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.