The Brunel Mile

Like most British cities, Bristol has a big inner ring road. It crashes through neighbourhoods of medieval houses and 1970s concrete office towers, and it thunders past landmarks from Brunel’s Temple Meads Station to England’s largest parish church, St Mary Redcliffe, a fortress of fast cars and pedestrian cages cutting the old central business district from the rest of the city.

But it’s not a ring road. The ends used to meet: from Redcliffe church it continued west over the bascule bridge and cut diagonally through the run-down Georgian Queen Square. Twenty years ago, Queen Square was taking 20,000 vehicles a day, including 1,000 buses. No wonder it was run-down. The council got rid of the vehicles, all of them, and restored the Georgian square, now a calm but popular little park. It remains one of the few notable examples of undoing 1950s-80s urban motorway mistakes in the UK, and it happened at the same time as one of the last of the mistakes, the M11 link, was being driven through Leytonstone.

The restoration of Queen Square left a bizarre stub of dual carriageway on Redcliffe’s bascule bridge (orange, below the ‘I’ in ‘Bristol’), carrying a tiny fraction of its designed capacity. When I was there in the spring I noticed that they had finally brought the builders in to do something new with the bridge. Here’s the finished £130,000 piece:

I was a bit disappointed — I’d been expecting them to move on to the other carriageway once this one was complete, for a pair of unidirectional tracks, but they’ve just gone for a bidirectional track using a single traffic lane, which apparently isn’t much help to the gentleman who is using the opposite pavement. Still, the one track is not an unusable width.

The reason they’ve gone for a two-way track here is that the council are not thinking in terms of fixing individual isolated streets, but nor have they yet got to the stage where they can think in terms of a network. If this were part of a network, you would have tracks on each side linking up to more tracks around the other big roads, as well as to the calmed low-traffic streets around here. Rather, Bristol is currently thinking in routes — that’s all they can do with the small pot of money they were given to become a “cycling city”. This is one of half a dozen routes that the city was able to create with the project.

It’s the “Brunel Mile”, a very direct route between Temple Meads Station to the bars, restaurants, and museums of the old harbour. Sadly, this short section over the bridge is probably the highest quality section. The cycling city website, Better By Bike, produced a video of it:

Lots of shared use plazas, parks, and pavements. That’s fine for access — making it possible to keep riding the final yards to the destination — but shared use doesn’t really make for an attractive through route, especially when it runs straight through a set of tables laid outside a cafe. Bristol already had a lot of shared use squares and parks — Bristolian pedestrians and cyclists seem to be able to get along without one interpreting the mere sight of the other as a near death experience. Little, if any, of the shared use in this video is new, but previously it was designated as shared use more because there was no reason to ban bicycles from those areas, rather than because they made useful through routes.

Bicycles have at least been given priority, and a raised table, where the route crosses Welsh Back, from Queen Square onto the bascule bridge — though there aren’t many other examples of this arrangement in the Westcountry, so it might take motorists a while to work out that their “give way” markings aren’t a mistake (notice that the producer of the video clearly had little confidence that the white van was going to give way at 0:57). And there’s no other priority crossings on the route — only some grey-green paint on Prince’s Street, and toucan crossings with very long waits on three different branches of ring road before finally reaching Temple Meads.

This is not a toucan.

Clearly the cycling city team were going for a cheap option — spreading their little grant thin over as many routes and projects as possible, and reusing as much existing infrastructure, whatever the quality, where they could. But when it came to a gap in their route, where no existing infrastructure could be commandeered, they’ve taken the time and money to do it right: they’ve taken a traffic lane out to built a proper usable cycle track, rather than dump people on a dual carriageway with the buses. Perhaps it’s not quite as much space as would really be desirable, but it’s enough, and with priority over the minor roads. And they did it, so far as I can tell, without being asked — without the campaign and the fight that was required in Camden.

With real funding, I think Bristol could do great things. The cycling city grant must have brought some of the right people in. With the grant all spent, I fear they will have been sent on their way.

The local rag doesn’t like it, but I always got the impression that the Evening Post was pretty irrelevant.

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9 responses to “The Brunel Mile

  1. Evening post is totally irrelevant, it seems to be trolled by a bicycle hating minority.

  2. Apart from a flight of steps, there’s actually a 90% traffic free route from Castle Park to Templemeads along the riverside. It’s not well signed, even for pedestrians -who are directed along the ring road to Cabot Circus- but it is a nicer option

  3. Oh, and the commenter criticising it used for quotes was lifted from the E.P. own comments without any sanity checking, hence the name “Jenna Talwart”. Bad reporting.

  4. Be careful using those areas where cyclist have priority. In reality motorists have priority as their vehicles are heavier and will win in a collision, coupled with the fact that most people driving through really can’t grasp the concept of anyone else having priority over them. It’s a good route, but use it with caution at certain points.

    It also leads you to cycle across zebra crossings a couple of times as there’s nowhere else to go, which is technically illegal and sends a bit of a confusing message that it’s ok to cycle across zebra crossings?

    • Oh, I’m not sure I’d call it a good route. The tracks on the bridge are surprisingly good, but the rest of the route gets, at best, a “not unusable” grade. All that shared path is nice for cautiously dawdling along through the park and beside the harbour, but it doesn’t make an attractive serious transport route.

  5. AdamEf is right; it’s the same on the frome valley road. There may be give way signs, there may be markings on the road, but the van drivers just stare at you as they go past. Zebra Crossings are something people are used to, though even there the Bristol Traffic dataset shows that not everyone supports them. If the crossings were zebra-marked with bicycles too, I think that would be a better design.

  6. Pingback: Big roads, crap cycling and bendy buses in the Development Pool | At War With The Motorist

  7. Great so more cycle lanes = more ugly road and now pavement markings, can’t they ome up with something better?

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