Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Sustrans Sussed

My friend Josh Hart has just posted a detailed critique of Sustrans on his On The Level blog. Although many cyclists have been unhappy about the direction that Sustrans has taken, including of course this blogger, Josh's piece is probably the most comprehensive assessment so far of what has gone wrong. Since Sustrans now enjoys a very high profile, styling itself as Britain's "leading sustainable transport charity", and is often assumed to represent cyclists' interests, it is important that it is scrutinised in some detail.

Both Josh and I acknowledge the benefit that cyclists (and walkers) have derived from some of Sustrans' better paths, most notably the Bristol & Bath Railway Path (below). In this area we also enjoy the Kennet & Avon Canal towpath from Bath to Devizes and the River Avon path from Ashton to Pill. But all these were created or upgraded in the 1980s. Since then there has been little of significance done in this area, although the funding now channeled through Sustrans is vast by comparison with the meagre shoestrings of the early years. That paradox merits some investigation.

In the 1990s Sustrans made the transition from a small seat-of-the-pants outfit driven by little more than the remarkable energy of John Grimshaw to being a substantial national organisation handling budgets measured in millions. In some ways it was a necessary evolutionary step but it came with a price. Part of that price was the importance that Sustrans now gives to blowing their own trumpet, something that had formerly been neglected. But the adoption of modern, corporate PR techniques has alienated many who once felt comfortable with Sustrans' early maverick image.

As image became more important than substance the attention once given to the detail of cycle routes was sacrificed to achieve grandiose targets for the National Cycle Network (NCN) to gain funding from the National Lottery. The principle of the NCN was to have been that all elements of the network were to be safe enough for a 12 year old to cycle on without adult supervision. But in the rush to deliver thousands of route miles to tight deadlines this was quickly abandoned in favour of an 'interim standard' which meant whatever it took to join up the lines on the map.

The current wave of criticism is not merely negative carping. It is a vital part of the dynamic environment within which we all function and will in due course bring about change. How quickly we see the necessary change depends on how far gone Sustrans is. Will they bury their heads in the sand and carry on currying favour with those with the money bags or will they recognise the need to re-engage with their core constituency, Britain's cyclists?

August 1985. A juggling unicyclist celebrates the official opening of the Bristol section of the Railway Path (pre asphalting).

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

You Paid How Much?

The unsightly clutter of concrete and posts that has recently been installed on Prince Street Bridge was budgeted at £40,000, originally to have come out of the Cycling City budget on the grounds that it was being done to benefit cyclists. That particular ruse was promptly exposed and it now seems unlikely that Bristol City Council will get away with getting half the costs paid by the government on such dubious grounds.

So that's £40k of our money they've just spent. Let's see what we got for it. Firstly they've replaced the original 'wig-wags', the lights that flash to warn of an imminent bridge swing (yes, they were going to charge that to Cycling City!) with new ones combined with traffic signals (the old wig-wags, although recyclable, have been dumped in a skip probably destined for landfill - above). They've also installed 'deflecting' barriers to channel cars to the east side of the bridge (even heading south where no deflection is required) which most people agree look distinctly tacky.

A closer inspection of the barriers reveals some shoddy work. The concrete kerbs, laid on their sides and not properly embedded in the road, are already working loose and the end kerbs do not have rounded corners so present a sharp edge to anyone unfortunate enough to fall (or get knocked over) at the road narrowings, a very likely event given the conflict between pedestrians and cyclists engineered into the design. I and others have observed many near misses already.

Kerbs (pdf) generally have beveled or rounded edges so that they present a less damaging surface but the edges that normally but up to adjacent kerbs are sharp right angles (pic above). The contractors have evidently cut costs by using these kerbs instead of the correct kerbs designed for corners. No surprise that contractors try to 'cut corners', but why didn't anyone from the City Council spot this? Because it's not their money that they're spending, or their heads that are going to get cracked open on the kerbs?

Link to next Prince Street Bridge post

Sunday, 18 January 2009

By George he's back

After a long absence while George Ferguson was swanning around the world pontificating on urban design and the environment, his 'By George' Evening Post column returns with a vengeance. Just after clocking up 10,000 miles of air travel and dumping a whopping 2 tonnes of carbon dioxide on our fragile environment with a trip to Bangalore he sees no irony in promptly jumping on the No Third Runway at Heathrow bandwagon.

In his By George column he says "why oh why , at a time when the world has to reduce pollution and air travel, does our Government propose airport expansion?" (perhaps for the same reason as you chose to swan off to Bangalore, George - putting short term self-interest above long term collective interest?). He goes on to say "A shocking and surprising fact is that we Britons already emit more CO2 from flying than any other people on the planet, and more than double that of the Americans" (and few more than one George Ferguson?).

By this stage of such a rant most of us would feel the little angel of conscience urgently tapping us on the shoulder, but not George. He's just getting into his stride.
"I have listened to the business case for expansion but it is one that I find far fetched and self-seeking by a small but powerful London-centric minority."
This is why George's column is such a rich vein for those of us daring to oppose any of his own 'expansion' plans, such as his attempted land grab at Greenbank. How tempting it is to adapt his words in defense of the 170 metres of historic Railway Path hedgerow that George dismisses as "completely pointless" in his bid to replace it with hotel blocks and terraced housing, supported by 250 car parking spaces!

But eventually even George feels the incessant tapping on his shoulder and decides it's time to steer the blame away from those Very Important People who make those essential jaunts to Bangalore, and Venice, and Dublin (to defend some property tycoon's interests in a Planning Inquiry - nice little earner was it George?). So let's see, who can he scapegoat -
"Surely the greatest forms of unnecessary air travel are domestic flights ..." (actually, no George, all air travel is unnecessary (most people in the world still manage entirely without it) and domestic flights represent a small minority of UK flights).

He goes on "Interestingly the fast rail link between London, Paris and Brussels has reduced air traffic between these capitals to near zero" (actually George, 2.4 million passengers flew between London and Paris in 2007, not quite "near zero"). Sloppy homework, but you can see where he's heading - travel is for the well-heeled and well connected who can afford to use trains in the UK and air for longer haul, while for the rest of us "holidays abroad...become less necessary as temperatures rise and and exchange rates become unfavourable".

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Another Month, Another Message

Last December saw Bristol's Cycling City project kick off with a highly publicised purge against cyclists riding through red lights. Apparently the ambivalence with which red lights had been treated by many cyclists was no longer to be tolerated. In fact offenders were to have their names added to the Anti-Social Behaviour Database, which is something unprecedented for a one-off traffic offense.

But that was soooh last year, darling. Now in January 2009 a new message is proudly proclaimed via the latest Cycling City initiative, the partial closure to motor traffic of Prince Street Bridge. The new arrangements channel north bound cyclists through a red light (pic above) without any intention that they should stop for it! There is no stop line, an implicit negation of the stop instruction of the red light. So the new message is 'at red lights, use your discretion as to whether it's safe to proceed', which is what many of us have long been doing.

OK, it's January, so it's alright for cyclists to use their discretion. But what about February? Will the policy change again? How are cyclists expected to keep up the the inconsistent diktats of those who know best? I think I have a solution. How about special sets of traffic lights just for cyclists on the main arterial routes. Green will signal that a discretionary approach is acceptable, red that discretion is not tolerated and amber that the policy is about to change?

Unusual light combination on Prince Street Bridge (long exposure).

Link to next Prince Street Bridge post.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

More Trouble at t'Path

The Bristol & Bath Railway Path has rarely been out of headlines over the last year, from the time last January when Bristol City Council's proposals to turn it into a bus route broke until they were 'shelved' in April and supposedly dealt a 'death blow' in June (just as the Council submitted its bid for Cycling City status), then the outbreak of violent muggings in June, followed by controversy over the Council backed land grab to expand the Chocolate Factory development onto the Railway Path land and finally various incidents of assault.

This year so far the focus is on a spate of 'accidents', often resulting in nasty injuries to cyclists. First there were large numbers of accidents caused by ice on the Path (and elsewhere - see pic above) during the cold weather. It turned out that the Council had no arrangements in place for gritting cycle paths although main roads are systematically treated well in advance of freezing weather. This contrasts with the practice in truly cycle friendly countries like Holland and Denmark where cycle paths are treated in just the same way as any other strategically important route.

Now crashes are apparently being caused by inadequate marking of 'roadworks' being carried out on the Path to repair root damage (below). Path users have been asking for the root damage to be repaired for many, many years and it was only after the city was awarded Cycling City status in June that the Council finally decided they couldn't shirk their responsibilities any longer.

So cyclists are pleased that the root damage was to be repaired at last, but the sting in the tail is that works are being left in an unsafe condition overnight, especially on the unlit sections of the Path around Fishponds and Staple Hill. Hindsight suggest that a condition of any contract let for such works should specify that the Path should be reinstated by the end of each day. It should be perfectly practical to cut open the damaged section, dig out the root and reinstate the surface within a few hours.

Comments posted on the online Post article are telling.
"I raised this issue with the cycling team at BCC a few weeks ago, they referred me onto the person in The Parks Dept who was responsible for the contract. I left a number of messages with them, to date, I am still waiting for them to 'phone me back."
"I was really annoyed by this as well. I very nearly came off my bike but managed to balance myself at the last second. However the impact on my bikes wheel caused me to get a puncture which meant I had to walk all the way home from Fishponds to Hotwells....On a freezing cold night this was not fun!! My colleague wrote to the council a few months ago informing them that this part of the cycle path was pitch black and that she did not feel safe, she is still awaiting a reply."
Once again the competence of the City Council to manage the Path (or anything else) is called into question.

Questions also arise about the recording of cycle path 'accidents'. Unless injuries are quite severe it's unlikely that any the the hundreds of injury accidents that occur on cycle paths will be recorded by the police. This gives the impression of cycle paths being much safer than they are and perhaps that leads to complacency when it comes to safety management.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

The Incredible Shrinking Land

Time to return once again to the perennial subject of the incompetence of Bristol City Council. Having had their dodgy deal to sell a section of the Railway Path embankment at Greenbank exposed to public scrutiny, they have been forced to undertake a Public Consultation on whether the land sale should go ahead. As reported here and on Bristol Greengage, the consultation appears to have been heavily biased in favour of the sale by linking it strongly to the question of whether the Chocolate Factory development as a whole should take place (which should of course be considered as a separate issue).

The land in question is shown in the plan above (click to enlarge), provided by the Council's Property Services dept and first made public here back in September. The most contentious element is the blue coloured land which is the embankment slope which supports the mature hedgerow that gives the Railway Path its rural aspect. The developer, Squarepeg, intend to cut this away to accommodate a 7 story tower and other buildings. The green coloured land is a strip along the top of the embankment which Squarepeg want to 'reprofile' and build stepped accesses over.

Now look at plan (above) which is included in the public consultation documents issued by Bristol City Council, showing what purports to be the same land as Plot 1. Notice anything different? Yes, it's only about half the size of that shown in the original plans. Even Plot 2 (land proposed to be leased for 'reprofiling') is misrepresented, not quite extending to the eastern end of the site as shown in the original plan.

Now we all make mistakes, which is why everything should be double checked, especially if it's for use in a quasi judicial process like a Public Consultation, but such elementary checks seem to be too much trouble for Bristol City Council. So how does this affect the validity of the Public Consultation? On the face of it the public have been grossly misled about the extent of the land involved, but the Council seem to think that the error doesn't affect the underlying principles.

The misleading plan wasn't the only fault exposed by bloggers. The on-line questionnaire was sending out error messages when submitted, causing almost as much frustration as the biased formulation of the questions. It seems that the problem arose because no one in the Council thought to check the function of the questionnaire from a computer outside the protection of the Council's firewall. Any IT competent person would understand the importance of extensive testing of such interactive sites and systems exist precisely for this purpose. As it is it took the Council a month to remedy the defect despite many complaints being submitted and even posted on publicly viewable websites.

Talking about making mistakes, I think I should apologise to PPS, the consultants engaged by the Council to conduct the land sale consultation, for appearing to hold them responsible for the biased nature of the consultation and questionnaire in my previous posting on this. It seems that the most obvious failings were down to Bristol City Council rather than PPS, although you might have thought PPS should have checked these things too.

Monday, 12 January 2009

The Solipsism of Sustrans

Followers of this blog will have noticed that there is no love lost between me and my erstwhile confederates at Sustrans, so no apologies for bringing this little gem to you, courtesy of the excellent Crap Cycling & Walking in Waltham Forest.

The picture below is of Leytonstone High Street (north-east London), complete with the now typical token 'cycle' lane forcing cyclists into conflict with both passing vehicles and opening car doors (the correct position to adopt as a cyclist is well outside the 'cycle' lane).

Well it seems that Sustrans are in town, having got a whiff of some Olympics related funding, and their promotional materials comments as follows -
"The design of Leytonstone High Street is cycle and pedestrian friendly, while also allowing motorised traffic to pass through."
So there we have it, the model of 'cycle friendliness' to which Sustrans subscribe. It explains a lot, doesn't it? And guess what, these solipsistic goons from planet Sustrans have a leading role in Bristol's Cycling City project.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

How Much is a Life Worth?

I've decided to gen up on the whole 'road safety' issue in preparation for some searching questions about why so many people are getting killed and injured on our roads here in Cycling City. As you might expect it's not the most engaging reading and one suspects that it is presented in as dry a way as possible to avoid emotive responses. A road safety vocabulary and jargon has evolved to avoid terms like killing or maiming or crippling. Instead they talk about fatalities and KSIs (killed and seriously injured).

Despite the jargon there's much food for thought there. One thing that struck me as particularly curious is how they value of a person's life or well being is determined in order to show whether road safety measures are justified or not (I did say it was dry stuff). You may shudder at the thought of your life being so precisely valued, but it would be stupid to spend say £1 million on a measure likely to save one life every ten years and then have no funds left to spend on another measure that would save one life per year, so it seems these sorts of calculations have to be made.

So we find under the Road Safety Economics heading of Bristol's Road Casualty Review that the Department for Transport give us figures for the value of saving a life which vary according to the type of road. On urban roads a life is worth £1.55 million but on a motorway a life is worth £1.75 million - 13% more. The difference is even more pronounced for slight injuries, worth paying £18k to avoid on urban roads but almost £26k on motorways - 41% more.

Why is the health and safety of motorway users worth so much more than users of urban roads? Could it be that people killed or injured on urban roads are more likely to be pedestrians or cyclists rather than motorists? Are the lives of pedestrians and cyclists judged to be worth less than those of motorists, perhaps because they are likely to be less economically productive? I've some more digging to do on this, but I don't like the sound of it one bit.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Another Cyclist Killed

On Tuesday we learnt of the death of a young cyclist following a collision with a car on the Portway at the junction with Sylvan Way (below). Today we learn that the cyclist was the 29 year old son of a veteran Bristol Councillor, Peter Abraham. A needless death is always tragic for friends and relatives, especially when the victim is so young with so much to look forward to in life. But so many of us know Peter Abraham in some way, even if only from the odd picture in the local paper, that the grief will be widely felt in Bristol.

Nick Abraham's untimely death as a cyclist is, regrettably, not such a rare event. Just a few days earlier a female cyclist suffered serious injuries when run over by a car near Clevedon, last month a 39 year old cyclist, Paul Conley, was killed by a car while cycling into Bristol on the A370 and over last summer a 58 year old cyclist, Peter Taylor, was killed in collision with a car on a country lane just south of Dundry and another the victim of a hit-and-run motorist near Cribbs Causeway.

There are also hundreds of less serious but nevertheless sometimes devastating injuries being sustained by Bristol cyclists, often as a result of collisions with motor vehicles. It is too early to start apportioning blame in the most recent cases, but there are general indications of a fundamental problem when motorists and cyclists co-exist on roads where higher speed limits apply, as was the case in all the examples cited.

All roads, except motorways, are cycle and pedestrian routes, even if the number of such users is relatively small. As such all roads must be managed and maintained in a manner that is consistent with their safe use by pedestrians and cyclists. That is a legal obligation for the local authority. Above all that means containing speeds, with effective enforcement, within the limits of what is compatible with the safety of the most vulnerable users even if it is inconvenient for those protected by metal shells.

Bristol's Cycling City project is hoping to encourage many more people to cycle. To do so without first addressing such fundamental safety issues would be irresponsible.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Parking - the Burning Issue

Last Sunday I described the current Residents' Parking Scheme as divisive in that opposing views within communities were becoming polarised with competing websites and leafleting, but I hadn't realised quite how far things have already deteriorated. At last night's Council 'call-in' meeting one of the pro-RPS campaigners reported that serious threats have been made via email, specifically to set fire to her car and house.

The email said "hope you have a fire proof letterbox" and warned her she also faced having excrement posted through her door. The recipient, criminal lawyer Suzanne Gardner, said "I had an e-mail from what turned out to be a fake name, saying our car might be burned, and that this person and several others wanted to come to set fire to our house, so they hope we have a fireproof letter box".

All this in relatively well-heeled Cliftonwood. What will happen when RPS is rolled out into less middle class areas where people are less inclined to vent their anger through such literary media as emails? I think this underlines the point I made in my previous post - that we urgently need to develop a less confrontational way of progressing the Controlled Parking Zones that are essential to cope the excess of demand over supply when it comes to inner city parking spaces.

My suggestion remains that people should have the choice of opting in or out on an individual household basis. This would do much to reduce, although not entirely eliminate, the sense of RPS being imposed on unwilling residents. Anyone who didn't like it would simply remain out of the RPS scheme and continue to compete for those parking spaces that remained uncontrolled, which would be whatever was left over after enough spaces had been brought within the RPS to meet the basic (one car per household?) needs of those who have opted in.

Of course in practice everyone would realise, sooner or later, that opting in to RPS is hugely advantageous and the cost, at least the £30 for the first car, purely nominal. Even a household with 2 cars will only pay £55 per car which is a tiny fraction of the value of such parking spaces. So the net effect will be that RPS will be accepted more readily in the first place and spread more rapidly, but on an entirely voluntary basis.

One critic of my proposal said that it would result in more motorists cruising around looking for the remaining uncontrolled spaces, which is true if there were significant numbers of uncontrolled spaces remaining . But I believe that in practice virtually everyone would opt in once they saw the disastrous consequences of remaining out of RPS, so there would be few if any uncontrolled spaces. The more rapid spread of RPS beyond the pilot areas would result in less 'cruising' for parking spaces overall.

Pics - Pavement parking courtesy of Ambra Vale residents.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

More Green Crapital

The Independent on Sunday is the latest media outlet to fall for Bristol City Council's specious Green Crapital propaganda. Today's edition says -
Bristol is set for a boom in responsible city breakers, having just been shortlisted as the first European Green Capital. It has proportionally more open spaces than other UK cities; many hotels and B&Bs committed to the Green Tourism Business Scheme; great local farmers' markets; it occupies pole position as the UK's first official Cycling City; and Bristol is also home turf of both the Soil Association and Sustrans, there's plenty to attract green-minded visitors.

So let's have a look at those "many hotels" committed to the Green Tourism Business Scheme. Checking 'Green' businesses for Bristol, we find just 11 businesses listed in all (although only 3 are in central Bristol, most being on or beyond the urban fringe). Three of the 11 are "awaiting grading" which suggests that you can sign up for it without first being assessed - hmm. Seven of the 11 are hotels, one with a gold award, three with silver, one bronze and two awaiting grading, although only three are in Bristol proper and only two are central, so not a lot of choice after all for anyone travelling in a 'green' manner.

Taking a closer look at the one hotel with a gold award, we find the Cadbury House Hotel and Country Club conveniently located for Bristol at, er, Congresbury. So how 'green' is that? Let's see what the hotel has to say for itself via the blurb on the Green Tourism Business website -
Cadbury House Hotel, Health Club & Spa is a stunning luxury 4 star contemporary chic hotel. Set amongst a backdrop of woodland on Cadbury Hill, the hotel can boast unrivalled views across the Bristol Channel and beyond into Wales. Staying at the hotel enables you to enjoy the Cadbury experience – stay in comfort & luxury in one of our individually designed bedrooms that offer extreme comfort in contemporary surroundings, features the most modern technology and amenities within a contemporary and luxurious design. Guests can enjoy complimentary on-site car parking and a fantastic location with easy access to M5 and Bristol International Airport, fine dining in our 2 AA rosette restaurant and first class table service offering food all day in the bar and a multi award winning health club and spa in the club. A fantastic venue whether you are staying on business or leisure.

Nothing that I can see giving the slightest hint of it being 'green', except in the sense of it being in a visually green setting. Remember this is what the hotel itself has chosen to highlight for the Green Tourism Business website. Their own website is even worse, boasting of being "only minutes from M5 motorway junctions, Bristol Airport and Bristol City Centre" - yes, they market themselves as an appropriate place to stay for the city centre! Perhaps they are assuming you will wish to avail yourself of their on-site luxury car hire with their "fleet of Mercedes, Audi and Chrysler saloon cars".

The fact that the Green tourism Business Scheme have seen fit to award this hotel - this exemplar of conspicuous consumption and irresponsible self-indulgence, this major generator of car traffic and panderer to air travel - a gold rating shows what cynical sophistry the whole Bristol Green Capital scam is based on. They don't merely take us for fools but imbeciles incapable of discerning the most blatant lies and deceits. And when we see once reputable organisations like the Soil Association and Sustrans lending their names to such garbage we can only conclude that their assessment of our moral and intellectual faculties isn't far off the mark.

Friday, 2 January 2009

Residents' Parking - the Democratic Option?

Bristol City council's plan to introduce Residents Parking Schemes (RPS) this year is proving predictably controversial. Following the council's initial consultations last summer it became clear that there was a fair measure of support for RPS in some inner city areas abutting the existing Central CPZ (Controlled Parking Zone), particularly Kingsdown, Cliftonwood and parts of Clifton.

These areas suffer from high levels of parking by commuters displaced from the city centre by the cost of parking in the Central CPZ. Residents and visitors alike find it extremely difficult to find parking spaces in those areas and illegal, obstructive and arguably dangerous parking is rife. In addition the levels of car ownership within some of these areas, where most houses have been converted into flats, may well exceed what is available even without commuters. So it is not surprising that there is a support for RPS.

However there remain a substantial minority in the proposed RPS areas who are opposed to the idea and many outside the proposed RPS areas who also oppose the idea because of the knock-on effects on their areas as parking is displaced outwards. At the same time there is also a substantial minority outside these areas who support the idea and want to be included, for much the same reason, including this blogger.

There is evidence of building resentment between the pro RPS and anti RPS camps with rival web sites and rival leafleting taking place. The divisions have been amusingly characterised on Bristol Traffic in sectarian terms. The next big confrontation will be on Monday 5th January when the RPS is reconsidered by a Council committee following a call-in decision by the Conservatives last month. Both camps are expected to turn out in force to bolster their positions, so it should be good for entertainment value.

All of which led me to wonder if there was a less divisive, more democratic option whereby people could opt in or out of the RPS on an individual household basis rather than the currently planned collective area basis which is bound to cause resentment. Of course individual households will be able to choose whether to sign up to the RPS and thereby have access to the controlled parking spaces within the area under the present proposals, but the provision of controlled parking spaces will be all-or-nothing, within or without the defined zones.

But what if the provision of controlled parking spaces was made proportional to demand? Suppose 50% of households in a particular area want to opt in to RPS, why couldn't an equal number of controlled parking spaces be provided, only available to those household who have chosen to pay to join the RPS? Those households who choose to remain out of the RPS will continue to compete for the remaining uncontrolled spaces as at present.

Some or all of the controlled parking spaces could double up as Pay-and-Display spaces as in the existing Central CPZ to make better use of any spaces unused during the day. That would help address the visitor parking issue. Pay-and-Display charges would have to remain high (£1 per hour?) through the evenings and week-ends (unlike in the existing CPZ) to ensure that spaces remain available to RPS residents at these times.

Signing of the RPS may be more complicated than with an all-or-nothing approach, but if so that is something that could be resolved in due course with appropriate changes to the regulations. Other than that I can't think of any significant objection, other than it being an innovative approach (shock, horror). Of course there's no chance of the Council giving this option serious consideration unless pressured to do so by the public, so it's up to you lot. Is it worth a look, to avoid a lot of resentment and unpleasantness creating rifts in our communities?

Illegally parked cars pictured - P939MLX, VD05CTE, LD54ZPY, WU54NXW

Thursday, 1 January 2009

Brunel Bridge in Post

The story about the Brunel Swivel Bridge being dropped from the planned Festival Way cycle and walking route, which was broken here earlier this week, has now been picked up by the Evening Post. The Post article gives more details of the 'promises' made by Sustrans to the effect that the historic swing bridge would be included in the route. According to the Post -
A year ago Sustran's former chief executive John Grimshaw told The Post work on the bridge would be "the icing on the cake" for the new path.

Speaking about the scheme last December (2007) Mr Grimshaw said: "One key part will be the reinstatement of Brunel's so-called 'forgotten bridge' now enjoying the media spotlight of national and local news coverage". But now it appears that is off the table.

The question that inevitably arises is whether the promoters of the Festival Way, Bristol City Council and Sustrans, ever really thought that using the Brunel Bridge was a realistic option. To those of us familiar with Sustran's modus operandi it would come as no surprise to learn that the the idea of using the bridge had only been incorporated into the plans to win support from influential local groups like Clifton & Hotwells Improvement Society (CHIS) and Hotwells and Cliftonwood Community Association, both of whom have supported the restoration of the bridge.

No doubt every effort will now be made to show that the restoration of the Brunel Bridge to working order would be prohibitively expensive, but will the assessment of the options, including the current plan for a new crossing on top of the lock gates (pic below), be made public so that we can see for ourselves and, if necessary, get a second opinion? Up till now it appears to have been handled in a typically secretive way, even though the project is being funded by the public.

Another complicating factor has come to light. For technical reasons it is necessary to keep the lock gates open at times of high tide (about 200 times a year) to allow water heading up the river to spread into the docks rather than flood. At these times, which can each last for up to an hour, a lock gate crossing, as is now planned, would be closed to users who would then have to follow diversions which would bring them into conflict with motor traffic. The Brunel Bridge could remain in use at such times.

What is at stake here is more than just the restoration of the Brunel Bridge but the status of the planned cycle/walking route which needs to 'showcase' a change in priorities away from catering for cars and towards catering for people-powered travel. That means that salient features like bridge crossings need to be perceived as prestigious as well as commodious, in the way that has been achieved with a string of new traffic free bridges across the Floating Harbour further upstream such as the Cheesegrater Bridge.

Of course it is not inconceivable that a new crossing built on top of the lock gates could be prestigious and commodious, but given the evidence that the Festival Way project is now being driven by a parsimonious approach to funding on new infrastructure it seems unlikely. If however significant funding is available for the creation of a suitably prestigious structure, why not kill two birds as it were and combine that with the restoration of an important example of Brunel's engineering genius?