Sunday, 26 October 2008

Robbing Peter to pay Paul

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.)


David Hembrow said...

I'm amazed at your photos showing just how crowded and unpleasant this bridge is to use for pedestrians and cyclists. This is beyond merely bad.

If Bristol really has any intention of competing with the Netherlands in terms of being cyclist and pedestrian friendly, they've a hell of a long way to go from attitudes that preserve things like this !

Why not simply build a new bridge wide enough for all ? Assen (a little place with only about an eighth of the population of Bristol) has managed to build several new bridges over the last year, including a really nice new lifting bridge built to provide somewhere to put cars when the existing bridge (you have to play the video there to see it) was converted into a direct route for cyclists alone.

Note that the new bridge also came with a 4 metre wide cycle path and a pedestrian path, even though neither actually go anywhere past the bridge as yet.

Chris Hutt said...

You're right David, it is beyond bad. We live in the traffic dark ages here. I can't believe that anybody would want to keep the bridge dominated by car traffic.

Of course the bridge problems are most acute during peak hours and particularly when the bridge swings and large numbers collect on each side. The Council haven't got the wit to hold back the cars until the mass of pedestrians clear the bridge which would mitigate the worst of it.

As for building a new bridge, that isn't so simple in a constrained site with historic structures and concern to maintain the heritage of the docks. Besides which we want to scale back the road capacity, which closing the bridge to cars would achieve.

elizabeth said...

It is possible that the council have some base ulterior motive for saying there is only one pavement on the bridge, but isn't it as likely that no-one in those offices ever walks, and therefore no-one noticed the mistake till you all pointed it out? Isn't highly paid administrative incompetence more often present than macchiavellian design? And which does the most damage to a city?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you're confusing things here - not intentionally, of course. Anyone using the bridge knows this is about safety and access. Don't forget there is a 3T weight restriction on vehicles crossing the bridge which I suppose would rule out BRT vehicles, buses, trams etc..! You also forget that the council has proposed similar measures to tackle issues with this bridge before. The views you express suggest a grudging support for the proposals ... I think.

Chris Hutt said...

Anonymous, firstly I didn't "forget" about the earlier proposals to restrict traffic on the bridge. In fact I mentioned it in both posts, with links to the indymedia story of the time.

There may have been a weight limit on the bridge in the past but some years ago the bridge was strengthened (during which time it was closed) and so may well be able to take buses if the width restriction would be removed.

As for grudging support, I would enthusiastically support the complete closure of the bridge to cars and the allocation of one half to pedestrians and the other to cyclists (and perhaps occasional buses). That would be a genuine benefit to cyclists and pedestrians.

Pedestria said...

"Occasional buses"

Free-ranging buses rather than the restrictive one-track guided type, I hope?