Since the Liberal Democrats came to power in Bristol just a year ago we all assumed that the plans to run Bus Rapid Transit (BRT, more popularly known as bendy-bus) down the Railway Path to link Emerson's Green to Temple Meads would be finally laid to rest. Noises were made about giving the Path greater protection and removing the BRT proposal from the development plans for the city. More recently the West of England Partnership published their proposals for their Hengrove to North Fringe BRT route (BRT3) which included a link to Emerson's Green via the Ring Road. So I for one thought that with Emerson's Green to Bristol city centre served by BRT via the M32 and Ring Road we could finally lower our guard on the original proposals for the Railway Path route.
But last night I got a shock. I was in the audience at a Civic Society meeting where Jon Rogers and Peter Mann, Bristol's new Service Director for Transport, were giving a presentation on the council's transport plans when the new plan above (click to enlarge) was briefly displayed. The plan shows diagrammatically the network of what Bristol City Council and the West of England Partnership (WoEP) consider the important transport links (i.e. ignoring walking and cycling) to be secured and improved.
The planned BRT routes are shown in cerise and comprise the Bath route (BRT1), the Long Ashton P&R to Centre route (BRT2), the Hengrove to North Fringe route (BRT3) and the South Bristol 'Link' (Ring Road) route (Hengrove to Long Ashton P&R). All depressingly familiar stuff to those of us that follow these things, but there is one more BRT route shown that comes as something of a shock - Emerson's Green to Temple Meads. There are only two viable BRT routes from Emerson's Green to Temple Meads - the M32/Ring Road corridor followed by BRT3 and the Railway Path (as shown on the map below). So the line shown can only mean the Railway Path is still targeted.
View BRT to Emerson's Green in a larger map
No doubt the WoEP will insist that the Emerson's Green to Temple Meads line is only notional and potential routes have yet to be assessed. But what potential routes are there other than the Railway Path? For comparison I've identified the best available road route (yellow above), mainly via Stapleton Road, Fishponds Road, Downend Road and Westerleigh Road. The road route is slightly shorter than either BRT3 (blue above) or the Railway Path (red above), but narrow, congested, subject to low speed limits and with many traffic signals, totally unsuitable for BRT. Journey times could not begin to compete with the Railway Path or BRT3. A road route for BRT to Emerson's Green is simply not viable.
The WoEP plan document properties show that this version has only just been published this month. It represents the latest thinking of the West of England Partnership and Bristol City Council (the two being effectively the same thing in Bristol transport planning terms). So all the recent talk of finally burying the BRT-on-Railway Path plan seems to have been a smokescreen to distract us from the real strategy of lining the Railway Path route up for implementation on the back of the hoped for success of BRT routes 1, 2 and 3.
Two years ago there was a massive campaign to stop the BRT-on-Railway Path plan, a campaign that succeeded in getting the plan "shelved". Now we know what some of us long suspected, that "shelved" merely means delayed until a more expedient time arrives. So will the campaigners of 2008 rise to the challenge in 2010? With an election on the way now is the moment to finally put the BRT-on-Railway Path plan to death. If we wait for the WoEP to choose a time more favourable to themselves then we might live to deeply regret it.