Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Chris's Customized Cycle Cavalcade

Chris Hutt passed away late February / early March 2010, aged 59 years.
His funeral was held at Canford Crematorium on the 30th April 2010.

I adapted and decorated a large bicycle to carry my dad's coffin with a cavalcade of cyclists following behind the cycle hearse to the crematorium.
Around 80 people turned up to say fair well. Thank you all, I was very touched and pleased that so many people made it.

Special thanks to:-
Kevin & Sylvie, Dorothy, Rosalind & Peter, and Rob & Mary
for all their help with the funeral arrangements, also the guest speakers at the service.

Below some sample images from the cycle cavalcade.
Thank you everyone who has contributed to the success of this bolg.
Chris Hutt Jnr. (Son).

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Railway Path Still Targeted for Bus Route

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.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Residents' Parking - A Way Forward?

Bristol City Council's proposals to introduce Residents Parking Schemes in Kingsdown and Cliftonwood have suffered a setback with a largely negative public response,  based on an admittedly  poor response rate, to the latest round of consultations. In Cliftonwood 57% of those responding were opposed and in Kingsdown 47% were opposed compared to 45% in favour. Only the area of Kingsdown south of Cotham Road showed a tiny majority (46.1% to 45.5%) in favour of the RPS.

Typical footway blocking in the area south of Queen's Road, Clifton - P120NRL.

It's hard to see how the Council can continue with the schemes in the face of such a response. Even the majority in the smaller Kingsdown Zone is wafer thin and hardly a solid base for proceeding. The council will decide how to proceed at its Cabinet meeting on March 25th, but is expected to delegate the decision on the Kingsdown scheme to David Bishop, the Strategic Director of City Development, which sounds to me like an attempt by the politicians to distance themselves from what will inevitably be a controversial decision whichever way it goes.

It seems clear that the Cliftonwood and north-of-Cotham Road areas will not now proceed which will leave the very obvious problems (pictured) largely unresolved. So is there perhaps a way forward that somehow reconciles the opposing factions? Back in January of last year I floated an idea which could do that, so it is perhaps time to resurrect it. The essence of my approach is to let people decide whether to be part of a Residents' Parking Scheme (RPS) on an individual basis. What could be more democratic than that?

To give a practical example supposing in a particular street there were 50% of households who wanted to opt in to an RPS, why not allocate 50% of the available parking spaces to the scheme and allow the remainder to remain uncontrolled?  Nobody need be forced in to an RPS they don't agree with. Those households who choose to remain out of the RPS will continue to compete for the remaining uncontrolled spaces as at present. The costs of setting up and managing the schemes would be borne solely by those opting in.

Such an approach could develop incrementally with people opting in or out whenever they like, subject to changes to the street markings. It need not be limited to narrowly defined areas either. In theory anyone, anywhere in Bristol could apply for an RPS in their street, even if they were the only one interested. One space could be allocated to the one member of the scheme who would pay the costs. Simple enough? Well not quite so simple in practice of course but no more complicated than the present scheme.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

And Quiet Flows the Avon

The River Avon tow path from Netham up to Hanham and Keynsham, subject of my previous post, is one of our local gems and deserves to be made more accessible to all. Comments on the last post drew attention to one of the worst discontinuities, the 300 metre length of Conham Road (shown red in map at end of post) that cannot currently be avoided when connecting the Netham - Crew's hole section with the Conham - Hanham section. There is a narrow footway but perversely it runs on the opposite side of the road to the tow path connections at either end.

Here we see a family attempting to cross from tow path to footway at the Conham end. They've moved as far as they can down the road to keep away from the blind corner to the right behind the photographer. Visibility in the other direction is better but still not very good, so the crossing manoeuvre remains risky despite all their precautions. Sadly their concern for their safety is not shared by the highway authority, Bristol City Council, who appear to have done nothing to resolve this problem.

Eventually a brief gap in the traffic gives our family a chance to cross, but they will be confronted by a similar problem just 300 metres further on to regain the tow path at Crew's Hole, hardly an incentive to enjoy the Avon Valley as a walker. So what's is to be done? Well, probably nothing unless Bristol City Council have a big change in attitude and 'priorities', putting safety before the right of motorists to treat our streets like motorways. But let's suppose that such a day arrives, what are the options?

The most obvious option is to switch the footway from the inland side of the road (below, looking towards Conham) to the riverside. At the same time the footway could be widened to say 3 metres to be suitable for shared use with cyclists on the same basis as the rest of the route from Netham to Hanham. However this would effectively reduce the carriageway (road) to a single track road so motor traffic would have to be managed differently.

Apart form a limited amount of local access Conham Road is mainly used as a rat run to avoid the A431 above the valley and as such there is little justification for maintaining the existing traffic volumes and speeds.  Since the section of Conham Road in question is just 300 metres one option would be to introduce traffic signals to allow shuttle operation one way at a time. Alternatively this section of could be made one-way to give sufficient space for a cycle/walkway on the riverside. Such measures need not be prohibitively expensive and could be implemented quite quickly on an experimental basis to establish their practicality.

So why have Bristol City Council, and Avon County Council before it, done nothing for more than 30 years? And more importantly, why will Bristol City Council continue to do nothing for at least the next 5 years, despite its pretensions to be a cycling city and to promote walking? May I suggest Institutional Motorism - a deep rooted prejudice in favour of motorised traffic at the expense even of the safety, let alone the convenience, of those that dare to travel on foot or bicycle?

View River Avon - Netham to Keynsham and Bitton in a larger map

Monday, 8 February 2010

Hope for the Avon Path?

A piece in today's Evening Post reports that some progress may be being made behind the scenes towards upgrading the old tow-path along the River Avon between Conham and Hanham. You may recall that I blogged about the current appalling state of the tow-path last year, which resulted in some much  neglected maintenance being carried out within a few days. It seems that the publicity might have had a more far reaching effect because the two local councils with riparian responsibilities, Bristol City Council and South Gloucestershire Council, are actually talking to each other about dealing with the problems. Those familiar with local politics will know that this is no small achievement in itself.

The upgrading of the River Avon tow-path was proposed by local campaign group Cyclebag (the precursor to Sustrans) back in 1978 as part of its proposals for the creation of a Bristol to Bath Cycle/Walkway. It was originally envisaged that the route should follow the Avon to a point south of Bitton where the former Midland Railway branch line would be joined to continue to Bath. The former railway section was built the following year, 1979, as a result of a remarkable volunteer effort powered through by John Grimshaw in particular. But the River Avon section remained largely untouched except for some upgrading between Netham and Conham about 10 years ago. So perhaps 32 years later it is at last timely to progress this scheme, not least in the context of Bristol's Cycling City aspirations?

Although the Bristol to Bath cycle route ended up following the former Midland railway all the way back to Bristol via Mangotsfield, a rather circuitous route, the River Avon tow-path route still has great potential to make an outstanding contribution to the range of recreational routes available to cyclists and walkers around Bristol. As indicated in the map below it could also provide a practical commuting and utility route linking Keynsham to Bristol, far more agreeable than slogging down the A4, and an attractive alternative to the established Bristol & Bath Railway Path.

View River Avon - Netham to Keynsham and Bitton in a larger map

As always emails and letters to the local authorities and relevant councillors will help spur them towards finding practical solutions. It seems from the Evening Post story that South Glos councillor Andy Perkins is taking a particular interest so messages of support and appreciation in that direction might be timely, as well as our old friend Jon Rogers, Bristol's transport supremo.This path really could be a jewel in the crown of cycling around Bristol so think of the warm glow to be experienced in future years when you can take some small credit for having helped rescue this path from dereliction and decay.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

The Railway Path - Before and After

Following on from yesterday's post about the excessive tree felling on the Railway Path north of Ridgeway Road I've dug out a few pics to try to give a 'before and after' effect. The before pics, taken without permission from Martyn's railwaypath blog, were taken in the spring of 2008 and so include foliage which would not be present in mid winter, but it gives some idea of the impact on the visual environment of the Path, even allowing for some greening of the denuded embankments over the next few months. One can at least see why the impact is a bit shocking to regular Path users who have grown used to feeling as though they are travelling through dense woodland.

Above and berlow - looking northeast towards Lodge Causeway Bridge from a position north of Drummond Road footbridge.

All the tree felling depicted here is on the south side of the Path. The lighting trench is being installed on the north side so the damage to tree roots will be confined to the that side. Likewise the need to clear around the lighting columns to avoid foliage obscuring them will be confined to the north side. Virtually all the south side felling is unnecessary in the context of the installation of lighting.

Above and below - looking southwest towards Drummond Road footbridge.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Overkill on the Railway Path?

Over at Fishponds work has just started on extending the street lighting of the Bristol & Bath Railway Path from Ridgeway Road to Staple Hill Tunnel. The work involves digging a trench alongside the Path for the electricity cables and a certain amount of disruption and visual impact is inevitable, but some Path users have expressed concern at the extent of the impact on the once green corridor.

One can understand that a certain amount of cutting back of existing vegetation is required, including the removal f trees that have grown too close to the Path. As a general principle about a metre or so of grass verge should be maintained either side of the tarmac path itself to ensure that the full width can be used and to ensure reasonable sight lines. Lighting also needs to be clear of envelopment by adjacent foliage. But the contractors seem to be taking things too far.


It seems pretty clear that many mature trees well over a metre from the Path have been felled. Is this really necessary? The effect is devastating, reminding me of how the old railway looked back in the early 1980s before the Path was built. Of course the vegetation will grow back but the trees will take decades to recover. The importance of the 'greenness' of the Railway Path corridor cannot be overstated. It was the loss of the 'green' quality that above all prompted thousands to protest against Bristol City Council's recent plans to build a BRT bendy bus track along the Path.


At least one complainant has taken the initiative of emailing Bristol's 'Transport Supremo' Jon Rogers about this and I urge others to do the same. We know from bitter experience over many years, indeed decades, that we cannot entrust the care of the Railway Path to the local authorities. They lack the awareness of the sensitivities that rightly attach to the Railway Path which still represents a rare example of the popular will overcoming bureaucratic intransigence.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Slow and Nice

Now that the snow and ice is disappearing it is perhaps time to become a little nostalgic about it. Of course there were problems with ungritted pavements (as I may have mentioned) and neglected cycle paths, but every cloud has a silver lining and so with the snow and ice - it radically reduced the speed and volume of traffic which is the holy grail for many environmentally minded campaigners. At a stroke Mother Nature achieved what we mere humans can only dream of - a city where cars were rarely used, where everyone drove slowly and cautiously, where walking became the default mode of transport and where people suddenly found that they had time to stop and talk to each other.

Others have waxed lyrical on the same theme. Even hard case Evening Post columnist Mike Ford (the Bedminster Bigmouth) seems almost human in his latest column. Those commentators attribute the change in the public mood to the snow and ice but I suggest that it was as much the secondary effect of dramatically suppressing vehicular traffic which transformed out streets from hazardous race tracks to places to enjoy at a gentle walking pace. So many people have remarked on how much more sociable our local streets became over the last few weeks with neighbours stopping to talk to each other for perhaps the first time ever.

In part I think this renaissance in sociability was down to the fact that the street itself (and not just the narrow footways at the side) became a relatively safe place to walk, or just to stand and chat. The presumption that the street was the exclusive domain of vehicles was called into question by the impassable nature of the snow and ice covered footways. Everyone seemed to recognise this and even the 4x4 brigade seemed a little less arrogant. On almost every street except those that had been cleared most people took to walking down the middle of the road out of sheer necessity.

So can we reclaim something of that pedestrian friendliness and sociability by slowing and restraining traffic as a matter of course? That is certainly what many hope and the widespread support for the 20's Plenty (20 mph) campaign is I believe based largely on such aspirations. I'm tempted to ask whether we should perhaps abandon pavements in some streets and encourage people to walk down the middle of the road instead. This approach is known as 'shared space' but remains very controversial with many feeling that pedestrians would then be at the mercy of bullying motorists. At least let's all think about the lessons that we can learn from the Slow and Nice experience of the last few weeks.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Why Cycling City is Off Track

Tonight (but see PS below) I get my 15 seconds or so of fame in a TV programme, Inside Out,  going out at 7.30 pm on BBC 1. My brief appearance will be part of a 10 minute slot on Cycling City, also featuring Cllr Jon Rogers and a few other local cycling savants. Basically Jon will be seen shivering out on the St Werburgh's path being upbeat and positive while I will be seen shivering on Hartcliffe Way being critical and negative. We were both interviewed (separately) for about an hour or so, but little of what was said will find its way into the programme, perhaps just a few sound bites to fit the narrative.

One sound bite that I'm sure will be used is when I am asked if Cycling City is succeeding or failing and I reply....well, you guess. So why is it failing? Well in the first place it set itself hopelessly unrealistic targets, especially doubling the number of cyclists within the three years, and so by its own criteria it's bound to fail. If it was merely a question of setting over ambitious targets Cycling City might be forgiven - we've all been there. But the problems are more fundamental than that.

I blogged about these fundamental problems on many occasions but in essence in comes down to a lack of honesty and openness which we can trace back a very long way, through the previous Labour administration of Bristol City Council to Cycling England and Sustrans. All subscribe to the idea that you can and should spin a story even if it has little substance to back it up. The Sustrans National Cycle Network was an outstanding example of this and it was a remarkably successful sleight-of-hand since no one was really in a position to go and comprehensively check on what really existed, before and after NCN, on the ground.

But in Bristol it's different. It is possible for one person to explore all the existing and proposed cycle network and see exactly how existing routes are being presented as new ones (e.g. Hartcliffe Way above). But having based the Cycling City strategy on this deceit it's very difficult for the Council to back out of it - what would be left to give credibility to Cycling City? As it happens the more intangible aspects of Cycling City, like the publicity generated, may well prove to be the more significant in terms of encouraging cycling, but people expect to see physical changes on the ground and they are difficult to deliver, especially within such a short time scale.

PS. Having just posted this, I now hear that this Inside Out feature may be postponed and replaced with a 'snow' special. I'll update if I hear anything more definite.

PPS. Yep, it's confirmed that the Cycling City feature will now go out next Monday instead.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Slippery Sustrans

Bristol is home to "the UK's leading sustainable transport charity", Sustrans, who have their national head quarters down in Trinity Street, next door to the Cathedral and conveniently within spitting distance of the Council House. Sustainable transport of course means above all cycling and walking, so it is perhaps instructive to note their own efforts to clear the well used walking route outside their offices (the white facade below).

That's strange, even by 4 p.m. on Wednesday 6th Jan (above) no one in "the UK's leading leading sustainable transport charity" seems to have bothered to clear the pavement outside. Perhaps they were short staffed that day, what with the snow problems. Surely by Friday 8th (below) someone will have noticed that the pavement outside is in need of clearing, or are they all too busy designing glossy brochures and flashy websites to notice what is going on outside in the real world?

Friday, 8 January 2010

The Ice Man Cometh

After my petulant outbursts yesterday about Bristol City Council's failure to deal with hazardous pavement icing, even when specifically reported to them, there was the usual exchange of jibes on Twitter which resulted in Cllr Jon Rogers (Executive Member for Transport & Sustainability no less - below) challenging me to go out with him there and then and spread some grit.

I could hardly refuse and so for 40 minutes or so after 9 p.m. passers-by on Queen's Road, Clifton, were entertained by the sight of two scruffy middle-aged men scrabbling around grit bins like tramps scavenging dog ends. We quickly emptied one of the two local grit bins but the grit in the other was rock solid and unusable. Still we managed to deal with the worst sections of the footway and it was gratifying to see that people immediately started to follow our line of grit over the ice (visible to my right below). One even said thank you!

So that's what can be achieved with a bit of gumption. Jon Rogers' has a lot of that, it has to be said. He even lectured me on how to walk on the roads against the oncoming traffic to avoid having to use slippery pavements, explaining that you don't give way until you see the whites of their eyes! And I thought I was the militant one. To Jon even the snow and ice is an opportunity to assert a new paradigm for the concept of sharing the roads. I'm all for that.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

How Many More before Bristol Council Act?

As warned on this blog on Monday and again this morning, the junction of Richmond Hill and Queen's Road is proving lethal with walkers falling like nine pins. In about 20 minutes this evening I witnessed dozens of slips, half a dozen falls and one suspected broken bone requiring an ambulance. In addition almost every car emerging from Richmond Hill was sliding on the ice into Queen's Road, unable to stop.

It was all pretty sickening, watching and knowing some were going to fall, knowing that each car was going to slide out of control on the ice. And all avoidable, if only we had a Council able to listen to a simple bit of advice and act on it. But instead we have a Council suffering bureaucratic rigor mortis, unable to respond even at this most elementary level of human decency. You take pictures, you explain the problem, you put it on a public blog, representatives of the Council see it and - nothing.

So now we have real injuries, fractures, confirmed by photographic evidence. Will this be enough to inject some life into this moribund council? Probably not, so alienated are they to feeling anything resembling empathy with the public they are supposed to serve. I despair, this is just a simple matter of spreading some grit. Is that so difficult? Do I have to go and do it myself? Oh for a spade and wheelbarrow (which I haven't got). Can I bear to go back again, knowing that it is just a matter of minutes before I see another fall?

Get A Grit!

As we wake up today to find that all the slush and water from yesterday's slight thaw has frozen solid to ice, thanks to overnight temperatures that reached -7° C, many of us might have cause to wonder why nothing seems to be done about making at least some of our pavements safe to walk on. Even yesterday late afternoon some predictably lethal patches were claiming victims, like the Richmond Hill/Queen's Road junction highlighted here on Monday.

As also discussed here on Monday, Bristol City Council's policy is to grit the main roads but not the footways (pavements), leaving pedestrians to fend for themselves. The Council's justification for this seems to be that if they did anything for pedestrians at all they would then be held responsible for all pavements, although the same logic does not seem to apply to motorists. There are of course one or two exceptions, like the carefully cleared ramps up to the entrance to the Council House (below). At least they are keeping their own house in order.

All the Council appear to do as far as us lowly pedestrians are concerned is to refer us to their extensive collection of grit bins, although Cotham Councillor Neil Harrison does say on his blog that "Pavements on the main roads get gritted by the manual road cleaners on their normal rota". Well there was precious little evidence of that yesterday. The only pavements that had been cleared appeared to have been done on a piecemeal basis by adjacent shop keepers, as we see below in Park Street, which apart from being a major pedestrian thoroughfare is also rather steep and you might think something of a priority for gritting.

So what about these grit bins. I can confirm that all the ones I inspected (yes, I am that sad) are full of grit, but the grit isn't getting where it's needed because the Council seem to have overlooked a rather vital link in the chain. Just how do they suppose the grit is going to get spread on our pavements? Cheery teams of volunteers working selflessly to improve their communities? A nice idea but unfortunately that's not the nature of our society. So the grit remains untouched in hundreds of grit bins spread around the city.


But what about Cllr Harrison's claim that "Pavements on the main roads get gritted by the manual road cleaners on their normal rota"? It seems we spend £5.5 million of street cleansing, which averages out at about £10,000 a day, enough to employ a hundred or so Street Cleaning Operatives you might think. So what were our small army of Street Cleansing Operatives up to yesterday? I happened across one and followed discreetly for a while (that's about as good as it gets for me these days). Totally ignoring the snow and slush, he busied himself trudging around in a forlorn attempt to find items of litter to pick up. When our streets are crying out for gritting this is just totally stupid (not that I blame the Operative per se - I presume he was just doing as instructed).


By chance I came across some info about York's response to snow and ice. We see that despite being a relatively flat city they appear to have a comprehensive plan which includes treating the pavements on many strategic pedestrian routes with no less than eight downloadable maps showing exactly which pavements will be kept clear. So York's a bit further north and gets more snow, but is that really any excuse for Bristol City Council's comparatively pisspoor response?

Later edit: this post got 'retweeted' on Twitter a fair bit and there is now a #GritforBristol topic.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Priorities Made Plain

However much Bristol City Council might talk up how important they think walking and cycling, their true priorities are laid bare for all to see when the snow falls. Here we have a view of Queen's Road, Clifton, from 1 p.m. on 21st December, a little more than 12 hours after the snowfall. The main roads are of course clear and operating normally but the pavement in the foreground at the junction with Richmond Hill, the main walking route from Clifton, remains untreated and walkers are already sliding around as the snow is compacted to ice.

This location is notorious for becoming treacherous for walkers after snow falls since it is heavily used, slopes markedly and is shaded from the winter sun by the adjacent block of flats. Yet there isn't even a grit bin at this location. One of the nearest grit bins is located on a traffic island by the Victoria Rooms (visible as a yellow lump in the distance below), convenient for use on the road but hopelessly inconvenient for the footways. Even four days later no attempt had been made to deal with the ice, other than to wait for a thaw, and the pavement remained treacherous.

 Down at the Docks it's a similar story. The south side quays are largely shaded by adjacent buildings from the low winter sun and by 25th December the snow had turned to an almost continuous sheet of ice and remained so for days afterwards. And this at a time of year when a walk, jog or bike ride around the Docks would be a very popular and necessary recreation. But the ice has clearly put so many people off, not to mention those who've ended up in hospital with sprains or fractures. Should it not be part of the duties of the Harbour Master to ensure that quay sides are kept safe for walking, jogging and cycling, the main ways in which most people interact with the Docks?

The Council's policy appears to be to grit and clear the main road network, but not including footways or cycleways, however important they may be. That is simply inconsistent with their new rhetoric about encouraging cycling and walking. This coming week, with sub-zero temperatures forecast for every night and some sleet and snowfalls, will see many more 'accidents' as people follow the Council's exhortations to walk or cycle to work. We have the right to expect strategic walking and cycling routes to be identified and treated in the same methodical way as the strategic routes for motor vehicles.

PS - It seems the Evening Post take a similar view.  Oh dear.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

The Centre - Alternative Routes

The proposals to restrain general traffic passing through the Centre will inevitably have knock-on effects for other parts of the road network and it will be the capacity of the wider network to absorb displaced traffic that will limit what can be achieved in the Centre. That is not to say that all the displaced traffic will have to be accommodated elsewhere. Some displaced car trips will be made by other modes instead and some will not be made at all, but a proportion of displaced trips, particularly those made by vans and lorries, will still need to be accommodated somewhere.

View City Centre changes - Dec 2009 in a larger map

The map above attempts to identify the alternative routes that will bear the brunt of the displaced traffic. As well as taking out the option of linking from Baldwin Street to the Centre the map shows Prince Street Bridge as closed to motor traffic as is already planned to accommodate the Ashton Vale BRT. The net effect is that journeys by car, van or lorry between the Clifton area and the south of the city become very constrained compared to what is currently possible. There will be almost no practical means of passing between those areas between the Cumberland Basin to the west and Newfoundland Circus (Cabot Circus) to the east.

In the south to north-west direction it appears that a couple of other routes will remain open (shown light blue on the map) along sections of one-way street, via Union Street in Broadmead and via Small Street and Nelson Street (although this latter is very circuitous). Union Street is frequently congested anyway and is an important bus route so it's unlikely that extra traffic can be accommodated there. In the other southbound direction one or two routes are possible but so circuitous as to be impractical, except perhaps the Bridewell St - Pithay route shown yellow which I suspect will need to be closed off to prevent it developing into a major rat run.

Elsewhere we can see that Park Street will become less attractive as a through route since it will lead only to St Jame's Barton, which can be reached more directly via Park Row - Marlborough Street. Indeed this might pave the way towards closing Park Street itself to motor traffic and diverting traffic via Jacob's Wells Road, but that's another story. Clearly Park Row - Marlborough Street will take displaced traffic and given how congested that corridor already is that must present problems.

From St James Barton round to Newfoundland Circus, Old Market (above) and Temple Circus will also take displaced traffic. In addition this is the planned route of the BRT going anti-clockwise around the city centre so there are more capacity issues there. Something has to give if these changes are to be pushed through. That something should not be the economic vitality of the city and we have to recognise that motor traffic, particularly commercial van and lorry traffic, has an important role there.

So that just leaves the private car, the elephant in the room that we all know is the root of the problem but few will dare criticise directly. Yet the relative ease with which cars pass around the city must change quite dramatically if any real improvements in the quality of the urban environment are to be achieved. Politicians like Jon Rogers have the unenviable job of trying to persuade a population, wedded to a myth of personal freedom through car ownership, of this simple reality.

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.