Friday, 1 January 2010

All Change at the Centre?

We've been hearing rumours for a while of plans for some radical changes to traffic patterns around the Centre and Bristol City Council decided to slip the controversial announcement out in the doldrums between Christmas and the New Year. Both the Evening Post and BBC picked it up, followed by a story on bike news site Road CC. The Post story attracted over 200 comments which is pretty good for the middle of a national holiday so they've run it for two more days. The proposals are shown in some detail on the map below (click to enlarge).

 The essential elements of the proposal are that Colston Street and Baldwin Street will be closed to general traffic (except buses and cyclists) at their junctions with the Centre (St Augustine's Parade, Broadquay and Colston Avenue) and the only route through the Centre for general traffic will be north-south (shown east-west on the maps) from below College Green through to Lewin's Mead. Movements via Baldwin Street will not be possible except by circuitous local links. In addition the ends of Denmark Street and St Stephen's Street will be closed off to all traffic to eliminate potential rat runs and further improve the pedestrian realm. The effect of the proposals is more clearly shown on this map.

The Council are consulting on the proposals and to their credit have adapted their 'Ask Bristol' site to become what is in effect a Wordpress blog enabling comments to be posted, viewed and even commented on in turn, in the familiar manner. So far the response to the blog style approach seems to be positive and it's certainly far more engaging that Ask Bristol's previous highly controlled nods towards public engagement.

Comments on the proposed Centre remodelling are predictably mixed and often polarised. Some think the Centre should revert to a glorified traffic roundabout as it was in the 1980s while others think the current proposals far too tame and unambitious. My view is that these are basically sound proposals that strike the right sort of balance between the need to reclaim more of the public realm from the car and the need to accommodate a reasonable level of vehicular access.

Of course there is much more that can and should be done but in reality these things need to be carried through incrementally so that they can bed in and we can all adjust. Too much change in one go will provoke a backlash (and we get a taste of that from the BEP comments) and undermine the longer term objectives. We want to make as much progress as possible but there are limits to how much change people will accept before things get nasty and I suspect these proposals are pushing at that limit already.

The closure of Colston Street in front of the Colston Hall (above foreground) will allow for the creation of a kind of Piazza and complement the work to upgrade the Colston Hall itself. The closure of the end of Baldwin St will remove much of the existing traffic in Baldwin St and even in Park St since Park Row will generally provide the most direct route towards the south and east of the city. Pedestrian movements from the Centre towards the Old City (Corn St) and Broadmead will be much less interrupted by traffic flows into Baldwin St.

The Closure of other streets that currently connect to the Centre, like Denmark St and St Stephen’s St will improve pedestrian permeability and safety and bring those streets into the Centre 'ambience' and perhaps improve trade for businesses in those streets. Restricting the main north-south St Augustine’s Parade traffic to two lanes will allow for reasonable access but discourage through traffic and so minimise the impact of the remaining traffic. This could be complemented by making the whole Centre area subject to 20 mph limits to reduce potential conflict with pedestrians.

There is clearly much detailed work to be done to refine the proposals, for example in terms of accommodating cycle movements and providing priority crossings for pedestrians, but the big battle is to get the main thrust of the proposals accepted. As with the 20 mph proposals, we can play an important role in bringing that about. The Ask Bristol site gives us a suitable platform so let's all give Jon Rogers the support he deserves in trying to bring these much needed changes forward.


Anonymous said...

Chris thanks for your detailed description. The headlines are all incorrect though, it does not remove cars from the City Centre. Any idea on the cost of moving all the concrete about? - usually your first question on transport plans.

Chris Hutt said...

Hi Paul, yes the headlines grossly overstate what may happen, but that's sort of given, isn't it? There's also confusion between the Centre which we Bristolians know as the space created when the Frome was culverted over and the City Centre which is a much larger area.

The proposals wouldn't remove cars entirely but they would severely restrict the capacity of the Centre to accommodate car traffic, particularly if the remaining through route is restricted to one traffic lane in each direction. That will have a knock-on effect on Park Row - Marlborough St to the north and perhaps routes like Cumberland Road to the south.

No indications of costs that I'm aware of other than that it would be funded as part of the BRT allocations for Hengrove Park - North Fringe. We know that BRT will be heavily subsidised by the taxpayer because I believe the 'farebox' is only expected to cover operating costs.

I'm much more interested in the traffic restraint measures than the BRT itself, about which I remain sceptical. I'm not at all sure people will accept it as some sort of transport panacea in the way many would a tram system, even though they are functionally much the same.

But if we are going to get BRT whether we like it or not then we might as well secure whatever associated benefits there might be in terms of streetscape and environmental improvements.