The latest twist in the Prince Street Bridge saga leaves some questions unanswered. In the first place why did Bristol City Council's Press Release claim that the bridge had only one footway when it plainly has two? A simple mistake? Yes, a mistake to put that in the Press Release but there must be something behind it, such as a plan showing only one footway, a plan of what the council intend perhaps.
So why would the council want to remove the east side footway? To widen the carriageway to allow wider vehicles, like buses, through? It certainly fits with their intention to create a BRT route from Ashton Vale to Emerson's Green via Prince Street Bridge and Temple Meads. Adapting the existing bridge would be vastly cheaper and quicker than having to build a new bridge and we know how anxious Bristol are to force BRT through quickly in the face of growing public scepticism.
Given that the west side footway is already unable to accommodate the number of pedestrians crossing, removal of the east side footway would only be possible if the west side footway were substantially widened, which can only be done at the expense of the roadway on that side, effectively closing it to motor traffic.
So there we have the rational for the changes. BRT is the driver, the overriding demand which is providing the impetus for the council to finally confront the Evening Post fronted car lobby. Previous attempts to restrict car access to Prince Street Bridge on behalf of cyclists and pedestrians haven't got anywhere, despite quite widespread support, so something has clearly changed.
On Friday the Evening Post responded to the proposal in its characteristic pro-car, anti-cyclist manner with the front page headline "FARCICAL" below a picture of the hapless Mark Bradshaw standing in front off the bridge. An editorial chimed in with outrage that half the bridge should be given over to "the minority of people who cycle into the city" calling the partial closure to cars "spiteful, short-sighted and wholly without merit". Strong language indeed.
But then on Saturday the tone changes dramatically with a piece acknowledging that opinion is divided and quoting some supporters of the proposed partial closure. It seems that little opposition is likely to materialise, even from Richard Eddy's Conservatives. So has someone had a whisper in Post editor Mike Norton's shell like, perhaps explaining that this is really paving the way for the all-important BRT, which Norton supported so strongly when launched early this year?
And what about cyclists, who are supposed to be the principal beneficiaries of the scheme. Apart from taking all the flack for this "spiteful" scheme, what's in it for us? We will effectively lose the right to use the east side roadway and will find ourselves competing for space with pedestrians within the 3.5 metre width of the west side of the bridge, which at peak times could provoke a lot of conflict. Is that a benefit? I'm not at all sure, but for sure we will be paying for it all to the tune of £40,000 out of Cycling City funds.
Maintaining the status quo at Prince Street Bridge just isn't an option anymore, so the real question is not whether but how it changes. Compared to the alternative of complete closure to motor traffic and the allocation of one half to pedestrians and the other to half to cyclists, what is now planned is bad news for cyclists and pedestrians and good news for motorists, who will at least retain use of the bridge. Perhaps that was the message that finally got through to Mike Norton.
(See below for lead post and also Bristol Traffic , Southville Roads and Bristol Blogger.)