Sunday, 18 September 2011

City to UWE, via the motorised suburbs

This is funny. The cycling bristol video of the park where the sounds of the M32 have been edited out with some "rural joy" soundtrack added on. You'd almost expect to see bunny rabbits dancing, rather than hear the background hum of the motorway which the opening of the video actually goes underneath.

Notice how it stops "that's as far as we'll go today". Whyy stop? They aren't embarrassed about what comes next are they? We would be. The dutch would be shaking their heads in despair.

Let's look at the reality of a Bristol City. S Gloucs showcase cycle route.

The narrow bridge has a dropoff at the end. OK on an MTB if you like your leaps, useless on a narrow wheeled bike. Why didn't they put in a hint of tarmac? Certainly you can see why they stopped the official guide before this bit. And why we recommend an MTB with some decent front travel and disk brakes as a practical commuter. Except for the rain, obviously. There is no way you can have a bike which has decent mudguards and the MTB features needed to negotiate the cycle lanes and paths of S Gloucs.

The road is pretty rough here. 20 years ago it was a rat-run traffic jam, so it's some improvement, though it tends to flood in winter. Nobody seems to care about that. Mud tyre time.

Then you get on the Frome River path; the new feature. The surface will make it all year, and the width was a negotiated settlement to keep the area rural. No dissent there, but it would be better with some solar lights to make it somewhere to walk in winter evenings. That would let students on foot use it without feeling quite so nervous.

As you approach the end of the path what can you see? A van blocking the exit. Except when you get there, it's legally parked; the exit forces you out onto the main road immediately, rather than some gentle angle to get up to speed -because a safer exit would have taken away one whole parking space.

Once on the road, it's fast. No 20mph zone here. And there are parked cars. The taxi is very nice, waits until it's safe and goes past with lots of gap: they deserve credit for being a good driver.

Except: why the parked cars, half up on the pavement?

There is enough room here to have done a segregated path. Instead, to avoid conflict you get abandoned at this road until the roundabout. And what a roundabout. Nobody expects anything to go straight on, but today the driver on the left is attentive. It's worse heading the other way, as you aren't considered to be part of the motorway sequence, and traffic leaving the city in the evenings never give you a chance anyway.

Today, all is well until the bicycle filter is reached. This is designed to stop anyone with good skills to clear it. For the record, keep your pannier on the same side as your drivetrain, tilt the bike to the left and put the left pedal up to the top. You can just hear the pedal as it clears the barrier.

WTF were they thinking? It doesn't let recumbents. family bikes, trailers through. Yes, it stops motorbikes, but since they can get in on the other side and ride XC over the hills, that's just fucking pointless. Don't even think about trying to get through on a wheelchair either: you are not welcome.

Then the M32 underpass. Wouldn't be pleasant to walk through at night, and again likes its flooding. It has a bit of a bad reputation for mugging: dark and places for muggers to hide until you get to them. Lighting and encouragement of more traffic would mitigate this, but as nothing has been done, the problem remains.

Then the dull bit s hill climb. There are a lot of foot passengers on evenings in summer, but not winter. Why not? Again, the complete lack of lighting, perhaps?

Skipping most of the climb we go to the end.

We have arrived in suburbia, somewhere full of garages and two-car houses. This entire estate was built on the expectation that you would drive to work, to school, to the shops. Because there's fuck all in walking distance apart from UWE, the MoD and some of the business park offices near the UWE. Yes, this is the S Gloucs idea of "sustainable housing development".

There is no sign at the end of the path showing you how to get to the university, the MoD or elsewhere. In one respect, that's good: if one had gone in it would probably be in the middle of the path -like all the others. It doesn't help anyone trying to get to their work or study along here though -and it does nothing to encourage people who live in the two-car surburban estate to walk down the hill to the pub. A sign like "pubs and shops" would be all you need. After all, there isn't any other bar in walking distance except the UWE student union, and the people who live here wouldn't fit in.

Carrying on, we head towards UWE. The yellow lines are new; they are not put in to stop the locals from parking -it's to stop students driving in and parking there, so creating congestion for the locals. It's a start, we suppose, though we doubt it was put in by the residents for the sake of the city, more to ensure their own driveways don't get blocked.

The cyclist takes the bridleway into the uni; there is an alternate option through the sprawl. Either way -you need to know the secret route through a maze of featureless houses. The thought of painting bicycles on the path hasn't occurred.

The bridleway dates from when these were all fields -it's a piece of history. At the end of it, where we meet another cyclist properly equipped with an MTB, there's a stretch that everyone must take. It does get muddy in winter. And it ends with a motorbike gate that can clip handlebars too -you can hear that- and which is again impossible to get through with kids, trailers, wheelchairs etc.

We cross the road to get into UWE territory and continue along, stopping at a new road being built. A new road, breaking up the bike path. Does the path get a raised pavement and give way signs? No. It gets give way signs. This new road is for bus and bike only, but that doesn't mean that buses should have priority over bicycles, and we suspect cars will use it too.

Why didn't they give bicycles priority here? This time, no blame is directed towards the council. This is UWE land, and all UWE care about is having 25+ car parks, with extra parking from the proposed football stadium. If you want to see Institutionalised Motorism in S Gloucs, visit the University of the West of England.

There you have it then. The bit the cycling city didn't cover:

  • dropoffs off narrow bridges
  • flooded roads
  • exits with vans in the way
  • the wasted opportunity of a segregated cycle lane
  • gates to keep bicycles out of the path
  • an unlit underpass that floods
  • an unlit hill climb
  • a suburban estate with no directions to the university -or to the city
  • a muddy path
  • another stupid gate
  • a bike path that is being cut up for more roads.

Why didn't they cover all of this. What was there that they weren't proud of?