Considerate Cycling 28: Geese and Ganders

Chris and I are walkers. We bought our retirement flat in a place where all the main amenities would be within walking distance. Chris doesn’t cycle at all and the difficulties of Bristol’s primitive road network have put her off any idea of becoming a COTTA (Cyclist Of The Third Age).

Not that walking is straightforward, of course. Her main route to the larger shops takes her along a narrow pavement that has had a locked-up bicycle impeding a tight corner for most of this University year.

Like this:

That’s not her, by the way. You might be able to imagine how awkward this corner would be if you were carrying two shopping bags, especially if you hadn’t expected a bike to be there. We talked about telling the owner, with a polite note that the bike was a bit of a hazard at that particular place. Look at it from round the corner:

Even standing well out into the road, the bike is only just visible. Walking along the pavement it is invisible right up to the last few inches. Check the situation from this angle too:

It’s not good is it? However, life is short, we have learned to live with it and there are more pressing issues than inconsiderate cycle parking. We did nothing about it and walk in the road.

This morning however, there was a DEVELOPMENT.

Someone had attached a notice of some kind. Bristol City Council, it seemed, were taking ACTION! And judging by the wording on the notice, DRASTIC ACTION was imminent.

The bicycle is in such a condition that “it ought to be destroyed” and that if not moved within 24 hours, will be destroyed.

There could well be a joker at work here. Students are a humorous lot and what japes they occasionally spring on each other. But the notice looks, at least, like a very good forgery. I took the liberty of examining the obscured part of the notice.

I also thought (more seriously) about the hundreds of other obstructions left cluttering up pavements, crossings and junctions all over Bristol, day in and day out. They are so ubiquitous and so taken-for-granted that complaints are rare and actions even rarer. Look just round the corner from the poor beleaguered bicycle.

If I have a point here it is that when we leave a vehicle out in a public place consideration for others is worth thinking about. There is no specific right to put your bike, car, lorry or tank wherever you like and both collectively and individually we ought to take a lot more care than we do. In particular, Bristol City Council and its Officers could be more systematic about balancing the selfish urge to leave things wherever it suits us and the collective need to have highways, byways and footpaths free for people of all degrees or modes of mobility to move along. Geese, ganders, drivers, walkers, cyclists, disabled or otherwise: we all deserve a fair share of sauce.

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Considerate Cycling 27: Bristol Compared

Percentages of those travelling to work by different means in Bristol compared with England’s other “core cites”, with London and with England as a whole (2011 Census)


Figure 1: Data derived from a selection in “2011 Census: Method of travel to work, local authorities in England and Wales” http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/census/2011-census/key-statistics-and-quick-statistics-for-wards-and-output-areas-in-england-and-wales/rft-qs701ew.xls (Office for National Statistics 2013)

I have listed the data in this graph according to the share of those travelling to work each day by different means. A couple of relatively uncommon methods (like taxi and motorbike) have been left out to keep things simple. I am focussing on Bristol because I live there and I have ordered the graph according to the modes of transport in Bristol, a city that is one of the eight core cities in England. As relevant comparators I have also included details for London and for England as a whole.

To my eyes five things stand out.

1 By the methods used for the Census in England, Bristol stands out from its core city rivals as a place where people who live there walk to work. It’s a very compact city. Compared to Leeds or Sheffield, for example a brisk half hour’s walk from the commercial centre, in any direction, can get you pretty close to the city boundaries. Lots of residential areas lie within a mile and a half of the commercial centre.

2. Even with only one in twenty Bristol commuters using a bike, Bristol still makes the other core cities look pretty slack. Hackney might be pushing London’s share upwards, but overall, the Metropolis has a long way to go to catch up.

3. As an affluent sort of place, Bristol (despite its chaotic roads) has a lot of residents in their cars in the rush hours compared to the less affluent cities of the north. London (sensible London) is giving up on the car but there are Leeds, Sheffield and Bristol managing to sustain about one in three of their working residents getting into the driving seat each day. It’s interesting to note how few of them seem to give anyone a lift. Only 3% or so are getting driven to work in someone else’s car.

4. I left trams out (very low numbers in general) but Bristol does seem to have some scope to increase its share of workers getting the bus to work compared to other cities. Efforts are being made, but with so many cars on so very few good roads the buses will always struggle to provide the punctuality, fares or reliability that Newcastle or Nottingham seem to be achieving.

5. Bristol has a lot of railway history, a lot of local stations and clear, well-developed plans to improve and increase the opportunities for commuter rail journeys over the next few years. Many of these are (and would be) from places outside the Bristol boundaries (and therefore not visible in this graph of Bristol residents). Nevertheless, growth in rail journeys from anywhere would have useful consequences for competition on the existing road space within the city boundaries.

My conclusion from this quick look at current numbers is that Bristol is very well placed to make the most of trends in environmental and public health thinking and to markedly increase the benefits it already gets from a propensity to walk and cycle and to invest profitably in rail travel. Bus services (everyone moans about buses) would benefit from such developments, simply by reducing the overloading caused by so many cars. That overload shows itself in tailbacks and in prolific amounts of free car parking – even on narrow roads that serve as bus routes.

Can I also share my morning’s reading? It’s a big fat hint to local authorities (and especially Bristol) that for changes to happen resources might have to be moved from one (declining) activity into something more promising for the future. Dave Horton reflects on a bridge in his Thinking About Cycling blog.

Considerate Cycling 26: How does Bristol get to work each day?

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Figure 1: Data derived from a selection in “2011 Census: Method of travel to work, local authorities in England and Wales” http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/census/2011-census/key-statistics-and-quick-statistics-for-wards-and-output-areas-in-england-and-wales/rft-qs701ew.xls  (Office for National Statistics 2013)

In recent  conversations with a pedestrian or two I have heard it said that hoping for more bicycles and less cars is unrealistic.

In some ways this blunt appraisal is sane and reasonable. There are so many physical barriers and such deep commitments to the motor car that significant positive change looks very unlikely. It’s also quite clear that many hopeful developments from the recent  past are already falling into disrepair and disfavour.

I don’t always see things so pessimistically. Someone recently pointed me towards some Census data that seemed to show things in a more positive direction. From it I extracted  the graph in Figure 1. Look specifically at the central region of the graph. Focus for a moment on the “Driving a car or van” cluster. A brownish line represents the 32.6% of Bristolian workers who drive to work. That’s a shade less than 1 in 3. To put that another way most Bristolian DON’T drive to work.

Look at the same thing for South Gloucestershire (49.5% by car or van) and North Somerset (46%). The people who live there are to a large degree and in various ways a part of Bristol. For Bristol to be so congested (given that most people in Bristol don’t drive to work) the people of South Gloucestershire and North Somerset must be part of the pressure on Bristol’s congested roads every day. To separate  funding and planning for a single economic unit into three (never mind four or five) authorities is to harm all the parts.

That political question is one that the new Bristol Mayor might be able to address but my main drift is that the variety of transport profiles in such a small and interdependent area suggests that people adapt, that change does happen and that these things are not simply unavoidable or unchangeable. If things can be pulled apart, it should be possible to push them back together.

Bristol, having got to nearly one in four people walking or cycling to work should see no great difficulty in shifting it to one in three. With fewer cars on the road, and none parked along the major routes like Gloucester Road, buses would be able to run on time and at lower cost and even more cars could be kept at home. Second cars would become less “essential”. People from Somerset and Gloucester could start to use the improved buses and trains. Some already cycle in , and more could join them.

On balance, I’m much more optimistic than I thought. Lewis figures for cycling right now, combined with other observable realities, suggest to me that if Bristol City Council and its Mayor got to work on realistic targets,  2021 could look very different to 2011. There is, for example real progress on local rail and serious talk of Quick Win changes that could establish a stronger base for a coherent cycling network  that didn’t just cause grief for the pedestrians we started with.

Considerate Cycling 25: A Practical Campaigner

What follows is an edited version of the transcript of an interview I did with Mick Mack at The Watershed in Bristol in mid-January 2013. I prefer not to spoil interviews by asking questions. My prompts are indicated in italics. I asked Mick if he would do an interview, having met him a couple times at cycle places around Bristol. He seems to me to be a very strong kind of cycling campaigner, someone who really does want to get on with doing practical, useful work, on a bike.

What’s the story?

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My name’s Mick Mack. I was born in Liverpool. We moved away from Liverpool in 1970 when I was 8, down to Sussex. We kind of moved around a bit, my father looking for work. And we ended up in East Anglia, in Cambridgeshire on the edge of the Fens.

I spent ten years of carnival, building floats and making costumes and performing music and dance with Brazilians and Trinidadians, only within this country. I haven’t gone abroad to do any of this, just bumped into a lot of people. But I’ve moved around the country doing it in Birmingham and London and here in Bristol. So I did that for ten years which was brilliant experience. I loved it. It wasn’t much of a career but I had a good time.

Then what…?

Then I spent ten years and more gardening, purely by accident. I moved over to Cork in Ireland. I saw this job for a gardener and I thought “well in the meanwhile … I don’t know anything about gardening but I’m game.” And it was fortunate that this old couple were so desperate and their old gardener had just left and it was May and they had all this stuff that had been seeded into pots in the greenhouse and it needed to go out, both ornamentals and food crops. And so I said “well if you show me what I need to do I’m happy to do it if you don’t mind the fact that I know nothing” and they said “Yeah, OK.” And so that was the beginning of that and within a couple of months I thought “Yes! this is what I should have been dong years ago, gardening, hands in the soil, getting dirty outside, brilliant.”

So I did that in various places both self-employed and working for companies. And then ended up working on a biodynamic farm up in Thornbury, working with pigs and cows and sheep and goats … chickens, which was quite an experience. I’m not sure I’m much of a farmer. I’m more of a gardener, but I’m glad I did it. And then with the recession and everything I was finding it difficult to find another job other than going back up to London.

I decided to try this cycle logistics idea because I had had it before but had done nothing about it, here in Bristol. This was about May 2011. The first thing to do was find some money to get things going. So I put several emails out to companies that I thought would like the idea, people like Triodos and Sustrans and The Environment Agency, you know, big organisations with money who might like the idea. I said in the email I sent them “I have got this idea, I think it’s a great idea, I hope you think it’s a great idea, I haven’t got any money do you think you could offer me some business and by the way can you sponsor the idea by supporting us with £300 quid” And I thought that if I could get half a dozen of these and it goes well that would be enough to get a decent bike and start.

What actually happened was Sustrans’ Chief Executive (because I sent it straight the Chief Executive, being cheeky) Malcolm Shepherd and his Marketing Director Melissa Henry, asked me to come in. So I went and had a chat with them for 20 minutes and within 20 minutes told them the whole story, what I was doing, why I thought it was a good idea and they agreed with me. Then at the end Malcolm said “I suppose you want some money?” and I said “Well that would be very helpful” and he said “well, I’ll tell you what we’ll do, we’ll buy you your first bike. And so they bought me a Bullitt,

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And then it was just a question of trying to find custom, which is proving an ongoing problem. I pitched for work for loads of different companies: retail outlets, institutions like the University. the NHS, Post Office. I’m still in negotiations with Bristol City Council to try and get work. Everyone I speak to, no matter what kind of level, they all think it’s a great idea but they’re not moved to make a decision to use it or at least to try it to find out.

So essentially that’s where I am. I’m still doing it. I’m a year down the line. And I’ve learned a lot about what’s possible in terms of what people are open to since then but still I don’t have enough ongoing contractual work to make it viable really. It feels like I’m living on borrowed time with this but I’ll keep going for as long as I can. In the meantime a lot things have happened which are, are as I say to people, “the bigger picture”.

In July of last year in Cambridge a group of like-minded people from all around Europe set up the European Cycle Logistics Federation whose central remit is to find ways of developing the market for moving goods that are currently being moved by motorised transport around urban environments onto bicycles of various sorts. And we have hooked up with the Chartered Institute for Logistics and Transport to say we would like you to help us to make this happen, basically acting as a broker.

We’re not asking for money. They don’t have to splash out to promote us or anything , just to kind of introduce us because some of their members are some of the biggest logistics companies in the world, people like DHL, UPS, TNT, DPD, FedEx… those kinds of people who are moving millions of items around the world every day. And at some point all of those items get to within a couple of miles of their destination and they get vans going to a distribution centre filling up and then running around the city delivering these goods.

And we in the Cycle Logistics Federation believe there are lots of reasons why this is not a good idea. There is congestion, there is pollution, there is access there is potential for accidents. And I have spoken to a lot of the drivers of these vehicles and they find it very frustrating doing their work, not only the amount of goods they have to shift within a given time frame but also the traffic and getting access down small lanes where they are delivering one parcel … When, if they were to do away with that system and start using bicycles instead all those sorts of problems that at this point they are able to get around would disappear.

There wouldn’t be any need … even if it’s in the companies themselves, it’s not about companies like me getting that work necessarily. Because if the UPSs, and your FedExs decide to go with bicycles and use their own livery and their own riders then that’s good for everyone because, number one it shows it can be done, and two they would only be doing it because it makes sense economically. So it encourages other people out there to see the positives, the benefits and hopefully start to do it for themselves. Whether it’s for freight movement, which is what I do, whether it’s postal deliveries, which some other companies around the country are focussing on, or it’s people getting pedlars’ certificates.

“Why bikes? Where do bikes come in your story?”

Well, Basically I never learned to drive a motor vehicle or get a driver’s licence so I have always got around by public transport, on foot or by bike, ever since I was a kid. To me it makes a lot sense particularly in an urban environment. And over the years as I have become more aware of the transport issues I feel even more committed to the bike.

One of the arguments that I put to Malcolm and Melissa at Sustrans when I spoke them, was that in terms of bikes in sport there’s a lot of uptake of bikes in sport now. It’ s big, there is a lot of money going into it, it’s got a good image, it’s really strong in various ways, whether it’s off-roading, or track or road or whatever people are into. I don’t have a problem with what people are into, that’s good. And then there’s the leisure or commuting types of cycling, people getting to and from work, going touring, or families riding during the summer, going on day trips, hiring bicycles. All those aspects are going really well. And people like Sustrans who put in a lot of time and energy into creating cycle networks, encouraging people – brilliant! That’s all going good.

But for me the bike is essentially a tool. It’s for doing stuff, whether it’s carrying you from A to B or it’s moving goods around. You only have to look back sixty or seventy years, it’s not a new idea. Before the motor car became the dominant mode of transport bicycles were moving stuff around, whether it was the local butcher of baker or greengrocer. And it’s essentially capturing that same spirit. Bicycles could make city centres a lot more people friendly taking as much as, …well the European Cyclist Federation believe that we could potentially lose between 25 and 50 percent of all commercial traffic in the cities over time and with good planning and everything. And ideally the planners and the politicians and big business would come together and see the logic and rationale of it and start to make things happen themselves.

But unfortunately it doesn’t seem to be the case. Part of the motivation for getting the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport on board was because I had seen two reports that they had put out within an eighteen month period that were envisioning the future for logistics and transport – trains, planes, shipping, roads and it didn’t include the bicycle at all. It had no mention of bicycles at all. So it wasn’t even on their radar.

So I sent an email off to the Chief Executive of the Chartered Institute and said “What’s going on, are you and your people not looking around you and seeing the potential of bicycles?” And to be fair they saw what we were saying and since then have started to work with The European Cycle Logistics Federation to try to see how we can help move this forward. We are hoping this Spring to have a big roundtable meeting with all the major transport logistics companies –  DHL, Fed Ex and the like just so they can at least hear the story and how we could potentially work with and help them even if, as I say, they do it themselves. As far as I’m concerned, that’s a bigger point than any one individual company getting work. Even if  I stop doing this six months down the road, as long as someone is carrying that notion forward and pushing it and trying to make it happen, then that’s good enough for me.

To be fair, there is guy called Richard Armitage who came along, he is a transport consultant, He’s a member of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport and he has been around the whole transport question for many years and he came to our inaugural meeting in Cambridge in July. When he stood up and gave his ten minutes worth, he made it clear to us. He said “Look. All the costs for these large companies are only going one way. They are only going up and the potential for what you guys are doing is enormous. But you have to be in there and putting your oar in to make these people understand where it needs to go.”

There is an upsurge in interest, in all things bike at the moment; partly because of The Times and the whole safety issue. But even the bureaucrats are realising that they can’t continue in allowing companies and individual citizens to continue buying more and more cars and snarling up the cities, It just doesn’t make any sense, not to anybody.

A lot of it is to do with breaking down these barriers of fear and safety and who goes first, and all the rest of it. So we’re just playing our part and we just happen to be interested in making the commercial or as I put it, the economic argument for bikes and for the contribution to making the urban environment a much more pleasant place to be.

Any examples of your own cycle jobs?

For me it’s fairly straightforward and mundane day-to-day stuff. I’m lucky in a sense. I’ve done a lot of work for florists which is really nice. One, they’re very light so I’m not lugging heavy goods up and down Park Street or Constitution Hill day in day out. And two, when you get to your destination people are very pleased that you are bringing them flowers.

But that’s the courier side of things and we want to move it onto the logistics side of things. If someone comes to me with 5,000 items they want dispersed all over Bristol then I have to find a way of working out how I can do that without running myself ragged. Basically there has to be a methodology. This is where logistics comes in. It has to be considered and thought out. Not only from the economic point of view but from a physical practical pint of view. And that’s the kind of place we want to move to.

I’m wholly convinced just by all the dialogue I have with like-minded people and all the people I talk to and people who have been in this business a lot longer than me, the transport and logistics business, that this will happen. Five, maybe ten years down the road this will be the norm in urban environments I believe. I’d like to think that most people will believe it to be a good thing.

I’m voting for it.

Well hopefully… We’re talking to the Council, and the people we are talking to are resistant because they are afraid of what the implications are for them as individuals and as an organisation, job security and all the rest of it. But I believe that in terms of the economic situation organisations like the Council will see the benefits involved and because of the image they want to project in the City that they will get on board with it. Whether they do it themselves or work with external providers or contractors remains to be seen but at some point it will happen.

What about Bristol’s roads? Do they have the capacity?

Well, If you got to the situation where you had the problem of trying to cater for thousands of bicycles moving goods around the city, that would be a nice problem to have. I don’t know. I’m not an engineer I don’t know what the problems might be. I’d like to think we can wait till we get to that stage: they’ll be thinking about that as and when it grows.

It’s not going to happen all of a sudden overnight. I think there is a genuine possibility that at some point some company that’s already running a similar sorts of operation like GNEWT or the like and just sort of jump in with all the professionalism and marketing know-how and transforming the situation in a relatively short space of time.

If you look at different parts of the country people are up to all kinds of things. The biggest company in this country is based in Cambridge. They’re called Outspoken Delivery. They’ve got a dozen riders and they are working with more than 200 different organisations on a regular basis, from cake shops to The University.

And, this is a point I would like our local council to take on board… to at least consider: over in Cambridge the local authority have got a policy, between 10 and 4 on every working day, to close the city to motorised traffic.

People just don’t appreciate and understand what the potential is and I would like people to consider that.

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a full transcript of the interview is available as a pdf document here