Sunday, 2 August 2009

Bridge of Thighs?

The Bristol Harbour Festival (cost circa £0.4 million) this weekend involves the closure of many city centre roads to allow the crowds to circulate more freely around the St Augustine's Reach area. Our old friend Prince Street Bridge is completely closed to motor traffic, as it should be, and the change in the ambiance on and around the bridge is palpable. People amble across in a relaxed, unhurried manner. Cyclists pick their way through gingerly, not daring to disturb the pedestrians in their way. For walkers crossing the bridge becomes something to savour rather than something to be negotiated cautiously.

Could Prince Street Bridge be like this on a daily basis? The numbers of pedestrians would be less and the numbers of cyclists more, and both would be in more of a hurry, but that is easily resolved by allocating one half of the bridge to each so the Arnolfini side becomes pedestrian only and the Redcliffe side becomes two way for cyclists. In that way all significant conflict is removed and everyone can enjoy crossing the bridge in a relaxed way, except of course for motorists but they have the nearby 4 lane Redcliffe Bridge, not to mention virtually the entire highway network, so are amply provided for elsewhere.

But it seems Bristol City Council do not want to explore such possibilities. As was first revealed here on this blog they plan to use the Redcliffe half of the bridge for Bus Rapid Transit (banning other motor traffic) and then cyclists will either have to share that side with the 18 metre long bendy-buses or share the limited width on the Arnolfini side with pedestrians, neither of which is acceptable.

As we see below from a picture taken during our brief summer the pedestrianised half of the bridge is already under pressure from current levels of use by walkers and cyclists. Further growth in numbers, which is to be expected and desired, may well provoke conflict unless more sensible use can be made of the overall width of the bridge.

One might wonder why general motor traffic cannot be diverted to more suitable crossing points right away as it will have to be if and when BRT is introduced. But that would allow people to become accustomed to a truly traffic free bridge and might result in opposition to the introduction of BRT.

So we must continue to suffer so that nothing may impede the introduction of their precious BRT, on which they pin such ridiculously high hopes. It is after all little more than a tarted up bendy bus with some exclusive lanes and junction priorities, not exactly a "step change" in public transport.


Al Shaw said...

Do you know whether there has been any official research into the cost of either widening this bridge or rebuilding it from scratch? Have those options been considered?

Chris Hutt said...

We have been told that those options have been considered (should be covered in one of my previous posts on PSB) but the bridge is a grade 1 listed structure and English Heritage would be reluctant to see it altered significantly, although strengthening could probably be carried out within the existing roadway structure.

Cllr Jon Rogers. Bristol's Executive Member for Transport, has recently said that they are looking at the option of running along Redcliffe Wharf instead, so avoiding both PSB (at least in the northbound direction) and Redcliffe Bridge.

But that would involve running immediately in front of waterfront housing and would also affect historic features near the Bathurst Basin entrance (which would need to crossed on an openable bridge) so that doesn't look very promising to me.

Tim M. said...

Why exactly is it "not acceptable" for cyclists to share one side of the bridge with bendy buses? I mean, it might not be ideal, but absolutely not acceptable under any circumstances whatsoever? C'mon. It's not like it'd be worse than the current situation - if anything it would be a more controlled environment. And why does the length of the busses matter when it comes to crossing the bridge? It's not like bikes would be crossing the bridge *next* to any of those busses, it would be either in front or behind, so what's the problem? (I'm not a fan of those busses at all myself, but I don't understand the demonisation of bendy busses in the UK - it's just silly. Yes I'm aware of the allegations of them being more risky to cyclists in general, but it's not something I can validate from own experience.)

Chris Hutt said...

Fair points Tim. I suppose it depends on the frequency of the bendy buses. If they were only one every 5 mins on average and they take say 30 secs to clear bridge (during which time cyclists could switch to pedestrian side?) that might not be a big deal.

However if it's not a problem then why build a replacement bridge for cyclists and pedestrians at Ashton Avenue. Surely that too could be operated on a shared basis.

As you say the actual bridge crossing would not be the point of conflict but the approaches and elsewhere where the buses run on street could be problematical.

Still I think a lot of cyclists would feel uncomfortable in close proximity to bendy buses since it's that much more difficult (unless you're good at thinking spatially) to predict their track.

Docsavage said...

Dear Tim M, have you experienced the joy of a First bus taking you off the road on a corner? pushing you out into lanes of traffic despite having seen you in his mirror? stopping dead in front of you without signalling, overtaking you at speed to then pull in sharply? had to brake sharply to avoid a red light jumping speeding bus on the old market roundabout? or best of all having two double deckers side by side force you off the road (outside Habitat on Queens Rd)

sadly I have experienced all of these and more, and my experience is that buses and cyclists really don't mix. If there were a priority system for cyclists or protected aveneue up to the bridge then sharing it might work, but as a cyclist and pedestrian I have seen enough appalling bus behavious to know that isn't going to ahppen in a million years.
Prince street is partially cobbled at just the wrong point,(both sides)this makes it uneven and often dangerous and as a rider you have to get into the middle of the lane in order to stop clowns trying to get around you so that they can then get ahead (the reality here is that they nip around you and then cannot negotiate the bridge at speed so slow to a sudden halt right in front of you.
So I don't think sharing is a good thing, why can't we expect intelligent segregation and safe passage as our right? it's not rocket science.

PeteJ said...

What @Docsavage said: bikes and buses don't mix - my last incident, of many, was being forced into the curb on Cheltenham Road on Saturday. I feel safer surrounded by cars than being anywhere near one of First's finest.

Chris Hutt said...

We've all experienced being forced into the kerb by buses overtaking then immediately pulling into a bus stop. Often it's down to impatience on the part of the bus driver but sometimes there are so many cyclists that it's difficult to see how a bus could ever overtake without having to pull back in before having adequately cleared any cyclists.

Cycling is growing in popularity while buses are declining in popularity (in every sense) yet Showcase bus routes always give the needs of buses priority over those of cyclists. Cycling is proving to be a far more flexible and cost effective alternative to the car than buses and of course it is non polluting which certainly cannot be said of buses. We need to call into question the imbalance of investment and prioritisation in favour of buses at the expense of cyclists.

Anonymous said...

"Cyclists pick their way through gingerly, not daring to disturb the pedestrians in their way" oh come off it! Since when has any cyclist ever been ginger, or not dared to disturb anyone? They go out of their way to mow down as many pedestrians and other innocent bystanders as they can, it seems to me. I know cos I read it in the Bristol Evening Post letters page...

Chris Hutt said...

I was writing about the situation I observed on Saturday. I'm not saying it's the general rule.

Cap'n said...

best thing about the Harbourside festival is the closure of some of the roads, and the joyful experience of being able for a few moments to believe you are actually in a modern city !!!

Copenhagen is a cycling city !!!
Danish Laws favour cyclists and deter motor vehicles, 200% tax on cars, bicycles are given priority in City Planning, cars are in with the city buses and are thereby blocked by the buses and DO NOT INTERFERE with bicycle traffic !!!

All cars are banned from the City centre.

Bristol is not a cycling city, it is in fact one big car park !!!

Tim M. said...

Docsavage: wow, that sounds pretty bad, if not something that should be reported.

However, I was mostly just refering to the issue of normal vs. longer bendy busses, which I don't think makes a huge difference in this particular case.

Inconsiderate drivers with no regard for other people's safety are a problem no matter what vehicle they drive.

There's also no question in my mind that complete segregation would be preferable for all involved, whether pedestrians, cyclicsts, bus drivers or other motorists. It's just not always an option (*), and calling all options that are not perfect 'unacceptable' didn't seem particularly helpful to me.

(*) arguably it would be an option in the BRT/Prince St. bridge case, after all the busses could be routed e.g. via Redcliffe Hill, for example.