, signifying yet another beneficiary of the funds that were supposed to be spent on 'cycling'.

One of the Cycling City funded elements of the Bristol Do is Rider Spoke, a work by Blast Theory, currently, er, happening down at the Arnolfini. It involves people actually going out on bicycle rides around the city, so really edgy stuff. Of course some of us have been doing that sort of thing for decades, but now, thanks to the munificence of Cycling City, we know that we have in fact been performing a work of art! Now where do I go for my Arts Council grant?

I'm told by people who have participated in Rider Spoke that it's 'great fun' and well worth the nominal £4 charge. I did wander into the Arnolfini yesterday to ask in my querulous way "What's the point of it?" and was told "It's a work of art" which I guess answers the question. Of course they had no idea what the whole thing was costing us (why should they care?) but judging by all the earnest young men with expensive looking laptops and the array of smart bikes for the use of participants I guess Rider Spoke doesn't come cheap.

I've nothing against 'art' per se but I don't see why it can't be funded by the consumers of it, where practical, in the same way as say 'housing' or 'transport' or 'food' is, not to mention most mainstream entertainment. In the case of Rider Spoke a nominal charge is payable anyway so why can't it be based on the real costs? Because people would baulk at paying that much? Perhaps then it doesn't actually represent value for money, in which case is it worth doing?

Another aspect one might ponder is the environmental impact of such 'works of art'. Rider Spoke is currently touring Europe and has recently completed 4 days in Copenhagen and a week in Linz. You can guess that such a tour generates plenty of air travel and the bicycles have to be trucked thousands of miles. Does anybody bother to do an environmental impact assessment for such things? And if they do, might we the paying public be allowed to know what it is?

Anyway here's a Blast Theory video to give their side of the story (although don't expect it to reveal anything as sordid as the public subsidy involved).

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Twenty's Plenty Needs You

I know I covered this just two weeks ago but this is IMPORTANT and needs action from all of us. As you may have noticed I'm generally pretty cynical about what Bristol City Council do in the name of sustainable transport and in this case too they are set to make a fundamental error. But this time it really matters because the 20 mph concept is our best chance, perhaps our only chance, of making a real change to the character of our streets so that ultimately they are no longer thought of as inherently dangerous places for people on foot or on bicycles.

The A420 Church Road, 20 mph in Redfield, Bristol.

As I explained before the main issue is the proposed exclusion of so many streets within the proposed 20 mph pilot areas. We know that the highway engineers are generally hostile to the idea of 20 mph areas and I suspect the proliferation of excluded streets is their way of undermining the scheme. We also know that some Councillors, notably Executive Member Jon Rogers, are very keen to get 20 mph implemented and he is on record as being unhappy with the number of excluded streets.

Now you may think 'why doesn't Jon Rogers, our elected representative, just tell the officers to cut the excluded streets?'. Well it seems that the levers of power aren't that simple or direct. He cannot do this alone and needs our support. We need to demonstrate the extent of popular support for the 20 mph concept and opposition to the excluded roads. And we need to do it by the end of this month when the formal consultation comes to an end.

One of our allies in this is George Ferguson, whose 'By George' column in today's Evening Post makes the case very well. I know I've had a pop at George on many occasions but that's just the iconoclast in me. In mostly makes a lot of sense and makes it very eloquently, especially in this case. To quote a few salient points from George's piece:-

"Having given the (20 mph) area a clear boundary, the document then complicates the issue by suggesting leaving certain routes through the area at the current 30mph limit. The fact is that these key routes are also key cycling and walking routes, and go past some of the seven primary schools within the area.

The trouble with traffic measures is that they are generally planned by highway engineers, who – however well-meaning – tend to think in terms of roads and traffic flow, and have very different criteria from those of us who occupy the streets for shopping and walking to school or to work and who regard them as social territory."

Great stuff. But we need more support and that means YOU. I know, we're all busy, etc. So I'm going to make it easy. Below is my own submission. Please use it as a template for your own comments. Delete anything you're uncomfortable with, add anything you think is missing, but PLEASE send something to (and copy it to Jon Rogers and your local councillors) and please do it now.

I strongly support the general principle of 20 mph as the general speed limit for all residential and shopping areas in Bristol.

The benefits are numerous, including of course less danger and intimidation of pedestrians and cyclists, easier and safer crossing of streets, less noise and pollution, less stress and even less traffic. The costs could be minimal if signing were kept to a minimum.

I would like to see the introduction of 20 mph over the whole of Bristol's residential areas, or at the very least the whole inner city where streets are generally narrower and/or heavily parked. I do not see the point in limiting it to two pilot areas since this increases the perimeter to area ratio so requiring more signing at more public expense for a given area.

However the major flaw in the current proposals is that the pilot areas have 'excluded' streets. In most cases these are the streets which most need lower speeds, where danger and intimidation is greatest, where most crossing movements take place, where people shop, walk and cycle, where schools are accessed and where noise, pollution and stress are greatest.

Excluding these streets will totally undermine the stated purpose of the 20 mph scheme. It will greatly increase the amount of signing required and hence the cost of the scheme and it will the create confusion by making it unclear whether a particular street is 20 mph or 30 mph without constant reference to signs which is impractical and a dangerous distraction in urban areas.

Apart from clearly non-residential roads like Easton Way there should be no exclusions within the 20 mph areas. In practice actual speeds will vary around the 20 mph mark according to local conditions, as they should, and on some streets the average may be significantly higher, but even speeds slightly above 20 mph will be a big improvement on speeds slightly above 30 mph.

Getting the 20 mph scheme right is of fundamental importance for the credibility of Cycling City, the Council's Walking Strategy and indeed the Council's overall 'Green' aspirations. The current proposals with the excluded streets have already been widely criticised and there can be little doubt that a 20 mph based on the current proposals will be seen as a failure of nerve on the part of the Council.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Belgrade 1, Bristol 0

It seems that Belgrade has already beaten Bristol to it on the Bike Lift front. As the picture below shows the Serbs, despite their reputation for intransigence, don't seem to be quite so hostile to new ideas as we Bristolians. This bicycle lift has been erected alongside the 'Brankova' crossing of the River Sava to allow cyclists to avoid a long detour on busy roads. Actually it took 8 years of campaigning by a dedicated individual, one Mirko Radovanac, to get it built, so perhaps if I persist we may have a bike lift in Bristol by 2017.

Not many details are available on the internet but it looks like the Belgrade lift rises about 15 metres to the bridge deck level, half the rise of the one proposed for Trenchard Street, so perhaps Bristol could still become the home of the highest dedicated bike lift in the World. The Belgrade lift gives some idea of how a Bristol lift could look and work, with entrance and exit doors on opposite sides so bicycles do not need to be turned in the lift. A 30 metre rise version could look quite spectacular.

Pedestrians as well as cyclists can benefit from such lifts, especially those with mobility problems, carrying shopping or with pushchairs. A lift is in effect just another element of a public transport system, providing a vertical rather than a horizontal displacement. Quite apart from the utility of such lifts they act as symbols of the seriousness with which non-motorised travel is taken and the value given to cyclists' and pedestrians' journeys. I wonder if Bristol is ready for such a culture shift?

The Brankova Bridge, Belgrade. Bike lift is just visible on extreme left.

Early indications are that our Cycling City still needs a few more decades to get used to the idea that serious investment in transport links for cyclists might be justified. Although Executive Member for Transport Jon Roger's has said the idea is "interesting" and that he is "prepared to consider all options, look at all ideas" there has been no further indication of interest from Bristol City Council.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Adios Josh Hart

Another valedictory, this time to Josh Hart who is about to leave our little island for his hometown of San Francisco, travelling entirely by surface public transport as a gesture against the hegemony of the plane and car. His arrival from San Francisco some three years ago by the same means made quite a splash with the media. But he had serious work to do at UWE and undertook valuable research replicating an earlier study (coincidentally carried out by an Englishman, Appleyard, in San Francisco 40 years ago) into the deleterious effect of high traffic levels on social contact between neighbours.

As well as undertaking the two year UWE course Josh has been very active in local and national environmental campaigns (as a google search will confirm), has maintained an excellent blog, On the Level, and has helped revitalise the Bristol Cycling Campaign. He has impressed us all with his typically American 'can do' attitude and has been inspirational as a public speaker, which he demonstrated again last Friday with his speakers' corner spot at the Arnolfini (above) and on many occasions when addressing politicians and local government officers, as in this video.

We hope to see him again in Bristol before too long, but who knows. It's not easy being committed to change and uncompromising in working for it. He has just completed a stint with Living Streets (formerly the Pedestrians Association) where he has done much to promote local groups but has clearly found it difficult to accept the 'don't bite the hand that feeds' culture of an organisation that seems to have been 'Sustrans-ised', abandoning cutting-edge campaigning for more lucrative work as in effect a government agency.

We can at least be confident that Josh will continue to make a big impact where ever he goes, an animated voice in defence of both the delicate environmental systems that underpin our survival and the weakest members of society. We all wish him well and will be following his exploits with interest via his blog which he has promised to continue.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Another Day - Another Victim

In a depressingly familiar pattern we find the aftermath of a conflict between car and bike, down where Prince Street joins Broad Quay, yesterday afternoon. Thankfully the cyclist appeared to suffer only slight injuries although his bicycle was mangled. The car involved is the white Citroen Xantia N881 WAN between the red and blue tee-shirts. Most of those standing around appear to be witnesses who were good enough to give statements to the police, who turned up promptly, shortly after the paramedic.

I didn't witness the actual incident and I'm not going to speculate about what might have happened beyond what is evidenced by these pictures. We see for example scrape marks on the road surface and some debris (where the bicycle was lying before being moved to the side), suggesting that the bicycle might have been pushed along under the front of the car, consistent with the observed bike and car damage. The police took details from witnesses and the parties involved (the cyclist in the dark tee-shirt and grey trousers; driver in red tee-shirt and blue baseball cap) and will, we must hope, take any appropriate action.

The scene was particularly poignant for me since I had been the victim of a road rage attack just two days earlier at Redland Grove when a motorist harassed me very aggressively, horn blaring just behind me and finally accelerating past at high speed, engine roaring, black smoke belching out, just inches away. I could easily have ended up as the cyclist above or much worse. My crime incidentally was getting in HIS way, the one he and his fellow motorists pay for and on which we cyclists apparently have no right to be.

Needless to say incidents like these are extremely damaging to the prospects for popularising cycling. Individual cyclists often give up cycling as a result of being the victims of such conflict and of course all those who observe such incidents will be dissuaded from considering cycling. So what is to be done? Some argue that increasing cycling numbers will change attitudes and lead to a more tolerant attitude on the part of motorists. But, catch 22, how can we expect to increase cycling in the face of such violence? Suggestions welcome below....

Sunday, 13 September 2009

It's That Bridge Again

It looks like Bristol City Council may be getting something half-right down at Prince Street Bridge. The ugly concrete kerbs than restrict access to the cycle/pedestrian half of the bridge were removed for last week's Bristol half marathon, as they had been for the 10k run in May, when I blogged with my expectation that -
"bollards will be installed instead (of the concrete kerbs) which will allow cyclists to percolate through the closures instead of being funnelled into narrow, sub-standard gaps by the footway."

I was soon disillusioned back in May when the concrete kerbs went back in, suitably embellished by a member of the public with "cycling city - my arse". A long debate with Jon Rogers followed in the comments on that blog post in which he said
"the decision on the Prince Street Bridge trial should not be made purely on the basis of 'Hutt rants', informed though they often are, but be evidence based and follow the planned site visit".
Well it seems that a decision has been made that my 'rants' may have influenced because they're now putting in bollards instead of kerbs as I anticipated in May.

Of course I must quibble with it.
  1. Why do we need any bollards at all on the north side where motor vehicles would not normally enter the right half of the bridge anyway?
  2. Why are the bollards painted black so as to be difficult to see in conditions of poor visibility (when we cyclists are encouraged to wear high viz clothing and the bollards on the motorists' side are brightly painted in red and white stripes)?
  3. Why is no specific provision made to help cyclists who need to switch back to the left hand side of Wapping Road?
  4. Why weren't cycling interests consulted on the changes?
  5. What was the 'evidence basis' for the decision?

But at least it is progress of a sort. Cyclists can percolate through the bollards and so have more options for making the difficult manoeuvres required when travelling south as a result of the Cycling City funded changes. However there remain concerns about the capacity of the bridge to cope with the growing volume of cyclists and pedestrians together with motor traffic. We urgently need to send some strong signals out about changing priorities and a complete closure of Prince Street Bridge to motor traffic would help that.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Banksy Costs Lives

A final valedictory to my bĂȘte noire, the Banksy queue. We are told some 300,000 people visited Banksy vs Bristol Museum over the summer, most queuing for several hours in a serpentine column stretching up University Road and along Elmdale Road. Of course the Great and the Good didn't have to queue, either getting invited to private viewings if well connected or paying £25 a head to attend a special 'charity' viewing, but assuming the average Joe queued for say 3 hrs then the total time wasted in the queue was 900,000 hours, or 37,500 days, or over 100 years.

We can equate 100 years of wasted time to human lives. Average life expectancy is say 80 years (78 for men, 82 for women), although about a third of that is spent sleeping and the quality of the last 5 years or so may be very poor so we could equate a life to say 50 years of 'quality' time. One might of course argue about the quality of our waking lives, since much of the time is devoted to routine tasks that give little satisfaction in themselves, but let's leave that for another time.

So we can equate the time wasted in the Banksy queue to two complete human lives from birth to death. However few of those queuing were new born babes so we should take account of the average age of those queuing to establish a better life equivalent. Let's say the average age of visitors was around 30 and the average 30 year old can expect another 45 years overall of quality life, less one third sleeping gives net 30 years of quality life. So the time wasted in the queue was equivalent to more than 3 of the residual lives of those queuing. In short we can say the queue cost three lives.

Two weeks ago the Police closed the northbound side of the M5 Avonmouth Bridge to traffic for more than 6 hours because a man was threatening to jump from the bridge to his death, which he eventually did. The Police argued that the delay to motorway travellers was justified by the need to attempt to save the man's life and for the safety of those involved. But what of the life equivalence of the time wasted in the resulting massive traffic jam?

According to reports the traffic queue stretched back 35 miles to Bridgewater and many roads in and around Bristol were gridlocked as drivers tried to find avoiding routes. Difficult to estimate numbers involved but 35 miles (56 kms) of three lane motorway could accommodate around 33,600 stationery vehicles (5 metres per vehicle). Let's say that as it was a Bank Holiday weekend average vehicle occupancy was around 2.5 people so that gives us over 500,000 hours wasted. We can probably double that to take account of delays on the highway network beyond.

In effect the police decided to waste over 100 years of life, the complete residual lives of several people, in an attempt to save the residual life of a man of about my age, who on average one would expect to have little more than 10 years of potential quality waking life left. So the equivalent of ten 59 year old male lives were lost in a forlorn attempt to save one. It just doesn't add up and it looks as if the Police are beginning to realise what a major error of judgement they made.

In the same way Banksy and Bristol City Council decided to waste the residual lives of at least 3 people rather than charge for entry to Banksy vs Bristol Museum, a charge which might well have generated £5 million or more resulting in correspondingly lower Council Tax bills for all of us. What's more by eliminating significant queuing by charging a market rate entrance fee the hundreds of thousands of visitors to Bristol would have been freed from the captivity of the queue and able to spend more time visiting other attractions and would therefore have spent more money on goods and services in the city.

As they say, to err is human but to really screw things up you need a self-serving bureaucracy with a chronically risk-averse and economically illiterate culture. Or Banksy.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Twenty's Plenty for Bristol

Bristol City Council have announced plans to trial a widespread 20 mph speed limit in two areas of the inner city, centred on Easton and Southville as shown in the map below bounded by the blue lines. Consultation on the general arrangements takes place this month but there will be an opportunity to object to specific Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs) when these are subsequently put forward. Implementation is planned for next spring. The plans were actually leaked back in January and the current proposals are much the same as those shown on the leaked maps.

View 20 mph in Bristol in a larger map

The idea is that 20 mph should replace 30 mph as the normal, default speed limit in residential areas of the city although without the introduction of physical traffic calming measures or police enforcement. Some people have expressed scepticism about the effectiveness in the absence of such enforcing measures but experience elsewhere suggests that average speeds will be slightly reduced as a consequence of changing the notional limit. Nevertheless the idea seems surprisingly popular with the general population so very much an idea whose time has come.

But there is, predictably, a major problem with the current proposals, leaving aside the enforcement issue. The plans exclude most main roads in the areas concerned (red lines in the map above), even when those main roads are also shopping streets, designated cycle routes and serve schools and parks. Precisely the sorts of roads that most need to have lower speed limits. The two most glaring examples are perhaps Mina Road in St Werburgh's and Dean Lane in Southville, but there are many others like North Street (Southville) and Stapleton Road (Easton), both important shopping streets that serve as focuses (or foci if you like) for their respective communities.

So what is the big problem about applying 20 mph limits to main roads? It's actually been tried and tested here in Bristol with a short stretch of the A420 Church Road in Redfield (pictured above and shown as a green line on the map). Admittedly it's not very obvious that it makes much difference, but then it is still the exception to the general 30 mph rule and unlikely to be taken much notice of. But at least it establishes that 20 mph on main roads in residential and shopping areas does not bring the world grinding to a halt. Everything carries on much the same but with speeds gradually edging downwards.

Another big problem with having so many streets excluded is the need to sign all the transitions from 30 to 20 and back, as pictured above with the existing 20 mph zone just south of Church Road. Not only do all the signs cost us money but they add to the general clutter on our streets and result in road users losing track of whether they are in a 20 mph or 30 mph street.

What we need is for 20 mph to replace 30 mph as the general speed limit on all urban streets except those roads that are clearly not residential like Easton Way, the Portway and of course the M32. The 20 mph default needs to be consistent and ubiquitous and not something confined to backwaters where speeds rarely exceed 20 mph by much anyway. The current propsals, even though claimed to benefit cyclists and pedestrians and to be funded by Cycling City money, will do little for cyclists or pedestrians where they experience the most intimidation and danger, on the main roads which are set to be excluded.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Pedestrians Cause Congestion - Official

Now and again little insights into the 'thinking' of Bristol City Council's highway engineers emerge into the public realm, despite the ever burgeoning PR operation designed to make us all think the council are wonderful. This latest gem emerges through the Cycling City project's marginally more open governance arrangements (which perhaps explains why council officers are generally opposed to more openness).

Bristol's pedestrian crossings (Pelicans and Puffins) have long been notorious for the excessive delays that they impose on pedestrians wanting to cross the road in order to minimise the inconvenience to motorists. For example the crossing of Queen's Road outside the Museum (above) gives a ridiculously short green phase and the crossing of Baldwin St where it joins the Centre (below) imposes long delays.

But now a City Council project is underway to review each pedestrian crossing in Bristol and reduce the wait times for pedestrians "without causing unacceptable congestion for traffic". Despite the lack of any definition of what constitutes 'unacceptable congestion for traffic' (and aren't pedestrians 'traffic' too?) the progress report on the pedestrian crossings 'improvement' project goes on to state -
During times of peak traffic flow, some pedestrian crossings in the city cause heavy congestion, therefore they are brought onto the traffic control system ‘Scoot’ during these times of day so that the ‘green man’ time which causes the congestion is restricted to the part of the traffic signal cycle where it will cause the least delay. This project has reviewed the way that the crossings are brought under scoot control and the times of day this control is needed. The pedestrian crossings reviewed are now brought under control by using live traffic flow data rather than fixed times, the flow level at which the crossings cause congestion has been worked out for each site, and when this trigger level is reached they are brought under Scoot control until the traffic flow level drops off again. The type of Scoot control in use has also been reviewed and where possible the cycle times for the crossings have been reduced.
As the bold text indicates I was struck by the repeated assumption that it's pedestrians who are causing congestion by daring to want to cross roads. Is it not plain to anyone with eyes to see that congestion is caused by the mass use of cars? Congestion, whilst not entirely unknown before the age of mass car ownership, is nevertheless overwhelmingly a product of it. Surely that elementary fact should be firmly embedded in the mind of anyone who presumes to call themselves a highway engineer.

Yet there we have it, they say pedestrians cause congestion. And to penalise us for our selfish behaviour in wanting to cross roads we must be made to face longer delays to allow motorists to make their blameless journeys without 'unacceptable' delays. Nothing of course about what might or might not be acceptable delays to pedestrians. We pedestrians, it seems, must put up and shut up.

Am I being uncharitable in making so much of what may be little more than sloppy writing? Probably, but I would say justifiably so since at the root of so many traffic problems is the pro-car biased thinking of highway engineers, which as we see remains very much the norm. Perhaps we have to wait for yet another generation of highway engineers to pass on before we can make real progress.