Sunday, 16 March 2008

Updates (lots) - starting with the cycle path

So, my good intentions of blogging regularly didn't quite come off. One of the problems is that when loads of interesting things are happening, which would be worth blogging about, there isn't enough time in the day to do so. But today - a relatively relaxed Sunday, apart from the shedloads of recycling I have got to get round to taking downstairs at some point - I'm going to try to recap on what's been happening over the last few weeks. (Actually this is my second attempt; I was well into my flow a moment ago when the page refreshed and everything I'd typed disappeared - it does this all the time and I always forget it's going to do it. So I am now going to 'save' every ten seconds and hope that works).

I'll start with an apology - or at least an explanation. Yesterday, after leaving a conference at the Council House on building bridges with the Muslim community I popped into the bank and bumped into Peter, who was setting up a bank account for the campaign against a Rapid Bus Link on the Bristol-Bath cycle path. He asked if I was banking my expenses - more on that later! - and then, as we got talking, said that some of the people involved in the campaign had been a bit unhappy about something I'd posted a while ago. I'd said something about needing more Showcase Bus routes in Bristol, but "we also need to keep the cyclists happy". The impression they'd got was that I thought buses were far more important, but we needed to placate the cyclists, fob them off, whatever.

So - let's try again. I do think that sorting out public transport in Bristol should be, if not our number one priority, certainly up there with schools, housing and crime/ ASB. Getting a decent bus service isn't just a transport issue; we won't be able to get people into work, into training, to job interviews, to college courses, if they can't rely on getting there on time. Soon we'll have several thousand new jobs created at Cabot Circus, some of which should be filled by people from the more deprived areas of east Bristol. But that won't happen if they can't get to work.

I don't want to see lone parents, or people who are taking their first step back into work after being on incapacity benefit for a long time, or teenagers getting their first experience of the world of work, dropping out because the public transport system has let them down. I don't want to see kids left at school gates because their parents haven't been able to get back from work in time to pick them up. I don't want to see pensioners standing at bus stops in the freezing cold and rain because their bus has yet again failed to turn up.

I've been doing a lot of work on child poverty lately - more too on that later - and what comes across time and time again is that the problem for many parents isn't so much finding a job; it's keeping it. And that's partly down to problems finding suitable childcare, partly down to whether someone is really 'better off in work' once things like housing costs, travel costs, the loss of 'passported benefits' like free school meals and prescriptions, are taken into account, and partly down to the logistical difficulties of juggling work and family life. If such parents can't rely on their bus turning up on time - or even turning up at all - then they're not going to last long in their jobs, and our efforts to lift children out of poverty will have failed.

So - sorting out the bus system is a real priority, and Showcase Bus Routes are a major part of this. But.... that doesn't mean I want to see one running down the length of the cycle path. For a start, no-one has actually demonstrated that the proposed bus service would be well-used, or is particularly needed. Even if they could, however, I believe the cycle path should be protected; it is well-used, by walkers as well as cyclists, and is a peaceful haven amidst the bustle of the inner city wards. (OK, there's a problem with drug-dealing in some places, and that's something we need to tackle too). And when I say protected, I don't just mean that the bus route shouldn't physically take up any of the cycle path; the tranquility and safety of the cycle path should also be protected, which doesn't mean having buses thundering up and down the length of it.

I have fired off letters to various people, asking for more info about the West of England Partnership's plans for the Rapid Bus Link, but haven't had any formal response yet. I've been variously told, informally, that the plans are on paper misleading, that it wouldn't impinge on the cycle path at all; that it's just a proposal and is very unlikely to come to fruition; and that the other bus routes are more of a priority. But I will publish the responses on my website when they arrive.

So, just to be clear: I want to protect the cycle path, and I'm keen to see more cycle paths, and more cycling, in Bristol. I think there's a lot more that could be done to support it; I occasionally cycle around Bristol, and the city centre is a nightmare, with cycle lanes stopping and starting and disappearing into thin air. (Getting rid of the hills would help too!)

I'm glad to see that the campaign against the proposals has received such public support, and I'll be there on 30th March for the celebration day - possibly even with my bike, if I can get the puncture fixed in time! Let's hope the weather's good.

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