Bristol Cycling City: A Troubling Reputation Already

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The following was sent to me by someone who lives on the continent- someone who knows how to design proper cycle facilities and how to make cycling a priority in a city.  Because he works in the profession and doesn’t want to be seen as criticising from afar, I am posting it here anonymously:

Dear Josh,

I found this link to the details of Bristol’s job vacancy for a project manager to overlook the cycling city initiative:

http://www.bristolbetterbybike.co.uk

There are some issues here:

1. It would appear that the domain name for the cycling city initiative has nothing on it except the vacancy.
2. The first six months of the three year period has, it would seem, been spent on deciding that they ought to advertise a job vacancy.
3. The suggestions of what needs doing seem to concentrate on the insubstantial: training a few more kids, recycling bikes…
4. There’s rather too much about “challenging attitudes” and being a “beacon”…
5. They appear to want to re-invent the wheel. Given the lack of time available and the limited budget (for all their bluff, even this amount is much lower than the budget here) this is an especially bad idea.

In my view they’d have been better off spending the first evening after being awarded the money by having a good party and then the next morning phoning up some professionals who actually know how to do this stuff and writing them a cheque to get on with it.

Perhaps they could have used such people as Ligtermoet and partners who have been involved in much of the good (and successful) design in the Netherlands:

http://ligpart.nl

or Timenco, a spin off of the same:

http://www.timenco.be/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=13&Itemid=26

I’m sure there are other such firms. I’ve not any experience with any of them, but I can say that the list of projects on the website of the first of these two is pretty impressive, and the summary of the work experience of Tim in the second one is also impressive.

What seems to be an issue here is that, as ever, they want to take on an accountant. Everyone is supposed to be an accountant in the UK. It’s impossible to be in any responsible position unless you are that type of person.

It’s quite different here.  Our local cycling planner doesn’t necessarily know the cost of what is done. He knows what works – he designs what works. However, costing is someone else’s problem.  This means you can have someone with vision in charge, instead of someone who “knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing”. Compromises might have to be made, but design doesn’t start with a compromise.

I think it is a terrible mistake to have a money person in charge of the vision for Bristol.  There are two quite different jobs here and it is unlikely that one person can do both of them.

To summarise, from afar it looks very much like they are heading off down a path of managers looking after more managers, taking a very long time about it, and not consulting with the experts. I’ve seen just this sort of thing happen in business that I’ve been involved with in the past….

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5 responses to “Bristol Cycling City: A Troubling Reputation Already

  1. I’d suggest it’s not a mistake, but deliberate policy to have an accountant in charge -although that in itself is the wrong way to approach things. When we look at the other ways they are fiddling about the edges it seems they’re after a prestige project withoiut actually doing anything that may change things.

  2. Andy in Germany, I’d say you have hit the nail on the head. Until we see meaningful plans and policies as part of the Cycling City program, and local cycling groups are properly consulted, this will be an exercise in greenwash, not real change.

  3. Good post! Can you post it on Bristol Indymedia too?

  4. As Motorways are celebrating their 50th anniversary this month, and as Bristol has the honour of being both Britains greenest city and Englands first cycling city
    I am suggesting that we ressurect the M32 Cycling Club and propose that we launch the M32 Allotments project

    ‘like a dagger thrust into the city’

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/bristol/hi/people_and_places/history/newsid_7767000/7767453.stm

  5. Bristol has spent all the money, and now we’ve heard what the results were (links here, here and here).

    I guess I no longer need to be anonymous. When I wrote the text which Josh put in his blog post above, I wanted anonymity as at the same time I was writing to people involved in the Cycling City in Bristol and the cycling towns across the UK. I invited inviting all of them to come on study tours and see how things are done in the Netherlands.

    Not one of of them replied at all – even to find out the price or to establish whether I was offering anything of interest.

    The people I linked to back then could still do a good job. The Bristol Better By Bike link, on the other hand, now has a completely different life…

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