Considerate Cycling 37: Custom and Law Are Good Friends But Bad Enemies

The Downs in Bristol are one glorious open area with over 400 acres of grassland and trees. A Committee protects the ancient right of all Bristolians to enjoy them, unspoiled, in perpetuity. Among the prohibitions that assures that right is a ban on cycling. It applies on all grassed areas and on the well-surfaced footpaths that cross the Downs

There is one exception. A good wide track has been added along Durdham Down adjacent to Stoke Road and bicycle logos have been painted at intervals along it. It covers quite a lot (but not all) of a route between student residences to the north of the Downs and Whiteladies Road to the south. A narrower pedestrian path runs in parallel to it, but closer to the busy road that also serves as a car park for visitors to the Changing Rooms and Tea Shop beyond the cyclist in my picture.

I went there today to take some photographs of happy cyclists enjoying the good weather and the excellent facility. As I sat down by a tree I took a first picture (see above) and settled down to consider how to go about getting the shots I had imagined. After about fifteen minutes only two other cyclists went past, and none came from the direction that would allow me to get the sunlit smiling faces I had hoped for.

It was a puzzle. Behind me I had noticed several cyclists on the road. Eventually a mother and child came past on the cycle track. I took the next picture as they approached the mums with pushchairs who had been chatting for the last five minutes and who barely looked up as the child rang a polite bell of warning.

Another five minutes passed and while no more cyclists came by, several pedestrians did. Along the cycle track. The pedestrian path remained empty. I gave up my mission and set off homewards along Ladies Mile, one of the roads that cross the Downs. Crossing Ladies Mile was a footpath, a metre of so wide, with NO CYCLING painted in large white letters on each side of the road. I stopped to look and within a minute several cyclists had already arrived, crossed the road and departed, making confident use of the forbidden track.

I spotted this well-dressed woman in smart clothes on a smart bike, flagrantly disregarding the NO CYCLING instruction beneath her very wheels. What was I to make of the conundrum? These weren’t odd random events. I’ve actually noticed it happening before. People were using the forbidden track to cycle on, and the dedicated cycle track to walk and talk on. Both sets seemed content with the arrangement.

My theory is that people are happier when what they want to do is legal and grumpier when what they are doing isn’t allowed. Even when the converse is true, wise legislators adjust the law to marry practice if no harm comes of it.

Dear Downs Committee,

I think that some of the cycling restrictions on the Downs could be lifted, and some of the paths could be adjusted or shifted so that most Downs users felt even happier about their enjoyment of such a wonderful resource.

Yours faithfully

Sam Saunders


7 thoughts on “Considerate Cycling 37: Custom and Law Are Good Friends But Bad Enemies

  1. I’ve always found it a bit strange that cycling (in a shared space sense) is not allowed on the Downs. It is after all a large area of turf. Instead cyclists must use some really horrible roads adjoining it! I wonder who makes up this committee?

    BTW I may not comment much, but I do enjoy your musings.

  2. Thanks for the compliment.

    The current membership of the Downs Committee is listed here Their next meeting is on July 1st at 11.00 am in Merchants Hall. I notice that a Traffic Group Report at their last meeting included a recommendation that a cycle path be considered…

    I shall investigate further.

  3. It just suddenly struck me as odd that cyclists are not allowed, yet motorists are (parking for a private company, the zoo). I’m sure I could make up a Bristol Traffic spoof on that.

    Yes, let us know if you find out anything of their deliberations on this.

  4. The link to Downs Committee members that I gave you is woefully incomplete. It includes only the elected representatives of Bristol City Council. There are also a gaggle of self-appointed persons with names like Peter Rilett, Chris Booy, Anthony Brown, Francis Greenacre, Tom Hood, Andrew Densham, and Sir James Tidmarsh who nobly dedicate their time to meddling in the affairs of the City.

    They might or might not be connected with the arcane practices that are taking the Downs into its new life as a Theme Park to represent the misery that was 1950s England.

    The item about a cycle path was, it seems, an HE student project connected with a pointless stone bridge over a nearby road.

    1. And surprise surprise, guess what they have in common …

      Peter Rilett; Peter Rilett is Master of The Society of Merchant Venturers (2012-13). His commercial interests include Centaur Services, Watts of Lydney Group, J T Group, Advanced Transport Systems and Sport Reach. Peter’s community and charitable interests include the North Bristol NHS Trust, Bristol Grammar School, Quartet Community Foundation, GWE Business West and the St Monica Trust.

      Chris Booy OBE; Member of the Merchant Venturers. Group Chairman of Symonds Group which was sold to Capita in 2004. He is now non-executive Chairman at Capita Symonds. Chris’ community and charitable interests include the Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust, the S.S. Great Britain Trust and Bristol Rugby Club. He represents the South West as one of six Chairs of the 2015 Rugby World Cup Regional Legacy Group. Chris is also a member of the Downs Committee and a governor at the University West of England.

      Anthony Brown; Anthony is Senior Warden of the Society of Merchant Venturers. Anthony’s professional interests involve directorships of TRB Holdings Ltd, TR Brown & Sons Ltd and Folly Farm Centre Ltd.
      Anthony`s community and charitable interests include Avon Wildlife Trust and the Basil Brown Charitable Trust. He is President of the Colston Research Society and a member of the Centre for Appearance Research at the University of the West of England.

      Francis Greenacre; Member of the Merchant Venturers. Francis is a former museum curator. He is an art historian, fine art consultant, lecturer and author. His community and charitable interests include the Canynges Society, the Clifton Arts Club, The Antient Society of St Stephen’s Ringers, the Clifton Suspension Bridge Trust and the Avon Gorge and Downs Wildlife Project. He was High Sheriff of Avon in 1992/3.

      Tom Hood; Member of the Merchant Venturers. His professional interests lie in Hydes Estate Agents. Tom’s community and charitable interests include the Game Conservatory Trust, The Grateful Society and The Antient Society of St Stephen’s Ringers

      Andrew Densham CBE; Member of the Merchant Venturers. A retired solicitor. Andrew’s community and charitable interests include the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution, of which he is National Chairman, and Farmlink. He is a past Master of the Merchant Venturers.

      Sir James Tidmarsh; Member of the Merchant Venturers. Pro Chancellor of University of Bristol and Director of GWE Business West. Jay has a broad range of charitable and community interests. These include Avon Youth Association, BRACE, Bristol Archdeaconry Charitable Trust, Bristol Benevolent Institution, Bristol Cathedral, Bristol Commonwealth Society, Bristol Oporto Foundation, Fitzhandinge Society, Fortuna Charitable Trust, Hartcliffe & Withywood Teenage Parents Project, Merchant Navy Association, Royal Bath & West of England Society  and Young Bristol. He is also the Patron of The Britain Australia Society (South West) and a member of the Cook Society. Jay is a past Master of the Merchant Venturers and recently retired Lord-Lieutenant of Bristol.

    1. The prevalence of Merchant Venturers on the Downs Committee is explained by the fact that part of the Downs is owned by the Council and part by the Merchant Venturers

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