Considerate Cycling 53: a short shared-use path in Bristol

The End

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This blog was provoked by a request in the Bristol Cycling Campaign web forum for views on a shared-use path that crossed the large IKEA site in the Easton area of the city. Because two family members live near to it I have used it a few times as part of a route between their homes. So I thought I ought to chip in.

Rather than post my own confusion about the route I decided to go and make a more detailed assessment. This account of what I found starts on the north east end of the route and works its way south west. As we stop for photographs I mull over some of the continuing difficulties that such routes present for cyclists and walkers.

Picture 1 (see above) was taken on Easton Road, a dual carriageway that feeds and disgorges motor vehicle traffic to and from the large retail sites (mostly Tesco and IKEA) close to the M32. Easton Road  does have bus stops but there is only one bus stop (IKEA)  that gives access within the retail areas that is in any way comparable to the convenience enjoyed by car users.

Let’s move along to the roundabout visible in picture 1. I was on a bike. This is a shared journey, so just allow a bit longer to get to picture 2 if you are on foot.

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In picture 2 we can just about see evidence of TESCO and a Pizza King (or is it a Burger Hut?). At this range my eyesight is more absorbed in watching for motor vehicles than direction signs but our target is somewhere off that second exit where the white van might be going. When did use of indicators become a widely recognised sign of weakness?

Let’s move on.

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Having taken that second exit, we see that spending opportunities present themselves immediately. Walkers and cyclists might feel a bit overwhelmed by the scale. But at least there is a shady foot-way with a dropped kerb on the approach.

Cast your eyes on the shrubbery in the centre of the picture. Our next picture steps closer to it.

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This is the first clue about that shared-use path. I think it’s odd that the signed announcement of a path is not accompanied by a direction sign to tell us where it goes. Glancing back at picture 3 you can also see that getting across to that opening is going to present problems. It is a very wide road.

I find myself wondering if all shared-use signs suggest a  riderless bike crowding a parent and child to the edge of the path? Is this negative subliminal advertising or just the unconscious assumptions of a graphic designer made real?

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Crossing the road was awkward and would have been much worse in heavier traffic. Nevertheless, things look better now. The  path is only single file for each type of user but the indication of which side to use is clear enough. The surface is unbroken and (probably) slip resistant in wet weather if leaves are swept.

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Setting off in the journey I’m still disconcerted about the lack of a direction sign. There is nothing in this aspect that tells me where I might be going. No landmarks at all. The word “legible” is sometimes used in this kind of situation. I should be able to read the path in some way and feel confident that I won’t be coming back again after fifteen minutes of following a misguided hunch. At a little after nine in the morning it is very quiet here so there is no one to ask.

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The path travels for 2 or 3 hundred metres along the side of IKEA and at this point (see photograph 7) there is a slight incline with maybe some potential for those wet slippery leaves at some times of year. If I did slip the unyielding sides don’t look as comfortable as the hedge might have been. If I were walking up the slope with a baby buggy, I wonder how much escape room there would be if an over-enthusiastic cyclist came bowling along in the other direction?

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A bit further along I notice this yellow intrusion. Our shared use path crosses a  long set of steps that connect IKEA with the car park for Eastgate Retail Centre (Halfords and Laura Ashley etc). The strong impression I get is that when these places were designed the assumption was that cars had to be hard-wired into the retail process. Anything on public transport, foot or cycle could sort itself out at the fringes and needed no special attention. If this specific path has any purpose the physical cues suggest, inaccurately as it turns out (see detailed layouts here: http://tinyurl.com/hmpo66f ) that it was made to keep walkers, bus passengers  and cyclists out of the way, not to help them do business with the retailers.

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The visual clue  in photograph 9 is that there is no clue beyond the steps either. Another couple of hundred metres reach ahead, but we still can’t confirm where it goes. The sun is over  our left shoulder and it’s morning, so we are probably travelling westward.

One day everyone will have a device that guides them everywhere to anywhere they chose. I will choose to leave mine at home and enjoy the rich geography of travelling, unaided, on a bike. For the time being most people who would like to walk, get the bus or cycle are given a bit of  a rough time because so many concrete (sic) decisions have already been made that they should be in a car for most of every journey that matters.

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If this is starting to get a bit dull – point made I suppose. Here (picture 10) is the next section of the well made shared path. We have the IKEA car park to our left, having got to the end of the very large IKEA building. It’s worth reflecting on the fact that the IKEA floor layout is specially designed to prevent customers getting straight to what they have come to buy. Browsing and getting a bit lost is as good as compulsory. There are no signs to discrete departments or items. This reminds us that designers and architects are not oblivious to the significance of physical layouts and route design. It also tells us that those who, so far, have laid out our cycle and pedestrian paths did not attend the same courses as the retail planners even though, in this case, they have come up with surprisingly similar outcomes. Eagle-eyed readers might be able to discern a blue blur in the far distance of picture 10. It’s a direction sign that tells you where to go from there.

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My bridge camera’s absurdly generous zoom feature (see above) can see that …ton Road lies ahead. All is good then.

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Zooming back to real life, a real cyclist appears. So far this has been the first I have seen on the path. Back on Eastgate Road and Muller Road I had seen a few more, some on the pavement, all looking a bit uncomfortable and reluctant.

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Moving on, I got to the end of this section and wondered why, at this particular point, a direction sign to a road which, until now, had never been mentioned, let alone have its own signpost, had been erected.

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At this time of day the car park is empty. The route in this section has useful indications that this is a route and that people will be moving along it and that vehicles should probably give way. Trees and advertising boards help to reinforce awareness of the presence of the path. The paving gives another big hint. This is my favourite part of the whole route. I can see it’s a path, everyone else can see it’s a path (and which side they should be on) and I have been encouraged with the well-signed knowledge that I am going somewhere specific.

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As I am crossing, a pedestrian and a cyclist show up at the same time. This path, like so many other local features, is known to a few but (I’m guessing here) used by only a fraction of those who might use it more frequently if they knew more about it.

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As we feared, the end of this section has no signs. A choice of ramp or steps is obvious but it’s not clear at this level whether they go to different places.

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A quick hop to the end of the ramp confirms that each option leads to the same place – New Exhibition Road.

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From the ramp end another direction sign is visible – Stapleton Road is mentioned once again. I wonder if these hints were to appease Stapleton Road traders who saw a nearby threat being planned uncomfortably close to them?

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The sign is a sign, but when viewed from the steps out of the IKEA car park, it looks like this.

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This concrete obsolescence is the M32. Pollution levels are high. We are leaving New Stadium Road and joining Napier Road. A row of houses  in the sunshine beyond the M32 mark our arrival at Stapleton Road. A huge sign on the motorway  above reminds us that people driving cars get lots of help with remembering where they are going and when they need to turn off. The cycle crossing is for the Frome Valley Greenway which follows the line of the Frome River right into the city centre. It’s a successful shared-use path that could do with a bit of refurbishment and improvement (especially where it uses narrow underpasses beyond Junction 3). My journey takes me south, so I shall be turning right at the crossing. I shall be turning right because I know the way. There is no obvious signpost to help the uncertain despite this being a pretty major junction.

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Photograph 21 gives a better view of the raised table and road markings that enable users of the Frome Valley Greenway to take their right of way against motor vehicle traffic. It works well.

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As we follow the gap between Stapleton Road and the Frome Valley Greenway we finally see a useful signpost just before the railway line that marks the edge of Fox Park. Unsurprisingly the shops are signed but the nearby railway station isn’t. “Commerce trumps sustainable transport”seems to be a major theme of this exploration.

In conclusion, we have travelled no more than a kilometre and seen a lot of failings in what is still one of the best off-road short-cuts in the city. My personal hobbyhorse in such things is the failure to make such routes as visible and legible as possible. Here’s a picture of a good sign. The same sign featured in photograph 22.

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There need to be a lot more like it, they need to be regularly maintained and more destinations (schools for example) should be mentioned. Cyclists are not racing past, they have time to read what the signs say. Every journey can be an encouragement to use the bike for new destinations and to explore more of the city. Signage costs a lot less than rocket science and is far more worthwhile.

Cycling in Bristol24

The Beginning

Considerate Cycling 52: A letter to my MP about Space for Cycling

Cycling in Bristol

I have just sent off an email to my MP, the Labour Member for Clifton West in Bristol. I used the template from a CTC mailout to make my own case:

To: Ms Thangam Debbonaire, MP Bristol West
Subject: Please back Funding for Cycling

Dear Thangam,

I am a member of Bristol Cycling Campaign and of the CTC, whose members are being asked to send you an email about funds for cycling that will fall to local authorities to provide out of steadily diminishing resources.

I have used the CTC’s campaign letter as a basis for what I would like to say, but I have tried to add some things that reflect the situation I am in and leave out lots of things that I’m sure you will already  be seeing in other emails.

Firstly,  I would urge you to back a call from the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group (APPCG) for annual funding of at least £10 per person for cycling, rising as quickly as possible to £20 or more. Adrian Davis, who has done a lot of work for public health in Bristol has published summaries of the work that has been done to show how the cost benefits of spending on shifts towards more cycling have disproportionate benefits in other spending areas – reducing the costs of ill-health and casualties (for example) by more than the amounts spent on cycling. (http://travelwest.info/project/ee-30-cost-benefit-analysis-of-walking-and-cycle-track-network)

Prime Minister David Cameron and cycling minister Robert Goodwill MP both backed spending of at least £10 per person during this year’s general election campaign.  Yet the media reports that even this minimal investment may still not be forthcoming. This really should be challenged.

As a retired person, living in a block of retirement flats in Clifton I have the advantage of a bicycle and plenty of places within easy reach so I don’t need a car. I can visit family in Easton and Lockleaze, 3 miles away, without difficulty.

But I am an experienced cyclist who is still in good health.

I would like my granddaughter to be able to cycle over to see me and her Granny as soon as she is old enough (at about 10)  – perhaps bringing her Mum, Dad or Uncle with her. As I will be into my 70s by then I would still like to cycle the journey myself sometimes. The hills are no problem (I will go more slowly or possibly add electric assistance) but the way the roads are laid out and managed at present give so much privilege to the rapid movement of motor vehicles and so little support to cycling that I can see a time not far off when the conflict will seem too much of a hazard.

Children and older people really should be able to cycle across our compact city without competing so much with motor vehicles. Even on quiet 20mph streets motor traffic can still  be very hostile (as Bristol’s casualty data make clear) .The cost of rearranging things will not be anywhere near as high as past expenditures on road building so I would see it as not a “luxury we can’t afford” but a “necessity that can help us survive better in the future”

As your constituent I would therefore urge you to support the APPCG’s letter and call for a proper degree of funding for cycling (and, indeed for walking).

Your support will help ensure we have safer streets, cleaner air, a healthier population and more funds in the public coffers. I hope I can count on your support for cycling, a means of transport which is one of the biggest and most worthwhile projects of all.

Yours sincerely,

Sam Saunders

Considerate Cycling 51: Bristol Cyclists, Pedestrians, Police Data and Emergency Admissions to Hospital

 Cycles-To-A&E

This blog was co-authored by Rob Harding (who did all the real work)

 In Bristol, as in the UK as a whole, there are two main sources of information on road traffic incidents causing injury and involving cyclists. Each has its strengths and weaknesses.

Police incident records, known as STATS19 reports, give a specific location for the incident, a series of context details and a brief account of what happened. The reporting Officer also ticks one or more “contributory factors” from a long list to give some sense of “why” things had gone wrong. In some cases, from reading these reports, it’s possible to form a view on who was most at fault. We know, however, that there is a degree of under- or even mis-reporting and that police themselves have some concerns as to the accuracy and consistency of the reports. Some are completed at the scene, others might be done some time later and it is not hard to imagine that on busy days some might not be reported at all.

Bristol Council’s Highway and Transport Management Department use the STATS19 data to analyse trends and to rank contributory factors within the city (“failed to look properly” is far and away the most commonly cited factor). They also add the location and summary details of each incident to the map displayed on the Bristol – Pinpoint Local Information page. National data can be explored here on the UK Government data website or here on the excellent CycleStreets collision map, one incident at a time, with lots of detail.

Augmenting the Police data, Bristol City Council’s Directorate of Public Health produce figures for Bristol emergency admissions to hospital due to transport related accidents. These are records of Bristolian residents who arrive at hospital A&E Departments following transport related “accidents” (their choice of word). These figures comprise allBristol residents’ admissions whereever in the country the traffic-related injuries were incurred. They are thought to be more comprehensive than the Police reports but incidents are not identifiable by street location and, while they identify the types of road user, they don’t identify the more detailed factors that might lie behind the road traffic injuries.

So what does the Bristol Emergency Admissions data tell us about cyclists and road traffic incidents in Bristol?

In 2014 44 Bristol cyclists were admitted to hospital as a result of collisions with motorised vehicles. Separate studies, by BCyC members of incidents in Gloucester Road and Cabot Ward, suggest that a majority of these are associated with motor vehicle drivers “failing to look properly” or some other factor that relates to motor vehicle driver behaviour. As well as these casualties, 113 more cyclists were admitted to hospital as a result of non-collision transport incidents. Given the lack of narrative or the identity of specific locations, it is difficult to pin down causes and propose remedial actions for these non collision accidents but road surfaces (that could be remedied with prompt action) are associated with a significant proportion.

Plotting them against time of year shows peaks in December and June. A 2010 survey, biased towards commuters, suggested that 25% of incidents were the result of ice but that still leaves a large number unaccounted for.

As far as trends are concerned, in the last five years an average of just under 40 Bristol cyclists were hospitalised each year as a result of collisions with motorised vehicles. This compares with an average of just over 27 per year between 2003 and 2007 (the earliest years for which we have figures). While it is difficult to accurately adjust these figures to allow for the increased level (perhaps a doubling) of cycling in the city, they would not seem to suggest that cycling has got more dangerous. On the other hand it cannot be said that they demonstrate a clear “safety in numbers” effect either.

With regard to pedestrians, in 2014 73 Bristol people were injured as a result of collisions with motorised vehicles compared with 5 injured in collisions with cyclists. Put another way, 93.5% of pedestrians admitted to hospital were injured in collisions with motorists compared to 6.5% injured in collisions with cyclists. The latter figure includes those injured when stepping off the pavement and into the path of cyclists as well as those injured by pavement cyclists (it is not possible to break the figures down any further). The figures do show that the overwhelming number of pedestrian casualties are caused by collisions with motorised vehicles and, because lower collision speeds cause lesser injuries, provide clear evidence of the need for 20 mph enforcement, even if there was no reduction in the number of collisions. Injury increases with mass and with velocity and every day in Bristol there are, on average, 5 Police reports of road traffic casualty incidents of one sort or another.

Considerate Cycling 50: A Tale of a Cycling Excursion and a Police Officer

Bristol's Cycle Sunday  Cycle Sunday

On the morning of Sunday 19th April a section of Circular Road on the Bristol Downs was opened for people and bicycles. For a few hours hundreds and hundreds of people of all ages had a whale of a time on bikes – learning, practicing, coaching, watching, being serious, having fun and having more fun. It was a very sociable and good natured event with plenty of professional support. When I asked a medic for the casualty count as I left she said, with a big smile, that it stood at “none”.  I went home and put loads of photographs into a Flickr set. (click it to see it!)

This afternoon I was out and about again enjoying the good weather. This time I was in the City noticing lots of people out on their bikes. As I looked across College Green a familiar cycling figure turned up, bowling along one of Bristol’s more decorative cycle tracks. We both agreed what a fine event the first Cycle Sunday had been and hoped there would be plenty more to follow it up. However, he did tell me another story that didn’t have the same positive feel to it. He and some fellow cyclists had met on the Downs that morning to see how things were going before setting off on a longer journey of their own.

The story jolted me a bit. I asked if he would write it down so I could share it. Like the story of the damaged knee it is likely to raise all sorts of reactions. My purpose in this blog in general is to consider, to be considerate and to encourage consideration (in the very widest sense of that useful word). So please feel free to offer a response that considers the issues considerately. My own memory of the day is best summed up in this photograph – a small step to a whole future of adventures, self-confidence and good health, perhaps for thousands of people in Bristol.

First_Step A First Step

The Tale Itself

The “Cycling on the Downs” event was tremendous. The road was full of adults and children cycling, all over the place, in all directions. With so much more space than on a typical cycle path. Exhilarating. A large part of Circular Road was closed to motorists. From 8am to 11am. Ladies Mile was not closed to motorists. Nor was Stoke Road, the fast road across the Downs.

A group of a dozen of us cycled to Portishead from The Downs. We cycled down Ladies Mile, surprisingly not closed to motorists, two-abreast. Legally (there is room to overtake to the right of the centre line), safely (is in a 20mph zone) and considerately (we were cycling at 13mph in a 20 mph zone). After less than a minute (the road is only about half a mile or a couple of minutes long) a couple of motorists behind sounded their horns. A car overtook, shouting abuse through the open passenger window. Further down I saw him cut in aggressively on one of my companions.

Then a police car pulled alongside and asked me not to ride two-abreast. I declined, pointing out that it was the correct thing to do. Instead of following after the abusive motorist ahead, he dropped back, and then pulled past me too closely. It would be misleading to say that the police car was forcing me into the kerb. A companion later described it as “shepherding” – the police car appeared to try to shepherd me towards the gutter. I caught up the police car and asked the driver to pull over so that I could have a word. And he asked me to pull over so that he could have a word.

I complained that he had passed me unreasonably closely. He told me that I should not be riding two-abreast, and was causing an obstruction. I objected that the highway code endorses riding two-abreast, as do national cycling bodies such as British Cycling, and that I was riding at a reasonable speed in a 20mph zone with space to overtake. The police officer responded that “obviously” some motorists will want to go faster than 20mph. He said that the police receive complaints from motorists that cyclists cause obstructions and that they have to respond to complaints from the public.

Congratulations to the organisers, and thanks to the Downs Committee for permitting this event on part of one road on part of one Sunday morning.

Considerate Cycling 49: Some Casualty Data

This month another batch of road casualty data was published by the Department for Transport. Grouped by Police Force Area, it comprises the most recent twelve months figures for each area up to January 2015. I have extracted the following graph, comparing the area surrounding Bristol (the Avon and Somerset Police Force Area) with Gloucestershire (because we are neighbours) and with eight other (mostly urban) areas where the largest cities can be found. Have a look first and see what sense you can make of it and what questions it raises.

Selected-Casualities-to-Jan

The per capita columns, in red, warn us that London had the worst odds for anyone wanting to avoid injury in 2014 while the green columns suggest they also have the best odds for avoiding death.

Gloucestershire stands out as having by far the worst record for road deaths per one thousand people and being one of only three areas (along with Avon and Somerset and Nottinghamshire) where fatalities are disproportionately high when set against figures for all casualties. The contrast between Gloucestershire and London (The Metropolitan and The City of London Police Force Areas together) is striking. In Gloucestershire fatalities make up a much bigger share of the road carnage than is the case in London.

Beyond these simple generalisations there are only questions and guesses. I think I would be going to Gloucester and to Bristol (and Nottingham) and asking to see data on every fatality for that 12 months and asking what design suggestions emerge from the forensic evidence.  Are any related to road layouts? To speed?  To surfaces, signage or  sight-lines?  If carelessness is involved could the road or its immediate environment have reduced the danger of someone being careless another occasion?

I have one other thought arising form this graph and that is that however unreliable the data for injuries are, we can probably treat data on fatalities as highly reliable. We know that a lot of casualties go unrecorded, even when injuries are sustained but deaths are different. Areas that have what appear to be relatively (rather than absolutely) high on fatality rates might simply be under-reporting slight (and even serious) casualties.

Mostly, I wonder if anyone knows of research that analyses the lessons learned from road fatalities or the effectiveness of actions that have been taken as a result?

Considerate Cycling 48: Primrose Paint and Good Intentions

My email box this week included a message about tonight’s Neighbourhood Forum meeting for Cabot, Clifton and Clifton East in Bristol. The text of the email read: “a late statement- lots of cross residents”. Attached was a one page document with text and three pictures, as follows:

Yellow Lines in Clifton Village

At the last Partnership meeting, I mad a statement asking that care should be made when marking out RPZ and had a meeting with John Toy (but no further replies when I asked questions again that had not been answered

Last week I tackled the men when I saw them painting broad yellow lines and told them they should be putting down primrose yellow narrow lines since it is a conservation area. They said they that if there were broad lines before they would be replaced by broad lines since they would have to burn off the lines and start again.

This is simply not true, there are many places where you can see narrow lines on older yellow lines (eg Princes Buildings). You also get the stupidity of Royal York Crescent and the Paragon where you have narrow lines on one side and broad lines down the other.

You get joins of broad lines to narrow lines eg top of Princess Victoria St, and Royal York Crescent.

Do not spoil our conservation area for the sake of a ha’porth of tar. You must be consistent with narrow lines”

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CCCENP-2

CCCENP-3

   There are also all sorts of stupidities down Princess Victoria Street. They have put yellow lines outside a shop (about number 69) which has no off street parking and outside other houses further down the street (89).

I can see that a lack of primrose coloured paint on narrowed double yellow lines might make some people slightly agitated and I can visualise a perfect world in which it would really matter (Staithes in North Yorkshire comes to mind). However, this is a note about Clifton in Bristol. Clifton has its attractions, but the elegance and aesthetic appeal of its roads, streets and paths are not among them. Even if they were beautiful it would be hard to see them on some days for the numbers of cars, buses, vans and lorries parked on or moving slowly along them. Here are a couple of my own snaps.

a bit messy in Clifton

bigger problems

choked with cars

So what’s my point? I’m not sure really. Firstly, I think that motor vehicles are becoming the ruin of our pleasant city and secondly I think that some individuals are starting to use the policy vacuum of artificial “neighbourhood” structures as a ventilation for trivia that drive out consideration of things that have wider and greater importance.

I have attended a few meetings of the Cabot, Clifton and Clifton East Neighbourhood Forums but I don’t think I shall be there tonight.

Considerate Cycling 47: Thinking About Walking, Helping Cycling

lQueens-Road-and-Park-Street

This section of a CycleStreets map focuses on one lively part of Bristol. It’s where I go shopping sometimes. It also includes my favourite uphill ride in the city, a gradient that suits my 65 year old sense of fun. The best known section is called Park Street. Lots of people ride up and down Park Street despite the well-rehearsed myth that Bristol is “too hilly”.

Park Stret Bristol

But never mind the gradient. Look at the RTC data from CycleStreets brilliant search tool. In the map reproduced above  I used a mouse to click round the blobs of shame that mark all the failures of gravity, attention span, entropy and other abstractions that ended up with someone in A&E. Towards the north west end of the marked area is a mess of ill-made streets called “The Triangle” On its hypotenuse is Queens Road.

Once the area has been drawn, click on the submit button and CycleStreets delivers a more or less instant comma separated file for inspection in your browser. Downloading is recommended – it can be opened with Excel or SPSS  or whatever other gimlet you use  for data mangling.This is what I did with mine in Excel:

Graph-2005-to-2013-casualty

So there you have it. Pedestrians have a rough time of it on Bristol’s liveliest streets. What do we make of it? What do A&E make of it? What could we do about it? Here are some bullet points to start an argument:

  • Reducing speeds to 20 mph would be good.
  • Stop casual street parking (there’s a massive empty car park very close by – make the first hour free)
  • Re-balance traffic lights to favour pedestrians
  • Widen footpaths
  • De-clutter the footpaths
  • Add more crossing places
  • Persuade shops to use more “last mile” cycle deliveries
  • Make a two-way cycle track up one side of Park Street where the parking used to be
  • Pedestrianise the rest of Park Street
  • Improve lighting at night
  • Talk to taxi drivers about what they see at night and what ideas they have
  • Look at the two major junctions off Park Street
  • Narrow the very wide exit from Queens Avenue onto Queens Road
  • Ask the Government for some proper money

It seems to me that most of these could make a difference to the casualty stats for people on foot. As a big bonus they would also make life gentler for anyone riding a bike. I looked for pedestrian casualties where a bicycle had been involved. The data run from 2005 to 2013. There was just one. It was a slight injury collision in 2012. It was at quarter to three on a Sunday morning and both parties needed treatment..