Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Prince Street Bridge - More Lies Confirmed

Way back in October of last year I suggested that the traffic restrictions on Prince Street Bridge were really being driven by the need to pave the way for its use by bendy-buses using the proposed BRT route from Ashton Vale To Temple Meads, saying that the BRT promoters, the West of England Partnership (alias Bristol City Council for practical purposes), had "let slip that they intend to remove one of the two footways in order to allow buses to cross".

In November Bristol Cycle Campaign, annoyed at cyclists being set up to take the flak for the bridge traffic restrictions when cyclists were not in fact benefiting, issued a Press Release which duly appeared in the Evening Post saying "The council have sneakily presented this bridge plan as something for cyclists, so that motorists will blame people on bikes for their loss of road space rather than the planned 'bendy-bus' route".

As reported on this blog at the time, The West of England Partnership retaliated with its own Press Release prompting an Evening Post headline "New harbour bridge for Bristol's rapid transit bus route" and a story suggesting that the buses would use a new bridge alongside the existing one. They seemed most anxious to scotch our suggestion that the BRT buses would use Prince Street Bridge. Even as recently as February this year the Evening Post were still reporting, at the behest of WoEP, that a new bridge would be provided for BRT or at least the existing bridge would be widened.

But WoEP have now quietly published their BRT plans. And guess what - they're going to use the eastern half of Prince Street Bridge for two-way bus traffic, inevitably removing the footway and diverting pedestrians onto the exclusively pedestrian west side, just as we said they would all those months ago (and contrary to their claims that a new bridge would be built). The detailed plan is here. Now the whole thing makes sense - the shuttle signals, the closure of one side to traffic, the bizarre arrangements for cyclists - all to accommodate BRT but paid for out of the Cycling City budget.

As for cyclists it looks as if we may lose out big time. According to the plan we will be confined to sharing the eastern half with the buses and therefore controlled by the traffic signals in both directions. Bus movements are expected to occur on average every 6 minutes in each direction so interruptions to cycle flows could be frequent. There is also the question of the safety of cyclists forced to share with long bendy-buses in the narrow confines of the bridge approaches and the likelihood of cyclists using the pedestrian side to avoid delays and conflict with the bendy-buses.

Thanks to Forest Pines for tipping me off to the published info and whose own comments are worth a read.

Also try here to envisage a bendy-bus on the bridge!


TonyD said...

I am amazed that there have been no comments on this.....maybe you should have thrown in a few references to Banksy!

I can only assume that we have all become so inured to the level of deceit that you will only get a reaction if you suddenly find an example of the council delivering something it promised with the funds allocated.

BTW Also noted that the proposed BRT Temple Meads stop will not actually be at..umm...Temple Meads.

Martyn Whitelock said...

Anyone who understands the traffic congestion here will know that the main problem is the pedestrian traffic. The sheer number of people, including escalating commuter numbers, are often forced onto the road. The sensible thing to do is to retain the two way motorised traffic (assuming we want that at all) and to build a separate foot bridge to take the pedestrians away from this crossing. I think there was an idea for this a few years ago. If they go ahead with pedestrianising the west side then how will they SAFELY divert pedestrians from the east side? Should we expect zebra crossings on either side of the bridge? Oh no, more bloody street architecture!

Tim Beadle said...

Hi Chris,

I know we've not seen eye-to-eye in the past, but this is spot on. Keep up the good work!

Although I don't travel to Bristol any more, this meddling from the WoEP is likely to affect us over in Bath too - the Bath BRT route is being touted as usable by cyclists as well. It's madness.

Best regards,


Jon Rogers said...

Hi Chris

Thanks for letting me know that the West of England Partnership have published the bid!

As you say, "WoEP have now quietly published their BRT plans." No explanation. No press release. Let people find it, and interpret it as they wish!

The West of England Partnership (and Bristol City Council) seem to be struggling with sharing information in a timely and effective way.

Even Scrutiny is being cancelled...

Cllr Barbara Lewis (Chair) has cancelled the "meeting of the West of England Joint Scrutiny Committee meeting for 20th April at 10am." as apparently the majority of councillors don't think it necessary!

This was despite a clear Lib Dem councillor request for it to go ahead...

"I am certainly not in agreement with cancelling this meeting. It was suggested we should do so at our last meeting and we agreed we needed it.

"I am very unhappy if we are not going to have the opportunity to discuss the Phase 2 bids before the Executives make their decision.

"We are supposed to have the opportunity to advise on important WOE decisions.

"This is particularly important in the light of the uncertain situation regarding Phase 3 and decisions on the outcome of the PFI bid.

"I also believe we need the opportunity to discuss and advise on the proposed session with the Rail Minister - as well as providing the opportunity for public input on this.

"As far as I know the Transport Executives are still not constituted to require the opportunity for public input.

"We may well wish to have the opportunity to share information on the problems brought about by First's latest round of bus service cuts. I understand from the S.Glos. Executive Member that the issue is being taken up at WOE level.

"The Recession appears to be impacting on house-building. We need an update on this and what its implications for Growth Point funding etc.

"I have also asked for a presentation from the Consultants working on the Design Framework. Do most of us even know what it is?

I could go on....."

When I saw your blog on 09:35 am on Wednesday I emailed a senior WoE officer for an urgent response. That officer opened my email at 16:40 pm on Wednesday, but today, Friday, has still not responded to me.

This just ain't good enough.


Anonymous said...

Until public servants are properly held to account. ie. Politicians are prepared to use disciplinary measures against them and end the job-for-life, no criticism, no blame culture that covers them, this will continue ad infinitum.

Cllr Mark Wright said...

I asked officers the question directly last year "Is this for the BRT?" They (and I cant remember who it was, unfortunately) said very clearly: "This has nothing to do with BRT".

I was surprised to get that response, because actually I wouldnt have been upset if it was to do with BRT. To be honest I think the arrangement makes fair sense, and I certainly dont want another bridge over the harbour there, which was the other option.

Mind you, the first I heard of the Bridge partial closure to traffic was when I read it in the Evening Post, which gives an indication of the contempt with which officers and the Labour Cabinet were treating opposition ward councillors.

In fact, the issue of consultation for the BRT phase 1 with ward members (and most of the route is in Cabot) came up during the railway-path debate a year ago. I insisted to Cllr Mark Bradshaw that it was crucial to involve ward councillors for the BRT planning, and offered my support for making sure the route could be approved quickly to replace the failed Railway-path option. He promised he would be doing so in the near future. Guess what - he never did bother contacting me. All this is on web-cast, of course...

It seems to me that the WoE "Partnership" has quite clearly gone rogue. They seem to have their own agenda and use secrecy as a method to drive policy without discussion. It's not clear to me yet whether this is with the acquiescence of the other 3 councils.

Chris Hutt said...

Mark, I agree that it would be logical to take account of the likelihood of BRT in determining the optimal arrangements for Prince Street Bridge, but the Council and WoEP have gone to some lengths to deny that BRT was being taken into account despite the pretty strong circumstantial evidence to the contrary.

I can't really see why they should want to avoid admitting that BRT is the main driver for change. Taking the £40,000 for the PSB works from the Cycling City budget is small beer in the context of the overall £23 million for cycling or the £32+ million for BRT. Perhaps there is some bureaucratic procedural issue that we aren't aware of.

All of this tends to confirm the widely held view that WoEP are a law unto themselves and not subject to any democratic scrutiny, as evidenced also by Jon's comments. It's a sad state of affairs because there is obviously a need for an agency resembling the old Avon County Council to deal with strategic transport issues.

Gary Hopkins said...

The scrutiny arrangements on WOE are ludicrous.Considering the amount of large scale business that is being done there it is farcicle that there is an attempt for 1 committee to cover everything and now we have it being postponed at a crucial time.
Bristol and other Lib Dems pointed out the need for specialist scrutiny of waste,planning and transport issues but the Tories ,with Labour support stitched it up to put Barbara Lewis in the chair and this has curtailed any effective scrutiny.
Yes there is a need for cross Avon working on a number of matters ,notably transport,but there is a clear government agenda to get rid of local democracy and use WOE as a means of handing down their central policy.

Anonymous said...

Am I right in thinking that BCC is responsible for the executive functions of the WoEP with former BCC Deputy Chief Exec Terry Wagstaff installed as Chief Exec?

It's interesting to see how the notoriously ineffective Wagstaff got this powerful position:

"the authorities had asked for Terry Wagstaff to be seconded to the Partnership for a period of two years, during the governance changes and the establishment of the delivery company, subject to discussions which were taking place about the details. This was welcomed."

WoEP, Partnership Board Meeting July 2008

Lots of questions here. Like how can someone who no longer has a job with BCC be seconded from them? And why if he isn't up to a job with BCC is he OK for the WoEP? Does someone want a cipher?

Also note how our noisy local authority equal opportunities enthusiasts seem to dishing out jobs for the boys here.

I assume "discussions about the details" refers to arranging the six-figure salary?

But the real question is who's pulling Wagstaff's strings?

Chris Hutt said...

"But the real question is who's pulling Wagstaff's strings?"

One or two of these unelected members perhaps?

Partnership membership – Jan 2009
Social, Economic & Environmental Partners:
Steve Grainger, Avon Biodiversity Partnership
John Savage, Business West
Rachel Robinson, The ChangeUp Consortia
Sonia Mills, North Bristol NHS Trust
Ian Ducat, South West Trade Union Council (SW TUC)
Prof. David Clarke, Deputy Vice Chancellor, University of Bristol

Anonymous said...

Ahhh. Mr Savage. Never elected but always there ...

Steve Comer said...

I agree with Jon and Gary about openess and transparency in public bodies.
I think they are doing a good job in trying to promote this, though Jon's ittitation with certain officers is clearly showing!

Its important that we recognise that the West of England Partnership is an unelected body. even more reason for it to take its decisions in an open and transparent way. I was hopping to play my part in this at the next Scrutiny meeting, but as you can see it has been 'postponed.'

Bristol Dave said...

I have it on very good authority (and am waiting for proof to publish on my blog) that the designs for BRT over Prince Street bridge, from the very start in 2007, have always been to run the BRT over the existing bridge and these plans have never changed, despite WoEP press releases. There have also been no official plans or designs drawn up for a seperate bridge - despite what they said they were never even toying with the idea.

It's only when you look back and realise that's where all those local news stories about closing the bridge to general traffic came from (prompting angry responses from motorists), before anyone had even heard of the BRT.

Personally I find the prospect of cycling across the bridge with a BRT (especially with the "R") bus right up my arse fairly terrifying.

TonyD said...

As we are discussing unrepresentative regional bodies - am I right in thinking that the Tories want to scrap that other great example of local democracy known as the South West Regional Development Agency and assign some of its powers and authority to the very same unaccountable West of England Partnership mentioned here (to be renamed an Enterprise Partnership)? Or did I just imagine that?

Anonymous said...

Ah good it isn't just me they treat with contempt then.
I have been trying to extract information on BRT routes to the north fringe from WoEP for some months using the FoI act but they claim it is exempt as it is 'information intended for future publication'. I can't believe that exclusion for intended to apply to the minutes and reports for 2008 I was requesting - a ridiculous excuse. They haven't send me a sausage.
I have reworded it to make it more specific, then appealed, which produced only a snotty and dismissive email from the senior solicitor for the council.
I was about to go to the Information Ombudsman but decided to wait and see if the change of transport exec made any difference.
If any politician or blogger would like to help, i will gladly forward the emails.
Steve Meek

Anonymous said...

And another thing.Following our Bristol Cycling Campaign press release and subsequent EP article giving WEP's preposterous 'new bridge' plan mentioned by Chris above, I attended full council on 2nd december 2008.
I asked Mark Bradshaw to categorically deny that the Prince St bridge was the preferred route for the BRT bus.
He didn't of course, but said the bridge was 'not suitable' and the minutes also record him castigating us pesky citizens for daring to question the council's motives. He said 'it was unfortunate that the pilot traffic management scheme for the bridge, undertaken to improve safety, has been used by some to undermine BRT proposals and the investment package being sought for bristol'.
Steve Meek

Chris Hutt said...

Bristol Dave, I've always thought the idea of building a new bridge for BRT simply absurd when Prince Street Bridge can be modified relatively easily and cheaply to take buses so I'm not in the least surprised by what you say.

Although the bridge is 27 metres long it only spans a gap of 12.5 metres so the structural members required to support the weight of a bendy-bus could be contained within the road bed structure with little impact on the overall appearance of the bridge.

Jon Rogers said...

Hi Steve

Happy to chase any outstanding FoI requests.

I have already had positive responses from officers, even though it is the Easter break.

The default position is that information should be public domain unless there is a clear and agreed reason not to make it public.

It may not surprise you that some officers are not very comfortable with this approach.


Anonymous said...

Hang on a minute... without a lot of work on the swing bridge that might be really dangerous, I can just see a bendy bus laden with photogenic victims splashing into the Docks along with a sat-nav using, brain dead HGV driver...

Is that wrong? Should I up my meds?

Bristol Dave said...

Are modifications to the bridge affected by the fact it's a Grade II listed structure?

Anonymous said...


Did your FoI request regarding instructions on FoI requests to BCC officers come to anything?

Pete Goodwin said...

Have I missed something here? Where's the outcry from the motorists - doesn't this plan allow only buses, pedestrians and cyclists across the bridge? I'd have thought a Tory chair of scrutiny should be desperate to raise the topic at the earliest possible time.

As for the bus frequency, remember this route is also supposed to take the existing services from North Somerset - assuming they really can limbo their way under the Cumberland Road bridge. According to the 'corridor options' report that would mean an inter-peak frequency of 13 buses an hour - each way! So... a bus every 2 minutes, more at peak hours. You're too optimistic, Chris.

Chris Hutt said...

Hi Pete, funny I was just thinking exactly the same thing - PSB is going to be closed completely to motor traffic yet so far the media don't seem to have noticed.

Could it be that they don't mind if it's for something noisy and polluting like a diesel bus rather than us smug cyclists? There's some fun to be had here I think.

As for the frequencies, I'll check again but I thought the figures given were as I stated, including the existing country services (Portishead, Clevedon, Nailsea and Weston) diverted onto the BRT route.

I've also noticed that they seem to have abandoned the idea of using kerb guidance and the whole route appears now to be unguided, so really the new construction is nothing more than a road open only to buses.

Pete Goodwin said...

I took the figures from the Steer Davies Gleave report -

"so really the new construction is nothing more than a road open only to buses."

Interesting. So it's merely a limited stop service operated by bendy buses. What makes it special is that it frees up road space for cars.

Chris Hutt said...

Yes, the new construction is essentially about increasing overall road capacity, although the sections on existing roads which involve creating more bus lanes might be said to reduce overall road capacity.

The viability of BRT is predicated on congestion continuing to be a major problem on the highway network and cars continuing to dominate the roads. Otherwise the new construction would offer little if any time savings over the existing road route.

BRT is part of a 'business-as-usual' scenario. But some of us want to see a substantial shift away from a reliance on the private car. Such a 'sustainable' scenario might justify the higher investment in something with greater capacity like a light rail / tram system.

Chris Hutt said...

Pete, I've checked the source for my figure of services every 6 minutes in each direction. It can be found on page 27 of the main report -

However I used the 'interpeak' figure. The peak figure given is for buses every 4 minutes in each direction so every 2 minutes on average. Of course actual use may well increase beyond that level and it's difficult to see how cyclists can be squeezed into such an intense use of the bus/bike side of PSB.

That means that bikes and pedestrians will have to share the 'pedestrian' side which is by no means straight forward given the overall width of 3.5 metres and high levels of use at peak times.

Anonymous said...

Yes Bristol Blogger, I did an FoI request asking for copies of any 'guidance, directives or memoranda issued to officers on responding to FoI requests, in 2008' If none existed, then a copy of the latest guidance officers were expected to follow. I was looking for an explanation for why it had suddenly become much harder to use the act successfully, follwing the successes of the Railway Path BRT plan and the Chocolate Factory dodgy land sale.

They claimed not to receive the first request (through the 'whatdo theyknow' website)then that there were no such documents in existence.
Maybe all the staff dealing with those requests have been on a course in how to avoid giving out any information. or the requests are now handled at a senior level. It certainly needs looking into.
Steve Meek

Jon Rogers said...

On subject of outstanding FoI requests, I have had the following legal officer response,

"FoI requests normally go to the dept that holds the information. Each dept has an FoI rep that is trained to assist staff in providing a response. If a request covers more than one dept or an exemption is being applied then my team provide advice and assistance as necessary.

"In terms of the What Do They Know website, we have received 51 requests and responded to 46. Of the 5 remaining, 1 is being dealt with by xxx who deals with Ombudsman enquiries.

"The other 4 relate to information held by CYPS and all relate to Sefton Park School and/or the Gloucestershire cricket club. Of these, 2 have not been responded to within the statutory 20 day limit and 2 have only been partially responded to.

"I have raised this with the department concerned and will ensure that responses are sent out as a matter of priority and that you are copied in to these responses. "
I have also been in touch with CYPS, and an officer there has responded,

"I will check with xxx next week when she returns from leave but I had been advised that all the Sefton Park FOI requests had been duly dealt with (a few weeks ago).

"There had indeed been some problems at that time about not responding sufficiently quickly and approriately to Sefton Park FOI related issues."

"xxx and I discussed these and agreed both how those ones should be dealt with, and how in future we should make sure that they were dealt with in the expected timescales.

"We are clear that FOI requests must be expedited/dealt with in the required timescales."
I hope this gives some assurance to readers that we take information sharing and openness very seriously and would hope to avoid the need for the same number of FoI requests that seemed to have been needed under our predecessor administration.

Happy to deal directly and personally with any that remain outstanding.