Where are Bristol's Cycling City millions?

Slow start to £22.8m scheme

With only 16 months left, it is still unclear where Bristol is to spend its £22.8 million of Cycling City funding.

Talking exclusively to BikeRadar, the city council's executive member for transport, Jon Rogers, quoted "commercial confidentiality" as the reason the figures are not being published.

He admitted the scheme had got off to slow start, but pointed to progress in the areas of cycle parking, road pinch point removal and pilot 20mph zones.

Schemes totalling less than £2m have so far been completed or are underway. Cycling England chairman Philip Darnton and former Sustrans chief executive John Grimshaw have both expressed concern about the lack of activity.

Some £17.6 million was initially earmarked for cycling infrastructure – that's enough to provide around 180km of high-quality traffic-free cycle route (based on figures published by Brake road safety campaigners and updated by BikeRadar).

According to a progress report on Bristol Cycling City's new website, detailed plans have been announced for just 21km of new route and 63km of route improvement.

We asked Chris Hutt, long-standing Bristol cycle campaigner and author of the Green Bristol Blog, about the scheme's progress.

BikeRadar: Media announcements and press releases back in 2008 gave the impression that the thrust of the spending would be on creating a widespread traffic-free environment for cyclists in and around Bristol city centre. Current plans appear to be for lots of piecemeal development. What do you think went wrong?

Chris Hutt: I believe the emphasis on the creation of new infrastructure was at best misjudged and at worst deceitful. A study of the proposed 'new' route network shows that much of it is based on existing routes that may be upgraded in some, perhaps quite minor, way. The most obvious opportunities for the creation of genuinely new infrastructure have been ignored. Much of the claimed new infrastructure lies in the outer suburbs where there is more space available but where cycling levels tend to be low. What is required is infrastructure investment in the urban core where the greatest problems exist.

Around £20m remains to be spent what information do you have on how this will be allocated?

Over two-thirds of the total money was allocated to 'hard measures' (infrastructure) and the lesser part to 'soft measures' (eg. persuading people to try cycling). This is partly because much of the £11m 'matched funding' was infrastructure due to be provided on the back of various developments, a lot of which have now been delayed by the recession.

The progressing of infrastructure projects is necessarily slow. The two-and-a-half years of CyclingCity is simply too short a timescale to allow much to be achieved. The difficulty being experienced with progressing infrastructure (consultations, negotiations, planning applications, compulsory purchase orders and traffic regulation orders may all be involved) may result in a shift of emphasis to 'soft measures'.

So far we have only one locally significant piece of route infrastructure completed, namely the upgrade of an existing 0.8km cycle route in St Werburgh's. Several other improvements are now under way but, even taken together, these will not represent a major change to the overall infrastructure provision.  

What do you make of the overwhelming lack of costings for schemes in official documents?

Figures for expenditure tend to be kept under wraps, in part I suppose because they don't want to hand ammunition to critics such as me! However we now know that the expenditure on the 0.8km St Werburgh's path was in the order of £350,000. This is very high even by urban standards, due in part to the need for earthworks and the generally high standard of construction.

Elsewhere we see that CyclingCity expenditure has been used to fund improvements that benefit other road users and/or pay for basic maintenance that would have to be funded anyway. For example the £40,000 spent on modifications to Prince Street Bridge included new lights and barriers for motor traffic. Most cyclists have not benefited from the alterations to the bridge although pedestrians have certainly benefited. A complete closure to motor traffic would have been something to get excited about but the council won't have it.

There may have been a lack of progress on new routes, but what about other areas?

One area where there has been noticeable progress in a short time is bike parking. Large numbers of shiny new racks have appeared in many areas and this not only provides secure parking but also signals the higher priority theoretically being given to cycling overall.

Cycling will continue to be mainly on normal public highways and priority must be given to managing those highways in a manner which is consistent with safe and convenient cycling (and walking). To this end Bristol are progressing towards 20mph speed limits but this is unlikely to have much effect within the Cycling City timescale due to the limited areas covered by the pilot schemes.

Progress on cycling, as with other issues, takes a long time and can't be rushed through in a few years. Some of us have been campaigning for 30 years and if only cycling had been taken seriously from the 1980s, we might now be in a position to call ourselves a 'CyclingCity'.

If Cycling City were to convert to an ongoing project with funding, plans and aspirations for the next 10 years plus, combined with more openness and a willingness to listen to and work with the people who have many years of valuable experience as campaigning cyclists in the city, it might have more credibility."

Bristol Cycling Campaign

BikeRadar also asked Steve Kinsella, chairman of Bristol Cycling Campaign and someone who has been involved with the CyclingCity project from the beginning, for his views on the project's progress.

He told us: "Salient aspects of the bid document that we had asked for have been taken out or watered down. The bid aimed to concentrate on changing or removing the existing bad 'cycling facilities' infrastructure and filling in gaps to produce an exemplar cycle traffic system, even if over a limited area. There's no sign of this. Another aim was to include a high-profile central cycling hub (eg. covered secure parking, repair, sales, advice centre) in the centre, but this has been dropped.

"How is the £22m is being spent? The answer isn't easy to find as there's no finance reporting system and most financial information has been withheld. On the whole, the CyclingCity project has diluted its impact by spreading patchily over a large urban area, and has not tried hard enough to restrain car use. I'd have preferred that the opportunity had been taken to create a true cycle- and pedestrian-friendly city centre, with Continental-type car-free streets and cycle-friendly entry points, which would have made a clear statement of Bristol's aspiration to a more civilised urban society."

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