Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Zoo transport

A late-breaking entry for the antibicycle awards, Bristol Zoo.
At first glance, you would think "what does the zoo do wrong, they have provided lots of bike racks". In fact we have a quote from Chris Hutt who thinks its excellent:
"There are two sets of 6 racks, so parking for 24 bicycles.
Can't complain about that."
Given that Mr Hutt is the official complainer for the Bristol Cycling Campaign, the fact he isn't complaining about it is so unusual that it makes us suspicious. Was it a bribe? If so, how much?

There are two things odd with this picture. The light controlled pelican crossing of an important commuter route, and the strange cobbles on the pavement, just at the back wheel of the tagalong. Their cobbles' role can be a bit clearer from the other side, especially if we move the sign.
The two marked out rectangles on the pavement are in fact two of the very few disabled parking spaces in the zoo, and as they are the ones closest to the main entrance, very popular and in constant use weekends, bank holidays and throughout the summer. With two motor vehicles parked in these spaces, it is therefore impossible to park a bike with a trailer or a tagalong at any of the bike stands during peak zoo visit hours. If one were actually trying to encourage cycling to the zoo, this would be unfortunate, because nobody in their right minds goes to the zoo except with small children.

Anyone cycling would have to have some means of getting the children there, and by preventing trailers or tagalongs from using the facilities, the zoo can discourage anyone from cycling. All without troublemakers like Chris Hutt even suspecting, which makes it particularly amusing. How can the evening post run a controversy article on the zoo without any good quotes?

Well, this is where it gets fun, and where the real award nomination kicks in. The zoo doesn't want cyclists. In fact, it doesn't want any visitors to the city who don't come and park in the zoo's revenue-earning parking spaces. We know this, as they have written it down in their sustainability report. You see, there are some small problems with the zoo's plan to earn parking revenue from visitors
  1. There isn't enough space in the zoo's parking space to make much money
  2. The area nearby isn't resident parking, so visitors can and do park for free once the paid parking area is full
These are problems, but not insurmountable. The secret is the large unused wasteland nearby, often known as Durdham Downs. Part managed by the council, part owned by the Merchant Venturers, and somewhere we like because of its strong anti bicycle policy. Every path where a child may cycle has a big sign warning them off.

This leads to large amounts of empty space. Space that can be used. And what better use of open city parkland in the height of summer than providing parking for the zoo? It is a long standing arrangement that  at weekends and summers, currently gets turned into paid parking for the zoo.

There's a small problem with that -it's not clear that this is what was meant when the downs were to be kept for the people of the city "in perpetuity". This is why a year ago the Zoo was told that instead of this right to park here being a permanent feature, they had one year to come up with a plan.

They have had a year, and they have a plan. It is: park on the downs, add some signs.

This has taken some effort to pull off, and we will have to see what happens this week when the planning committee reviews it. What we are impressed by, however, is how the Zoo managed to hire some traffic consultants to produce a transport report which makes the case that allowing people to park on the downs is the most sustainable form of transit, all other options (walking, cycling, public transport) can be dismissed, and that Park and Ride isn't economic.

That's a good report. Read it.

First, they look at visitor traffic on a bank holiday
2.6%Walked or Cycled
2.8%Train or Train and bus

When you consider how many visitors they have on a bank holiday (hint, the Downs parking area has room for 600 cars), the fact that 2.6% managed to walk or cycle is pretty impressive. Presumably after the 12 bicycles parked with the child carrier poking into the main road, everyone else walked.

What is more surprising for us that nearly 7% used public transport, despite the surveyors choosing a bank holiday, the day in which all forms of public transport are at their least functional. Yet even by choosing a day when you are most likely to get visitors from outside the city, 7% used "legacy" public transport,  nearly three times the number who walked or cycled. Wow.

The surveyors, Pinnacle Transportation, to give them their credit, used this as evidence that driving was the only viable option, but because most people drove with family, it was sustainable. That's good. That legitimises us driving to school to do the sprog dropoff. Yes, it may only be 500 metres, yes we park on the school keep lines and half the pavement -but it's sustainable! We shall use that to dispute the next tickets we receive.

So, what to do? Pinnacle Transportation, whom we presume were well paid for their troubles, looked at the option for Park and Ride, and decided that it would cost too much as £1750/day. Why? First, P&R doesn't run at weekends, external visitors to the city on weekends are expected to drive in, so the zoo pays all P&R costs. That's £1450 a day. Secondly, the consultants estimate that adding P&R would reduce zoo parking revenue -on the Downs- by £300/day. That is: people choosing not to park on the downs are an expense.

That is beautiful, and it reinforces our beliefs that tax-dodging pedestrians and cyclists should be banned from the city. We've long argued they don't benefit central government's coffers, but this zoo transport report is the first time someone has spelled out that people who don't drive and park their cars on one of the city's parks cost money. If there is one fault, the report doesn't come out and denounce the 2.6% who walked or cycled, those who came by bus or train, or those who -worst of all- parked somewhere where it is free to park.

By marking down all lost parking revenue as an expense on the P+R, the transport plans can then say "too expensive". What they do propose instead is
  1. Have a park and ride, but if it proves too expensive, stop it.
  2. Provide better (permanent) signage to the Downs parking area for visitors
Option #1 may look good, but because of that offset-expense trick, the zoo knows that it won't be hard to make it look uneconomic, so it will die a death "we tried that, it didn't work". Instead the Downs parking area will remain, and with the better signage get even more visitors, because they won't get lost and accidentally park somewhere like Pembroke Road or College Road where it won't cost them anything. Which will make residents of those roads happy too.

Now, how does the Downs committee react? Let us look at the Nov 2009 meeting minutes. There's a fairly brutal submission from the Ramblers who argue that turning the downs over to parking is a fundamental abuse of the city's parkland, but what do they know? They may think that somewhere they like to walk is denied them -but nobody is stopping them from parking in the zoo parking area either. That leaves the "Friends of the Downs", who come out in favour not just of giving the Zoo the parking area they deserve, but making a rolling five year lease, which effectively means "forever". We are curious as to what the membership of the Friends group is, as one would, if one actually cared about the green stuff, be a bit concerned that they were more "Enemies of the Downs".

This then, is why the zoo is up for an antibicycle award. Not for the bike racks that don't actually work once there are some disabled visitors. But for the way they've managed to get the Downs friends and committee -the same people who spend so much of their paint budget on ensuring there is no safe way to cycle across most of the Downs.- to support the zoo's plans for 600-650 parking spaces there in high summer weekends and bank holidays, the dates when park visitors would be highest. That is, they have got these people to sell out the entire notion of park and replace it with parking. When you then look at the transport report, where the consultants argue, with a completely straight face, that having 600 cars drive to the city and park on the Downs is sustainable, that these people cannot walk or cycle, and that all lost parking revenue must constitute an expense for a park and ride scheme, well, it just rounds it off!


maliknant said...

It's not that complicated: If better cycling infrastructure was in place, more people would cycle.

There's a ton of evidence out there to support that.

But these sorts of people always look at it in a backwards way: Not that many people cycle, so don't bother to provide any infrastructure for them at all.

That's why we get the token two bike stands (if that) in so many places, while there are parking places as far as the eye can see. When you consider the myriad of benefits that being a cycling society provides, it all seems quite mad!

Quercus said...


But before we get the cycling infrastructure we need to complete the driving infrastructure (obviously).

Good to see the Zoo got its permission to park cars on on the Downs, and nice to know there won't be any conflict with cyclists, because they are not allowed to cycle on them.

Joined-up thinking is apparently still very much alive and well.

bsk said...

"That is, they have got these people to sell out the entire notion of park and replace it with parking."

I never saw the link between those two words before. Thanks for enlightening me, BT. So, to solve Bristol's parking problems we just need to convert all parks into parking lots. Brilliant. Job done.

maliknant said...


You nailed it buddy.

Pack the public park with automobiles and keep the ban on those bicycles. Why allow a clean, quiet mode of transport in a public park when you can fill the green space with motors that belch greenhouse gases?

And we should defo focus on 'driving infrastructure', especially as motoring is the cleanest way to travel, and the supply of fuel for these vehicles will never, ever run out.