Saturday 24 May 2014

Subcritical Mass

In Maidstone a developer is proposing that the traffic congestion side effects of a proposed development by narrowing a pavement and taking away a shared use bike path, "take away the pedestrian cycle paths across the northern gyratory bridge to create an extra lane for traffic"

This shows the sheer cynicism of property developers, who really don't gieve a fuck about the health of the livability of the towns they want to "develop" -be it the health of the high street or the health of pedestrians.

All they want is fat lazy people to drive to the supermarkets, stock up on whatever crap they want to eat, drive home and then watch TV until the next time to stock up. If its one of the people they want to sell a flat to they probably care that the customer doesn't die of CHD before the mortgage is paid off -though as that's really a matter for the concern of the mortgage lender, they probably don't give a fuck about that either.

Bridges are the choke points of cities. If there's a river, you either go over it or under it -or you don't cycle to your destination. They are even worse than dual carriageways, where there's often a wait-for-ten-minutes-pig-pen crossing. Bridges are all or nothing.

In London, the bridges are key places where cyclists are threatened -think Blackfriar's Bridge. Similarly in Bristol the BRT2 proposal wants  to take away one of the safer River Avon crossings for bendy-buses. It's precisely because those bridges are so valuable for all forms of transport that people working on car traffic flows, or bus rapid transport fanatics in city planner offices (yes, West of England Partnership -that does mean you) look at the current bridges and say "we can increase the capacity of this bridge by taking away the walking and cycling options"

In London, there were enough cyclists across the city that even when a fraction turned up, it was enough for high visibility mass protests. In Bristol, plans by the WoEP BRT-lovers got the protests out on the Bristol-Bath route, but for BRT2 things have been more subdued. The smaller routes have less mass use -but its those routes that join up the city and create the integrated routes you need for a cycle infrastructure.

Lose the bridges and you lose the integrated routes forever. Lose the integrated routes and your city will never be safe to cycle.

If London cyclists need to keep coming out to remind TfL of their responsibilities, if even Bristol has its work cut out -imagine what it is like in towns with less cyclists. There simply won't be enough people to oppose the plans, and the plans will go through. What protesters do come out will appear to be a few oddballs who don't deserve any space on roads they don't pay for.

S gloucs is generally a lost cause -if it has strengths it is

  1. There's cycling support from Bristol, both commuters into the city, and to the North Fringe.
  2. The main cycle route -the railway path- is joined up to Bristol and Bath, so can't be taken away on its own. All SGloucs can do is paint random give way signs, put up the odd chicane (and remove them, except at the school crossing), and do nothing in terms of street lighting or signing access to the path from the roads nearby.
  3. the cycle path by the ringroad (the unlit one, with the dodgy crossings and leaves on it) is raised enough away from the road that it isn't easily converted into another lane of the A4174. If that wasn't the case -it'd probably be gone by now, converted into a pretend sustainable lane with a 2+ sign that cyclists could also use -along with HGVs.
Bath? The A4 London Road shows the council's view: an ASL is all the cyclists need, and residents parking matters more than off street cycling. It took protests for the council to even think of cyclists, and even there you get half-hearted proposals from road planners that resent being told what they should be doing.

Smaller towns get it even worse. Maidstone shows what could happen -to see it in action today look at somewhere like Southampton, where their council's street 'visions' never show a bicycle, or Weston super mare, where they take pride in their mediocrity, adding bike paths on new roads purely to say the works address "all transport needs", when in fact the cycle route is so short and shit nobody would touch it

And here lies problem. Cycling numbers are falling outside London, Bristol and a few other densely populated cities -and even there the takeup is patchy.  This has got the smaller towns into a vicious circle
  1. the number of people driving creates pressure for action on reducing congestion
  2. the sole solution to congestion that anyone can conceive is more traffic lanes
  3. the sole space for these lanes in places where there is no room to expand is the side of the roads -the footpaths and what mediocre shared use paths there are
  4. as these were already shit paths and not part of an integrated route, they weren't used enough to make cycling a normal activity
  5. the aren't enough people to stand up for the paths, so they get taken away
  6. more people end up driving
Is there hope? Maybe in the medium-size cities, maybe with local regions within the smaller towns.  WSM is a lost cause for now. Bath could be improved -it is a town with many students, it's not great to cycle round, but it's not so awful you fear for your life everywhere. It's connected up with bristol via the RP, it's got the Twin Tunnels. What it lacks is a good option by the A4/London Road that doesn't involve crawling along the overcrowded towpaths -not a commute option, especially in winter- or burning thighs on the hill climbs above the A4. Then there's the gyratories by the train station, and that mess in the centre. 

Cyclists of Bath: follow Bristol and London -as if you can't, places like Southampton and Maidstone are fucked!


  1. I hadn't realised that the old railway bridge by the bike bunker was the one being land-grabbed for BLT2. How exactly do the powers-that-be expect people to get from the Pill Path cycle path alongside the river across to the Chocolate Path and the rest of Festival Way??? Or will they build another bridge? Or expect people to go up and on the A370 over the river?

  2. Are you really surprised? After the same planners went after the same chocolate path?

    The West of England BRT team view walking and cycling routes as their routes -free to use, and with less political cost than taking away road space from cars. They've promised there will still be walking and cycling (and to be fair, the bridge is only half used), but what happens during the road works? What happens on the chocolate path side of things? And will it be as pleasant as it is today?

    They could build a cycling bridge, but "value engineering" prevents that.