Bristol slowly becoming cycling city

I have just spent a couple of days in Bristol with the Cycling England board to see how they are progressing with their Cycling city project.  It was highly instructive, highlighting both the considerable progress that was being made but also the difficulties.

By all accounts, the project, which is now into its third year, was slow to get off the ground but is progressing well.  New infrastructure is popping up, ten thousand kids have been trained, and 20 mph zones are being installed in several parts of the city.  The team was very honest with us in showing difficulties – such as the way they were hamstrung by DfT regulations, though they showed a pleasing willingness to ignore them when necessary – and the vagaries of the consulation process. For example, one new cycle path is bounded on both sides by fierce railway type fencing surmounted by dangerous extra coils of sharp metal to deter anyone climbing up just because some allotment tenants were worried about people knicking their cabbages.

There was, though, crucially an excellent and dynamic champion for the scheme, John Rogers a councillor in the ruling libdem group, who is not only a cyclist himself but fully aware of the need to override officers over some issues and has the energy to see things through.

Bristol is, as yet, nowhere near as cycle friendly as central London but it looks like it will get there as long as the cycle city concept is maintained beyond its initial three year period.  And that is a great concern. The new government has so far not said anything about its plans for cycling and whether it intends to maintain current levels of spending.

This is very worrying.  Bristol appears, on the face of it, fairly unpromising territory for cycling as it is hilly and the roads are narrow. But it shows what can be done with effort, enthusiasm and some money. There are countless towns and cities in Britain which would benefit from s similar scheme and there is no reason why it should not be rolled out nationally. Except a paucity of imagination.

Bristol, in fact, has a stunning example of how things can change. Until 20 years ago, astonishingly the main A4 used to run through the centre of town between the Cathedral and the town hall, and then cut diagonally across Queen’s Square in a dual carriageway, as a result of the ‘cars are king’ approach of the 60s. Now the road is hidden away, though apparently it was only moved in the face of widespread protest.  Things can change, but as John Lennon said, ‘Christ it ain’t easy’.

 

  • Greg Tingey

    See also, in other areas:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/south_east_wales/10299524.stm
    Showing that it can also fail, without proper direction.

  • Dan

    “For example, one new cycle path is bounded on both sides by fierce railway type fencing surmounted by dangerous extra coils of sharp metal to deter anyone climbing up ”

    Which of course can deter use full stop as people get aprehansive about what happens if some ‘hoodies’ are comignt he other way and they have ‘hoodies’ behind them.

    Still allotment holders aer frequent victims of vandalism and petty crime, so one has sympathy.

    I’ve noticed schools are starting to be surrounded by these sorts of fences – making areas look like danger areas even when they are not. When I asked about this in my n’hood (as I thought it sent out all the wrong signals – after all I doubt Eton or various other public schools are surrounded by 8 foot high spiked steel galvanised fences) I was told it was the parents who want it – to protect their children (never mind their children being more at risk from the SUVs outside school gate at pick up time!

  • James Roberts

    When you think about what 22m buys in transport terms (3m a ft for motorways anyone?); cycling clearly stacks up for value for money. Its just a win-win-win, healthier people, better air quality, more livable cities. With funding squeezed for urban transport schemes, if we have to make best use of what we have, cycling has to be top of the list of things to invest in.

    Bristol has done a good job, but it’s a good case study for how hard it can be to shift culture and deliver within the constraints local authorities find themselves working within.

  • Tom West

    One thing I’ve noticed about the cycle parking at Bristol Temple Meads: it’s full weekends and weekday evenings, but fairly empty during the working day. Presumably, people commute to BTM by train, then hope on the bike for the last mile or so to the office… which implies a very high degree of faith in the security of the cycle parking.

  • Peter

    Why should taxpayers be forced to pay for these cycle routes?

    If they are worth building, then surely cyclists will be willing to pay…won’t they?

    And who exactly are ‘Cycling England’? Yes, you’ve guessed it, they are a quango staffed by ‘experts’ which received £140m from the taxpayer last year.

    What a nice little job for someone, while the rest of us are trying to make ends meet doing a real day’s work.

    And before anyone says anything about me being a petrolhead or whatever, I would like to see an end to all taxpayer funding of transport, including – especially – all road building.

  • Ian Raymond

    Speaking as a taxpayer and an asthmatic, if it gets people out of their cars and reduces pollution in the local environment, then I am quite happy to pay for them. Taking one point of view, if the object is to reduce car use / increase bike/walk should this not be funded through the existing tax on car users? (That’s as someone currently learning to drive so I don’t have to endure x-country anymore, before any motorists get upset).

    I’m also guessing that there might be indirect ‘savings’ to taxpayers if it gets people to exercise more, reducing their call on the NHS – or maybe it is only of benefit to the lycra-clad brigade?

  • Dan

    Peter –

    “What a nice little job for someone, while the rest of us are trying to make ends meet doing a real day’s work.”

    And what would that be, pray tell us – – I’m genuinly interested – a great many people doing ‘hard dyas work’ even in the private scetor are surprisigngly dependent on subsidy in one way of the other – in developed western economies.

    “And before anyone says anything about me being a petrolhead or whatever, I would like to see an end to all taxpayer funding of transport, including – especially – all road building. ”

    Fair enough – but please give us an example of where this total free market thinking is operational – I can only guess at some undevloped totally agrarian / hunter gatherer economy – please let us know – I’d be really interested.

    and even then when the role of the state is to defend the citizens (even classical free market economists argue this) then the military needs infrasctructure – which means roads, ports, airports – built with subsidy – what are all these civil airports if not ex military tax payer funded sites? Where does sat nav come from if it were not military technology adpated to civil use?

    Can you let us know, I’d like to think more about how this would work Peter

  • SteveL

    Assuming the allotments in question are the St Werburgh’s ones, the problem there is actually that Railtrack didn’t want the railway to be accessible; the allotments back on to the track but with the fence there they are trusted. It’s a shame because the council had wanted to put a seat with a view in at the top of the climb, to make it better to walk.

    Also on the topic of Bristol Trains
    -you get a lot of all day parking at the Clifton Down station, it could be people cycle there and get trains.
    -good riverside route by foot from Castle Park to Templemeads, not yet on the maps; the steps make it tricky to cycle.

  • RapidAssistant

    Peter – show me a completely 100% privately funded piece of transport infrastructure with absolutely no state influence whatsover. We’ve never had it in this country – not even in the pioneering days of railways. And there have been three failed attempts in the last 150 years to make a wholly private network a going concern.

    As Dan says few people in this country can go through a normal day without being influenced or coming into contact with something that is provided for, or subsidised by the state.

    How many private employers are in the place that they are in because of subsidies, tax breaks and/or incentives from local authorities? Sorry I agree with Dan – your idea is fanciful to say the least.

  • Arthur Nesbitt

    But you all seem to have forgotten Bristol’s partner in crime, South Gloucestershire, which has just been congratulated by Cycling England for the way they consult. Of course, Cycling England didn’t bother talking to any cyclists before they came to this momentous decision. Obvious, because if they had talked to any, they couldn’t have come to that decision, and they’d be asking why SGlos doesn’t consult, why it doesn’t follow national cycle provision guidelines or its own policies.

  • Dave Merrett

    Peter,

    Ref. your comment about “who exactly ‘Cycling England’ are? and “Yes, you’ve guessed it, they are a quango staffed by ‘experts’ which received £140m from the taxpayer last year.”.
    The Cycling England Board are as detailed on the web site, and, the Chair excepted, unpaid (we only get travel & related costs reimbursed) for our basic duties. I primarily use annual leave from my proper job to undertake my role, and I’m not the only one. We directly employ only 3 people as such; the money goes on contracts awarded on our advice by the department of Transport, delivering benefits for cycling, whether it’s Bikeability training for tens of thousands of school kids, giving them skills to safely ride, or in the many projects from cycling cities to innovatory new projects on cycle tourism that we partner others on.

    Cycling is a good healthy and environmentally sound way of getting about, contributes to reducing congestion in our cities, and in cost benefit terms, extremely good value for money. In these tight times it does also offer a cheap way of getting about for individuals and families as I can personally testify (the car has long gone) besides keeping me a lot fitter than a lot of others my age (and I basically only cycle locally as part of getting about on an everyday basis and taking my daughter to her activities).

    Get a good life and don’t be so cynical!

    Dave

  • W J Hall

    ‘surmounted by dangerous extra coils of sharp metal to deter anyone climbing up just because some allotment tenants were worried about people knicking their cabbages.’

    -Unfortunately people do steal cabbages, ask any allotment holder, which is why Bristol City Council, acting decisively and sensibly for once, has fenced off all its allotment sites. I expect it also keeps stray dogs away from the lettuce.

    “and then cut diagonally across Queen’s Square in a dual carriageway, as a result of the ‘cars are king’ approach of the 60s.”

    -Actually the 40s, implemented secretly using wartime regulations.
    More recently, I recall seeing it for the first time, one dark night, whilst changing buses. It was quite a shock discovering that I had just moved to a city with a dual carriageway across a Georgian square.

    -20 mph zones were not part of the Cycling City project, although they may be more use than most of it and so far I think only two have been implemented. For some reason these are still regarded as experimental ideas that might go wrong, despite numerous examples in other cities.

    “nowhere near as cycle friendly as central London but it looks like it will get there as long as the cycle city concept is maintained beyond its initial three year period. And that is a great concern.”

    -Worse than Central London sounds a fairly damning criticism.
    As for coming to an end after three years, that is what local authority projects always do, so that money can be allocated to the next spiffing experiment, (Relativistic Cableways anyone?) before anyone has time to evaluate whether the last tranche of funding actually produced anything.

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