Sunday, 19 April 2009

Cycling City - a Constructive Suggestion

Just for a change I'm going to try making some constructive suggestions for Cycling City, which by its own admission lacks the "wow" factor that is considered so essential in today's image obsessed world. It seems that for all the money being thrown at Cycling City and the elapse of over 9 months Bristol City Council still can't seem to find anyone with vision and imagination to work on the project. The best they seem to be able to manage is to recycle long established cycle routes as new ones on the basis of some minor improvements.

What the project needs is some infrastructure developments that create new links that make cyclists' journeys quicker, pleasanter and more convenient. So here is a first of what may be a series of constructive suggestions for such links. I'm not expecting to get any credit for this, even less any payment (I wouldn't want to deprive all those parasitic consultants of their life blood). I do it, against my better judgement, because I just can't suppress my innate enthusiasm for cycling.


View Ashton Gate routes in a larger map

Let's start with the Sustrans Connect2 project (now part of Cycling City and shown in yellow above), which seems to be bogged down in futile attempts to establish a new or improved crossing of the Docks Entrance Lock by Brunel's old swivel bridge, despite the fact that the alignment bears little relationship to the 'desire line' of the majority of potential users and seems to be founded as a John Grimshaw vanity project to link his name to that of Brunel, comparisons with whom he is rather fond.

The 'desire line' for a route from Ashton Court, Long Ashton and points west to the city centre is, like most desire lines, an approximation of a straight line. The route needs to cross the River Avon and then the Cumberland Basin to feed into Hotwells, Cliftonwood and north Harbourside. The River Avon crossing is long established via the old Ashton Avenue Bridge (pictured below) so the question is which end of the Cumberland Basin to cross - the west Entrance Lock end (Brunel's bridge) or the east Junction Lock end (Merchants Road)?



If you're not an employee of Sustrans or the City Council it won't be too difficult to see that the Junction Lock end gives a route that much more closely approximates a straight line than the Entrance Lock end. So what we need is a direct link from the Ashton Avenue bridge to the Junction Lock. Fortunately there is a section of disused railway passing under Cumberland Road that does precisely that, as shown above in red and pictured below. All that is then required is a section of contraflow cycle route on Merchants Road to link up to Clifton and away we go.



My direct route is less than half the distance of the Sustrans Connect2 route and avoids the expense of a new/upgraded crossing of the Entrance Lock gates, using instead the existing swing bridge which will need some traffic management to achieve an appropriate standard for cyclists and an improved traffic environment in the vicinity of the Nova Scotia and Avon Crescent by diverting through traffic onto the Brunel Way flyover system, where it should be.


The redundant railway route through to Avon Crescent

It seems such an obvious link to make, yet both Sustrans and the City Council have become fixated on getting a new link over the entrance lock by the Brunel bridge which offers little advantage for most cyclists. Even the small proportion heading for the Portway from Ashton Avenue Bridge will find the distance via the junction Lock crossing less than 200 metres longer, well under a minute of cycling. One has to ask why such a basic analysis of the options seems to be beyond the wit of the so-called professionals.

11 comments:

bristle said...

"...seems to be founded as a John Grimshaw vanity project to link his name to that of Brunel, comparisons with whom he is rather fond..."

OUCH!

TonyD said...

Chris

You have completely missed the obvious drawback to your proposed plan.

It is too obvious, too simple and too easy to implement. Haven't you learned anything from all your years in this city ;-)

On a more serious note I hope those who have responsibility for implementing the Cycling City programme are willing to swallow their pride and take on board a very sensible and well though out scheme.

The Editor said...

Isn't the very start of your suggested route, by the create centre, used by the steam train which runs on the dockside at the weekend?

Chris Hutt said...

Yes, the heritage steam railway runs on the tracks in the pic, but there are ways around or over it. Not a significant problem.

However the Bus Rapid Transit route is planned to follow the same alignment as the railway tracks, forcing the railway to terminate the other (east) side of the tobacco bond.

Getting over or around the BRT busway might be much more difficult due to the higher speed and frequency of the bendy buses, so it's important that the BRT proposals make allowance for this (which at present they don't).

Cllr Mark Wright said...

This is an interesting idea Chris. As you already know I am a fan of renovation the Brunel Swivel Bridge and using that, as I think that the bridge itself would be a tourist and cycling attraction if properly promoted and restored. So in a sense I seem to be favouring "Connect2" as you call it.

However, I had always assumed that there would also be a link of some sort along the line of desire to the east, otherwise there is the likelihood that cyclists will just take a short-cut anyway.

I think the route should be kept right out of the way of Merchants Rd and I dont think your idea to re-engineer it it possible. The reason being that during Plimsol bridge swings that is the main traffic route and any reduction in its capacity would bring the basin to a standstill during such swings (sorry to have to use car-capacity against you!) Something like your "Option B" is much more plausible.

In terms of using the old railway cutting, that's certainly fine in the short-term, but in the long term there are (or were, until the property crash) plans to re-engineer much of the area. There are unnecessary roads and slip-roads around McAdam way, and they could be ripped out freeing up land for homes and other mixed-use development. What I wouldnt like to see is that the cutting starts getting used for a cycle-path, and then when the wider redevelopment comes for there to be massive opposition from cyclists to any changes!

Chris Hutt said...

Mark Wright, I thought the idea of using the Brunel Swivel Bridge had been abandoned. At least that's what the council's Cycling City briefing notes say and what the Sustrans Press release said back in December.

On that basis there seems little point in trying to take the route across the Entrance Lock when the Junction Lock route is easier to achieve and more direct.

As far as Merchants Road Bridge is concerned, I referred to traffic management rather than re-engineering, partly because I recognise that it may be necessary to retain the capacity to act as a diversionary route when the main Brunel Way bridge is swung.

There are ways in which a road can be managed which are consistent with the safety and convenience of cyclists without actually prohibiting motor traffic and that approach offers a quicker and more cost effective solution than building new bridges which are inevitably controversial.

If the area around Macadam Way is redeveloped it should be possible to create a much more cycle and pedestrian friendly environment overall so I doubt that cyclists would have cause to oppose that.

TonyD said...

"What I wouldnt like to see is that the cutting starts getting used for a cycle-path, and then when the wider redevelopment comes for there to be massive opposition from cyclists to any changes!"

Surely, where opposition from cyclists has appeared in the past it has tended to be for sound reasons and focused on projects which have been badly thought out and ill-conceived. If the cutting route is engineered properly and planned with some anticipation of any proposed new development (which is marked in the current City Centre strategy and area action plan as being a "green" mixed-use development) there shouldn't be any further problems - or has the council not been learning from earlier and on-going problems with "green" mixed-use developments?

Come on, surely we learn from our mistakes? Don't we?

snafu said...

"What I wouldnt like to see is that the cutting starts getting used for a cycle-path, and then when the wider redevelopment comes for there to be massive opposition from cyclists to any changes!"

I agree tony, a very strange sentence from councillor wright there. The council wants to get more people out of their cars, but they mustn't enjoy it too much and want to keep their facilities, or what?

This bit's better though:

"There are unnecessary roads and slip-roads around McAdam way, and they could be ripped out freeing up land"

Now that sounds too much like forward thinking.

As to the striking and historic grimshaw-brunel likeness, which noble figure could be found to compare with his crony ferguson? Beau nash perhaps?

mike said...

Where is this?

Chris Hutt said...

"Where is this?"

The link under Cumberland Road? It's at the back of the tobacco bond (not the Create-a-job Centre, the other one) and links through to Avon Crescent.

It was originally the route of the railway line that ran along the north bank of the floating harbour to Canons Marsh goods depot, little of which now remains although you can see the abutment of the former swing bridge on the north side of the Junction Lock.

Cllr Mark Wright said...

Yes you are all of course right - if the re-engineering is done with cyclists in mind (as I'm sure it will be) they are unlikely to oppose it.