It just seems to keep getting worse. As residents of Bristol continue to suffer the effects of rising traffic levels and shoddy transport choices on their environment, health, and quality of life, our political leaders are scared stiff of appearing to be anti-car. Their paralysis, borne out of fear of intervening in society’s petrol addiction in any meaningful way- is preventing them doing anything to actually solve the problem. Instead, like a drug addict, we increase the dose to get the same high- we widen roads and build new car parks, hoping that it will make us forget our problems. Temporarily relieved, we wake up the next morning feeling worse than ever. Politicians talk green, but their actions are digging us deeper into the gaping black hole of car dependence and climate catastrophe every day.
Like it or not, it seems that the forces of darkness have decided that if they stand any chance of launching their schemes to increase road and airport capacity, they’d better do it now, and they better force them through all together before the twin realities of peak oil and climate change reshape our transport landscape forever. This plan could divert and distract us, or it could end up backfiring on them, raising the hackles of a powerful new coalition of Bristolians who say enough is enough.
If you live in Bristol and you care about the future of your city, my advice is to gear up for a fight over the coming months. The shit is truly hitting the fan folks- you better arm yourselves with bicycles, keyboards, d-locks and a copy of the Freedom of Information Act cause it might get very ugly.
Here (drum roll please) are the top ten recent transport debacles in Bristol:
10. Cycling City Debacle, Illustrated Nicely by the Prince St. Bridge Project: The Cycling City project is in disarray, with council-hyped plans for Prince St. bridge being launched into the media without any consultation with cycling groups. Turns out that, in spite of Sustrans’ misguided support for the scheme, the project would prepare the ground for a diesel bus takeover of half the bridge at the expense of conditions for cyclists and pedestrians. The plan violates every good design rule, would delay cyclists and put people in danger. Southbound cyclists would either have to wait with the exhaust-spewing cars, or cross over to the wrong side of the road, then have to negotiate back to the left side of the road after the bridge, through the waiting (or even worse, moving) line of cars. Northbound (inbound) cyclists would be faced with negotiating through crowds of pedestrians now using the roadway. Pedestrians on the east side of Prince St. would be forced to cross the street twice, just to cross the river. Fun.
We need to close this bridge to all but emergency vehicles and use this as a key restriction of traffic volumes in the city centre- a key “filter” in a city centre filtered permeability strategy. Unfortunately, as we know Sustrans and the council don’t like to ruffle feathers, we are left with a dangerous and compromised facility. Plus it will worsen air quality to have cars idling.
Come and speak out in favour of full closure at the Bristol City Council “extraordinary” committee meeting on Monday, the 24th of November at 6pm at the Council House, College Green Bristol. You can e-mail comments in advance (required if you want to speak) to firstname.lastname@example.org
If the Council want to have a project by project pitched battle rather than an open and inclusive planning process then it seems that that’s what they’re going to get.
9. “Red Trouser Gate”: How the City Council is prepared to Sell off Public Land to Destroy a Mature Hedgerow along the Bristol-Bath Path for 25 car parking spaces at the Chocolate Factory development: Several bloggers in Bristol, including the illustrious Bristol Blogger and the ever-gadflyish Green Bristol Blog, have uncovered this scandal that reveals the seedy underworld of Bristol planning practice- where developers get access to public land through back channels, and adopted council policy is simply “advisory.” The problem here is precedent- if Squarepeg and the Merchant Venturer George Ferguson can get away with cutting a chunk out of the greenway, then why not a thousand other developers along the path? Before you know it, paradise will be paved, and we won’t even have the benefit of public transport….
8. Rejection of Trams, and Corporate-backed Embrace of Bus Rapid Transit: The bus “rapid transit” project that would connect Long Ashton Park and Ride with Bristol City Centre is out for consultation at the moment. Ignoring a groundswell of support, the unaccountable West of England Partnerhsip chose to drive their diesel buses roughshod over the popular plan for a modern 21st century ultra light tram system to become the future of Bristol’s public transport. Couldn’t be anything to do with the fact that central government, cozy with rubber tire, internal combustion engine, and oil companies, prioritises bus schemes over rail. Nahhhhh…… Anyway, come see their plans, meet their high-priced consultants, and give feedback that will probably be ignored. There’s been good recent analysis on local blogs: here and here. Plans have been put on hold to run the BRT up the Bristol-Bath cycle path, but some observers believe it’s just a matter of time before they try again.
7. (Taken for a) Park and Ride: Now comes news from the Evening Post that the Council is looking into plans to pave over food-growing allotments in Bristol for a park and ride scheme. Never mind that park and ride projects have been found to encourage people to switch from public transport to driving and increase the distance of car journeys. Never mind that local food production and the use of fertile urban farmland is urgently needed as part of the transition to communities less dependent on fossil fuels. As long as the corporate interests are happy and people can feel good about using public transport while still getting their car fix, things are fine- plus if you need veggies you can always drive to the out of town Sainsbury’s (featuring a huge, free car park) and buy vegetables flown in from Kenya! Who needs an allotment anyway? More details about this horrible scheme here. You can sign a petition against the plan here.
6. Bristol Airport Expansion- Just Plane Stupid: Bristol Airport is still pushing for a major expansion project and on Wednesday evening were unfortunately successful in their application to bypass the planning process and build a “walkway” that would expand the airport by stealth. Stay tuned for more irresponsible climate vandalism from the airport bosses and be sure to join Stop Bristol Airport Expansion.
5. South Bristol Ring Road-Invasion of the Greenbelt: The West of England Partnership is also plotting to build a new road through greenfields- the South Bristol Ring Road (now rebranded the link road) that- together with the tens of thousands of new homes planned- will generate more traffic, more carbon emissions, and further deteriorate communities. Join the Alliance Against a South Bristol Ring Road and say no to new roads in the consultation process that’s currently underway.
4. Cabot Circus Transport Nightmare: The “Car-boot” Circus mall opened in September, featuring one of Europe’s largest car parks, a behemoth of 2500 spaces, lit up with neon that’s visible for miles, and (count them) 6 cycle parking racks, hidden in a corner. (mortified by negative media coverage, they’ve hurriedly added more in recent weeks). Plus not a single additional public transport service was added to prepare for the influx of shoppers. The extra traffic generated by the scheme is bound to tarnish the lungs and shorten the lives of the already deprived population of St. Pauls (but that’s okay because corporate profits are more important than the lives of voiceless brown people).
As part of the knee-jerk planning panic surrounding Cabot Circus, the Bristol City Council- in their infinite wisdom, decided to add a new lane on Lower Ashley Rd, in the process removing the cycle lane and narrowing the pavement, which as you can see in the photo above, is now a perfect width to park your car on. This blogger discovered yesterday that one reason for the Lower Ashley Rd. project was that benzene levels during peak times were some of the highest ever recorded in a residential area in the UK. So out of a sincere desire to protect the lives of the residents of Lower Ashley Rd. (or, if you are more cynical, to avoid the political ignominy of being known nationally as a toxic hellhole) the council quickly sacrificed the cycle lane and half the pavement to put in a new vehicle lane. So much for long term solutions…
3. Pavement Parking: Pavement parking has reached epidemic levels in Bristol. Yes it is definitely illegal. Yes it is definitely selfish. And unfortunately the council has decided to turn a blind eye to the practice, leaving the disabled trapped in their homes and mothers with pushchairs forced out into traffic. The criminal occupation of walking areas by motor vehicles has become so standard and accepted in Bristol that the fire department is now leaving notes of complaint on the windscreens of vehicles which are NOT parked on the pavement! Wow. It’s this attitude of entitlement- the the city somehow owes you a free piece of public land to store your car on- that if there’s no space for two rows of cars in the street- well screw you we’ll just take the pavement– that is what is so irksome to an increasing number in Bristol, illustrated by blogs like Bristol Traffic and Southville Roads. Print out this great flyer from Living Streets and use it on offending cars in your neighbourhood today!
2. Threat to the Bristol-Bath Cycle Path: It’s hardly a surprise that this inept local government would attack the one transport facility in Bristol that is truly a pleasure to use, that is free, environmentally friendly, and healthy. But it’s true- earlier this year, some high-paid transport consultants who probably didn’t even step foot on the path or speak to anyone who uses it, came up with a brilliant plan to pave over Bristol’s favourite linear park. Thankfully, some dedicated, knowledgeable, and energetic volunteers mobilised a 1,000 strong march on the Council house. Mark Bradshaw, Labour leader in charge of transport, and responsible for much of this top ten list, finally visited the path and was forced to admit the plans were just a bit stupid. Just think we could have saved half a million quid if he had thought to stop by the path a few months earlier… you can e-mail Mark at email@example.com
And the number One Bristol Transport Debacle………..
1. M32 Junction 2 Blood Alley: Sorry I Killed Your Grandma, But I Didn’t Want to Spill My Latte
Three deaths of elderly Bristol pedestrians at one junction in 12 months is no accident- it’s a preventable tragedy. When you locate a Tesco across a motorway from a residential area, and then fail to provide any safe level crossing across a 3-lane slip road where drivers are accelerating to 60mph, instead expecting people to go hundreds of metres out of their way, passing through a dark underground passage reeking of urine, home to drug dealers, muggers and prostitutes— it’s no accident. It’s death by design. Sacrificing the most vulnerable, the slowest among us, so that the traffic can keep flowing.
The short-term solution here is to install a signalised crossing of the slip road to allow safe pedestrian access along what is clearly a significant desire line. The entrance to Stapleton Rd., currently a residential one way speedway, should be closed to motor vehicles entirely at Junction 2- this would also close a longstanding gap in the cycle network between the Easton Bypass Path and Eastville Park.
The Bristol City Council’s official response to these needless deaths was to put up a sign for pedestrians: “DO NOT CROSS M32- 3 PEDESTRIANS KILLED HERE IN THE LAST 12 MONTHS PLEASE USE FORMAL CROSSING POINT.” No corresponding signs to drivers speeding off the motorway to watch for pedestrians, of course. Typical blame the victim attitude.
I wrote to Bristol City Council’s “safety” team, asking what they were planning to do to respond to these deaths. They responded:
“Our road safety budgets are allocated against specific projects at the start of the financial year and therefore the budgets for this year have already been set aside for other projects and as such any significant works in this area would have to wait to be considered when the budget for next financial year,, are known.”
Three people have lost their lives because of your failure to fix this dangerous condition and you’re telling me you have to wait six months for your budget to come out? It’s funny how money just appears from nowhere when it’s needed to build a 2500 space car park or a new ring road. But £25,000 for a new pedestrian crossing to prevent more senseless loss of human life? Sorry we just can’t spare any change. Serves them right really- don’t they know that walking is dangerous? They should have driven the 200 metres to Tesco, anyway….
All I can say is I bet they’d find the money pretty damn quick if these were rich white people being slaughtered in the street in Clifton. Perhaps a Merchant Venturer venturing to their local Waitrose…..then something would be done. Enough said.
The fact that three innocent people lost their lives here in the past year demands that we stage a protest- a direct intervention to prevent any more people being killed. If you are interested in helping to organise this, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org In the meantime, you can write an e-mail to MP Kerry McCarthy at email@example.com asking that funding be made available to carry out the improvements outlined here, and asking her to direct the Highways Agency to undertake emergency safety improvements to the junction.
Phew!!! we made it through that rather ugly and scary tour of Bristol’s transport hall of horrors. Thanks for coming along for the ride. It’s okay to be afraid, but don’t be paralysed into inaction. Yes it’s horrible, inhuman and selfish, but that doesn’t mean that a wonderful, human-scaled, safe, and responsible future isn’t possible. But one thing is certain- we deserve a better Bristol than we’re being offered- so keep that in mind when you vote in the next local election in May, or when you decide that maybe it is worth organising your neighbours against pavement parking or that new ring road; maybe it is worth getting arrested on the slip road at Junction 2 so that we can all have a future.
That may be what it takes to turn this rusty Cadillac called Bristol Transport Policy around…..