Saturday, 7 June 2008

Bristol Greenways in crisis

Just as the current plan to convert the Bristol section of the Railway Path (pictured above) to a route for guided buses recedes into the background (conveniently for Bristol's Cycling Demonstration City bid) new threats to Bristol's Greenways emerge .

The first new threat is once again to the Railway Path where teenage gangs are carrying out violent attacks on Path users in the Easton area. Although there has been a history of muggings on this section, the latest outbreak is alarming in its scale and violence, with bricks and baseball bats being used against victims, resulting in many being hospitalised.

These attacks represent just as serious a threat to the Railway Path as the bus route plan. The widespread publicity will inevitably result in a serious drop in use, especially outside peak times, leading to reduced natural surveillance and even more of a sense of isolation and still better conditions for the gangs to operate. Many users recognise this danger and some are determined that this should not happen, but will there be enough of them to counter the appallingly bad publicity?

The second threat to emerge is to the Malago Greenway (pictured below), a route for cyclists and walkers in south-west Bristol following the line of the Malago stream. Although less well known than the Railway Path it is important as a safe and attractive route for many living in that part of the city, as well as being valued as a wildlife corridor, particularly with the adjacent stream.

The threat is once again from a plan for the creation of a Bus Rapid Transit route. As with the Railway Path proposals, there are already signs of strong public opposition to the Malago route, but the BRT promoters cannot afford to lose another route or the whole concept of BRT will become a laughing stock. And the Malago corridor is nothing like as well known outside of south Bristol, so my guess is that this is going to be a tougher battle.

So what's behind this ongoing crisis with Bristol's Greenways? At the root of it is a history of half-heartedness on the part of the
City Council who have never really recognised the importance of such Greenways to local people, at least when it comes to investing the resources necessary to adequately maintain, promote and secure these cycling and walking routes. The fact that they have identified a large part of the Greenway network as suitable for rapid transit confirms this lack of commitment.

It's time for Bristol City Council to make up its mind. Does the city want to foster and develop its Greenway network to encourage cycling and walking, as so many of Bristol's citizens clearly desire, or does it want to let them run down through neglect of maintenance and security issues, coupled with endless threats to their longer term future, to clear the way for their true aspirations for more motorised transport?

1 comment:

Chris Hutt said...

An update on the main story.

Just in time for National Bike Week, we are told that Valentine's bridge (a key link to the Railway Path) is to close to enable development of north bank to proceed. The original intention was that a new bridge was to have been in place prior to the closure of Valentine's, but this new bridge will not now be open until August. The previous closure of Valentine's for a week was apparently just a test of public reaction, to see if they could get away with the much longer closure. It seems we didn't complain enough.