On April 21st, Life Cycle UK organised a hustings for General Election candidates to answer questions on walking and cycling from an audience of about 60 people who themselves had mainly walked or cycled to the event.  The hustings were hosted by TLT at their 12th floor offices in 1 Redcliffe St – which has great views of Bristol.

 

The hustings were consummately chaired by well known journalist, broadcaster, author and cyclist Rob Penn. The following candidates agreed to attend: Thangam Debbonnaire (Labour – Bristol West), Darren Hall (Green – Bristol West), Claire Hiscott (Conservative – Bristol West), Mark Wright (Lib Dem – Bristol South), Dawn Parry (Independents for Bristol – Bristol West) and Paul Turner (UKIP – Bristol West).

Unfortunately Thangam Debbonnaire and Paul Turner were unable to make it. Thangam was able to send in her place Kye Dudd (Labour candidate for Cabot in the up-coming local council elections) and Paul was absent due to a family illness. However Claire Hiscott failed to turn up with no apology and was conspicuous by her absence. Being left with a selection of candidates who broadly agreed with each other was not great for debate or democracy.

The evening was heavy on anecdote and good intentions but light on evidence and hard policy. However there were some exceptions.

– Kye Dudd (KD) was strong on tackling social inequality and knows Bristol well. He cited Trade Union support for improvements to active travel.

– As a businesswoman Dawn Parry (DP) began her political career as a Conservative, only leaving them when she realised they didn’t share her values. Transport appears not to be her strong point but she was broadly sympathetic with the other candidates and the audience, though at one point she did propose a “cycling proficiency test for all” which went unchallenged.

– Mark Wright (MW) was by far the most informed on the subject having been a councillor for the central Cabot ward for three terms, helping to introduce 20mph and the first RPZ in Kingsdown. He is now campaigning for Bristol to have a Low Emissions Zone (LEZ), but was unsuccessful in recent years to implement workplace parking charges.

– Darren Hall (DH) was especially keen to invest in walking and cycling as an effective way to tackle climate change and health inequality.

 

Each candidate was asked to introduce themselves:

DP – cycling is not just for the middle classes and is the best thing for our futures.

KD – incentivise people not to use the car by encouraging more walking and cycling as well as greater bus & train use.

MW – prefers to walk as this is a much more reliable way of getting about.  He has never learned to drive, which he thinks will become the norm for younger people.

DH – need to tackle health inequalities as well as taking on climate change.

 

The first question came from Ian Barrett of Sustrans:

What would you do to give Bristol a sustainable transport system given its problems of air pollution and population growth?

MW – we need LEZ. He supports Metrobus which will help even though what everyone really wanted was a tram. This is only just good enough to cope with current strains and will not take up the strain of a growing population, likely to be 10-15% in the next 40 years. We need to increase car sharing to make more use of the existing transport network. Also now the economy is recovering we can thing about workplace charging again.

DP – Metrobus will be good if it reduces travel times by 30 minutes. We need to reduce ‘toxic’ air pollution. FirstBus are not looking after our interests as users. The buses need to be cheaper, more regular and more buggy friendly. We need to improve the rail network especially to reduce traffic problems for Portishead and around the airport.

KD – air quality regulations are needed and these should be enforced. Rupert St is the worst in Bristol for air pollution. There is a need to continue replacing diesel buses with hybrids and controls on HGVs via LEZ. More walking & cycling can be encouraged by making it more attractive with more cycle hire schemes such as the one in London and more Bikeability training. Also Bristol needs a regulated bus authority as part of city deal under democratic control.

DH – we’ve been fiddling for years and now is the time for an integrated transport authority. More people are dying in Bristol from poor air quality than via collisions and we need to help people understand this. Radical change is needed.

 

Poppy Brett of Life Cycle UK asked the following:

There are two ways to increase cycling. One is by implementing hard measures such as infrastructure and the other by soft measures such as training.  Is the current balance of spending right?

DH – safety issues drive parents to take kids to school by car. Infrastructure encourages whole families to cycle, so he would go for 80% of spend on hard measures and 20% on soft. There’s a fear of tackling the car lobby in central government. We need to be bigger than the million people who supported a certain J Clarkson. Our infrastructure needs to be more consistent, just look at the stretch of the Brunel Mile either side of Queen Square.

KD – infrastructure is key, especially separating bikes from cars. However he supports Bikeability. We need to educate drivers to respect cyclists.

MW – Showed frustration in the way funding for large schemes is raised where councils have to constantly go cap in hand to central government, unlike France where a greater proportion of tax is raised locally.

DP – shame on councils who think it’s OK just to paint white lines on the road. We have to spend on infrastructure. Pedestrians need to feel safe too, though given the conditions on the road she has sympathy with pavement cycling. More Clarence Road style segregation needed. Get motorists, especially HGV drivers, to cycle down the Gloucester Road.

 

Steve Melia of Living Heart asked:

Do you support the restricting of through traffic through central Bristol as per the aims of the Living Heart campaign?

KD – Labour are proposing bus hubs at the edge of the city centre with access only for local vehicles. A free shuttle bus would connect the hubs, thereby preventing buses clogging up the city centre.  More East/West routes are needed to connect outer areas, again with hubs.

DP – more demarcated cycling routes in pedestrian areas. More pedestrianised areas. An increase in the number of Make Sundays Special events.

MW – has been supportive of Living Heart’s aims for some time. The knee jerk response of traders “all my customers come by car” can be refuted by evidence showing the largest source of trade for most is by foot. There is usually a vast increase in trade where pedestrianisation takes place.

DH – there is an issue with too many buses crowding the Centre. More control barriers, as per Ljubljana, would allow us to achieve the Living Heart’s aims progressively.

 

Kate Cook of Bristol’s Public Health team:

The majority who cycle are white, male and in good health. How do you propose to make less well off people and those from ethnic minorities equally able to take up cycling?

MW – poorer people tend to live in the outer fringes of the city where cycling more of a mission. For example Hartcliffe Way has not worked as well as it should as more needs to be done to stimulate cycling to work in these areas. Car culture strong in these areas too. The car is a status symbol. We need to connect with working class people in a different way.

KD – it’s a long slog for those living in outer areas where a car is more necessary. In inner areas the cycle is more of an option for people.

DP – we need to address the social divide. A media campaign needed to move cycling away from the image of an expensive hobby. Give awards to employers who offer showers and comfortable changing areas. Make cycling accessible to all. Motivate employers and individuals to campaign more.

DH – until decision makers are more representative we won’t see change. Culture change is possible. Access to the Bristol Bike Project is more important to asylum seekers than food banks as they can use money saved by cycling to appointments to spend on a decent meal.

KD – a bus hub combined with hire bikes, which would tie in with an Oystercard type system. Make gyms more accessible & affordable.

 

Our own Sam Saunders asked for the cycling campaign:

Two people every week are seriously injured in Bristol in collisions with motor vehicles. What are you going to do to reduce the harm caused by motorists?

MW – Road traffic accidents [sic] are the leading cause of death for children aged 5-15. Parents are more worried by child abduction but 100 times more likely to be killed on road. [Ian Barrett of Sustrans later corrected this, as traffic has now become the main concern of parents]. 20mph is proven to save lives. Redesigning junctions is important and money is coming into Bristol for this though expensive as the redesigned Bearpit at St James Barton is costing £1m.

KD – supports 20mph. They will look to restrict HGVs coming into the city centre at certain times. Separation important. Labour announced today their proposals for a cycling and walking strategy board, which would include ministers and senior civil servants with a budget of £89m. They are also looking to review the justice system in respect of vulnerable road users.

DH – lower alcohol limits and go for a presumption of liability against drivers, which would be the most significant thing to change driving culture. We also need a culture to slow society down. Bristol lacks enforcement unlike London. We have to educate taxi and bus drivers.

DP – safer, clearer separated cycle lanes. Cyclists need to understand how motorists think. We should have Cycling proficiency test for all. To raise awareness visually she proposes a sticker for large vehicles to show where drivers have taken cycle training. Roundabouts and one-way systems need redesigning. Police need to understand what a loss of momentum feels like when sanctioning cyclists for jumping red lights.

 

Carew Reynell of the Ramblers was unable to attend, so chair Rob Penn asked on his behalf:

Green spaces are becoming less welcoming with new roads being pushed through them and through poor maintenance. What are you going to do to address this?

DP – our pavements are in a poor state. It’s all about funding and political will. It takes our community coming together on green spaces and to get more voluntary effort.

KD – more street furniture is needed, especially for the elderly to rest. Safety is important, especially when walking at night where good lighting is needed. More information points to make walking more attractive, such as local maps at bus stops.

MW – population growth is putting more pressure on parks. They can deteriorate very quickly if neglected, the ‘broken window’ effect. Bristol has got better at looking after its green spaces. His enthusiasm for Metrobus was chellenged by at least two of the audience.

DH – simply took the opportunity to say “vote Green if you want to see change”.

 

Wednesday 22 April 2015, 17:13 – this article has had some small amendments made since it was first published.