Thursday, 1 January 2009

Brunel Bridge in Post

The story about the Brunel Swivel Bridge being dropped from the planned Festival Way cycle and walking route, which was broken here earlier this week, has now been picked up by the Evening Post. The Post article gives more details of the 'promises' made by Sustrans to the effect that the historic swing bridge would be included in the route. According to the Post -
A year ago Sustran's former chief executive John Grimshaw told The Post work on the bridge would be "the icing on the cake" for the new path.

Speaking about the scheme last December (2007) Mr Grimshaw said: "One key part will be the reinstatement of Brunel's so-called 'forgotten bridge' now enjoying the media spotlight of national and local news coverage". But now it appears that is off the table.

The question that inevitably arises is whether the promoters of the Festival Way, Bristol City Council and Sustrans, ever really thought that using the Brunel Bridge was a realistic option. To those of us familiar with Sustran's modus operandi it would come as no surprise to learn that the the idea of using the bridge had only been incorporated into the plans to win support from influential local groups like Clifton & Hotwells Improvement Society (CHIS) and Hotwells and Cliftonwood Community Association, both of whom have supported the restoration of the bridge.

No doubt every effort will now be made to show that the restoration of the Brunel Bridge to working order would be prohibitively expensive, but will the assessment of the options, including the current plan for a new crossing on top of the lock gates (pic below), be made public so that we can see for ourselves and, if necessary, get a second opinion? Up till now it appears to have been handled in a typically secretive way, even though the project is being funded by the public.

Another complicating factor has come to light. For technical reasons it is necessary to keep the lock gates open at times of high tide (about 200 times a year) to allow water heading up the river to spread into the docks rather than flood. At these times, which can each last for up to an hour, a lock gate crossing, as is now planned, would be closed to users who would then have to follow diversions which would bring them into conflict with motor traffic. The Brunel Bridge could remain in use at such times.

What is at stake here is more than just the restoration of the Brunel Bridge but the status of the planned cycle/walking route which needs to 'showcase' a change in priorities away from catering for cars and towards catering for people-powered travel. That means that salient features like bridge crossings need to be perceived as prestigious as well as commodious, in the way that has been achieved with a string of new traffic free bridges across the Floating Harbour further upstream such as the Cheesegrater Bridge.

Of course it is not inconceivable that a new crossing built on top of the lock gates could be prestigious and commodious, but given the evidence that the Festival Way project is now being driven by a parsimonious approach to funding on new infrastructure it seems unlikely. If however significant funding is available for the creation of a suitably prestigious structure, why not kill two birds as it were and combine that with the restoration of an important example of Brunel's engineering genius?

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