Wednesday 18 September 2019

Hotwell's future in a divided city

Bristol is a divided city.

It's divided between North -especially North West- Bristol where the professionals who moved into the city into the city in the 1980s and 1990s settled, and those parts of the city, where families have lived for generations.

It's divided by the future options in life which children going up North of the river have, compare to those in forgotten places like Hartcliffe.

It's divided by air quality, where people who live outside the air quality management area and drive into or through the centre, then get home expressing how glad they are they don't live in the polluted zone, while complaining that even the delayed and inadequate antipollution plans reluctantly produced by the mayor's office an unacceptable attack on their right to drive to work.

It's divided into those people who live in the city and likely to walk, cycle or take the bus, and those people who live in out-of-town dormitory villages. The latter opted for a mock-rural life with an expectation that driving to work in the city should be easy and free. Really, who moved to Portishead without noticing that the A369 is a traffic jam morning and evening because everyone else had the same idea? Who buys a little Georgian something in Chipping Sodbury and then drives to work down the M4 and A4174 without expecting the roads to be moving 30 mph in the rush hour -and why the fuck do you think the rest of us really want to hear about this fact every fucking morning?

Hotwells is one of those places where the division in transport choices are so starkly apparent.

The Plimsoll Bridge: one of the key ways people drive from South to North Bristol -and vice versa, and the way those North Somerset extra-urban commuters can bring their overweight SUVs from their two-cars-per-household mock rural semi-detached houses into what ever office car park they somehow get to park their oversized vehicles.

Alongside it, the Merchants Road Bridge: how people on foot and bike get between the two halves of the city. Visiting it on Saturday, apart from one or two cars heading to or from Spike Island -the majority of traffic was people are using their own legs to get them over.

Admittedly, the Nova Scotia, the Pump House, and The Cottage seem popular destinations for the pedestrians, so legless could well be final state of the journey -but what better places to enjoy a bevvy or four than the waterside pubs in quiet and historic part of the Harbour?

On a bike, you can carry on over the now reopened "Create Centre Bridge" and then on to points south and west (east is a topic for another post). It's here that the literal stratification of transport choices becomes so apparent. While the people in their cars, are busy wondering which lane to take, under the flyover, people are walking and cycling around without anyone cutting them up.

There is a BMX area for those with skills, and a pump trail, for children and adults alike to enjoy trying to negotiate its bumps and berms in a lovely setting. None of this is apparent to people in their cars.

Which group of people do you think are behind these proposals to destroy Hotwells? Is it the families that bring a small kids down on scooters to enjoy the pump trail? Is it people crossing the Create Centre and the merchants road bridges on their e-bikes, ready to -somehow- get into the city centre unscathed? No. It's those business executives who live either in North Somerset villages, or corners of Clifton, and who only ever see the bridge for more than 30 seconds when they're stuck in traffic jam. Which is why they don't seem to have any qualms about destroying what is a key walking and cycling connection point between the two cities -North Bristol and Greater Bemmy. They won't even know it's there, except on some footnote of page 20 on a report; a report they stopped reading on page 3 once the cost of building a tunnel became apparent, the fact that repairing the existing bridge wouldn't make the money became obvious --and that there was some land adjacent to the river which nobody important seemed to be using.

Yes, the council did donate that land "to the people" in the 1960s to compensate for the bits of the park they'd used for the interchange -but they didn't have spreadsheets in that era. We do now, and they send a message to those people who look at numbers on screens in the day, and think about those numbers as they queue on the A370 en route to the newly opened traffic jam that is the new Southern Link Road.

What we're seeing here is one of those moments when we get to decide what city we want to live in. The attempts to convert the railway path into the first of the Metrobus routes was the last time we really got this. A council deciding that a bus route, was more important then anyone trying to walk or cycle into the city, that East Bristol didn't really need its parkland, not when it held up commuters from Emersons Green.

So what city do we want? We can see what city the mayor wants. We just don't understand why he has chosen to represent the car-first commuters are North Somerset and profit-first businessman of Clifton, ahead of the rest of us.

Tuesday 17 September 2019

Hotwells: the Westernmost Outpost of Greater Bedminster

Hotwells -for that is the name of the undeveloped western harbour area- is part of Greater Bedminster.

Yes, much of it is north of the harbour, but it is on the flatlands, just north of the harbour.

While Clifton isn't that far away, it's a brutal climb up that Hill -and when you get there, there's only Clifton Village to show for it. Apart from the pubs, a chip shop, a very small library, and an underwhelming convenience store, there is not much there. If you live in Hotwells, and you choose to head south, you can you make your way to Asda, and buy food amongst the friendly community that always seems to be wandering those aisles. And nowadays, you have all of Southville to explore. Your parks and green spaces are also south of the Avon.

That's why the council plans for the Cumberland flyover are more than just changes in Hotwells, they are an attack on South Bristol. In particular, to propose putting a two- or four lane road alongside the Avon, through that green space which connects the Avon to Grenville park, is something straight out of 1970s Bristol road planning. Even Glasgow has backed off doing things that awful since the early 1990s (M77 and Pollok Estate, for the curious).

Our mayor is proposing destroying the unspoiled nature of the southern gorge. Proposing building a four-lane road over what today is the best view you get to the Clifton suspension bridge. Proposing making today's walking and cycling route from Hotwells to Bemmy yet another multi-lane bridge where are all walking and cycling facilities and be an afterthought. Yes, they mention "improvements to cycling", but without spelling them out -you know they'll be afterthoughts or extra lights we have to wait 15 minutes to cross the junction. And you know that as the cost of the project overruns, as the schedule overruns start to be measured in years -the "value engineering" of the project will result in the exact outcome which Avon Crescent got from their Metrobus promises: fuck all.

Why is he doing this? Because it is obvious to everyone with a spreadsheet, that large amounts of money could be made by building houses on the land which the flyover currently uses. The only way to turn flyover into profit is if you can think up another way to get people across the river. Clearly, and attempt to estimate how much a tunnel would cost to build has shown that even before you include the inevitable massive cost overruns, it's too expensive for the people hoping to profit from the land sales to fund -and nobody else is willing to. The only way you can convert that bridge into housing is if you find someone else to put the bridge. A nearby park and the side of the gorge which doesn't have traffic jams is the obvious solution -and if that doesn't work, there is always the bridge to Spike Island, which combined with knocking down some of the historical buildings of the harbour, gives you another place for the bridge. Obviously, if the council proposed building the houses on that parkland, they'd expect some resistance. Selling off the Plimsoll Bridge land space and then handwringing over how about road now need to go somewhere else lets some people make their money -too bad that South Bristol will lose a bit more of its green space and that the nice bits of Hotwells destroyed to put in the bridge which will be needed once the current bridge has been sold off for redevelopment.

So yes, we are opposed to this. Expect more coverage on this topic to follow

Friday 1 February 2019

VU61HXM : Nissan Driver doing clifton roundabouts "french style" in the snow

We're an organisation which believes in data and experimentation. We have time for experts.

Normally we can't be arsed to send videos of near misses to A&S police on the basis that it seems an exercise in futility. Let's look at the track record of our limited number of attempts
  1. Sept 2012, R242AAC. Shoots out a roundabout, nearly hits the parent. Outcome: Five penalty points. Notable that (then) Cllr Jon Rogers was pulled in early —is this the way to get a result?
  2. April 2014: Double-overtaking driver of Peugeot L861CDW nearly runs over family. Outcome: A&S Police Sergeant tells off cyclist for swearing when they think their son is about to die.
  3. Feb 2016, SWC scaffolds van HK15FYH. Reporting this van driving over a roundabout while texting involved cycling to Chipping Sodbury to hand over a CD with the video and file a report. When followed later that month, nobody had any record of it. Chipping Sodbury Police: "we passed it on". A&S HQ "we have no record". 
It's got worse. We've gone from Prosecute to Won't Prosecute to No Record of Incident. And that with  a trip to Yate added in.

It's 2019, three years since the last experiment. And this one merits it. A Nissan Note nearly being driven into a cyclist because the driver has chosen to drive the wrong side of the mini roundabout, in winter conditions, where the cyclist is forced to swerve into snow and ice to avoid the car driving into the side of them.

Our tax dodger (expendable) is coming into Clifton on Suspension Bridge road, heading towards the more interesting parts of the city. Because all the side roads are iced up, the main roads are the only options, and there, the central lane where enough traffic has melted the snow.

Our cyclist carefully cycles round the roundabout, making a controlled turn through the junction, avoiding snow, avoiding banking into the turn, lining up perfectly to exit in the snow and ice-free part of the road -the only place to be in these conditions.

Except, what's that engine noise coming from the right hand side? It's the Nissan Note VU61HXM, also taking the roundabout, this time on the completely opposite side of the roundel. If they have a driving license, it had better be a French one. And they have to be able to say more than "quoi? je comprende pas? Est-ce-que il-y-a une probleme?" when questioned.

In normal weather conditions, that would be an selfish and dangerous thing to do. In snow conditions, conditions where the police and met office were warning everyone to think before they travel, and take care when they do —it's tantamount to attempted murder.

The cyclist was: positioned on the snow free part of the road, carefully using their (hydraulic disc) brakes, riding with tyres (2.4" Conti Mountain King ) suited to bad weather, and taking corners really, really carefully, both hands gripping the wide bars for maximum control. Oh, and avoiding the side roads which don't get swept or gritted.

The driver "Oh, this cyclist is taking too long, I'll just dive across the road. Oh, they are shouting and waving. I shall carry on without slowing down or changing my line —they shouldn't have come up the inside of me"

When you see a car aiming straight for the side of you, there's no point trying to argue rights of way, it's time to make an emergency turn into the snow -avoiding braking at the saame time as that's guaranteed to lead to a fall. Then, once to side, controlled deceleration.

If there had been any ice underneath, this would have caused a fall, and, with a car twenty centimetres away, guaranteed injury. We wonder what the driver would have said then —aassuming they stopped at all.

Certainly driving off seemed to be their sole reaction to the near-collision

It's interesting to look back. They only come up behind the bike within the last ten seconds of the approach to the junction —the time the cyclist is gently slowing down. And, irony of irony, because the tax-dodging cyclist stopped to let the family cross the zebra crossing. If instead they'd gone straight over the crossing (the kids hadn't stepped out, so it'd have been legal, albeit antisocial), then VU61HXM wouldn't have had a chance to run over the cyclist.

At the junction itself the driver didn't even make any attempt to drive legally. Look at the angle of the front wheel. They were lined up right from the outset to cut across the roundabout and the cyclist.  Not a moment of hesitation, not even to safely assess whether there were any drivers approaching from the right. The decision to drive on the wrong side of the mini roundabout had been made before they started to pull out.

And it's not like they "just" went onto the painted roundel. They barely grazed it with the passenger side wheels.

The rear view also shows how close they come knocking the cyclist off. With the wide angle lens, that is probably within 15 cm.

The only way to put a safe gap in was to put both hands on those MTB bars bars and steer into the snow, while taking care to stay upright.

This is one of the worse bits of driving experienced for a while. In the worst road conditions Bristol has experienced for almost a year.  In terms of actions, it makes the cut for the CPS guidelines for prosecuting dangerous driving.
  • failing to have a proper and safe regard for vulnerable road users such as cyclists
  • overtaking which could not have been carried out safely;
  • disregard of traffic lights and other road signs, which, on an objective analysis, would appear to be deliberate;
And particularly:
  • a brief but obvious danger arising from a seriously dangerous manoeuvre. 
Let's see what happens. Filing planned for Saturday, with the full "dull" long video and a detailed statement; will do a followup in the week to make sure the NIP is in the post, then we'll see whether this makes the cut as something worthy of the CPS's time. Oh and this time: ruthlessness from our side. Missing report: escalate. Failure to prosecute: escalate and publicise.

If A&S police don't do better than they have done in the 2014 and 2016 experiments, they may as well cancel their safe passing program and give out Nissan Notes instead.