Thursday, 25 September 2008

The Circus comes to Cycling City

There's no question that Cabot Circus is having a profound affect on Bristol. The sheer scale of it is impressive and its prominent location at end of the M32 will mean that it is the first major building complex that most visitors to the city will see. Above all it will change the image of Bristol, although whether for good or ill is, of course, debatable.

It defines Bristol as a centre for conspicuous consumption, inviting the wealthy denizens of the the west country to drive in on the M32, sweeping majestically over the impoverished masses of Bristol's east end, and into what must be one of the world's most inviting multi-storey car parks, to choose from no less than 2,600 parking bays. From there it is but a short stroll via a private bridge (still hermetically sealed against the edgy urban environment below) straight into the heart of the new cathedral of commerce.

Once inside our wealthy visitors will of course find themselves rubbing shoulders with the hoi polloi, to give that authentically urban experience, but they can rest assured that these "streets" remain in the private realm, closely monitored to exclude any undesirables. As they saunter towards Harvey Nicks they will briefly have to cross a real public street, with real traffic, before reaching another privately controlled enclave at Quakers Friars. Perhaps that brief exposure to reality will give them the confidence to proceed further into the city, perhaps not.

So much for the wealthy, but how will Cabot Circus impact on the rest of us, on Bristol's growing band of cyclists for example, who once enjoyed some useful links through this area before all was swept aside for the new consumer complex. Has the massive investment of £500 million, including a complete reworking of the local highway network, resulted in some outstanding new cycle paths, allowing us our share of "sweeping majestically" past the congested traffic?

Sadly not. Admittedly there is a solitary cycle lane in one direction down Bond Street to lead unsuspecting cyclists towards the new gyratory system called Newfoundland Circus, but just when you really need to have a well defined safe route through the chaos of conflicting traffic movements the cycle lane, in typically Bristol fashion, ends abruptly (above). Cyclists then find themselves 'merging' with the adjacent traffic lane (below) without any indication of who should have priority. In short a death trap.

Cyclists are left in limbo, some struggling on trying to weave their way through the multiple traffic lanes, others opting to take to the pavements where pedestrians will inevitably be made uncomfortable, to put it mildly, by the presence of cyclists without any provision being made for segregation. Shared use is fine in principle but in confined spaces with heavy and conflicting flows of both pedestrians and cyclists it really isn't suitable.

Even the planners seem to have been unable to make up their minds where cyclists should be taking their chances. Odd fragments of cycle lane and advanced stop lines suggest cyclists should be on the road, but very small, almost apologetic blue signs on the pavement lampposts confirm that cycling on them is not actually illegal and the pedestrian crossings are all shared use. The result is that cyclists (and other road users) remain unsure of their status whichever option they choose. The worst of both worlds.

Cynics like me will not be in the least surprised by any of the above, but Newfoundland Circus must be a bitter pill to swallow for those who still cling to the notion that Cycling City status is going to transform things in favour of cycling. The same bunch of anal inadequates behind the pathetic "cycle provision" around Newfoundland Circus are now formulating the measures designed to supposedly boost cycling to double the number of journeys. Welcome to Cabot Circus.


elizabeth said...

This all reminds one of what happened with the very expensive new Severn Bridge.

Spectator said...

This whole fiasco is starting to make me want to puke. The more you look at it, the worse it looks... and it looked pretty bad to start with.

In all honesty, I am starting to get so pissed off with the way in which this city - that has been my home for a quarter of a century - is moving, that I am seriously thinking of leaving... I think I've taken about as much as I can stand.

Ed said...

I propose that we call this 'Babylon Circus'. Good name, no?