Letters about Victoria Park cycleway
Published on: 30 Dec 2016
Received on the proposal for a cycleway in Victoria Park
Edited versions appear in the current Totterdown, Knowle Windmill Hill edition of the Voice. These are the full versions.
Complaints are baseless nonsense
WHAT a load of baseless nonsense I've seen written several times now in the South Bristol Voice, railing against the idea of providing a safer segregated cycling through Victoria Park.
This proposal will create facilities that are designed to make it safer for cycles to pass through the park and not endanger vulnerable park users, like my young children. The idea that has been put forward several times now, that unless there is a shared use path cyclists will instantly become antisocial and disregard all those around them, is frankly perverse. There is no evidence at all that this behaviour will occur.
By forcing children and those with prams to be in the same space as bikes you are, in fact, making absolutely sure that cycles will be a danger to others. Kids are unpredictable and can suddenly change direction. If there's a bike in the same space as them, they could easily be seriously hurt. I find it beyond belief that people out there are seriously suggesting that this is a better option than creating a clear space for bikes.
With a segregated path, I can easily explain to my kids that the cycle lane is where bikes are, those with reduced vision can easily locate where bikes will be travelling, bikes are encouraged to use specific paths. This reduces risk. This makes my children safer.
Frankly, I think that other weak arguments that have been put forward (that an extra thin sliver of tarmac across a large park will ruin picnics and games for example) expose objectors for what they are: just plain anti-cycling.
The park is for children, adults, elderly, people with reduced vision or physical impairment, skaters, cyclists, even a hot air balloon that made a surprise landing a few weeks ago. Segregated paths mean safe spaces for all these people. Shared paths ensure risk and danger.
Hopefully, the council see through this thinly-veiled anti-cycling rubbish from VPAG and aren't swayed into creating shared facilities that will make it more dangerous for my children and I to use our park.
Stefan Lee, Windmill Hill
This has nothing to do with park’s Improvement Plan
I AM disappointed that the council is trying to pass off this scheme as an improvement to the park, claiming that it fulfils many aspirations of the park’s Improvement Plan. I was heavily involved in drawing up the Improvement Plan in 2007 and I know that this proposal clashes entirely with the spirit and the intent of that document.
We have no information about how many cyclists currently use the park and how many more are likely to use the proposed Quietway, so we don’t know that the excessive scale of the new route is necessary. It may turn out to be a white elephant that is permanently and needlessly inflicted on this beautiful park.
The council needs to route the path through as much quiet space as possible to justify the title of the scheme and to boost its green credentials. If the route itself spoils the beauty of the green space, well that’s just a little bit of collateral damage – and it’s only Bedminster after all, not Clifton, so who cares?
I understand the council’s position is that the “shared space” concept does not work well and is dangerous. However, in Victoria Park it causes remarkably few problems. Consequently, there is no need for this elaborate eyesore of a cycle route that is being foisted upon us merely because Bristol has a traffic problem and council officers think they have spotted a “green” way of solving it. How can paving over the grass of a beautiful, historic and cherished park ever be considered as green?
Disgusted, Victoria Park
Quietway is at odds with park’s vision
“The Vision for Victoria Park is that it will confirm its position as the most important local park in the Windmill Hill/Bedminster area and become a park that enhances the quality of life for local people, serving community and recreational needs and enhancing the urban environment.”
This is a quote from the wording of the Victoria Park Improvement Plan, formulated by the Victoria Park Action Group (VPAG, founded 2002) and Bristol City Council (BCC) in 2007 after extensive consultation with local residents.
It also notes that: “In line with the policies set out in the Parks and Green Spaces Strategy, it is proposed that the historic character areas within the park should be improved, enhanced and safeguarded for the future.”
And it refers to “reinstating historic tree avenues and grassland slopes, thus enhancing views”.
I believe the Victoria Park stretch of the Filwood Quietway plan is at odds with this statement. I believe BCC and Sustrans are carrying out a box-ticking exercise so they can fanfare their green credentials and use the project to leverage more funds from grant-makers. Both aims are fine as long as they are not pursued at the expense of the local community, which I believe is what is happening in this case.
This plan, as it stands, does not “enhance the quality of life for local people, serve their recreational needs or enhance the urban environment”. If anything it does exactly the opposite. There are hundreds of people living around Victoria Park and neighbouring roads who do not have access to a garden. In the summer months the park is full of families and groups of friends having picnics, playing games and enjoying themselves in a socially acceptable and peaceful manner. The increased presence of people involved in normal, family-orientated activities has vastly reduced the instances of unsocial behaviour and crime. I can say this with some authority as a founding member of VPAG and a resident of Hill Avenue since 2001. The area by the Hill Avenue wall of the park is flat and ideal for gazebos, picnics and games. If the 5m-wide cycle path cuts through this, then many people will lose this beautiful amenity.
While accepting that cycling is becoming more popular and people should be encouraged to use this method of transport if possible, it should not be at the expense of other people, cyclists or not, and established and much-used green spaces. Bristol will never be another Amsterdam, so the impact cycling has on the existing parks and green spaces should be proportionate.
I understand that just 80 cyclists gave their views at the “consultation” carried out in Victoria Park by Sustrans and BCC earlier this year. That is hardly a significant number – certainly not enough to give weight to a section of a multi-million-pound project. I very much doubt many, if any, of them live on Hill Avenue or Nutgrove Avenue and have, therefore, paused to consider the impact a 5m-wide, floodlit 645m stretch will have on those who do. These 80 cyclists are people who pass through for a few minutes each day, and have been doing so safely for years on the current pathways.
I also know for a fact that some of the people who oppose this part of the Quietway are cyclists themselves. They pass through the park every day, know how cyclists use the existing paths and would support a low-impact section of the Quietway. I also believe a slightly widened cycle path with some ground up-lighting would be ample improvement.
I also take issue with what I perceive to be the “sneaking it in by the back-door” method that has been employed by BCC and Sustrans. The public has been asked for its views, yet the plan has already been submitted to the planning committee. I accept we are now able to raise our objections, but surely the plan should have been drawn up after consultation and before submission.
I also take issue with the attitude that “the little people just don’t know what is good for them” that is the underlying tone of the TravelWest website (https://travelwest.info/projects/cycle-ambition-fund/bristol/filwood-quietway/victoria-park-proposals.) The “You said this, we have listened” style of the text is both patronising and juvenile.
Again, like the 80 cyclists, I doubt any member of BCC or Sustrans lives on Victoria Park. Will they have to listen to teenagers whizzing around on mopeds in the park at all hours – previous behaviour that has ceased thanks to the current measures? Motorbikes cannot get into the park thanks to the admittedly ugly barriers. But if this element of the Quietway goes ahead as planned, we will not only have two handsome pillars, but also a massive opening through which mopeds and motorbikes can zip through with ease.
I believe this section of the Quietway will, in fact, become a conduit for noise. Will those championing this white elephant have their evenings ruined by young people hanging around the cycleway, with its splendid lighting, often being abusive, looking through their sitting room windows and generally causing a nuisance? Again, I know for a fact that for years residents of Hill Avenue have had their lives blighted by unsocial behaviour. This has been resolved only relatively recently and residents are loath to find themselves dealing with this energy-sapping, mentally draining, stress-inducing element of urban life. Will the Quietway supporters have lighting going on and off outside their homes throughout the night? And why do we need high light poles? Why does everything have to be so unattractive and too big and so obtrusive? This is not a case of Nimby-ism. I can see that some improvements would be beneficial to cyclists, but not this wholesale disregard for the wishes of the majority who live right next to the area in question.
I wonder if the police have been asked for their views. For years VPAG has successfully worked with the PCSOs and neighbourhood policing teams. If this project goes ahead I see years of community co-operation work and an expensive campaign to reduce anti-social behaviour going to waste. The knock-on effect of having a few extra cyclists going through the park on an ugly, 5m-wide path, shaving a just few minutes off their journey time could have a disastrous, long-term effect on the park that has proven historic character and contributes so much to community well-being.
Name supplied, Victoria Park
My objections to the proposed cycle route
Harm to the pedestrian environment: The Guidance on Applications for Cycle City Ambition Grants clearly states “while this fund is focused on cycling, as a minimum, proposals should use the principle of, 'do no harm' to the pedestrian environment.”
The guidance also indicates (p10, point 30)
“Each city ambition will need to set out how cycle networks will be mapped and how all groups, particularly pedestrians and the least active groups, will be engaged in developing a vision for an improved and fully integrated network that will be delivered over the next 10 years. The vision could include aspirations for:
a. Junction improvements, better street design and segregated or partially segregated cycle infrastructure alongside arterial roads for commuters
b. Segregated infrastructure to enable higher rates of access to schools, except where this would impact on pedestrian access.”
The current proposal will harm the pedestrian environment in the following ways:
• The proposed cycle route is a main walking route to St Mary Redcliffe Primary school and includes a pinch point at park gate close to the school entrance. This will adversely affect young children and their parents/carers (who are often also pushing babies in buggies or with toddlers who are walking). The proposed removal of barriers will also encourage faster cycling on Windmill Close at the entrance to the primary school.
• The proposal is to remove the barriers at both ends of the route to make entrance and exit easier for cyclists. This, together with designated two-way cycle lanes, will encourage greater speed. Currently cyclists realise they must adjust their speed to enter and exit the park, and considerate cyclists often slow to walking speed on the existing route to ensure the safety of other users. A design that implies cyclists have priority will undermine safety and consideration for pedestrians.
• The route is used by pedestrians of all ages and levels of fitness to go between Totterdown and Windmill Hill, the Bedminster shopping area and beyond. A key focus of the Cycling Ambition Fund is to reduce health inequalities by supporting and encouraging those who are least active to adopt more active modes of travel. Walking is the most inclusive form of active travel and should continue to be given priority on routes through the park.
• A large section of the proposed route is currently used for the Junior Park Run which is held every Sunday for children aged 4-14 years. This route is chosen because it is relatively flat and is therefore accessible for children of a wide range of physical ability and fitness.
• Dog walkers use Victoria Park, which is designated as an area where dogs can be let off the lead (with enclosed play areas for children). Sustrans and others argue that dogs should be kept under control, which may require a “short lead”, on routes used by cyclists. There is potential for conflict, even accidents, if dogs run into the cycle route (especially if cyclists travel at speed).
• People of all ages play ball games in the park, especially on the flatter area through which the cycle route is proposed. There is the potential for conflict, and accidents, if ball games encroach on the proposed cycle route (especially if cyclists are travelling at speed).
• Children scoot and learn to ride bikes on the existing path, which will be incorporated into the new route. People also jog on the path. To date this mixed use has worked well because people look out for the other users. To create a designated two-way cycle route, and effectively give priority to cyclists on this space, will be detrimental, and potentially confusing, to some users. For example, where should scooters go? Where should toddlers cycle?
Other considerations of the Cycle Ambition Fund: The following considerations, which form part of the guidelines, will not be met by the proposed route:
• Overall value for money. This route appears over-engineered and expensive. The costs should be thoroughly examined given that the current pathways already provide quiet routes through the park.
• Impact on the least active groups. Walking is the most accessible form of physical activity for those who have previously been inactive. Favouring the needs of cyclists, and doing harm to the pedestrian environment, is likely to have an adverse impact on those who are least active.
• Impact on pedestrians, including hard to reach groups. In Bristol, fear of speeding cyclists in areas used by pedestrians is increasingly identified as a problem by older people and people with disabilities. Creating a two-way cycle route alongside a reduced pedestrian path is likely to have an adverse impact on those pedestrians who are most vulnerable.
• Part of a holistic approach to increasing walking and cycling. This route appears to have been planned by cyclists for cyclists and has not adopted a holistic approach to other park users, particularly pedestrians but also some existing cyclists.
• Impact on improving the health of the local population and reducing health inequalities, in particular by targeting the most physically inactive groups. As has already been described above, those who are most inactive are more likely to try walking as a means of improving their health. Walking is the most accessible and inclusive form of active travel since it does not require special equipment. Cycling is welcome, but not at the expense of walking.
• Wellbeing impacts through improved public realm. There are concerns that this proposal is detrimental to the ‘public realm’ of the park. The route will remove valued green space, especially in the flatter area currently valued for outdoor parties in summer, The route is out of proportion to other pathways through the park and is over-engineered for this much-loved green space. Furthermore, a significant problem of motorbikes in the park was resolved when barriers were installed at the park gates: removing the barriers is highly likely to result in the problem recurring, once again causing concern to the local community. Rather than improving wellbeing, this proposal is causing upset in the local community.
• Cycle infrastructure plans that also support walking and do no harm to the pedestrian environment. As has already been described above, this proposal will harm the pedestrian environment especially for children walking to and from school, people of all ages walking in or through the park, and dog walkers.
Space allocated for pedestrians
The proposal indicates the following in relation to the space allocated to pedestrians and cyclists:
Along the whole route, a 2.5m width will be provided for bicycle users. This complies with the acceptable limit provided by Sustrans.
Pedestrian widths – between Windmill Close and Marmaduke St
The pedestrian width exceeds design guidance at this section, at 2.2m. This recognises the increased footfall along this path, which forms an important link from the city centre towards Totterdown.
Pedestrian widths – between Marmaduke St and Park Ave
This section falls below pedestrian design guidance at 1.8m. This is to respect the visual amenity of the park, which currently has no path at his location, or very narrow paths. It also reflects the lower footfall at this location.
Of particular concern, therefore, is the priority given to space for cycling with consequent reduction to the space allocated for pedestrians. Close to the school entrance there will be a dangerous pinch point since the gate posts at Windmill Close are 3 metres apart. If the bicycle users are provided with 2.5 metre width, what is the width for pedestrians at this point?
Unfortunately, Sustrans have described themselves as having been a “victim of their own success” in creating some sustainable transport routes that are now perceived as fast routes for cyclists at the expense of other users. The Bristol to Bath path is an example where Sustrans, and the relevant local authorities, acknowledge there is conflict, even danger, but are unable to police the route and reduce the speed of some cyclists.
It is vital that they do not create a route through Victoria Park that is likely to cause conflict and undermine the safety and enjoyment of other park users. Given the aim is for a quiet route, the current situation is preferable in which cyclists are aware that they do not have priority over other park users and must moderate their speed and cycling behaviour for the safety and consideration of all park users.
The consultation process appears to have been flawed, in that many people who regularly use the route are not aware of the proposal. However, in recent conversations with park users the following elements appear to be welcomed:
• Lighting along the existing pathway especially at the stretch by St Mary Redcliffe primary school
• Repairs to the surfaces of all existing paths
• Upgrading all access routes to the park including:
• Replacing barriers to enable mobility scooters to enter.
• Improving all signs at park entrances to show pedestrian priority but cyclists welcome
• A crossing from St Lukes Steps into the park for pedestrians and cyclists
It has also been suggested that, after the route has been constructed and the barriers removed, the police will monitor (for 12 months) whether motorbikes become a nuisance; with the proviso that, should there be a rise in anti-social behaviour, the barriers will be reinstated. Given current police staffing and funding pressures it seems unlikely they will be able to prioritise this. It will be for local residents to monitor the situation and complain to the police, causing additional stress for local people. However, it is not necessary to construct the proposed route in order to test this. The potential for nuisance can be monitored by opening part of the existing barriers.
A possible alternative route
An alternative route for the Quietway is to take the route from the bottom of Wedmore Vale straight across St Johns Lane to the quieter side-streets and on to Nutgrove Avenue. A link route between Nutgrove Avenue round into Somerset Terrace could be constructed (this is already marked as a cycle route on some maps). There need not be any barriers for cyclists if a wall or railings separate the link route from the actual park. To make it acceptable to lose a small section of the park in this way, a 'cycle stop' could be considered for the Quietway e.g. some additional cycle racks for those who want to stop and get a drink/sandwich at Mrs Browns, maybe a cycle pump, and perhaps even improve the toilets in the Lodge?
The Quietway route would then use the side-streets down towards Fraser Street where there is an option of turning right onto the cycle route towards the primary school/City Farm/Bedminster; or continuing towards Cotswold Road and the Malago.
This proposal could also benefit pedestrians. People who want to walk between Nutgrove Avenue and Somerset Terrace at night are sometimes anxious because it requires a diversion into the park. Incorporating a new pedestrian pathway at the edge of the park, especially if it is lit at night, might be welcomed. However, there would need to be consultation about this proposal as it would mean removing shrubs and small trees which are enjoyed by some park users.
Suzanne Audrey, Totterdown