Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The Ring Road Path Series: Introducing the M32 Death Trap Crossing

We’ve looked briefly at the Ring Road Path already It’s one of South Gloucestershire Council’s “Flagship” cycle routes and was tagged ‘Route 7’ under the Cycling City Project. Unsurprisingly given its name, it runs alongside the A4174 Avon Ring Road from Hicks Gate, near Keynsham in the south (which is actually in Bath and North East Somerset) through to the Bristol City Council boundary in the vicinity of Southmead Hospital (near Kenmore Drive). It's called flagship because "fucking lethal in places" doesn't look so good in brochures. I

According to the Council the stated aim of Cycling City Route 7 scheme was:

to provide a continuous off-carriageway cycle route catering for both less experienced and more confident, regular cyclists, thereby improving access to important local businesses such as Hewlett Packard, MOD Abbeywood, University of the West of England and other public amenities and facilities between Emersons Green and Southmead Hospital.

Well, you can certainly end up in Southmead A&E, whether you work there or not. Notice how they don't say "leisure route". You don't see families on it on a weekend, not just because the ring-road is unappealling, but families won't get round it safely.

In places the path is OK. Yes, it could be wider, no, it’s not well lit or very well signed, it’s not swept very often, it gets covered with broken glass, it doesn’t get gritted in the winter, and yes it’s a shared use path so it’s used by school kids, joggers and dog walkers who occasionally seem to forget that it’s also used by cyclists but, it’s better than nothing and like we’ve already said you need to cherish the left-overs

The Ring Road path does have a few serious flaws and it's time to look at these in a bit more detail, starting with one of the major flaws. In fact it’s so serious that if nothing is done about it it could quite possibly become a fatal flaw. Probably the only reason it hasn't is that s gloucs have done so little to encourage cycling that it doesn't get used much.

Remember Sustrans? The Bristol based charity that has its roots in the first project to turn a disused railway line into one of the most highly used and certainly most highly prized and loved off-road paths: The Bristol Bath Railway Path, otherwise now known as National Cycle Network Route 4 or NCN4 for short. It’s a great route and it is crossed by and links to the Ring Road Path. Those first route builders were not some council planning department, they were cyclists who knew what was needed: a safe route with safe crossings.

Sustrans developed the National Cycle Network and produced a fantastic ‘Best Practice’ Guide’ for Council’s who are building or creating cycle paths. Most Councils have a copy and use it. We wonder if anyone in South Glos has? We doubt it. If they do it'll be used as bog paper in their loo, the one with a photo of the M4/M5 interchange on the door to keep you happy until the paper is needed.

The Sustrans Guide
contains lots of useful practical advice, all of it sensible, it’s clearly been put together by people who ride bicycles, have a fucking clue and provides an authoritative. step-by-step guide for any vaguely competent highways engineer or planner. Read it and you think how could South Gloucestershire Council fuck up so badly. And yet fuck up they do. Without the need for any guide to ‘Best Practice’ they are quite happy to lead the way in developing new and innovative ways to deliver Worst Practice. You could write the "Soglocs manual for cities shit for cycling" and sell it to other councils.

Turning to chapter 5 of the guide -which the traffic planners may not have got as far as in their arse-wiping yet, is a section on how important it is for cyclists on a segregated path (even a shit narrow one) to get over roads alive
Continuity is essential to the popularity of any cycle route, therefore the proper resolution of junction features is critical for its success.. not only must junction details provide a safe solution, but they should also exhibit due regard for all types of road user. In particular, the quality of detail and the level of priority given to cyclists and pedestrians must reinforce the perception that they are welcome in the area
Which brings us back to the Ring Road Path, Cycling City Route 7. You see, there are several junction features on the Ring Road Path that do not exhibit due regard for all types of road user. Especially not cyclists and pedestrians. Not only do they not make you feel welcome they make you feel at best unwelcome, at worse whether you are going to survive the next twenty sections. Worst of all several of them actually create a significant hazard for cyclists and pedestrians who are led there believing they are following a safe and properly designed cycle route. One is quite literally a "death trap".

The Ring Road Path meets the M32 motorway. M32 Junction 1 at Hambrook.

The junction has been extensively modified (the Council would have you believe “improved”) since it was built in 1966 and it has now become a multi lane nightmare, with some separators and bridge leftovers to amplify the problem. And now they are widening it some more, they say "to help public transport", when they mean to get a bus lane in without taking any space from the fat lazy bastards who create the traffic jams and should be on the fucking bus, while showing cyclists how we don't give a fuck about them. For some reason that doesn't appear on the diagram or in the consultations. It should have.

More soon.

Monday, 5 March 2012

S. Gloucs Road planners: We want a shrubbery. Yours.

Rather than slag off the council cycle team, let's look a bigger problem: the council road planning team. These are people whose daily commute probably takes in the A38/M5/M4 exchange, the M32/M4 exchange and the A4174 ring road. While everyone else is stuck in their cars thinking "this is shite", the road planners are thinking "we love complex interchanges. If we added seventeen more flyovers we could get another 1500 cars/hour through here"

These are the real enemy. The cycle team can only fuck up cycle lanes and the bits by the roads. It is the road planners that put in the dual carriageways and the roundabouts off them -then get surprised that this creates more congestion.

Whoever these people are, they are lost in 1970s road planning, ignorant of demand creation. They think widening the ring road will solve problems -it won't. What would solve problems would be making it safe and easy for people to cycle to work, to school and home. Dirt cheap and easy.

But the ring-road planners don't want that. They want to do motorways! Flyovers! Bridges! They are civil engineers building things without any grounding in what actually benefits the area.

This week -an expansion of the A4174/BAe roundabout. Where will the space for this come from? The elm-green park area alongside the Filton Pool and community centre. This has a BMX track, a cycle speedway (there's a waste of cycle sport money), and one of the few green spaces in the area.

The road planners want this. They don't have the money for it, so they've asked Filton Council to give them to it -for free!

An evening post article covers the story..

In a letter to the council, Mark Shearman, principal engineer for transport services, says they want 317 square metres of extra land to widen the Filton A4174 ring road, as part of the Southmead 106 funding project, which it asks Filton council to donate free of charge. The move would see the amount of land taken from Elm Park playing fields, reducing the size removing trees, pathway and shrubbery in the process.

Extra space for more ring road over parkland. Nice to see the priorities. They say this will reduce congestion, but that shows how little they know of "induced demand" -more lanes for cars means more cars.

What about the people who cycle? Fuck off, is what the road planners say, discreetly:

In addition to the road changes the council say they want to improve facilities for cyclists with pathways but they have a limited budget and are under a timescale pressure

See that? "want to" but "limited budget" and "timescale pressure". That means no. It means "we don't give a fuck about bicycles and can't be arsed to do anything about it". It means "All that stuff about putting walking, cycling and public transport first? That's bollocks that we don't believe". Induced Demand? Unproven theory. Global Warming? A communist conspiracy. Peak Oil. Fictional. As for cycling? Why do that when there is a car park by our office for our BMWs?

This is the root cause of the shitness in the area for cycling. A bunch of road planners who dream of a Filton of Flyovers, who ignore the larger consequences of their decisions. Maybe they do know of Induced Demand -and like it, because it keeps them busy building flyovers and roundabouts.

Another quote
"Councillor Bill Moore said he had spoken to the planning department suggesting a cycle path could cut through Elm Park field and was told this hadn't been considered as an option"

Is that surprising? The traffic department views cyclists as a bunch of whiners who turn up to a meeting that they don't attend themselves.

If there is one good thing, the outcome of the meeting was

Filton council concluded that the request from South Gloucs council was ill thought out and they voted all but one to reject the request completely

That may give them the time to actually design in that bike lane, a proper one. They could even use the money saved from the widening to build it. But you can pretty fucking confident they won't as the road planners don't believe in bicycles.

And where is our cycling representative, Bwian Allinson in all this? Keeping his head down, by the look of things.

S. Gloucs Road planners: We want your shrubbery