Q: When is a new cycle path not a new cycle path?
A: When it's in Bristol - Cycling City....
The path towards the creation of Britain’s first Cycling City seems to be spiked with semantics and misinformation, as Bristol councillors and their critics argue over what is a ‘new’ cycle route.
While the Danes, Dutch and Germans simply get on and build new cycle paths and infrastructure with the minimum of fuss, it seems nothing can happen in this country without furious argument.
Green blogger Chris Hutt has taken issue with Bristol City Council’s trumpeting of ‘new’ links being created as part of the Cycling City scheme when in fact they’ve been around for a while.
In particular, he singles out the proclamation that ‘two new links from the Bristol and Bath Railway Path’ could benefit cyclists and walkers in the St George area of Bristol.
This is what he had to say on his Green Bristol blog: “The routes in question are essentially existing routes which are already used by cyclists. However 'improvements' are proposed, including such things as light controlled road crossings and improved surfaces and realignments in places. So is it right to call them "new links"?
Hutt also levels criticism at work carried out in the St Werburghs area of the city.
He said: “The council press release for the opening of the St Werburghs path said "Bristol's trailblazing Cycling City programme has delivered the first completed kilometre of a new off-road cycle route". Note "route" rather than "path", so the "new" claim refers to the overall existence of the route, not some facet of it such as the new asphalt surface of the path. Yet it is well known that the very same route has been used by cyclists for at least the last 20 years.”
Councillor Jon Rogers, the executive member for transport and sustainability, has responded, calling the discussion ‘sterile and pedantic’.
He said: “This is a public consultation to create two new cycle links. True, the paths already exist, but the plan is to consult local residents and users of the Railway Path on improvements to the links to make them more suitable for cycling and walking. Words like "upgraded" or "improved" might strictly be more accurate than "new", but to accuse Bristol City Council of "lying" seems a bit strong.
“Chris, we had the same sterile and pedantic discussion on the St Werburghs to Muller Road path, but if you travel along it you will see there is a "new path". The path is also "improved" and "upgraded".”
Hutt is now concerned that the £23 million Cycling City project might not quite deliver the ‘13 miles of new track and 18 miles of improvements to the existing 73 miles of off-road track’ that it has promised, missing a golden opportunity to create a cycling beacon in Bristol that lights the way for the rest of the country.
He writes: “New paths are paths that do not already exist. New routes are routes that do not already exist. New links are links that do not already exist. It's really very simple.”