Considerate Cycling 46: How Not to Do Survey Research


BBC Bristol News have recently published two surprisingly uncritical reports arising from an on-line survey of attitudes to street parking policy in Bristol.

After a (not-returned) telephone call from me and a bit of Twitter activity by the Mayor, BBC Bristol News made some changes to the text of the most recent article but some dubious statistics given by the research author are still reported. See (As of the afternoon of 18/12/2014)

Behind the BBC Bristol News item is a long-running story of Bristol’s attempts to tidy up conflict between resident and commuter parking. A previous Council Administration and now the elected City Mayor have pursued the idea of setting up Residential Parking Zones. It’s a very boring topic for everyone else, but for interested parties it seems to arouse strong feelings.

The immediate story is that former Ford employee, now Bristol businessman, Mark Moran wrote and published a web questionnaire on the subject of Bristol’s parking scheme. I have not been able to find a data set or a report of Mark Moran’s findings so the following comments are based on the questionnaire alone. My own interest in the topic is as a postgraduate degree holder in research methodology, as a resident of Clifton with specific problems related to parking in Bristol, and as an advocate of cycling within cycle campaign associations.

I have annotated the full text of the questionnaire with the sorts of observations that I would have been able to share had the BBC News Editor called me back as promised.

Bristol Residential Parking Zones – Does the city want them?

Have your say.

Asking the real questions about RPZ

There has been no full survey done of the whole of Bristol and its surrounding areas with regards to RPZ. Feelings are running very high on this issue and it is the one most often in the news

The intention of this survey is to reach the entire ‘Greater Bristol’ area to establish once and for all the true feelings about these schemes

[a survey about the “Greater Bristol Area” would need to collect information about where respondents lived and worked so that the representativeness of the sample could be established. A publicised web survey will clearly recruit only a self-selecting sample whose general characteristics (age, residential area, car ownership, employment and so on) would need to be tested against the known characteristics of the population of the area as a whole.]

1. Do you agree with the blanket introduction of Residential Parking Zones across Bristol? Yes no

[The unexplained adjective “blanket” makes a clear answer more difficult. Is this a question about the scheme per se, or is it about the scale and pace of the scheme’s implementation? As a type of question it comes under the heading of “portmanteau question” – a question that could be construed as being two or more questions in one. Such questions can be difficult to answer and their later analysis cannot be done with confidence]

2. Do you think the Mayor and Bristol City Council have listened to the concerns of residents and businesses over RPZ? Yes no

[Again, this is two (or more) questions in one]

3. Do you think an efficient cheap and reliable public transport system should be in place before RPZ’s [sic] are introduced? Yes no

[This question contains so many ideas that answers to it could mean almost anything. It’s hard to see how it asks for any kind of answer that would not already have been given to Question 1.]

4. Do you think these schemes will discourage people from travelling to work in Bristol?

Yes no

[A simple categorical question with a yes/no answer? On the face of it yes. In practical terms it is more helpful to respondents and to later analysis to offer a range of options when opinions are sought. However this is an opinion question about other people’s likely behaviour. Why not just ask the respondents about their own behaviour? Even that sort of question is hypothetical, but the answers to it might be more well-grounded and reliable]

5. Do you think these schemes will cause businesses to close? Yes no

[The same problems arise here as we see in Question 4. As with 4 it is a hypothetical question of a type generally used only to test general attitudes or opinions and very rarely with just a yes/no response. My own reading of this question (and some others) is that the author is simply marshalling the beliefs he already holds and is looking for people who agree with him]

6. Do you live in Bristol, Work in Bristol or Visit Bristol? Live Work or Visit

[This one is a mess. Three different questions are rolled into one and a number of interesting or relevant others are omitted, such as “do you work at home?” “are you retired?” “do you have a condition that affects mobility?” or “are you a student?”]

7. Should the residents of the affected areas be forced to pay for the RPZ? Yes no

[The word “forced” is an emotionally charged word that indicates that the questioner does not agree with the idea of resident parking schemes however they are financed. It also seems to rest on confused ideas about how the various elements of consultation, implementation and future running costs have been and will be financed. Offering one rather stark and unlikely option “residents … be forced to pay” makes it hard to imagine anyone ticking Yes .]

8. Would you support raising funds for a judicial review into the RPZ programme? Yes no

[This question suggests that the author is planning to or would like to attempt such a legal challenge and that he is asking for financial support. The possibility of gathering a representative set of responses from the questionnaire when his own views are so close to the surface must be thrown into doubt.]

9. Would you support the cancellation of all planned RPZ’s [sic] and the reversal of those already in place?

[as Q8]

10. Please use this box to add any further comments

[This question is potentially the one that will generate some interesting responses. It will also be the hardest one to analyse.]

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.

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” (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?


Figure 1: Data derived from a selection in “2011 Census: Method of travel to work, local authorities in England and Wales”  (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.

A Case For Localism: one more shuffle sideways

An earlier blog told the story of a micro-local issue that had failed to get a resolution over at least 25 years. It seemed to me that the problem was clear and that a cheap and non-controversial solution could be easily found and quickly implemented. The vogue for localism and community involvement made me feel even more optimistic.

An email I got from a Council Officer today said:

“The issue was considered at last week’s Traffic and Transport Sub Group meeting however this issue was not prioritised as one needing imminent funding.  This does not mean that the scheme will not be considered for future funding as the group still has funding available to prioritise more schemes in the new year.

The group considered all the local traffic schemes against the Neighbourhood Partnership Priorities and also after considering technical information from our Traffic and Transport officers.

As this local issue has been raised through the NP process, we will keep this on the Neighbourhood Partnership Traffic list which will be revisited by the group every 3 months and will also be considered when future funding becomes available.

Although the Traffic and Transport Sub Group have prioritised other schemes, the final decision will be made by the Neighbourhood Committee (Elected Councillors) at the Neighbourhood Partnership meeting on 22nd January 2013.”

And in one short message I was back to where everyone else has been with this problem over the years,: fobbed off, delayed and frustrated. I wrote a reply and copied it to The Mayor, the two Ward councillors for where I live and to another Councillor who has had an interest in transport and in welfare of the elderly. I wrote this:

I am afraid that the Traffic and Transport Sub Group meeting’s failure to prioritise the issue of access along The Fosseway is a great disappointment. Given the strength of the case for action, the direct and daily problems  experienced by the 50 signatories to our petition, and the 25 years of delay in resolving the problem I believe that the matter should now be brought urgently to senior members of the council and the Mayor.

Your reference to a future meeting of a Neighbourhood Partnership meeting is not helpful. As I have already pointed out, such deflections have already wasted the time and energy of all those who have been trying to achieve a modest improvement for residents of and visitors to Fosseway Court over a very long period. I note that in another email received today that:

“the Neighbourhood forums will not be taking place in January. We are currently reviewing the Partnership & Forum dates with the chairs of the Partnership and Neighbourhood Forum meetings and we will circulate the dates for next year very soon.”

Such changes and uncertainties have been another of the ways in which our case has been put aside in the past while no substantive arguments against the request have been communicated.

The inhabitants and owners of 30 retirement flats deserve a positive resolution to their problem in the very near future and the cost to Bristol City Council is likely to be very small.

I am forwarding this email to The Mayor’s office, to Clifton Councillors Janke and Blythe and to Jon Rogers who has had an interest in the welfare of older people in Bristol and in transport issues. I hope that they will be able to take a view on the matter and agree that action is long overdue.

Many thanks for keeping me in touch.

A reply came quickly form Councillor Trevor Blythe:

Dear Sam,

I would make the following points:

The Fosseway is used by residents not only from The Fosseway but also Saville Pl, Clifton Rd and Richmond Terrace. A reduction of parking places will bring considerable inconvenience to a wide area.

The Fosseway is but one of many roads in Clifton and the wider Bristol area that are narrow, are we going to reduce parking in all of them?

With cars parked on both sides it is perfectly possible for an ambulance to access Fosseway Court as I have witnessed, remember we get a dustcart down the road to Fosseway Court every week.

If pressed we will produce a petition which will I fear swamp the number of signatories on yours.


My reply was as follows:

Dear Trevor

Thanks for your quick reply.

I would counter as firmly as I can. This is not a parking problem. It is a unique problem of access. There are instances of roads very close by where full access has been made possible, quite rightly, by restricting parking on one or both sides of the highway. See the photographs in my blog.

Many Bristol roads are narrow and many of them have managed to get by with single track access but none of them, as far as I can tell, have a dead end so far from the entrance with so many flats and so many vulnerable people (and their support services) dependent on the inadequate access.

Parking is not the main purpose of the highway and should never take precedence over the primary purpose of access, however many people might want to sign a petition. People have the right to use a vehicle and a corresponding duty to drive and park it in ways that do not interfere with other people’s rights of access. A local authority has a responsibility to protect the few and make wise decisions about priorities. As you know from your own situation, a right of access to your own property (however infrequently you might need it) is more important than and takes precedence over the opportunity that others might want to take in restricting it.

In the case of The Fosseway even a couple of passing places along one side would enable care workers to visit their clients with fewer delays and less anxiety. The status quo is simply not a sensible or reasonable state of affairs.

Your comments about ambulances and dustcarts are not strictly true. While it is true to say that they often do get all the way along there have been several instances where they have been unable to do so. Old people have been wheeled the full length of the Fosseway to get between flat and vehicle and vehicles have had to be moved to allow a fire tender to get access to Fosseway Court. Dustcarts do find their way blocked from time to time and do have to make return visits, sometimes on another day. These are not common events, but they should never happen at all when a simple remedy is available and when there is no specific need for so much parking in one road.

Yours sincerely

Sam Saunders

The most interesting thing about this final exchange is the Councillor’s honest and open expectation that people who own houses and flats in a district have a rightful expectation of being able to park their cars on a road close by, regardless of other residents’ need for safe access and irrespective of the parking prohibitions already imposed on their own streets. In effect, 50 people asking for help can be trumped by 100 people saying it doesn’t suit them to allow the help.

In a more rational world a resident in a crowded and desirable city location with a car but no garage or hard standing to keep it on should expect to pay for an alternative rather than insist that access on narrow public roads should be restricted in the interests of their own free parking. As it stands the motor car seems to make monkeys of all of us.

A Case for Localism: The Highway that Became a Free Car Park

The Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition passed a Localism Act late in 2011 granting local authorities the legal capacity to do anything that an individual could do as long as it was not specifically prohibited. This represented a significant shift in the principle that had always prevented Local Authorities from doing things they hadn’t been expressly told they had to, or were specifically empowered to do. Fierce budget restraints have brought strong restraints of course, but the new freedom has enormous potential for local autonomy in the long term.

Here in Bristol, I think this should have brought hope for one local issue that has eluded efforts over two decades to sort out. In practice it has been just one more reason why the Bristol City Council have put the issue on hold. A council officer emailed recently:

“Bearing this in mind, it is likely that the Traffic and Transport sub group will not be putting forward recommendations for the implementation of yellow lines / parking restrictions to come out of this year’s budget if they can be done for a lot less in the near future. At the next meeting of the group on 12th November, they will produce a recommendation list for the Partnership Councillors to consider which may include some parking restrictions, however at present this seems unlikely.” (email from Council Officer dated 11 October 2012)

The issue I have in mind is the simple case of The Fosseway, a narrow Bristol cul-de-sac, that offers unrestricted free parking on both of its sides while serving as the sole access road to a block of 31 retirement flats at its closed far end. The flats have no road access apart from The Fosseway and all vehicles must pass along its 120 metre length to visit or to leave. The daily problems that arise are clear from the next picture. A refuse collection vehicle has got stuck part-way along the road and a waiting Royal Mail van is unable to make any more deliveries until the problem is sorted out.

Representations have been made to Avon and then Bristol Council over more than 20 years, with prevarications and administrative changes alternating as reasons for not doing anything. In the current era Care Workers, who make multiple daily visits, are particularly badly affected by delays. They lose contact time with clients in Fosseway Court and elsewhere.

The Fosseway itself (see next illustration) was developed as a row of 8 semi-detached houses adjoining a new roadway in the second half of the 19th century to one side of Clifton graveyard. Most of the houses are now in multi-occupation, with 17 separate dwellings. Larger houses facing Victoria Square were built on the other side of the Fosseway, a little further away, with a high rear wall separating them from it.

In 1988 a new block of 31 retirement flats was built to the rear of The Fosseway’s houses, with a private driveway leading off the southern end of The Fosseway.

The old Chesterfield Hospital already had a gated emergency vehicle access onto The Fosseway (see picture below) before Fosseway Court was built.  It has since been demolished, but a new hospital is in the process of being built on the site, and the same gateway is designated in its planning conditions as being an emergency exit.

As early as 1993 it was clear that unchecked parking along the full length of both sides of The Fosseway was restricting vehicle access to Fosseway Court to a considerable degree and a series of representations were made to the Avon and Bristol local authorities to find a way of easing the situation. For the next decade changes to local authority structures and processes, and unfulfilled hopes that more general schemes might soon address The Fosseway’s problem meant that no action was taken at all. Many letters and three or four petitions sit in archives somewhere. I have read about 100 pages of notes and correspondence dating back to those years. There are no doubt many more in Council archives. They make for fairly depressing reading. Delays, uncertainty and procrastination are the main themes. The extract shown from a Council document here is typical, promising both “no action” and “future proposal”

Extract from notes on Planning Transport and Development (central) Area Sub-Committee meeting held 18/12/1996

By 2011 the problems had become worse and the failure of Bristol’s various local government bodies to act looked incomprehensible to anyone arriving (as I did) to see the situation for the first time. On top of the self evident difficulties that had been present from the outset, a number of wider changes had started to make conditions even worse.

For example, between 1994 and 2011 the number of cars on British roads went from 25 to 33 million. Data on all of the most popular models on UK roads at the end of each of those years suggest that the mean width of a motor car had increased from 1660 mm to 1903 mm over the period. In addition, student numbers at Bristol’s two universities (a good indicator of general activity in the Clifton area) went from 36,000 in 1995-96 to 50,000 in 2010-11. (data from Department for Transport, and Higher Education Statistics Agency respectively. Interpretations my own).

A point has been reached where the slight convenience of 25 free parking spaces for a few non-residents has to be looked at from a less cautious perspective than the one that seems to have prevailed over the years before the Localism Act. The daily access needs of services, care workers, family visitors, delivery and collection vehicles (not to mention emergency vehicles) need to be seen as more important. They reflect the urgent needs of a significant number of elderly people who live in Fosseway Court and they have an impact on the effectiveness of the services whose tasks elsewhere in the city are being disrupted by obstructions and delays along The Fosseway. The occasional free and convenient parking spaces for some have turned into a daily problem for residents who rely disproportionately on a single vehicle access to their homes for basic services.

Specific incidents have included a discharged hospital patient being pushed in a wheel chair for 200 yards on a cold rainy day because an ambulance could not negotiate the narrow gap. Fire Officers have had to stop and lift cars off the roadway to gain access to a (luckily) false alarm. Waste collections have been regularly missed on the due day for lack of access. A recent coach journey to a funeral had to be made in stages, with two smaller vans taking residents to the larger bus at the top of The Fosseway. Some residents have found that old friends no longer want to visit because of the difficulties of driving in and out. Even riding a bicycle past a car coming from the opposite direction is impossible. Some of the parked cars are left for weeks on end – presumably kept by students who keep them just for the journeys back home. Careless parking, well away from the curb, is common.

By way of contrast, the narrow Richmond Lane , very close to The Fosseway and also giving access to retirement flats, has been kept clear with double yellow lines on both sides.

Round the corner in Richmond Terrace there is a section with good access where double yellow lines have been put on one side.

Since I wrote the first draft of this blog Bristol has elected a City Mayor and central control of local traffic affairs has changed again. In theory both of these things will make it easier and more likely that The Fosseway will get the parking restriction it needs. Inevitably the change in regulation has created another delay as officers anticipate a chance to implement it at less cost if they wait for when the next new scheme is in operation.

The next public opportunity to press the case will be at a Clifton and Cabot Neighbourhood Partnership Meeting on Tuesday, 22nd January 2013. The Fosseway only needs restriction on one side. The current fifty spaces could be reduced without detriment to those who actually live in the street’s 17 dwellings and there would be a dramatic improvement to the lives of those who live at the end of it. The Fosseway can finally be made into a serviceable highway and stop being used as a rather awkward car park.

Today’s wider emergency vehicles should not be impeded unnecessarily.