Friday 22 December 2017

No Elon, Serial Killers Drive

Elon Musk has been denouncing public transport. Clearly he too has tried in vain to get a FirstBus on a showcase bus route at Templemeads after the 22:09 Paddington train has come in at 00:30 on account of the electrification works diverting it south to warminster.

What's surprising is that his argument against public transport is "you could be sitting next to a serial killer"

We must disagree.

Key features of killing someone
  • You are covered in blood and/or wearing some kind of butchers apron.
  • You have instruments of death, like axes, swords and maces.
  • You may have some firearm, which, even if you hide it in a ski tube, is still unwieldy.
  • You have a body to dispose of. Maybe in a Deer Body Bag, but a body nonetheless.
Nobody will sit next to you like that, you will end up in a tube compartment or a bus to yourself, and before long someone in a uniform will sidle up saying "what's in the body bag, sir?". 

And that even excludes the problem of getting a bus in Bristol, which is always a bit sketchy, especially outside office hours. 

Serial Killers drive

In Bristol, a small hatchback is the vehicle of choice.

You've got a covered boot big enough to get a body in, low enough hatch that you don't have to lift the body with relative ease, especially if there are two of you. If they're big, you can fold down one of the seats.

Weapons, be they medieval maces or chainsaws, back seats. If they are covered in blood, again, a bin bag or two is handy, but on the way out you can just throw them in, maybe cover in a blanket for a bit of discretion.

That just leaves clothing which wipes down nicely, where some medieval-reproduction apron fills all the requirements of a butchers apron, but seems to get fewer looks when you queue for a flat white with an extra shot in the Leigh Woods cafe, before dragging the corpse off somewhere to bury.

Would we recommend a Tesla? It's got the luggage room, but it's too wide for inner bristol, too expensive for inner bristol and not discreet enough. A ten year old ford fiesta? Utterly unmemorable.

Could you imagine having to deal with a witness report saying "it was an old battered hatchback", and the police having to consider every owner of "an old battered hatchback" as a suspect? That's most car owners in the inner city. A Tesla, on the other hand, well, there's about four bold enough to leave Clifton, and when they do, they'll be on the Clifton Suspension Bridge camera, because if you can afford a Tesla, you can afford to pay £1 to use that bridge, rather than head through Cliftonwood to Hotwells and then over the Cumberland Basin Flyover. (though given the width of Granby Hill, you don't have much of a choice anyway).

There you have it. Serial Killers: battered hatchbacks, weapons on the back seats, body in the boot.

Public Transport. By inference. Not serial killers.

(These people were spotted getting together with similarly dressed and weaponed people in Leigh Woods late one Sunday Afternoon. Either they were going to re-enact bits of Game of Thrones, "It's my turn to be a White Walker!", or Highander. You'd have to wait and see if they started playing Queen's "It's a kind of magic" on some USB loudspeakers. to know which.)

Thursday 7 December 2017

Breaking: cyclists using bridge intended to be cycled over

Here is a video of someone trying to cycle from one side of the Avon to the other.

You can see at the beginning of the video that they have to  is another bridge, the cheesegrater bridge, which, since they replaced its artistic metal surface with one which works in the wet and ice, can be used year round. Or at least could be, if a lorry hadn't been driven over it, destroyed the surface and still, two months later, not been repaired.

Here's a video of someone cycling over it again

Nothing unusual there, given it has been since its inception a walking/cycling bridge

Why our coverage then? Because on December 5, 2017, Alex Ballinger, Bristol Post journalist, published an article Cyclists ignore signs asking them to dismount on a Bristol bridge but warning isn’t mandatory. Where, shockingly,

Pictures show cyclists riding over a city centre bridge and passing pedestrians

That is the most undercompelling subtitle you can imagine, but it gets filled up with
Cyclists have been photographed riding over a pedestrian bridge near Bristol city centre despite the ‘health and safety’ warning signs, but there is no way of enforcing the rule.
That's because its a cycling and walking bridge. There is no rule to enforce. The fact that the owners don't want to people to cycle over is their problem. The fact that the "cyclists cycle over the bridge" story is a recurrent on in the Post is, however, the newspaper's problem.

Here's an article from April 3, 2017, How many cyclists do you think we caught riding over a pedestrian bridge in Bristol in just five minutes?, by one Tim MacFarlan.

This is the Bridge in question. Notice how the recurrent videos of cycling over this bridge is, well, repetitive. Not a coincidence.

From the article
when it comes to a pedestrian bridge, with signs at either end ordering cyclists to dismount when crossing, you'd have thought you could relax a bit if you're on foot. 
Not so with the Valentine Bridge in Temple Quay if our experience is anything to go by.
This is despite the fact blue and white signs are clearly visible at both ends of the bridge saying in block capitals, 'CYCLISTS MUST DISMOUNT WHEN USING THE BRIDGE'. 
we filmed 22 cyclists crossing the bridge in both directions - and just SIX got off their bikes and walked across.
Well, it is a cycling bridge after all.

Except, guess what:
Not a single pedestrian complained to any of the cyclists, despite the fact they should only have been sharing the bridge with people on foot - wheeling their bikes if they had them.
The writer almost sounds disappointed "everyone on a walking/cycling bridge coexisted happily."

And here, May 10 2017, by Alex Ballinger, Sign urges cyclists to dismount on Bristol city centre bridge - but is it against the law to ignore it? This covers the Prince Street Bridge, but it quite clearly covers the fact that no, you can cycle where there's a "cyclists dismount" sign.

Now, that's a bit far back for some group memory, but there's search engines to find this history. And the article from October 23, 2017, These are the rules for cyclists. The clothes to wear, can you ride on pavements, and must you adhere to dismount signs?, by journalist Emma Flanagan.
Q. Do you have to adhere to dismount signs?
A. No. However, not dismounting can cause tension with pedestrians who may not be aware it is advisory.
And the article has a photo of guess, what? Valentine's Bridge.

That's the one in this video with the dismount sign next to a barrier installed without council permission. We think the barrier is designed to force people off their bike, but really its like chicanes are to Astra drivers showing off to their mates: entertainment. The challenge is "can you get round without putting a foot down". (tip: put the brakes on lightly but pedal all the way through; gives you a bit of oversteer and stops you having enter too fast).

There we go then: four articles this year on cycling over bridges with dismount signs, three covering this bridge, with the most overblown the "we counted 22 people cycling over a walking & cycling bridge and nobody minded".

The issue is no longer "why are these cyclists ignoring the signs", but "why does the local newspaper regurgitate same variants on the same story 4 times/year", especially when the story is "why do cyclists cycle over bridges designed to be cycled over?".

Some theories

  1. Journalists are hard pressed to think up content, walking round Templemeads they see some people cycling over a bridge, see the dismount sign and think "that'd be something I could write up!", pushing out a story without bothering to search the archives or talk to colleagues.
  2. Someone looks at the hit counts for previous articles and yells out, taps into the team whatsapp group, Slack channel or whatever "whose turn is it to do the cyclists on Valentine Bridge story this month?"
  3. The bridge owners hate cyclists and every so often get in touch with the paper to say "we have a story!" And whoever writes it up doesn't bother to look through the archives. Or doesn't care.

We propose a sweepstake: when will the first 2018 article denouncing cyclists cycling over Valentine's Bridge appear in the Bristol Post?

Prize: a free cycle ride over the bridge

Rules: this competition is not open to Bristol Post staff or immediate family.

What's painful here, is not just the uninspired repetition of the same old story, a repetition which only increases prejudice and polarisation, but because we assume that the authors do have some ambition to really write compelling stories.

Yet there is an interesting one right in front of their eyes: the story about why a bridge built in the 21st century as a walking/cycling bridge has its owners trying to suppress cycling over it?

Here then, are our recommendations for the next Bristol Post journalist tasked with covering this story in April/May 2018.
  1. Ask the bridge owners whether or not this was commissioned as a walking/cycling bridge?
  2. Ask them why they unilaterally decided to add "cyclists dismount" signs?
  3. Ask them why they unilaterally installed barriers without council permission?
  4. Ask them why they get so worked up about cyclists exercising their legal right to cycle over the bridge?
  5. Given the stance on cycling, do you consider that as a walking and cycling bridge, the bridge is a failure?
If the answers to Q2-4 is "because the bridge is too narrow", then ask them: what traffic modelling did they do? Was it wrong?  If so; why? If not: why was the bridge inadequate for the predicted numbers. And, if they didn't do any modelling, that's interesting too.

If the answers to Q2-4 are "because the surface is slippery when wet", ask them "was the weather of Bristol taken into account when the bridge was designed and materials specified"

Follow this with: given the surface of the first bridge was failure, why was the second crossing also designed with a surface which doesn't work in rain and ice?

A cycling bridge you cannot cycle over is not a cycling bridge: it is a failed project.

As, for Alex Ballinger and colleagues: why are you recycling this?

If you look at the comments, articles like this are clearly reinforcing the opinion of the commenters that "cyclists are lawbreakers". Maybe, but not here. This article has the defensibility of a "shocking expose, people driving on the M32 flyover". You should have been embarrassed to put your name to it

Please: write a new story on the failure of the bridge, not how Bristolians are using it as originally intended.