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The Bristol Cable

‘If we want more people to cycle, we need to make it feel safe’

Bristol cyclists’ experiences of intimidating driving underline the need for segregated cycle infrastructure.

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“It started on Filton Avenue.” Nathan Barnett, a 24-year-old software developer, had been cycling home from work when he encountered an aggressive taxi driver. 

“There wasn’t enough room to overtake me,” he recalls. “So he pulled up next to me and started shouting. I told him to fuck off. I carried on and he drove off.”

That might have been the end of it – had Nathan not bumped into the taxi again. “I went past him and that’s when he pulled out and tried to run me off the road. I rode onto the pavement and got behind another car. He had his window down, yelling at me.”

Things then took an even more disturbing turn. “He threatened to put me in his boot. It was like some terrible comedy sketch.” The driver gave up and drove off. Nathan shrugged off the incident, but he has no doubt it would have shaken a novice. “In a way, it was fortunate it was me and not a new cyclist.”

If we want more people to cycle, we need to make it feel safe 

Bristol became the UK’s first ‘cycling city’ in 2008, an accolade which came with a £11.4m grant to develop cycling infrastructure. It generally has higher cycling rates than many cities, but they could be even better. A survey by Bristol Cycling Campaign of 1,200 people, a third of whom didn’t cycle regularly, found that people’s main reasons for not cycling more were concerns about road safety, bike theft and personal safety.

Aggressive exchanges seem common on Bristol’s roads. In October, a van driver escaped jail after punching unconscious a cyclist who clipped his wing mirror. Bristol Cycling Campaign launched a petition calling on the council to take action for safer cycling after thousands protested the city’s lack of safe bike lanes. The petition has now received more than 3,700 signatures so will be debated by councillors.

Bristol’s safer cycling protest from October. Photo: Robert Browne

Francis Tocher, a PhD student living in Westbury Park, was injured in an accident in March. “I was leaving a roundabout at the third exit,” he remembers. “Some guy came on from the second exit, failed to give way and hit me. I got a bit of whiplash and small fractures to my left elbow.”

Francis has also had close passes with buses, but emphasises this is not drivers’ fault and is often down to poor junction design. 

He believes Bristol’s large junctions need segregated cycling infrastructure. “Quiet back roads don’t bother me,” he says. “But the high-stress, complicated junctions in the city centre have large amounts of traffic.”

Many agree with Francis. A study by cycling charity Sustrans found 82% of respondents thought cycleways segregated from traffic and pedestrians would help them cycle more. 

Ian Pond of Bristol Cycling echoes this: “We accept not everyone can cycle and cycling isn’t appropriate for every journey. But with 47% of people in the UK owning or having access to a bike, if we’re going to persuade more people to cycle, they’ve got to feel it’s safe. 

“That means continuous, protected cycle corridors across the city, which allow everyone to see it’s safe, easy and reliable to cycle.”

In its 2019 transport strategy, the council committed to creating a new Bristol cycling strategy, which would aspire to build a “comprehensive cycle network … segregated wherever possible”. The council said it would publish that after the West of England Combined Authority unveiled its Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan (LCWIP).

The LCWIP, published in 2021, proposes several cycling routes fanning out from Bristol city centre, segregated where possible.

Campaigners cautiously welcomed WECA’s plan. “The LCWIP describes a number of mostly radial routes to the centre that predominantly follow major roads,” Pond says. “That’s great, but these need to be in the context of an entire cohesive network.”

The council says Bristol has over 75 miles of segregated cycle lanes, including on Bristol Bridge/Baldwin Street. In May, it announced almost £6 million to improve cycling infrastructure, including new segregated cycle lanes in Old Market, and permanent ones on Park Row and Upper Maudlin Street. It’s helping to fund the Bristol to Bath Railway Path, and the permanent pedestrianisation of the Old City and King Street.

In recent weeks, cycle lanes on Whiteladies Road have been saved after council plans to get rid of them that some cyclists called “crazy” were scrapped. But there were also questions raised a lack of consultation when the cycle lane on Cheltenham Road was removed, making it easier for cars to park on the pavement near the junction with Ashley Road.

The council hasn’t published its new cycling strategy yet, and the concern for many is that without it cycleways will remain disconnected and unsafe. 

Pond says Bristol’s new cycling strategy must also include measures like secure bike parking and cycle training. “We helped create the last cycling strategy back in 2015. We’d be happy to help again.”

A council spokesperson said: “Since writing the transport strategy we have had to respond to a number of issues, including COVID-19 and the government’s emergency Active Travel Fund. Our resources have been focused on dealing with those issues and drawing up plans to use the new Active Travel Fund rather than developing a cycling strategy.”

Comments

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  • I have been knocked off my bike in Bristol 4 times. Once deliberately by an angry person on a narrow road who opened his door to push me off; once head-on by a van coming on the wrong side of the road; twice by people turning sharp left without looking in front of me.
    Most current cycle lanes in Bristol are used as parking spaces by cars and vans. This forces bikes out into the traffic. Neither cars nor cyclists want that. Completely segregated cycle lanes are needed. We want to cycle separately.

    Reply

  • Rolling designation of places where pavement parking is dangerous and where bans will be enforced, would gradually help to change the pratice and culture and enourage walking, cycling and use of public transport instead.

    Reply

  • The appetite to encourage more people to use a cycle is a false one. Only those young and fit enough are able to cycle on a regular basis and this is the majority of those who would advocate the rest of us to get on our bikes. Yes there are obvious health benefits, but that’s about it.
    For grocery shopping cycling is no good. For purchasing furniture cycling is no good. For purchasing DIY products cycling is no good. For almost 6 months in the UK the weather prohibits cycling, unless you are one of the traffic light evading zealots one sees so regularly on the roads. Our roads are simply not designed to cater for cyclists, pot holes, cambers, road repairs etc. This is not Holland or Germany!
    If a cyclist damages my care I am unable to identify the person nor make an insurance claim.
    Cyclists if they wish to be taken seriously should be subject to the Highway Code and be registered, insured and taxed for using the highways, which were originally designed for vehicles.
    Yes cycling should be safe but not at the sole expense of all other road users.

    Reply

    • There’s so much misinformation in this post, it’s almost unbelievable! I’ll go through them point-by-point…

      1. “Only those young and fit enough are able to cycle on a regular basis.”
      Only the young and fit are able to do vehicular-cycling, maybe (i.e. having to cycle like a car, as there is no dedicated infrastructure). You don’t need to travel very far (only across the channel) to see that with proper infrastructure, the vast majority of people can cycle. Sure, some people cannot, but if more people cycle this frees up road space for those that actually require it. In addition, ebikes make even the hilliest cities flat. More people can cycle than can drive a car, but this argument isn’t used when discussing car-centric road building.

      2. “For grocery shopping cycling is no good.”
      Yes it is? I do it every week. I have a ebike with some large panniers, and can fit a weeks worth of shopping on it. If you had a dedicated cargo bike, you could fit even more…

      3. “For purchasing furniture cycling is no good”.
      Yes it is? You go (cycle, walk?!) to the shop and say “Please can I buy that sofa? When can you deliver it?”. If you would prefer to not have someone deliver it, you can always rent a van for an hour or two. How often are you buying furniture??

      4. “For purchasing DIY products cycling is no good”
      See above…

      5. “For almost 6 months in the UK the weather prohibits cycling”
      It really doesn’t. Have you seen the weather in Copenhagen? They seem to manage it. Do you own a waterproof? Can you just wait 10 minutes until the rain stops. It rains much less than you think it does. I commuted every single weekday for two years (cycling between 7am – 8am and 4pm – 5pm), and it rained less than 20 times in the whole two years that I did it.

      6. “unless you are one of the traffic light evading zealots”
      I would prefer someone to break the law riding a bike than break the law driving a car/ van/ lorry (although would obviously prefer neither). Stand by any road and count how many people speed/ use their phones etc.

      7. “If a cyclist damages my care I am unable to identify the person nor make an insurance claim.”
      Yes you are. They stop and you exchange details. It’s illegal for them not to stop.

      8. “Cyclists if they wish to be taken seriously should be subject to the Highway Code and be registered, insured and taxed for using the highways, which were originally designed for vehicles.”
      This is classic! They are subject to the Highway Code (have you read the updated version?). The amount of money spent on registering cyclists will outweigh any you might can back from “cyclist tax”, plus many cyclists are already insured. Because they basically do no hard, most Home Insurance policies cover cyclists by default. The highways were originally build for cyclists, after they campaigned for better surfaces and routes. Certainly not built for cars!

      Reply

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