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 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..

Considerate Cycling 44: 20mph Feels Good, So Do It

 


Sometimes I hire a motor vehicle. They are really useful for some journeys. Depending on the load, the number of passengers and the distances involved hiring can be cheaper and simpler than the alternatives.

So far this year I have hired two cars and two vans. The best part is being able to take them back and hand over the responsibility but this year I have had the extra pleasure of being able to drive around Bristol at 20mph. It’s such a civilised speed in a busy city. On a journey of three or four miles within the city the time involved in not racing up to 30 where the rare opportunity arises makes so little difference that it’s irrelevant. Rushing is a waste of adrenaline.

The pleasure of driving more slowly is being able to consider each section of the journey as an experience in its own right, paying attention to junctions, side roads, other roads users and the unexpected things that always crop up. Hard acceleration and sharp braking become unnecessary. All manoeuvres become stress-free events. Smiling becomes common. Other drivers seem to be mellower and less likely to get too close behind.

The general idea seems to be that the whole of Bristol will soon be a 20 mph city and the very thought of it is a source of pleasure. My usual cycling and walking will be much improved.

You can imagine my shock and unhappiness when I saw a recent set of proposals to make a whole list of exceptions to the 20 mph rule in a chunk of Bristol near to my home. Inexplicably, some of the residential and linking streets are going to be left as 30 mph routes for pointlessly short sections wherein quicker driving can be indulged in for no more than minutes at a time. I wrote my objections (ruefully noting that I was a day late in doing so.) I wrote:

Dear Bristol City Council

 I note that I have missed yesterday’s deadline for submission of the following comments. I hope, nonetheless, that you will be able to take them into account.

 Although I live just outside the inner north area, I travel into or through it on a regular basis – usually on a bicycle and sometimes on foot.

 I have one clear objection to one aspect of the plans for the Inner North Area and that is that too many exceptions have been made to the principle of a blanket 20 mph limit.

 As I understand it, the designation of a few roads as 30 mph was to allow some arterial or through routes to be treated as different enough in character and capacity to distinguish them from the residential, local and shopping streets that made up a lot of Bristol’s road network.

 When I look at Upper Belgrave Road, Clifton Down, Bridge Valley Drive, Church Avenue, Bishops Close, Stoke Park Road South, Downleaze, Stoke Hill, Stoke Road, Roman Road, Downside Road, Pembroke Road (especially near its junction with Clifton Down) and The Avenue. I see roads that are either residential streets (not motor vehicle routes at all) or roads that are immediately adjacent to and part of a wide area of residential and recreational use. Allowing short sections of them to be 30 mph will save tiny amounts of time and serve mainly to introduce uncertainty and anxiety for those large numbers who are not in motor vehicles.

The Downs area in particular has very large numbers of runners, walkers, football teams, zoo visitors, cyclists and sight-seers crossing and re-crossing the roads between the grassy areas. Ball games, dog walking, fitness training and other activities are frequently in play.

 All these things suggest to me that all the roads that service and pass through the area should be treated in the same way, and for the same reasons, as all the roads that will be improved by the 20 mph limit. If the case for 20 mph makes sense (and I firmly believe it does) then it makes the same good sense on these roads as well.

 I would also agree with many other commentators that the more unusual or contentious exceptions there are, the less likely it will be for other areas to get the full benefit of calmer and less dangerous motor vehicle traffic.

 I would also argue that Kellaway Avenue would benefit greatly from a 20 mph limit. I see that, as with Stoke Road and the junction of Clifton Down and Pembroke Road, Kellaway Avenue has been a site of notified road traffic accidents. Lower speeds would (as evidence available to the Council shows) reduce the number and the severity of casualties.

 Yours sincerely

 Sam Saunders

 

The officer responsible was quick to reply, as follows:

Dear Mr Saunders,

 As your comments have been received outside the consultation period we regret to inform you that they will not be included in the objection report for the proposed Inner North 20mph speed limit scheme.

 For future consultations please ensure any comments or objections for consideration in an objection report are submitted within the advertised period.

 Yours Sincerely,

 TRO Officer

Place Directorate

Traffic Orders Team -Highways Delivery

Bristol City Council

 I hope there is a sensible outcome. Fingers crossed.

Considerate Cycling 42: Some Simple Numbers

Figure 1 (source: DfT)

I was interviewed on BBC Radio Bristol recently about the relationship between cyclists and buses in the city. I talked about cyclists’ respect and bus drivers’ professionalism. However, I did suggest that putting cyclists into a shared lane with buses was a bit like putting the meerkats in with the elephants. I also said that compared with goods vehicles and cars, buses were much less of a problem than people might assume.

I was talking about Bristol, nowhere else. I had checked some stats before I went in to talk, so I was fairly happy that what I was saying had some grounding in what had already been recorded and counted. Afterwards I started thinking about whether the simple numbers I had could support the hypothesis that despite their lower numbers, buses and goods vehicles were in some way safer or else more dangerous than cars. I showed the statistics to my son who is a proper mathematician and a data manager by trade. He pointed out my basic problems with standardisation of such different populations and gradually one thing became very clear.

The clear point was that at some level I was trying to find statistical evidence to confirm my prejudice that cars were in some way to blame even though vans, lorries and buses seem so dangerous. I was looking at small differences of probability where none were to be found. What I should have been staring at was Figure 1. The plain fact is that there are over 230,000 cars being kept in Bristol. That’s roughly one car to every 2 people. In comparison, there are just 39,200 goods vehicles, less than 1 van or lorry to every 5 cars. Buses and coaches add up to just 2,400 vehicles, only about one to every 10 cars. What about some more simple numbers? Here is Figure 2

Figure 2 (Source: correspondence with Bristol City Council)

Looking at this, what can we do at a local level to reduce bicycle casualties? What would a modest 10% improvement look like for each vehicle type? Haul back injuries for car-related incidents and we would avoid 47 injuries. 10% of the goods vehicle total  would save 3. 10% of bus-related injuries would save 1.

So what might reduce car-related injuries? Some more simple numbers offer a clue:

Figure 3 (Source: DfT)

The number of cars in Bristol has gone from 184,019 in 2004 to 231,853 in 2013. That’s a 26% increase in what was already a large number. Most of that has been in the last four years.

Here’s a photograph of a Bristol street. Recent political turmoil in the City has raged over Mayor George Ferguson’s attempt to restrict car parking and reduce speed limits.

Picture 1

What does it look like to you? What, if you had the power, would you want to control if a better and safer city was your aim? What would you prioritise if you wanted to reduce road traffic casualties and improve public health? How you do it is up to you, but I would say that the answer stares us in the face.

 

 

 

Considerate Cycling 41: Why Are Some Cities Cycling Or Walking More Than Others?

Blog 39 graphed the provisional cycling figures for Bristol as a member of the the “core cities” group of comparable cites outside London. I also included data for neighbours in what was once called Avon. Now that confirmed figures have been published (see here) I have abstracted a table and graph that includes Cambridge and uses this year’s updated figures. For most places the data are derived from a reliable sample of 500 residents. I have added walking to give a broader picture of active travel.

Percentages of selected Local Authority residents reporting that they cycle or walk at least once a month 2010-2011

Cycle%

Walk%

Walk-or-Cycle%

Local Authority Walk % Cycle % Walk or Cycle%
Cambridge 94 58 96
South Gloucestershire 92 20 93
Bristol, City of 92 24 92
Newcastle upon Tyne 91 12 92
Bath and North East Somerset 91 18 91
Leeds 91 11 91
Nottingham 91 13 91
Sheffield 89 10 90
North Somerset 88 15 89
Liverpool 89 11 89
Birmingham 88 11 89
Manchester 84 13 87

I have been reading (and fascinated by) the recently published “Promoting Walking and Cycling” by Colin Pooley and others and I would  be very interested to hear from anyone who has observations about the cultural, geographical and infrastructural variations that might be associated with the wide range of walking and (especially) cycling levels across this group of urban areas.  One clear truth is that English cities are not all doomed to the same low levels. One obvious question is whether sheer campaigning effort can  generate the big changes in the patterns that the natural and built environments seem to be crying out for.

Considerate Cycling 39: How much cycling is there in Bristol?


With the publication of the Bristol Cycling Manifesto “Freedom To Ride” and the launch of a petition to support it, I have been having lots of conversations with people in Bristol about our hopes for big increases in the number of people who choose to cycle. Questions about how many people already cycle, and how many used to cycle crop up regularly. So what data have we got, and how confident can we be with the numbers?

The most up to date figures that cover the whole of Bristol come from the Active People Survey. This is a household telephone survey run by Sport England that enables us to make national and local comparisons. Reports and data from 2010/11 and 2011/12 are available on the UK Government publications site. Samples of about 500 households in each local authority are used for this survey so we can be confident that actual numbers revealed are within a couple of percentage points of the numbers that would be gained from polling all households.

Each of the following graphs compare percentages in Bristol with those in neighbouring authorities and in the other “core cities” of England that Bristol would see as its real peers. Figures for adults who say that they cycle at last once a month (for any reason) and for those who say they cycle at least once a week (for any reason) are shown here. It’s important to note that these are people who cycle “for any purpose”. Leisure, fitness, commuting, shopping, company … anything. Cycling is an activity in its own right, it’s also a means to other ends or places.

At least once a week last year

Figure 1. Proportion of residents who cycled (any length or purpose) at least once a month in England’s 8 core cities (plus Bath and East Somerset, North Somerset, and South Gloucester during 2010/11

At least once a month last year

Figure 2 Proportion of residents who cycled (any length or purpose) at least once a month in England’s 8 core cities (plus Bath and East Somerset, North Somerset, and South Gloucester during 2011/12

Compared to places Bristol should compare itself to, the red bars in all those graphs makes the city looks like a bona fide candidate for its claim to be a “Cycling City”. As a journalist might shout: “A quarter of all Bristolians Get On Their Bikes Once a Month!”

But that’s journalism for you: mere fingers pointing at truth, not the truth, or the whole truth, every time. Detail and caution are needed too. A recent blog from Chris Mason at Cycle Jump looked at National Census data. The Census gives us detailed information about every household every ten years and its summary tables can be explored at fine levels of detail. Chris was able to use mapping tools to illustrate patterns of commuter cycling among residents of small areas across the City. This time, comparisons are between 2001 and 2011. The most striking figure that Chris gives is that in 2011 7.7% of adult Bristol residents reported that they usually cycled to work.

The Census data can be interrogated in a variety of ways. For the graphs that follow I have compared the same set of cities and neighbours as above, but I have recalculated a percentage figure that shows what proportion of those adult residents of Bristol who did go out to work normally used a bicycle. In a blog in February 2013 I compared levels of cycling to work against other modes, using a different base for the calculation. Figure 5 represents, I think, a conservative indication of the proportions of Bristolian commuters who usually cycled to work in 2001 and 2011.

Percentage of Commuters Who “Usually” Cycled to Work in 2001 and in 2011


Figure 3. Percentage of commuting residents who usually cycled to work in England’s 8 core cities (plus Bath and East Somerset, North Somerset, and South Gloucester according to census data from 2001 and 2011

Looking at these numbers and the numbers who use bikes for other purposes any city planner with an eye to congestion and pollution targets (never mind public health and general well-being) should be accelerating plans for putting a big chunk of every transport or development project into meeting the existing demand for cycling and (as happened with car use) encouraging it to grow even faster than the infrastructure. Getting more benefit for less resources really shouldn’t be a dilemma for local authorities. Their citizens who are trapped with no alternative but the car will at least have roads that are less congested if cycling takes more of the pressure. Those who simply like driving to work will enjoy it more and find it safer.

The eager headline from the Census data could justifiably have been “Bristol cyclists increase their share of commuting traffic by 113%!!

The important thing is that there are already plenty of people who would cycle if it looked less of a challenge, people who already have bikes which they really do use on a sporadic basis. Making it easier for them to cycle to work should be an easy priority to establish. Indirect outcomes would proliferate. The school run, for example, could more easily become a family run on the bikes. All that is preventing the next step change is lack of courage to make it happen.

Some headline-worthy statistics about cycling in Bristol

  • On census day in 2011 16,211 Bristolians said that they usually cycled to work. (1 in 12 of the 104,729 who traveled to work at that time).
  • A telephone survey for HM Government indicated that in 2012 nearly a quarter of adult Bristolians cycled at least once a month for one reason or another. That’s about 100,000 of the adult population of the City.
  • Bristol City Council Data collected by observers between 2010 and 2013 show that at peak times there were over 10,000 cyclists on Bristol roads. 7% of all city traffic measured at these times were cyclists.
  • Across the city, some routes carry 300-500 cyclists per hour.
  • At four busy points on roads into the city cyclists constitute over a quarter of all traffic during peak hours.
  • Between 2001 and 2011 the number of cars owned by Bristol households went up by 15%, from 165,334 to 190,530. 7
  • In the same period the number of households with no car increased by 13%, from 46,674 to 52814. 8
  • The Ward with the highest proportion of workers cycling as part of their daily commute is Ashley, with 1,381 cycling (17% of those travelling to work from the Ward).
  • The Ward with the lowest proportion of workers cycling as part of their daily commute is Whitchurch Park, with 102 cycling (2.3% of those travelling to work from the Ward).

Considerate Cycling 38: Zen And the Art of Cycle Path Maintenance

There are some very nice cycle tracks being created in South Gloucester, on the north fringe of Bristol. Housing, a retail park, a railway station, a University, a Hospital and large Ministry of Defence buildings are all close by. Signage is pretty good – with some outstanding advertisements for cycling in general.

Isn’t that a thing of beauty?

However, if I were Robert Persig, I might be looking for the nail in the broom head that marked these very good things as excellent facilities. Are South Gloucester really up to Zen Master standards? Well… what do we make of this?

Not ideal, is it? But look a bit further on as the track meets the Big Fat Roundabout and Persig might be even less happy. His careful eye might notice a lack of attention to the basic necessity of a harmonious life: sound maintenance routines.

That approaching heavy lorry is nearly on our (unmarked) crossing point and it’s only just visible from a forward position. It did occur to me that if I had brought my garden shears I could have improved things there and then. Maybe it will be done by tomorrow? The evidence from a 2012 satellite view suggests that the problem might have been left rather a long time. The red arrow in the next picture marks the blind exit.

Bushes notwithstanding, the cheap solution of tipping cyclists straight off a well-made track onto a big arterial road with no more than a dropped curb is the sort of thing that cycling campaigns are starting to make a fuss about. Cycling provision must be integral to all new traffic developments. Tacking some nice bits along the edges isn’t good enough. Building them in from the start and quality assuring their design and implementation against national standards would make them less costly than having to go back later and correct the mistakes.

In the absence of a national standard, one might give this exit the 11-year-old test: “would you send your child to school along this path on her first day at secondary school in September?” Or as Persig would say “has the broom head been given a new nail to stop it falling off the handle?”