Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Bridges, Bikes and BRT

The Prince Street Bridge saga continues with a new exchange of fire last week. First the Bristol Cycling Campaign issued a Press Release which appeared in Wednesday's Evening Post under the headline "So who does want this bridge ban?". We (I'm one of them) pointed out that there were few benefits to cyclists in the proposed closure of half the bridge to motor traffic and some quite significant disbenefits like having to jostle for space with pedestrians and squeezing past queues of cars, engines running, waiting for the shuttle signals to change.

We also pointed out that the partial closure seemed to be inspired by the need to pave the way for the proposed Bus Rapid Transit route from Ashton Vale. This was supported by the simulation (now reissued with cars driving on left hand side of the road instead of the right!) and map issued by the BRT promoters themselves the previous week which showed the route passing over Prince Street Bridge and was further confirmed by the Council declining to take the opportunity to comment on why their original Press Release bizarrely referred to Prince Street Bridge having only one footway.

But last Thursday a response came from BRT promoters West of England Partnership (WoEP - who for practical purposes are Bristol City Council) with a story appearing in Friday's Evening Post headlined "New harbour bridge for Bristol's rapid transit bus route" and implying that the BRT buses might cross the Harbour on a new bridge alongside the existing swing bridge. However the WoEP spokesperson's quoted comments said no more than "... the city council is also looking at ways to cater for access over Prince Street bridge". Hmm, not exactly what it says on the tin.

We are told that the budget for the whole BRT route is just £26 million. This already has to cover the construction of new guided bus track work from the Long Ashton P&R site right through to Prince Street Bridge, including a new bridge over the Portbury railway line, a new foot/cycle bridge alongside the Ashton Avenue Bridge (old railway bridge), which itself will need renovation to take buses, and relaying the single track railway along the Cut. According to the WoEP spokesperson "...bridge works are expected to be almost a quarter of the costs at around six to seven million pounds".

Now bridges don't come cheap, especially not opening bridges capable of carrying bendy-buses (which weigh in at 16 tonnes each) in a 'heritage' area, where appearance will be hugely important. The current view of Prince Street Bridge from Harbourside is one of those iconic views of Bristol. If that view is to be obscured by a new bridge they're not going to get away with some utilitarian steel and concrete structure.

Even in the less environmentally sensitive area of Temple Quay the new, non-opening Cheesegrater footbridge came in at £2.4 million, so they'd be lucky to get a new opening BRT bridge for the whole of their bridge budget. And it looks as if a new bridge would have to span a much wider gap than the existing swing bridge. In any case wouldn't it be cheaper to build a new footbridge for walkers and cyclists, which could be raised higher to minimise the need to open it for navigation, and keep the existing bridge for the bendy-buses? The figures and the facts don't really stack up.

So it looks like WoEP (alias Bristol City Council) are hyping up the notion of a new BRT bridge just to take the heat off Bristol City Council (alias WoEP), who are looking increasingly out of step and isolated with their ill thought out plan for partial closure which they tried to pass off as a benefit to cyclists. The Council must be wondering why they're getting such poor advice on cycling matters from their Cycling City partners Sustrans.


Forest Pines said...

I was wondering if Prince St Bridge is a listed structure, too, which would complicate matters. In any case it can't exactly be easy to strengthen it enough to take buses. At present it's only rated to take 3 tonne vehicles; even if the rating can be doubled if one side is closed - which depends exactly what it is that limits the rating - that still leaves a bridge that needs to have its maximum loading pretty much tripled.

WestfieldWanderers said...

...The Council must be wondering why they're getting such poor advice on cycling matters from their Cycling City partners Sustrans...

I'm afraid Sustrans lost the plot long (and lost my support) ago when they started to believe their own propaganda.

Chris Hutt said...

FP, PSB is indeed a listed structure which means that English Heritage would not allow it to altered to any great extent.

As for weight limits, I know there is a sign giving the weight limit as 3 tonnes (per vehicle) but the bridge will carry far more. If the bridge were packed with pedestrians (as it sometimes is) it could be carrying well over 10 tonnes!

I recall that it was strengthened about 10 years ago (when it was closed for some weeks) so I wouldn't assume that it couldn't take buses as it is, providing the footway was removed to allow for the width of a bus.

Anonymous said...

As of today, Wednesday 19th of November, the council has officially started work to install traffic signals on the Prince St. bridge. So much for consultation or coordination with cycling city projects. Pathetic. Absolutely pathetic.

Jon Rogers said...

Thanks Josh

I asked officers if the work on Princes Street Bridge was pre-empting the scrutiny and cabinet opportunities to consider the traffic lights. This is the response...

"The ducting works that are underway are to link the B-Net (fibre optic cable) that we installed across the water with the B-Net at The Grove. We installed the B-Net across the water as part of the original shuttle working trial when Cllr Brown was exec member; the project was stopped when there was a change of administration. However, the B-Net was always intended to serve the industrial museum and to link with new wig wags for the bridge. The ducting works will also prepare the way for the replacement barriers and wig wags which are well overdue. The catalyst for the ducting works being done now is to prepare for the introduction of the trial. However, the decision to go ahead was taken on the basis that the current elements of work were necessary at some point regardless of whether the trial ultimately proceeds or not. The main contract for the trial has yet to be finalized.

"The assertion that there will be a detriment to cyclists is misleading in that the principal aim of the project is to get non cyclists cycling. This requires routes that are protected from traffic and the west side of the bridge links the end of the Chocolate path with the route in front of Arnofini. There will, in future, be a link from the museum across to Gaol Ferry Bridge. In the meantime we are looking to see if further highway space could be allocated to make a more or less segregated route to Gaol Ferry Bridge. Cyclists can, of course, elect to stay on the road."


Chris Hutt said...

Thanks for posting that Jon. I've taken the liberty of copying it to the Bristol Cycling Campaign Yahoo site where this topic is also being debated.

The last paragraph of the officers' reply is interesting, and rather worrying. The theme that Cycling City is about creating infrastructure for non-cyclists rather than cyclists has been heard before. It raises all sorts of issues so I think I'll have to do a proper blog post on it soon.

Thanks again and always happy to have you as an occasional commenter.