Using bikes to improve the air we breathe

Air Quality has once again hit the headlines recently, with concern across the world.  The issue has been equated to the number of deaths caused by pollutants from diesel engines, giving an immediacy to the problem.

Diesel vehicles have in the past been recommended as less polluting vehicles, mainly because a gallon of diesel gives more mileage to the gallon than a gallon of petrol.  However now they are considered to be much more polluting and dangerous to human health because of the damage done to lungs by “particulates’ – small molecules of carbon – PM10s and PM 2.5s.

These pollutants are of course, along with Nitrogen Dioxide(NO2), mostly found in cities and result from vehicle exhausts and can cause heart attacks and lung cancer.  In 2013 a study involving 313,000 people from 9 European countries revealed that there was no safe level for particulates in humans. (Wikipedia).  In many countries PM2.5s are not supposed to exceed the set limits at any time.

Politicians in polluted cities are scratching their heads about what to do to make air quality better.  Copenhagen is beaten only by Zurich as the city in Europe with the best air quality. It is no secret that the use of bicycles has helped Copenhagen become one of the cleanest cities in Europe.

Hire bikes are successful in Bath.

This begs the question of why have other cities not replicated Copenhagen in its bike infrastructure?  Cycling may not be the “silver bullet” for all cities, but there is no doubt that more cycling will improve air quality.

Making a city into one which encourages more cycling seems to be obvious and yet in so many cities, politicians wring their hands over poor air quality.  It seems an insoluble problem.  Why not make this obvious move towards better air quality?  In the UK it appears that the car culture is so entrenched that this is almost untouchable.

In Bath just a couple of weeks ago TV magazine programme, “Inside-out West” did a test where a cyclist (Adam Reynolds, Chair of CycleBath) and a taxi driver were provided air monitors for a week to find out who breathed in most pollution.  The taxi driver had by far the most polluted air, sucked in through vents when sat in traffic jams from other cars.  Adam, despite his route being amongst heavy traffic had not been subjected to anything like the pollution of the taxi driver. There is little that can be done to reduce exposure of people in their cars until there is a reduction in vehicle emissions.  Over the years engines have become cleaner, but the number of vehicles on our roads has increased, as have diesel vehicles.  There are also more electric cars, but the growth in this type of vehicle has been slow.  Getting more people out of their cars would make the occupants and the rest of us more healthy.

Drivers would not only no longer be cooped up in their tin boxes with concentrated pollution, but they would not be producing the pollution in the first place.  Cyclists produce zero pollution.

The problem in Bath

If we take Bath as an example we can see some efforts to improve air quality by encouraging cycling.  The building of a cycle track at Odd Down, the completion of off road routes, the Two Tunnels is the best example of this, the installation of the NextBike hire bike system, the Council’s electric bike loan initiative, hosting the Sky Ride, Pearl Assume bike racing, hosting the start and finish of a stage of the Tour of Britain and 20 mph speed limits have been set in all residential streets.  All these initiatives are admirable and have encouraged people to get on their bikes.

Sadly though, making our roads safer and more receptive to people on bikes has been almost non-existent.  All the initiatives to encourage people to ride will make little difference until it is safe to ride in segregated bike lanes on our roads.  The guide here is making routes safe enough for children to use.

Too often politicians are happy to make space on pavements for people on foot and on bikes to share.  This works in many places, but to really get more people and in particular children, using bikes everyday the roads need to be safer.  At present parked cars take precedence over bike lanes, because space for parked cars could be where bike lanes are  constructed. There is only one way to reduce pollution and that is reduce the number of cars on our roads.

In the Netherlands and in Denmark it has been normal to take road space away from cars to build cycle lanes.  Politicians have been brave enough to do this, here in UK the car culture and car lobby frightens politicians into inaction.

 

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Ride through Villages around Montreal in Aude

Circular route, from Montreal at the top of the photo

Circular route, from
Montreal at the top
of the photo

We brought our bikes here to La Force on the back of the car, so that we could do a few cycle rides while we are here.  La Force is close to Carcassonne  and well positioned for rides to surrounding villages and the scenery is fantastic.

We are situated in a valley through which the Canal du Midi runs with  rolling countryside, given over to the cultivation of vines, sunflowers, onions, melons and maize.  To north and south the hills are of the Mendips type, although in the distance the massive Pyrenees dominate the skyline.

There is not the sudden variation in heights as around Bath and the valley is wide with some inclines within it. There is often a wind, gusting at times.  In fact in a description of the area’s weather 300 days of wind per year is listed.  If in luck it can be a following wind.

Rolling French country side in Aude

Rolling French countryside in Aude

French roads are fantastic for driving, mostly straight for miles, with much of the heavy goods traffic going on the Peage (toll roads).  These straight roads are not good for cycling because they are not very wide and the traffic travels very fast, however they are super smooth and French cars, by and large give riders a wide birth.  Not my sort of cycling though.  I much prefer cycling on the many small roads linking villages that are ideal for riding bikes.

On Tuesday 27th September we did a ride from a published leaflet of rides in Aude.  In the leaflet this ride was rated as low difficulty, yet it includes the longest, although not the steepest hill I have encountered. However it was mostly on small secondary roads. Even these roads have mostly good pothole free surfaces.

We began our ride by heading off the main road to Montreal at the base of the climb up to the village heading towards Villeneuve, where we spotted people selecting onions from a massive pile next to the road. This is a legitimate activity in France where any contracts allow farmers to offer surplus vegetables to the public. In the UK, supermarket contracts do not allow that sort of “gleaning”. We continued on through Cailhavel to Cailhau, where I would have stopped for coffee at a recommended restaurant called A’kotee, but it is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

On through Cambieure and a long flat road into Brugairolles, where we passed Domaine Gayda, venue of our meal and jazz last week with Pascale and John, and Pascale’s brother Kerry and partner Ruth.

Malvies opposite the Closed Boulangerie

Malvies tower opposite the
Closed Boulangerie

The next village Malvies boasted a sign for a Boulangerie and Pattisserie – by this time we were ready to eat something, so imagine our disappointment when we found that the shop was open only between 9am and 10am in the morning.  Many of the small villages that we have come across have no shops or a cafe.  Nic had foresight enough to bring some chocolate!

Monastery in Villarzel du Razes

Monastery in Villarzel
du Razes

From Malvies to Villarzel du Razes we began to climb.  We were hopeful that this village might have a cafe, but although there is a monastery, there is no cafe.  This seemed to be our last chance before Montreal of getting a coffee and something to eat.  Beyond the village the climb was a series of hairpin bends that seemed to go on forever.  Mostly a steady incline with occasional short steep bits.

Looking back at The Monastery at Villarzeldu Razes

Looking back at
the Monastery at
Villarzel du Razes

I thought we would never get to end of this hill, but once we did at the summit of Mont Haut (422m), we were higher than our destination, Montreal and the end of this ride was a lovely downhill ride.  Arrived Montreal just in time for duck and chips for me and lasagne for Nic, with a couple of cool beers.  A welcome reward for our efforts in the sun.

Facts and figures of the ride (excluding return home from Montreal to La Force):

33.99km, min elevation 174m, max elevation 423m, calories used 953, temperature 20.4c to 26.4c

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Cyclists Dismount – or not

Dismount sign at halfpenny bridge draws people together in small space

Dismount sign at halfpenny bridge draws people
together in small space

A favourite sign in the Bath area is “cyclists dismount”. I will share a selection of those I have noticed in this post, but you will all have your own examples.  “Cyclists dismount” signs are a common sight for people riding bikes on shared paths.

In my view most of these are totally superfluous and sometimes add to any conflict with people on foot, although supposedly they are there to discourage the minority of aggressive people on foot and on bikes who might be guilty of verbal, or even physical abuse.  Most people ride bikes because the machine is easy to ride and to park, at or close to a chosen destination.  They do not relish being told to dismount in this commanding fashion without so much as a “please”.

Signs, such as the one above on the halfpenny bridge in Widcombe, are attached to railings positioned to bring people on foot and on bikes together in a space too small to allow both to enter the bridge.  It would be better to have no sign and no railings and ask people to be considerate to one another.  When the bridge, as it often is, clear of people walking it makes no sense to get off your bike.

This sign is definitely a highways department sign, but Sustrans sometimes authorise this type of sign.

This is the case in Monkton Combe Senior School, where the cycle path, which leads on to the Two Tunnels Greenway and on to Radstock.  There is probably justification here, as the path is over private property and used regularly by students, but again rails are used to force people on foot and on bikes together in a restricted space.

Obscured Cyclists dismount sign in Monkton Combe School

Obscured Cyclists dismount sign in Monkton Combe
School

This piece of the path is very steep, so most people push their bikes here anyway.

However, Monkton Combe School should be congratulated for giving access through their property to an off-road path to help connect the K&A Canal tow path to the Two Tunnels.  Would that all landowners were so helpful.

The sign below is at the top of the shared path on the south side of Wellsway, a road wide enough to have a cycle lane in the road.  This sign is ridiculous because a person on a bike here will be moving very slowly, and given the dislike of dismounting a rider will either carry on – most likely, as there is hardly ever anyone walking here – or ride into the road with fast moving traffic.

Silly sign at top of Welsway

Silly sign at top of Welsway

Even this shared path only starts when past all the houses on this side of the road.  There is no reason why people riding bikes should not use this path all the way from the Devonshire Arms pub to the top of the hill, after all they are no danger to anyone when travelling at 4 to 6 mph.

If I am travelling up Wellsway I usually use the path on the north side, which is much better if negotiated with care.  This is a personal preference, especially when coming off the Two Tunnels.  It means that I do not have to cross traffic at the difficult Hatfield Road junction and I can cross further up the hill in safety.

The next sign is to be found on the Two Tunnels path, where it passes through the car park of the Hope and Anchor pub and this is a Sustrans sign.

Sign saying walk across pub car park

Sign saying walk across pub car park

Although it asks cyclists to “please” walk, this sign also requires a dismount, when totally unnecessary and is ignored without causing any problem by people riding bikes. People can walk across this car park with no sign to drivers to be careful, yet if there is danger it is by cars colliding with people on bikes or walking, yet only people on bikes are once again singled out.

However in some places people on bikes are treated like human beings, who are considerate to others and are not commanded to

Sign on Llandudno promenade. Share with care.

Sign on Llandudno promenade. Share with care.

“dismount”.  In Llandudno, North Wales there is an enlightened attitude to this issue. The sign below is repeated along the beautiful promenade.  The simple message is “share with care”. The promenade is wide, but the presumption of guilt, that people on bikes will cause a problem is not made and a positive message goes out to all to be considerate. Not one group is singled out for special treatment.  All the “cyclists dismount” signs I have outlined above could be replaced by “share with care” and become much more effective.

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Cycle lane not replaced

The recent student development in Green Park Road opposite Green Park saw a short length of cycle lane and an advanced stop line (ASL) for bikes removed during the development.  Even this I thought was unnecessary, but if you ride a bike in Bath you are used to being bottom of the heap.

Advanced Stop Line not restored, yet other lines marked in.

Advanced Stop Line not restored, yet other lines marked in.

This small cycling facility, although not thought much of by some people on bikes, used to allow riders to get through on the inside to the ASL, and as a result giving drivers a clear sight of  bike riders at this busy junction.  My partner and I used to find this really useful in getting to the front of the traffic, without resorting to the pavement or riding in the middle of the road.

I have seen many more people on bikes using it in the past.  In fact some vehicles still think it is a cycle lane and leave a gap on the inside, such is the poor rubbing out of the line markings (see photo).

Old cycle markings still show, but not marked in

Old cycle markings still show, but not marked in. See very wide pavement outside new development

As the photos show the lines were rubbed out during the development and new lines have been redrawn making this lane wider for motor traffic and the cycle lines have not been repainted, so it appears that this little cycle lane has been removed.

New wider lane marked out by sacrificing cycle lane

New wider lane marked out by sacrificing cycle lane

This is so disappointing and unnecessary.  It was after all only “crumbs from the captain’s” table in the first place.

What is so annoying is that the pathway for the student housing on the other side of the road is so wide that a full width, longer cycle lane could easily have been installed, making this road much safer for people on bikes.

New wider pathway outside new development

New wider pathway outside new development

This is just one more example of how the Council have made conditions worse for people riding bikes rather, than when the opportunity presents itself, making conditions safer and easier.  Normally, when there is a planning application through a 106 agreement or through Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) an amount is agreed by council officers and developers to make improvements.

Here it would have been simple enough to agree an amount in this high value development as a minimum, to reduce the width of the pavement and to put in a longer, wider, more effective cycle lane painted in a different colour.  It is difficult to understand why this was not done, as there is likely to be a high demand for safe cycling from students living in the development and given the high priority of cycling in the Council’s Transport Strategy.

Add this to the attempt by the Council to remove the much more useful London Road bike lane and you have clear evidence of a determination to put motor vehicles before bike riders.

Recent high national figures for obesity and diabetes reflect our sedentary life style, so it is surprising that the Council does not appear to see the advantages of safer cycling to encourage more people to exercise in this way.

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30 Mile Thursdays

At cafe on canal at BoA after ride through 'Sally in the Wood'

At cafe on canal at BoA after ride through ‘Sally in the Wood’

After ride to Radstock in Victoria Hall cafe. Ride leader Nigel Shoosmith

After ride to Radstock in Victoria Hall cafe. Ride leader Nigel Shoosmith

Since last October a group of bike riders have been riding about 30 miles on Thursday mornings. The idea for these gentle rides came from Tony Ambrose and they are mainly for people who are not cycling club members or serious competitive cyclists, although they are not excluded, but the idea is to get people out on their bikes on social rides, who maybe do not ride regularly.

The first ride was to Mells Walled Garden in beautiful weather on 8th October 2015, along the Two Tunnels Path and the Colliers Way from Radstock.  In fact many of the rides have been done in good weather.  However I remember one of the early rides, with not a very big attendance when it rained throughout the ride.  I have ridden most Thursdays and usually there are 10 or 12 riders.  I think the most we have had is 15 riders.

 

Christmas ride at pub in Doynton. Rode on the The Spinning Wheel in Marshfield for lunch on 17th December.

Christmas ride at pub in Doynton. Rode on the The Spinning Wheel in Marshfield for lunch on 17th December.

Many of the rides are on off road paths and very quiet roads, with the main starting points either the the Bristol/Bath Railway Path or TwoTunnels Path.

Tony's description of what the rides are about.

Tony’s description of what the rides are about.

 

 

 

The rides always begin from Kingsmead Square at 9.30am and all are welcome.  This Thursday’s ride (14th Jan) will be through the Two Tunnels to the lovely little Post Office at Rode for tea and cake, back 1 to 2pm.

Latest ride was up St Catherine’s Valley on 21st January to the cafe in Marshfield, where the group had tea and cake.  We returned via Upton Cheyney, Bitton and the Railway path to Bath.  By the time I had got back to Combe Down via the Wellsway I had clocked 50km.  Weather was great on the Cotswold plateau.

The climb up St Catherine’s Valley was difficult and there was some melting ice around, once again though some people rode it and some walked the steepest part.

View looking down St Cathine's Valley

View looking down St Catherine’s Valley

AT Sweet Apples cafe in Marshfield.

At Sweet Apples cafe in Marshfield.

 

Just before Christmas we rode down this valley, which was a bit hairy, because it was wet and muddy, but as always the view from the top was worth the effort.

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Travelling by train with Brompton folders

Nic's new Brompton

Nic’s new Brompton

About 10 years ago I bought a Brompton from a friend who had won it in a raffle and didn’t want it.  I love the Brompton, but up until this year I had used the two gear folder for visits and to the shops on Combe Down, riding down to meetings in the City and riding across London from Paddington to Smith Square in Westminster for Local Government Association meetings.  I return from town either on the bus or on rare occasions pushing the bike up Ralph Allen Drive.  Using the Brompton is an alternative, when I am not feeling fit or if the weather is not good, to riding my hybrid bike down and back up the hill.  I have also done a Waitrose shop using the C bag.  This special Brompton bag clicks in and out and has a shoulder strap, which enables it to be carried comfortably.

Last summer my partner Nic Rattle borrowed my Brompton to get her the two miles or so, from Worcester Railway Station to the Worcestershire County Council building once a week, when she was working there.  Nic was so impressed that she ordered a six geared Brompton from AVC in Bath.  She chose the colour scheme and her new Brompton is pictured  – certainly a thing of beauty.

Both now being the proud owners of Bromptons we decided to be more adventurous in their use, so on 17th October 2015 we took our Bromptons to the south of France by train.  This was not because we would be doing any serious cycling, but as a means of transport when we reached our destinations and for short cycle trips.

First of all we stayed two nights in Marseilles, then three nights in Sanary sur Mer and finally a week in Aix en Provence, where we shared a house with eight others and played Petanque in the villages around Aix en Provence.

We had to severely restrict our baggage to one bag each. A special Brompton C bag that fixes on the front of the Brompton, as described above, and a small backpack.  The bag is well designed as I would expect with Brompton and even adds to stability, remaining front facing on its base when the rider turns the handlebars.

An essential part of our luggage was some all purpose washing liquid to minimise on the amount of clothes carried.  The bags when filled were very heavy because they contained our boules (weighing more than 2kg) before packing anything else.  It is a good discipline when space is limited not to take unnecessary stuff.  My packing was mainly 3 Tshirts, 5 underpants, 3 pairs of socks, 2 shirts, a pair of jeans, 1 pair of shorts, 1 thin sweater, waterproofs and basic toiletries, as well as the clothes I was wearing, which comprised one pair of comfortable trainers, a thick sweater over Tshirt and shirt and a pair of long light summer trousers.  I was unable to find room for a jacket.  We carried 4 books between us.  There was not much room left in the bags to bring much back, but the bags do expand quite a bit.

Waiting for Eurostar. Brompton bags full up

Waiting for Eurostar. Brompton bags full up

We took the 0713 train from Bath to Paddington after riding down to the station.  The Bromptons and bags were packed away easily.  On arrival at Paddington we rode along the Euston Road to St Pancras station in plenty of time to get the Eurostar leaving at 0930.  It was a bit more difficult to fit our bikes and bags on to the Eurostar because of the amount of luggage people were taking.  We were able to fold the bikes on the platform and put them into our light Brompton bike bags. The bike bags were not really necessary, but we used them on a few occasions, when the bikes were folded.

We decided not to ride between Gare du Nord and Gare de Lyon, so took a taxi.  Getting bikes on the TGV for Marseilles was again quite comfortable, although we found it best to assemble the Bromptons, rather than wheel them on the small back wheels, when going to TGV carriage 16.  This was probably because of the weight of our bags.  We stayed two nights in Marseilles and didn’t use the Bromptons.

Our next move was to get the train from Marseilles to Sanary sur Mer, where we stayed for three days.  The station is about 2 km from the centre of Sanary and our hotel was another kilometre further on.  This was where we found the Bromptons really useful and we were soon drinking a lunchtime beer on the seafront in the sunshine.  My thick sweater was now in the bag!

Seafront at Sanary sur Mer

Seafront at Sanary sur Mer

We saw a couple of other Bromptons in Sanary as we rode in.

We easily found the hotel, where our bikes were perfectly safe and didn’t need to be folded or taken inside, as there was a security gate and they were also out of site.  We cycled down to the beach, very close, but quite a pull back up.  Nic found her six gears pretty useful and I managed to get back up with some effort even with two gears.

Sanary beach, where we swam once, but second swim stopped because of infestation of jelly fish

Sanary beach, where we swam once, but second swim stopped because of infestation of jelly fish

In the three evenings that we stayed there we rode our bikes into Sanary to eat at some good quality restaurants.  I had bought new rechargeable lights for the Bromptons and the first evening they gave out on the way back.  However since that first charge the lights last much longer.

On our second day we decided to ride to the east along a seafront segregated shared path to a couple of islands.  Lovely day and the ride of about 12 miles was very pleasant and mostly flat.

Bromptons overlooking the Mediterranean

Bromptons overlooking the Mediterranean

This ride was ideal for Bromptons, and probably the furthest that I have ridden a Brompton, beating my 8 miles across London.  Riding in Sanary in good weather showed the Bromptons off at their best.  Even on some of the hills along the coast to the west riding was quite comfortable with six gears, but more challenging with only two.

After our three days in Sanary we packed our bags again, now heavier because our travelling clothes were now packed and had been replaced in the lovely weather by Tshirt and shorts.

Bikes at Sanary Station, once again with loaded bags

Bikes at Sanary Station, once again with loaded bags

We rode the three kilometres from the hotel to the railway station and took the train to Aix en Provence via Marseilles.

From Aix station we rode to our accommodation to play Petanque in the villages around Aix for the next week. It was quite a pull up through Aix with heavy bags, but we managed to ride all the way up to Avenue Violette and parked the bikes right next to the room we stayed in on a patio next to a table tennis table, so again the Bromptons did not need to be fully folded .

We mainly used our Bromptons to get shopping and to ride into Aix en Provence for breakfast and coffee.  Public transport to the villages was regular and cheap and we often returned after dark.

Returning by train was again quite easy.  We rode to Aix bus station and took a coach to the TGV station about 10 kilometres away and then caught the TGV to Lille to pick up the Eurostar.  It was more difficult getting luggage on the TGV in Aix than it had been coming down, but it was also difficult with ordinary luggage because of the number of passengers.

Bromptons and bread

Bromptons and bread at Lille on the way home

Coming through customs at Lille we were unusual British passengers, on Bromptons and carrying boules in our baggage. Not the normal returning British holidaymakers.  Customs officers insisted on seeing the boules.

When we arrived at St Pancras we cycled to Paddington during rush hour and in the dark.  The ride is mostly in bus lanes, but nevertheless it is not easy, especially when passing the entrance to Regents Park.  It would be useful if riding between railway stations was made safer, and although some segregated cycle lanes are being installed, motor traffic in London remains high and cyclists have to take their chance with other less vulnerable road users.

We have travelled with ordinary touring bikes many times, mostly to Italy by air and then by Italian trains to get to the south, with problems, mostly posed by poor baggage handling at Bristol airport, but travelling with Brompton folders by train proved to be hassle free and having the bikes almost within touching distance meant the bikes were not damaged.

The feeling of independence in terms of travel when you arrive at your destination is of great value.  It also opens new horizons, where public transport is not very good and it means that we make little environmental impact on the area that we are visiting.  then of course there is the joy of cycling in beautiful surroundings.  The Bromptons were ideal for us on a holiday such as this and Bromptons are as easy to take on French trains as they are on British trains.

Overall the experience of travelling with Bromptons is one which we would be happy to repeat.

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New River Crossing at Batheaston

Batheaston bridge crossing river from north to south

Batheaston bridge – cyclists crossing the river from north to south

The Batheaston Bridge has now been open for some months.  Although it was delayed and cost more than expected, it is an excellent design and provides access to  National Cycle routes and an off road route into Bath for people on foot and on bikes in the eastern approach to Bath. Great for residents in Batheaston and Bathford.

The bridge crosses the river from Batheaston High Street car park and on to the recently constructed  path on the south side of the river to meet Mill Lane near the Great Western Railway very close to the George Pub and Kennet and Avon Canal.  The path,which is designed to be wide enough to take people on foot, on bikes and in wheelchairs skirts the river Avon and continues across Bathampton Meadows before its junction with Mill Lane.

The Bridge starts from the car park where the closed down toilets give the area a derelict look.  It is a shame that neither B&NES nor the parish council have been able to fund the maintenance of this local toilet.  However, the closure is an opportunity to use the building for something different. Given the increased number of people using the bridge conversion  to a cafe/shop would seem to be obvious.

Closed Batheaston toilets in the car park

Closed Batheaston toilets in the car park

Most closed down toilets are advertised on the open market, but this one in a car park with shops across the road is more attractive than most for an alternative use. It is a reasonably modern building and as with all the toilets, the utilities are already in place.

Beyond the bridge the pathway snakes across the fields just south of the river before emerging on Mill Lane.  I didn’t look too closely, but I didn’t see any signage about where the path links after that.  Neither could I see, at the junction with Mill Lane, any indication that there is a pub and shops in Batheaston.

New path winding through Bathampton Meadows close to the river

New path winding through Bathampton Meadows close to the river

The path is designed to fit in this sensitive location on the Meadows and does seem to have little impact . The surface is rightly compacted stone, not tarmac, but it is quite rough and already there are some potholes.  Sometimes it is better to spend a bit more on quality paths , rather than having to return regularly for maintenance.

The Path’s connection with the Kennet and Avon Canal at the George Inn at Bathampton is difficult because of the narrow road over the railway bridge and the right turn across traffic.  At busy times it is probably safest to get off to cross on to the towpath.  However, it is from here that bike riders can access National Cycle Routes (NCNs).

Batheaston Bridge. Looking back from close to the Old Mill

Batheaston Bridge. Looking back from close to the Old Mill

A left turn on the canal will lead to Bradford on Avon and will connect with NCN Route 24 to Radstock and Frome or a connection to the circular route through the Two Tunnels into Bath City Centre, to return via the K&A to connect with the “spur” to Batheaston at Mill Lane.

A right turn on the K&A will lead to the reverse of this circular Two Tunnels route and a connection with the Bath/Bristol Railway Path (NCN Route4).

It is early days yet to judge the effectiveness of this “spur” from Batheaston to connect people in that area with the National Cycle Network, but from my observation on a Sunday in August 2015 the route seems well used by people cycling and walking.  There was an idea from Batheaston Parish Council that the bridge could open some of the fields on the Meadows for sport, but this has yet to materialise.  Further along the valley towards Bath there is an Archery Club and a rugby club, so the flooding issues are not insurmountable. Any further development here though is sensitive.

There is also a tarmac road opposite the Mill Lane entrance, towards Bath, going directly to a Farm.  I don’t know the status of this road, whether it is a public right of way or a private path, but it goes almost as far as the bypass.  If in future  an alternative to the canal towpath is needed there might be way to use this road to go as far as Grosvenor Bridge and join the canal at that point.

The Batheaston Bridge is a peaceful way to cross the river Avon and avoid motor vehicles.  It has obvious advantages for people living in the area and links easily with Bathampton village.  Whether it develops into an important link in the National Cycle Network remains to be seen, but it makes the attractive off road leisure paths in the Bath area easier to access for people on the north side of the river.

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Improvements to the Kennet and Avon Canal Towpath

K&A canal - not always busy 11am on Friday in school holidays

K&A canal – not always busy 11am on Friday in school holidays

Bath and North East Somerset Council has successfully applied for funds to improve the canal towpath and to improve access to the canal from Grosvenor Bridge.  You would imagine that this would be met with universal approval especially as the funds come from central Government and cost the local tax payer nothing.  Well you would be wrong!  Money invested in making the uneven, muddy towpath into a flat surface making it easier for walkers, people on bikes and those in wheelchairs – what’s to dislike?

There have been a few letters in the local press from people who don’t want the towpath improved because they believe that it will attract more people riding bikes.  Well they are probably right, as that is the intention of the Government money allocated to getting more people on bikes, but it will also make the towpath better for all users.

BW notices leaving no one in any doubt that the tow path is for everyone.

BW notices leaving no one in any doubt that the tow path is for everyone.

So I ask the question again – what’s to dislike?  It seems that the objectors to the improvements don’t want more people riding bikes on the tow path.  Why not?  They believe that some people on bikes ride too fast!  This belief is correct, some people do ride too fast and they have little thought for other towpath users, but they are a very small minority of users.  Why disadvantage the thousands of other users because a few people don’t know how to behave?  This makes no sense at all.

The Canal and River Trust has published the results of a consultation on use of the towpaths and as well as being available on line it is on  notice board at Bathampton near the floating cafe. See it on line here –  Canal and River Trust Towpaths Policy

The Trust clearly want towpaths to be available to all and this is as it should be, considering that the upkeep of the towpaths comes mainly from public money.  However, the Trust has not shied away from its responsibilities and has developed three main priorities for improvement – Better Infrastructure, Better Behaviour and Better Signage.

Cafe on the Barge at Bathampton.

Cafe on the Barge at Bathampton.

Let’s face it though, there are irresponsible users from all the groups who use the towpath. Fishermen leave their rods across the tow path and discarded line gets entangled with ducks and swans on the canal, some people on foot use the path without any consideration for other users – spreading across the whole path and letting dogs off their leads, refusing to move for others – some boaters leave their litter and stay longer at a mooring than they should and spread their goods across the path (most of them ride bikes too), some joggers sometimes run too fast or splash other people when running through puddles and  some people on bikes ride too fast and are inconsiderate to other people.

Again no one around.  Capacity for all groups to share the tow path.

Again no one around. Capacity for all groups to share the tow path.

Those people from all these groups, who are selfish and thoughtless are only a small minority and should not be allowed to destroy the enjoyment of the vast majority of reasonable people, who use the towpaths, or hamper much needed improvements in width, surfacing and access.

Most people using the towpath are only too glad to be in these lovely surroundings and recognise that the towpath is open to all.  They mostly behave in a tolerant, thoughtful and understanding way to others on the path.  The improvements should add to the enjoyment of all users.

So who is the towpath for?  We know that the canal was used as a method of transport for people and goods, some lived and many still live, on  narrowboats.  In the past horses pulled the boats along the canal from the towpath.  Today the towpath and the canal since its restoration and improvement over the past 30 years, are now used for mostly leisure activities such as those listed above.  However, at times too the towpath is still a transport route for people walking, running or riding bikes commuting to and from their homes to work.  This is usually when leisure use is at a minimum, early or late in the day, so does not interfere with people ambling slowly along the towpath.

View of Limpley Stoke Valley from the tow path

View of Limpley Stoke Valley from the tow path

British Waterways through the Canal and River Trust,  manage the towpath and   the quote below seems to encapsulate what the Trust is about:

“We are committed to encouraging better behaviour by everyone on our towpaths, so that people can feel safe and secure when they use them.
We are also committed to improving the physical condition of our towpaths so more people are able to access and enjoy them safely, and over the past two years over £15m has been spent on re-surfacing and general improvements.”

The attitude of not wanting the improvements, because of problems seems senseless and totally opposed to the Trust’s policies.  It should be dismissed by local politicians, who should look to follow the Trust’s lead and address the problems, which should not be exaggerated and should be backed up by evidence.

One of the most successful routes for people walking, running and on bikes has been the Two Tunnels.  The opening of the route was driven by people who ride bikes, but it has been great for everyone and in its short existence has gathered an enviable national and international reputation.  Only last week I spoke to a group of young people using Bath’s hire bikes (Next Bike) and looking for the best way to get on the TT route.  They may also have decided that the best way back to the city centre was along the uneven, potholed canal towpath.  The towpath can easily use cycling funding to the benefit of all users, just as the Two Tunnels route has done.

Locally we should support the improvement of this wonderful leisure facility and address the problems caused by thoughtless users by supporting and implementing the policies of the Canal and River Trust.

 

Posted in Roger's opinions | Leave a comment

Who still dopes?

We know that professional Bike riders are still caught doping.  However, now many less than in the bad old days of the Armstrong era, but how many still do it and get away with it?  How far can team management be held responsible for doping amongst team members?

Tour de France in the mountains

Tour de France in the mountains

Cycling has become much more of a team sport than it used to be, so even if the team leader is clean, if members of his team are not, this can affect results.  Leaders of teams rely on team members for support and protection.  Therefore it must be the responsibility of team management to insist on “clean” riding.

For the ordinary follower of the sport it is very difficult to decide the extent of doping in professional cycling.  The independent panel set up by Brian Cookson and the UCI (International Cyclists Union) quoted a member of the peloton as saying that 95% of riders doped.  It was disappointing that this opinion was quoted without any evidence to back it up and the quote was anonymous so it undermines its credibility.

I was very disappointed that the UCI did not expel Astana before the Giro this year, because 5 of their team members had been found guilty of taking illegal drugs (OK not all were their top riders).  This despite UCI articulating a ‘get tough’ policy.  One of the guilty was a domestique, who helped Nibali to win at last year’s  Tour de France.  Team Manager for Astana is  Alexander Vinocourov, who was found guilty of doping and suspended some years ago.

Christophe Bassons book, “A Clean Break (2014)” is about his years in the professional peloton and his resistance to doping.  Bassons’ life was made hell by teammates and others in the peloton, because he refused to dope.  Bassons was a very promising young cyclist, who found it impossible to keep up with his drug fuelled colleagues.

Bassons is now a regional anti doping representative in France, a position which requires him to keep abreast of developments in doping in professional cycling.  Bassons writes:

“Currently questions are being asked about the extent to which products such as AICAR, GW501516, TP500 and GAS6 are being used.  Some have already been found during searches of vehicles and have been used by some athletes, doctors and soigneurs.  These substances provide an equivalent effect to EPO because they improve the performance of athletes by boosting the transport and utilsation of oxygen by the body.”  GAS6 according to Bassons, is undetectable.

Again according to Bassons “The story is beginning again, just as it did years ago with Lance Armstrong and his US Postal Team, just as it did with the Festina team.”

Judging by the Giro and other stage races cycling is still very much team exercise, where teams support their leader if he has a chance to win the General Classification (GC).  The more members of the team that are in support in the final minutes of a climbing stage the better.  Therefore if doping is taking place it is likely to be by whole teams, not just by the GC contenders.

Over the past two weeks with Chris Froome’s performances in the Tour de France  doping has hit the headlines again.  I suppose it is inevitable that some of the media are speculating about Froome’s performance, when surely given that there is no evidence to the contrary, we should be celebrating a superb performance in the Tour from a rider who when winning in 2013 said this is “one result that would last”.  At the end of his second win, Froome said “I will never dishonour the jersey”

Team Sky leading on the Champs Elysees in The tour 2015

Team Sky leading on the Champs Elysees in The Tour 2015

The Sky Team grew out of Dave Brailsford’s ambition to reproduce the success of Team GB on the track, on the road, using a “marginal gains” philosophy.  Mental preparation is used by having a psychologist (Steve Peters) working with the athletes, superb equipment, better nutrition and many other small improvements.  For example Sky send in their own staff to vacuum hotel rooms of riders before occupation to guard against infection and take their own bed linen.  It is inconceivable that Wiggins, Froome and any of the GB track and road cyclists have doped whilst riding for Sky.

Given that Sky is amazingly well funded, with a budget of £24m per year it should not come as a surprise that it does so well, but it is also down to the rise of cycling in this country that has produced such brilliant competitive cyclists.  It is my view that the success and the funding has led to envy and to some of the totally unfounded comments during the Tour this year.

Brailsford’s much stated philosophy of zero tolerance for drugs led to some people leaving Sky.  Michael Barry, formerly of Team Sky and US Postal, in his book “Shadows on the Road” was in no doubt that if he confessed to doping in his past with US Postal, when riding for Sky, that he would have been sacked.

Richie Porte helping to protect Froome's lead on Alp d'Huez

Richie Porte helping to protect Froome’s lead on Alp d’Huez

Perhaps the difference now, as opposed to 10 years ago when there was evidence of drug taking and many more riders were caught, the emphasis has shifted to the Brailsford doctrine that was so successful on the track of attention to detail and “marginal gains” leading to better mental and physical fitness and improved equipment.  Bradley Wiggins took to warming down after a race and at that time was looked on as being foolish – now everybody does it.  Sky has the largest budget, but many other teams are well funded.  Success breeds success, so if Sky’s innovations  are being copied, doping is less likely.

Cycling fans want to believe that the sport is clean, but it is probably impossible for it to be totally clean, as there will always be some people who want to win so much that they will go to any lengths for a victory.  However, cheating devalues the sport and makes winning irrelevant.  All it does is to prove who is best at avoiding detection, not who has the best ability on a bike to ride, as in the Tour 3000+ kilometres faster than anyone else,  using only physical and mental ability, training, technical expertise, team co-operation and courage.

In the past the unspoken code, the omerta, stopped doping being talked about.  Cycling will only survive if the participants and their management are willing to expose and provide evidence for cheating

There is a new generation in cycling led in the UK, by world champions on the road in Wiggins, Froome, Cavendish and Nicola Cooke.  In this year’s Tour nine Britons started, the most since the 1950s, so the ability of our best cyclists to compete in the biggest stage race in the world is increasing.  British cyclists have doped in the past, but let us hope and it seems evident that this new generation no longer consider doping to be relevant.  Armstrong’s excuse for the past is that “they were all doing it”.  That cannot be applied today – times are slower and there is not one dominant cyclist amongst the top contenders. Quintana, Contador, Nibali and Froome have all won Giro, Vuelta or Tour de France in the past two years.

Despite the allegations of doping from some of the media about Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana almost caught him on the last climb in this year’s Tour, but the questions on doping were not asked of Quintana, who will one day win the Tour.  He may even be superior to Froome on the climbs, but Froome’s all round bike handling skills are at present better and team support more effective.chris-froome-tour-de-france-stage-21-paris-champs-elysees-podium_3329913

Times for the Tour de France have reduced, fewer people have been caught doping in recent years, there is more professional preparation for races and one rider does not dominate, so the conclusion surely must be that in one of the sports where testing is greatest, doping has been marginalised and fewer cynical dopers are present in the world’s greatest free sporting festivals

 

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Four years of real progress in cycling in Bath

Cycling over the past few years has really taken off in Britain and is now very popular with people of all ages, so what has happened in Bath in recent years, during the last administration.

Opening of Two Tunnels Greenway April 2013

Opening of Two Tunnels Greenway April 2013

1.  Attitude towards the Two Tunnels project was changed to one of support from the council, rather than criticism.  Improved partnership working between council/Sustrans/Community group to complete the project.  Memorandum of Understanding signed and Sustrans commissioned to look at cycle routes within B&NES.  Reported earlier this year.

2.  A year’s trial of hire bikes was implemented on the streets of Bath.  This was unsuccessful, because there were only 4 bike stations and the Italian firm had some difficulties managing from afar.  However,  the decision was made to persevere with a hire scheme.  £25K of Local

Launch day for NextBike

Launch day for NextBike

Sustainable Transport (LSTF) funding was allocated to relaunch the scheme with a new operator, NextBike, with 10 stations; the latest to be installed in Moorland Road.  Bath is one, perhaps the only one, of small cities in UK with a hire bike scheme on street.

3.  In conjunction with British Cycling a very successful cycle circuit was created at Odd Down.  Most of the money came from British Cycling, but the council invested in new changing rooms for this multi sports hub.

Sir Chris Hoy at the opening of the Odd Down Circuit

Sir Chris Hoy at the opening of the Odd Down Circuit

4.  A stage of Tour of Britain was brought to Bath in September 2014.  Further stages in future – next one in 2016.  Pressure here from local cycling clubs convinced the council that this would be worthwhile.

5.  The  Pearl Azumi cycle road race will come to Bath in June.

6. Batheaston Bridge was built across the river for people walking and on bikes.

7.  Finally managed to make the path between Bath University and Combe Down into a cycle path.  Crossings will be installed at both ends to cross the main road

Back of Tour of Britain Peloton on Brassknocker Hill

Back of Tour of Britain Peloton on Brassknocker Hill

8. Off road route to Bath Spa University  was built along the Globe straight with a ramp down to the Bath/Bristol railway path to connect with student accommodation on Lower Bristol Road.  Toucan crossing under construction to cross the A4 to Bath Spa University Campus.

9.  Contra flows on Westgate Street and Cheap Street created.

10.  Shared path from Wells Road to Churchill Bridge to link with river towpath put in place.

11.  A shared path on south side of Wellsway was created.  Path could have gone all the way from the Devonshire Arms, but opportunity missed here.

12. A Transport strategy which places importance on cycling and walking was agreed. First ever Transport Strategy in Bath, agreed by Full Council.

Contra flow sign.  Soon to be more common

Contra flow sign. Soon to be more common

13.  10% of highways budget committed to cycling in future.  This is vital for the council to continue to invest in cycling as the Local Sustainable Transport fund from Government will soon be no more

14.  20 mph signs only, enforceable speed limit rolled out across the council area.  Makes residential streets safer for cycling and walking.

15.   John Grimshaw Commissioned to look at cycle routes from Keynsham to Bristol and to the Bristol/Bath cycle path.  Could be financed by Somerdale development 106 agreement.

16. Personally signed off the Seven Dials scheme application to Govt.  One of my last acts as Cabinet member for Transport. Scheme now being implemented with contra flow in Monmouth Street as one of cycling improvements.

17. Victoria Bridge restored for walking and cycling.

18. Connection of Two Tunnels Path to Bath Bristol Railway path improved.  Still a bit more work to be done

19. Retained contra flow  in Widcombe Parade scheme.

20.  Cycle lane westbound on London Road improved.

Cycle stands in High Street.  Full up as usual

Cycle stands in High Street. Full up as usual

21. Many more cycle stands erected in Bath city centre. Even more are needed.

22. Completed the Five Arches Scheme in Midsomer Norton. Mostly funded by Sustrans.

23. £500K invested by the council in cycling over the past 2 years

24. The Cycle Forum was reinstated to enable involvement of Cyclebath, CTC and other local cycling groups/clubs and individuals.  The group meets bi-monthly in the Guildhall.

There is still much to do in making streets safer for people walking and riding.  It is ambitious to aspire to the sort of cycle infrastructure that can be found in the Netherlands and in other continental cities, but serious steps should be taken to get closer to this ideal, in particular with on road routes.  These steps will make it safer for regular bike commuters.

Over this period the cycling lobby in Bath has increased its effectiveness and Cyclebath’s route from Larkhall, with the objective of making it possible for children to ride the route is a big step forward.

By using the riverside towpath through Widcombe to Bathwick it is possible provide a connection with the Bristol/Bath Railway path and Two Tunnels and a southern route into the city or to bypass Bath, on a mostly off road route.  There will be future infrastructure investment with Government Grant obtained through the West of England Partnership.

Posted in Cycling policy and politics | Leave a comment