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

 

Posted in Professional Cycling | Leave a comment

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

Route to Combe Down on the Wellsway and maybe to the Odd Down Circuit

Hatfield Road approaching junction with Wellsway

Hatfield Road approaching junction with Wellsway

The cycle route to access the Odd Down Cycle Circuit directs people riding bikes up Bloomfield Road from the Two Tunnels Bloomfield open space access and exit point.  Bloomfield Road is hardly cycle friendly, although it does have a 20 mph speed limit, it is pretty steep and is a busy main road.  Now that may be fine for many people, but not everyone.  However, it is the most direct route.

When I come off the Two Tunnels path at Bloomfield open space I ride the lower part of Bloomfield Road, on my way to Combe Down and left along quiet Hatfield Road to approach the Wellsway dual carriageway.  I am supposed to cross the dual carriageway at the Hatfield Road junction, to get on to the southern carriageway – a pretty hazardous crossing.  After the crossing I am supposed to remain on the carriageway for about another 300 yards, riding mostly on the outside of parked cars, before I am able to get on to the shared path; in practice I often get on the path just above the Devonshire Arms.  I dispute that there is anything wrong with cycling the entire length of this path, except the path is a bit narrow at this point.  Few pedestrians use this path when walking to or from Bear Flat.

The shared path does not kick in until there are no houses and no parked cars on the south side.  This is ridiculous, as people, bikes and cars crossing the pavement to get to the few garages and the front doors on this stretch are travelling very slowly.  I see no ligitimate reason why the shared path should not begin at the Devonshire Arms.  However, I am sure that B&NES Highways Dept don’t see it that way.

Safe transfer to path on north side of Wellsway looking towards Odd Down.

Safe transfer to path on north side of Wellsway looking towards Odd Down.

Because of this dangerous crossing I have recently  ridden out of Hatfield Road, to the right, on to the path on the North side of Wellsway, which means I do not have to cross the dual carriageway at this very dangerous junction.  The pathway on this side is wider than the one on the south, so better suited to share and used by even less numbers of walkers than the path on the south side.

There is no parking next to the lower part of the path, because the path is next to a bus lane and it is bordered by a high wall.  The path progresses past a number of houses set back from the road frontage, most with garages cut into the hillside, with stepped access.  Just a few, including Bloomfield Tennis club have drives.  But because the exit from these drives is on to the busy dual carriageway, vehicles from the houses are bound to be moving slowly as they cross the path.

One of the driveways opening on to Wellsway

One of the driveways opening on to Wellsway

In any case there is no more danger to slowly moving people on bikes than to people walking.  All the way up, this path is wider than the shared path on the south side of Wellsway.

A crossing can then be made on to the south side path if the rider wants to go to Combe Down via the shared path.  However, there is no reason why a rider should not continue to the top of Wellsway on the north side.  I have not looked at whether the north side path can  continue as a shared path through to the Odd Down Circuit, or whether there can be an earlier entrance to the circuit, so there is more work to be done here.

Crossing the Dual Carriageway to the north side can be managed by the – staged crossing shown in the photo below.

Crossing point on to shared path

Crossing point on to shared path

This is much safer than crossing on the road at the Devonshire Arms and the continuation of the path to the turning to Combe Down at the top of the Wellsway is safe for inexperienced cyclists.

There are alternatives here – either continuing a ride towards Combe Down by crossing or continuing on the north Side of Wellsway or to access the Odd Down Circuit on the dangerous main road.

View of traffic obscured by parked car.

View of traffic obscured by parked car.

Whatever, the north side provides a longer shared path with a safer crossing to the south side than at any other point.  There is a slight problem with vision to traffic coming down Wellsway here, but the removal of one parking space would solve this problem. (see photo).

I do believe that this is a safer route to Combe Down than venturing on to south side carriageway as long as access comes from Bloomfield and Hatfield Roads.

Path on north side with no houses, but not shared.

Path on north side with no houses, but not shared.

 

I do think that it is worth investigating whether a safe connection can be made with the Odd Down Circuit from Wellsway, rather than having to ride the full length of Bloomfield Road.

I would welcome views about the feasibility of this as a route to Odd Down.  This will not apply to those confident cyclists who regularly ride the Wellsway on the carriageways.  It is an attempt to increase the segregation from traffic on a path that is used very little by walkers for the benefit of less confident and experienced riders.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Cycling policy and politics | Leave a comment

Birthday Ride

On Monday 22nd September 2014, my partner Nic and I decided to ride from Bristol to Portishead and back, mostly on old railway tracks along the Avon Gorge.

Early that morning I had received one of my front teeth as an implant – this was my last “new” tooth and it had failed at the first attempt, some 18 months earlier.  All I wanted for my birthday was “my last front tooth”!

Create Centre (old tobacco warehouse) with bridge across the river to cyclepath

Create Centre (old tobacco warehouse) with bridge across the river to cyclepath

Complete with birthday tooth we put the bikes on the back of the car and drove to Bristol’s Create Centre for coffee and cake.  We also stocked up on quiche,           it looked and tasted delicious, to have for lunch when we got to Portishead, or before if we were hungry.

We rode across the bridge to the cyclepath in lovely sunny weather, pretty warm for the time of year, to begin our ride, a round trip of  about 30 miles.  The first couple of miles of this ride, once you get used to riding with a steep drop into the river, or in this case on to the mud, as the tide was out in the Channel, is easy going and very flat.  A couple of miles into the ride the going gets rougher and I was glad that we had chosen our touring bikes rather than road bikes.  Some little inclines at this point too and pretty rough gravel terrain.

The Avon Gorge is a beautiful setting in which to ride, with woods on the south and on the north side of the Gorge and cliffs leading up to the Downs.  We could glimpse the Camera Obscura from the path, where people can go inside the building and look at the images projected from outside on to a bowl shaped structure.

The dominating feature here though is Brunel’s magnificent Clifton Suspension Bridge. The bridge was only completed after Brunel’s death.  The design was controversial, but it is a fitting memorial to the man who performed so many great engineering feats across the country.   This is a beautiful comfortable start to a ride suitable for families.

The gorge soon becomes less deep and

Bristol Suspension Bridge.  View from cyclepath.

Bristol Suspension Bridge. View from cyclepath.

opens out into farmland, but the path although narrow is still quite smooth on this late summer day.  However after rain there will be puddles and the track will be muddy.  At times the path is covered by trees and undergrowth on both sides.

On the south side of the path there is still an operating railway carrying goods to and From Portbury Docks, following the Gorge.  It is hoped that this line will open again for passenger transport in 2019 as part of the MetroWest Project.  The present railway diverges from the Gorge to the south later on the ride, but the derelict part of the railway remains close to the cyclepath further towards Portishead.photo 1

The route the path takes is over Watchhouse Hill, probably the site of an Iron Age fort.  A Railway tunnel was dug under the hill when the Bristol Portishead line was opened.

The railway opened in 1867 with a station at Pill.  In 1926 Ham Green Halt was opened to serve the hospital.  The passenger service was cut in 1964, but freight continued until 1981.  After a gap of 21 years the line was reopened for freight in 2002.  Ham Green hospital was an Isolation Hospital for people with diseases such as tuberculosis. Sailors returning from abroad with contagious diseases were also housed at the hospital.  Before the estate was acquired by Bristol City Council in 1897 a hospital ship was moored close by until the hospital building was completed.

Familiar sight in the Tidal River Avon

Familiar sight in the Tidal River Avonwas ready to be occupied.  After the descent from Ham Green Hill we passed a picturesque lake and then climbed up past the old hospital before freewheeling down into Pill.

Soon after Ham Green we come across the Avonmouth Road Bridge on the M5, an imposing structure.  A monument to the days when motor transport was everything, and to be fair motorways bringing goods into areas are fine, but the future for freight should be mainly rail.  However, some freight bound for Bristol and Bath is unloaded at Avonmouth and is transported into Bristol and Bath by a daily journey of an electric vehicle.

M5 motorway bridge at Avonmouth

M5 motorway bridge at Avonmouth

This “Freight consolidation scheme” costs about £9 per journey for each business.  The advantage of this system that there is a there is a reduction in HGVs coming into the cities, helping to reduce pollution and congestion.  There is capacity for many more businesses to use this facility. At present it is subsidised by both councils.                                                      Pretty swiftly after sight of the bridge comes the disused, derelict part of the former Portishead passenger line that hopefully will be reconstructed for commuters into Bristol in future.  From the photo we can see an old disused tunnel and part of the railway with some of the old line still in place.

After riding around vaste open car parks, which contain imported new cars from Portbury Docks, we made our way into Portishead through the “commuter belt”. With this much new building and probably more to come, it certainly looks as thought there will be plenty of business for the Bristol/Portishead line when it reopens.  It should only take about 20 minutes into Temple Meads.

photo 2It is sad to see this once popular railway line in such a derelict state in this part, so near to Portishead, but it is only in the past few years that the reopening of old abandoned railway lines  has been considered.  The success of the Severn Beach line into Bristol shows that rail is a much quicker option than a motor vehicle.  Perhaps the golden era of mass transport is about to come again.  I look forward to the time when Michael Portillo does a railway journey on the new line from Bristol to Portishead – or am I being too optimistic?

Portishead is an obvious start to extend MetroWest and perhaps it might even have a shuttle service going as far east as Westbury.  Only time will tell whether this exciting  multi-million pound project gets off the ground.

On the Channelside eating lunch

On the Channelside eating lunch

Portishead is an attractive little town with a seafront on to the Bristol Channel, where swimming off the muddy beach is not really an option, however we spent a peaceful time eating lunch before heading back to Bristol.  The town could do well to advertise its beach and boating lake more to visitors.  The lack of signs seems to indicate a lack of civic pride in the channelside.

Picking blackberries in water container

Picking blackberries in water container

 

Our ride back was uneventful, except for a stop to pick blackberries and store them in our water containers.  By this time the tide had come in and the drop into the Avon was much shorter.  Closer to Bristol there are a good number of joggers coming out from the city, so care needs to be taken by people on bikes.  Actually the joggers seemed to be going faster than us at this time of day!

This is a comfortable ride to do in a day for people not bothered about time.  We left Bristol at about 11am and got back at about 4pm, but starting early enough the ride could be done in a morning.

Posted in Routes and events | 2 Comments

City Transport Strategy

Will the strategy tackle this?

Will the strategy tackle this?

Bath’s transport Strategy is now doing the rounds and will be going to Council on 13th November for approval.  I find the strategy rather disappointing.  I had high hopes for a more radical strategy when I managed to get funding for it back in 2013.

The strategy will probably gain support across the Parties at Council, so from that point of view it will be a success.  It does make some good comments about sustainable transport, but does little to improve cycling.  The thrust though still seems to be to find car parking spaces for cars, whether that be within the core of the city or at Park and Rides.

The real weakness of the document though is in the shallowness of the consultation.  There are 208 responses to it with more than half of the respondents over 55 years of age.

Mott Macdonald were paid tens of thousands of pounds to produce a strategy, yet they could only get this pathetic number of responses from a city with a population of more than 90,000 people.  Where are the students and young people, the young mums and dads and young and middle aged single people?  Less than 100 responses from people under 55.  They didn’t make a presentation to CycleBath either.

I am not surprised that the strategy contains little about real development of cycling routes or infrastructure.  It contains the phrase “the topography of parts of the city is a deterrent to some would be cyclists” – have the consultants not heard of electric bikes and do they not understand that modern bikes have enough gears to allow reasonably fit 70 year olds to get up the steepest of hills in Bath.  Cycling issues occupy only two sides of A4 in the report.

Targets are set for the increase in bus and rail passengers, in walking and cycling, but there is no corresponding target for the reduction of journeys by motor vehicle.  The school run is not mentioned.

Cyclists it seems will be limited to the river corridor with radial routes into the city centre.  Assuming present conditions this means a shared path on the riverside walk!  There is a reference to the routes that Sustrans have put forward, but I can find nothing that talks about commuting routes by the fastest way possible – on the roads.  Nothing about removal of road space from motor vehicles and reallocation for segregated on road cycle lanes.

From my reading of the strategy the car is still king.

Posted in Cycling around Bath | 3 Comments

Commentating on cycling

I have watched a fair amount of cycling on Television over the past month or so.  The coverage given to the Tour de France and the Commonwealth Games cycling events has been fantastic.  To cover the whole of the men’s and women’s Commonwealth Games road races, practically a whole day’s viewing, was spectacular.   We have the Ride London race to look forward to on Saturday and then from 23rd August daily highlights from the Vuelta Espana (Tour of Spain).  It shows just how far cycling has come in Britain in the past few years.

Cycling is not the only sport to benefit from expert commentators and pundits, but it is certainly amongst the top for expertise, humour, interest and entertainment.  Gary Imlach has his own style as the broadcaster and professional journalist, who brings the whole Tour de France broadcast project together.  The ITV team is second to none.  In Chris Boardman they have experience of top class cycling both on road and on the track.

Chris Boardman and Ned Boulting at the Tour 2014

Chris Boardman and Ned Boulting at the Tour 2014track,

His technical expertise and the time he spent with Team Sky gives him a unique insight into the sport.  He is also a natural in front of the camera, very down to earth and able to explain the more obscure parts of the Tour.  His double act with Ned Boulting,  who plays the Eric Morecombe to Chis’s Ernie Wise is great entertainment with a touch of real insight into some of the stages in the Tour. Paul Sherwen as a former professional cyclist, who has ridden the Tour provides more experience and sporting expertise.

Mark Cavendish wins again

Mark Cavendish wins again

Two years ago while holidaying in France (watched two stages of the Tour – finish in Pau and a flash of Bradley in yellow descending in a village on the next stage), we listened every night to the radio podcasts, where commentators and pundits, Ned ,Chris, Gary Imlach, Phil Liggett, Paul  Sherwen and Matt Rendle, meet over a glass or two and discuss the day’s events.  It is hilarious, but also gives an insight into on and off road at the Tour.

This is the broadcasting team that year after year presents, commentates and evaluates Le Tour.   They all obviously love the event.  Such is the hold the Tour has.

Just need a Women’s Tour de France to start and then perhaps Emma Pooley, Nicole Cooke, Victoria Pendleton and Sarah Storey could do the commentary.  They would be great.

 

 

 

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Cycling Investment to keep GB at the top

London Cyclists protesting about unsafe cycling.

London Cyclists protesting about unsafe cycling.

The revolution in cycling will continue, or will it?  The success of Team GB on the track and Team Sky has faltered this year.  Only four Brits started the Tour de France, owing to non selection and injury. Yet the success of the Grand Depart in Yorkshire, with crowds even exceeding those in France suggests that cycling’s biggest event is getting more support in this country than ever before.  What is not clear is for how long will this support continue to translate to more people getting on bikes.  Does the cycling revolution depend on International success?

In Glasgow where the Commonwealth Games are being held at present, Australia appear to be the top cycling country, despite the return to the track of Sir Bradley Wiggins.  Certainly male homegrown cyclists are not having the same success as over the last 10 years.  Our women cyclists are still probably the best on the track.

Obviously success in International competition is great for stimulating interest, but if the first time a new cyclist gets on a bike and rides on our terrifying roads with equally terrifying drivers with “attitude”, his/her interest in riding a bike is likely to wane.

Glasgow is a case in point.  In a city holding the Commonwealth Games with a new velodrome, named after Britain’s top track cyclist, Sir Chris Hoy, journeys by bike, in a city where residents have the lowest life expectancy in the UK, are at 1%. (Cycling Weekly 24/7).

In many cities cycling to commute to work is low and predicted to get lower.  So it seems despite all the cycling events that get Brits out to watch and join in, more needs to be done in terms of encouraging people to get on their bikes, which in turn is important in development of elite cycling.

On Two Tunnels Path

On Two Tunnels Path

We have some superb off road facilities.  In Bath the Two Tunnels Greenway and the Bath/Bristol Railway Path are two of the best and form part of the National Cycle network.

Come off these paths and on to roads where there is no protection for people riding bikes and people wonder whether it is worth riding.  Many of the off road paths do cater for commuters, but they are mostly designed for leisure use.  There can be conflict between leisure users and the person intent on getting to work on time.

It is on our roads that investment is needed to give more space for people on bikes and for people who would ride bikes to work if it was safer and more pleasant.  London is leading the way here and at last has got the message that blue paint is not sufficient protection for people on bikes.

Highways engineers have traditionally built roads only for motor vehicles.  This must change with engineers providing space for protected bike lanes on our roads.  This should be easy on new roads, but often it is not even considered, so retro-fitting lanes into existing roads is even more unlikely.

MPs on the House of Commons Transport Select Committee have published a report calling for a £10 per head cycling budget now.  It is estimated that at present the average spend is at £2 per head.

In Bath and North East Somerset that would mean about £1.67m per year.  I would propose that here in B&NES we allocate at least 10% of the Highways capital and repairs budgets (£11m) giving a starting amount of £1.1m per year.

We could identify the main commuter routes and then allocate protected cycle space, perhaps combined with bus lanes and use ‘armadillos’ to mark out the cycle lanes. Not all could be done at once, but a programme could be put together for say 5 years.  Budget allocation would make it possible to design over a longer term and also to lever money in from other sources.

Until proper finance is in place for everyday cycling any prolonged domination of the sport at the highest level cannot be guaranteed.

 

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Safer spaces or special clothing?

b1ab24b21e427e8e4aaa72af36aa6367In a study by Brunel and Bath Universities the research team found that no matter what cyclists wore, it made no difference to how close some motorist overtook.

Dr Ian Garrard of Brunel said:

This means the solution to stopping cyclists being hurt by overtaking vehicles has to lie outside the cyclist. We can’t make cycling safer by telling cyclists what they should wear. Rather, we should be creating safer spaces for cycling – perhaps by building high-quality separate cycle paths, by encouraging gentler roads with less stop-start traffic, or by making drivers more aware of how it feels to cycle on our roads and the consequences of impatient overtaking.

Some good sense here and of course we want cycling to become everyday with people riding their bikes to work in normal clothing.  This is how it is in the Netherlands.  One of the issues with the UK is that cyclists seem to be different and are viewed with suspicion by motorists, rather than being looked at as ordinary people riding bikes.

The image of special clothing should not be what we first think of when anyone mentions a cyclist, but I’m afraid that it is. I wear a helmet and a fluorescent vest because I feel exposed if I don’t as I have to share road space with huge hunks of metal travelling far too fast. The answer is of course as concluded by Ian Garrard by creating safer spaces for cycling on our roads.

 

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Bike Contra Flows on one way streets

When I mention contraflows to non cyclists in the UK, I often get comments such as “that’s very dangerous” or “why do anything so silly”. In a country where highways engineers’ first thoughts on traffic control are barriers and traffic lights, there seems to be a reluctance to make any sort of change in terms of our road use. Automatic rejection seems to be the default position for suggested change. Even though contraflows are ever present in continental Europe, with the red circle/horizontal white line no entry sign and “except bicycles” written underneath the sign, bicycle contraflows are rare in the UK.

Cycle Contraflow in The Avenue

Cycle Contraflow in The Avenue, Combe Down

So why don’t we have more contraflows and adopt these signs here in the UK? Well we do in some places, but they are by no means widespread. In my opinion many more one way streets could have contra flows. Bike riding is used by many people as a way of getting close to where they want to go by the shortest possible route. If we want to encourage more people to use bikes as a means of everyday transport, we have to bear these two issues in mind and provide for them where we can. There are many more cycle stands around in most cities now, so that people can lock their bikes close to their destination. No searching for a parking space costing at least £1 per hour! However in many areas people riding bikes are still expected to follow tortuous round the houses one way systems designed for motor vehicles.

Cycle Contraflow on The Firs Combe Down

Cycle Contraflow on The Firs, Combe Down

A few years ago Cllr Cherry Beath and myself spent some of our local issues money on two contra flows for people riding bikes, one in The Avenue and the other in The Firs. All that was needed was a few signs and some coloured paint on the road at each end of the contra flows. These local village roads are not very busy. The contra flows were cheap and easy to implement. They fitted well with our efforts to slow Combe Down Traffic (when drivers see a bike approaching them from the opposite direction they tend to slow down), remove the need to ride on pavements and provide a more direct route around Combe Down for people on bikes. The contra flows have been working well.

Through the West of England Partnership the Council won a bid for money to put in contra flows in the Seven Dials area of Bath, where there is already a contraflow though Cheap Street and Westgate Street. Contraflows can also be seen in James Street West, along by the City of Bath College and at the bottom of Wellsway next to the Devonshire Arms.

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