When the local politicians, unelected members of the West of England Partnership, and their hired consultant hacks made the decision to pave over Bristol’s premier greenway and allow Bristol’s notorious fume belching buses to dominate the City’s best sustainable transport facility, they clearly underestimated the strength and breadth of the massive response against their stupid, short-sighted plan.
Over 3500 people have signed a petition against the plan in the first week after it was revealed publicly in the Evening Post. Over 3000 have also joined a Facebook group to protect the path. Sustrans, based in Bristol, has spoken out strongly against buses on the path. A major strategy and planning meeting (some are referring to it as a ‘war’ council) to organize to defeat the plan is scheduled for Feb. 5 at Easton Community Centre Kilburn Street off Easton Road at 7.30.
For those who’ve never had the privilege of experiencing the Bristol to Bath Pathway (among them most certainly the politicians who hatched this breathtakingly bad plan), it is the gem of the UK’s National Cycle Network, a level 15 mile transport route and linear park connecting the these two cities in the Southwest, and numerous neighbourhoods and parklands in between. It provides one of the only safe, quiet, and non-polluted places to walk or ride in the whole area, especially for residents of the neighbourhoods lining the path like Easton, which have very little open space as it is. Introducing buses to this green sanctuary is near sacrilege to the urban dwellers who depend on this unique respite from the daily transport meltdown in the rest of the city.
The corridor is home to wildlife, trees and plants, kids gaining confidence on their bikes, joggers, skaters, and cycle commuters taking advantage of the level, smooth surface on the way to work and school. All together, the path, which was the first built by Sustrans in the early eighties, and kicked off a massive rails-to-trails recycling effort in Britain, is used by over 2.4 million people every year, more than any other pathway in the UK.
But to the local councillors who hatched this plan, the corridor is an abandoned, unused strip of land ripe for development- in their view if there aren’t motors running, and petrol being burnt- it’s not a proper transport route. What a sad, cloistered 20th century point of view. Most disappointing is the backing of Mark Bradshaw, a Bristol councillor who prides himself on being a progressive voice for sustainable transport in the City. He has been cautiously qualifying his support for the plan in the last week, clearly realizing this could be a poison pill for his re-election hopes. Cllr. Bradshaw should have done his homework, and realized that his plan to destroy Bristol’s greatest carbon neutral transport facility and best loved linear open space would end up alienating large segments of the population.
It’s important to realize that this plan is born out of desperation amongst local politicians to do something to alleviate the horrendous gridlock on Bristol’s roads- without being seen to take space away from motorists. Transport is rarely a zero sum game, however, and converting traffic lanes to dedicated bus lanes would very likely lead to a reduction in congestion if adequate service was provided. Destroying a peaceful, safe, and unpolluted corridor for nonmotorised traffic will benefit no one- especially car drivers who have to share the road with all those cyclists turned away from bicycle commuting by degradation of their main transport facility.
The plan will hopefully meet a swift demise, but in the process the politicians may have actually done cycling a great favour by promoting the existence of the pathway, which many Bristolians remain unaware of, and more importantly breathing life into the Bristol Cycling Campaign– galvanizing Bristol cyclists and green activists into political action in a way that hasn’t been seen since the 1970’s birth of CYCLEBAG, the predecessor to Sustrans. Nothing is certain however, and it’s key for all those who care about the path to have their voices heard.
The bottom line is that the pathway was originally developed as a rail corridor—enormous labour and expense went in to ensuring that it was built to a flat grade- an essential ingredient for railways and for bicycle transport- not for buses, which can climb hills. The corridor should be kept for the use of non-motorised transport, and if there is still a public transport need once the roadways have dedicated bus lanes- for clean quiet electric rail that provides cycle access.
If the powers that be insist on going ahead with their plan to destroy the one thing that makes life in Bristol bearable, despite an unprecedented public outcry, I am confident that I’ll not be the only one to lie down in front of the bulldozers.