Considerate Cycling 19: Plans, Projects and Priorities


The ghost of Bristol’s Future?

There is a document, approved by Bristol City Council a year ago that says all you need to know about the role of cycling in the city’s mobility future:

Under the heading “Delivery Strategy” on pp 81-82 the text reads as follows:

Policy BCS10

The council will support the delivery of significant improvements to transport infrastructure to provide an integrated transport system, which improves accessibility within Bristol and supports the proposed levels of development. In particular it will support, subject to environmental impact assessment where appropriate:

1. The implementation of the Greater Bristol Bus Network.

2. The delivery of transport infrastructure improvements, including:

  • Rapid transit routes (Ashton Vale to Emerson’s Green and Hengrove to the North Fringe, all via the city centre);
  • Rail improvements, including the following prioritised schemes:
    • The reopening of the Portishead rail line for passenger use; and
    • The Greater Bristol Metro Rail Project;
    • And the following potential long term schemes:
      • The reintroduction of a local passenger rail service between Avonmouth and Filton (Henbury Loop);
      • New rail stations, for example at Portway Park and Ride, Ashton Vale and Ashley Hill;
      • And other passenger rail stations where appropriate;
      • New and expanded Park and Ride facilities:
        • New site on the M32; and
        • Expansion of existing Park and Ride sites where appropriate;
        • South Bristol Link;
        • Callington Road Link; and
        • A network of routes to encourage walking and cycling.

3. Making the best use of existing transport infrastructure through improvement and reshaping of roads and junctions where required to improve accessibility and connectivity and assist regeneration and place shaping.

4. Appropriate demand management and sustainable travel measures.

Safeguarding of Routes and Facilities

Land required for the implementation of transport proposals will be safeguarded to enable their future provision. Corridors with the potential to serve as future routes for walking, cycling and public transport will also be safeguarded. Appropriate existing transport facilities such as transport depots will be safeguarded where required.

Development Principles

Without prejudice to the implementation of the major transport schemes listed above, proposals will be determined and schemes will be designed to reflect the following transport user priorities as set out in the Joint Local Transport Plan:

a) The pedestrian;

b) The cyclist;

c) Public transport;

d) Access for commercial vehicles;

e) Short stay visitors by car;

f) The private car.

The needs of disabled people will be considered within all of the above headings. Development proposals should be located where sustainable travel patterns can be achieved, with more intensive, higher density mixed use development at accessible centres and along or close to main public transport routes. Proposals should minimise the need to travel, especially by private car, and maximise opportunities for the use of walking, cycling and public transport.

Developments should be designed and located to ensure the provision of safe streets and reduce as far as possible the negative impacts of vehicles such as excessive volumes, fumes and noise. Proposals should create places and streets where traffic and other activities are integrated and where buildings, spaces and the needs of people shape the area.

The key phrase is ” Without prejudice to the implementation of the major transport schemes listed above”. This administrators’ circumlocution makes it clear to me that the big money schemes take priority but where things can be tweaked, adjustments and accommodations will be made to look after pedestrians, cyclists, public transport, commercial vehicles, people from visiting cars and cars (in that order). These will be tweaks, they are not what run the show. They are not “priorities” in the normally understood meaning of the word.

Since the major projects take up all the big money and time, the assertion that the needs of pedestrians and cyclists are at the top of the list are the “priority” is clearly false. The Big Scheme comes first, and that’s it. Everything else is fitted in where it can be. A bit of a nuisance. It is understandable. I sympathise with those employed to work for us. But we need to be clear what comes first. It’s a big and difficult subject and I might be tempted back to write something more carefully weighted.

Considerate Cycling 18: A Simple Point

The point I want to make is very simple. It isn’t particularly contentious and it doesn’t take long to express.

My difficulty is that the hostile responses I sometimes get when I make it confirm the truth of what I am saying, while leaving my sceptical correspondents unconvinced.

I expect everyone has that experience at some time, so I hope you can read to the end of this short blog before hauling out the standard denials and shoving the point back where it came from.

Here’s the point itself. I have squeezed it into one tweet-length sentence:

Individual emotional comfort is more influential in decisions about personal daily travelling than any reported probability of physical harm

It has no full stop but it is exactly 140 characters long (including spaces). I’ll put it on the page once more, this time with a full stop.

“Individual emotional comfort is more influential in decisions about personal daily travelling than any reported probability of physical harm.”

As it stands it is a hypothesis. It’s a theory that needs to be tested in contexts that matter, and in ways that are relevant to strategies for transport engineering as much as for transport campaigning. For the time being though, I have a lifetime of experience, research training, friendly chat  and reading that leads me to believe that if I did all the scholarship, planned and executed excellent data gathering and then analysed my data with caution and good advice I would fail to refute the statement.

In plain language, I bet I would be able to show evidence that would change many people’s minds if they were open to mind changing on the basis of formal evidence. Most people aren’t, of course and that is a big part of my dilemma. It is a dilemma that applies just as much to me as it does to the confidently empirical engineer/campaigner who might be rejecting my hypothesis as it now stands.

That’s the formal half. Now the anecdotes. The important, influential half of this blog.

My wife is a pedestrian. Unusually she neither cycles nor drives.  She never took a driving test. Regular journeys of less than a mile (and many that are over a mile) are done on foot, often with shopping bags or other loads. Beyond that she uses the bus or train, and on rare special occasions she gets a taxi or a lift (not from me, we haven’t owned a car for years). She walks a lot. She walks every day and she has done for decades. She lived and worked in Bristol from the age of 17 and has recently returned after an absence of about 30 years.

She is delighted to be back. Moving here has been a really good one for both of us. But on one thing we cannot agree. She absolutely hates sharing her journeys with people on bicycles. She finds that Bristol City Council’s policy of creating shared space has contributed to (or arises from) an anarchic situation in which sudden close encounters between cyclists and pedestrians happen regularly in unexpected and emotionally disturbing ways. The legal situation is not the issue. Signage is ambiguous or inadequate everywhere and conflicts occur independently of the formal rules. She never knows what might happen next.

She knows full well that harm to pedestrians is rare, and when it does happen it is far more likely to be a motorised vehicle that causes it. We all know that. But no-one (even my wife, whose work was in medical laboratories) reflects on scientific knowledge before allowing adrenaline and discomfort to rush briefly through their calmness as a cyclist cuts across a road and  comes between two parked cars onto the pavement they are walking along.  When she feels a cyclist buzz behind her as she walks over a pedestrian crossing she doesn’t summon her rational self fast enough not to feel startled and threatened. Even as she walks along a completely empty footpath, memory and experience tells her that her attention level has to be higher than it was in calmer days, because last week this was the place that a bicycle appeared, as if from nowhere, at what felt like an excessive speed.

She feels angry, after the close pass by a perfectly well balanced attentive and silent cyclist doing 15-20 mph, that the cyclist has not taken into account the possibility that she might have skipped to the left, or suddenly stopped to blow her nose, or done some other ordinary pedestrian thing. As she calms down, of course, she forgets and she walks on. But the unpredictability of such encounters offers no useful learning. The simple peaceful experience of walking has become one or two degrees less comfortable, and she blames people on bicycles. She is adamantly against devoting scarce resources to cycle-friendly developments. She can be as sceptical and unreasonable about cyclists as cyclists can be about motorists. She looks around for new incidents to report back to me, in the same way that helmet camera users collect evidence to show YouTube that roads aren’t fair to them.

What this tells me is that emotions, immediate experiences and feelings are far more important in attitude formation and political support than cold dissection of “the facts”. The hard line of some cycling campaigners and the sometimes lax attitude to suboptimal degrees of separation of some traffic engineers can make the issue worse rather than better. Cyclists and engineers, of course, are subject to the same irrational influences on their own attitudes.

My view is that by itself, simple analysis of official data on traffic management will lead nowhere useful. What must be done is to give greater priority to how people feel and what people value. If we believe in evidence based policy, then we must stop using arithmetic for a while and start talking to people, systematically and at length. There are well-established methods for gathering rich qualitative data without resorting to the sterility and inflexibility of questionnaires. Someone somewhere has got to do that serious work and give confidence to politicians who have the inclination to adopt human solutions based on how people are rather than how they should be.

This blog was brought to you by the tweet:

Individual emotional comfort is more influential in decisions about personal daily travelling than any reported probability of physical harm