A Modest Proposal #8: Portishead to Bristol

The November 2017 meeting of North Somerset Cycle Forum considered proposals for cycling and walking improvements between Bristol and Portishead, as part of MetroWest phase 1. Note that these are not part of the current plans which are just about diversions during the 18 month closure of the Pill Path. They are a ‘modest proposal’ put forward by BCyC members in the hope of significant improvements to an increasingly important link, especially in given the explosive growth in use of e-bikes.

By way of comparison, if you cycle to work in Xi’an (pronounced ‘chang-an’) in China on a principal cycle lane you will be one of about 1075 cyclists/hour, of whom 750 will be riding e-bikes. The average speed of e-bikes in Xi’an is 23.6 km/h, which is 71.0% faster than that of bicycles. So, in Portishead an e-biker should anticipate a commute of no more than one hour.

MetroWest Phase 1 is proposing to re-open the Portishead rail line and enhance local passenger train services on the Severn Beach and Bath to Bristol lines. The plans include a new rail station at Portishead and the reopening of the former station at Pill. These proposals were also considered at the Bristol Cycle Forum in Sept 2017 (MetroWest Phase 1 – Bristol Cycle Forum 21-09-17).

We argue that alternative modes of transport are unlikely to solve Portishead’s congestion problem on the A369 because of repressed demand for peak-time commuting. All that can be done is to provide congestion-busting alternatives. A 1-hour railway frequency service is a reasonable alternative and reopening the branch line is a necessary preliminary to construction of a cycleway on the alignment. Our proposals are:

  1. With the exception of the new Portishead Station layout, the single track railway between Portishead and Marsh Lane Bridge should be routed on the side of the twin-track formation furthest from Royal Portbury Dock, thus leaving space in the future for a cycle/ maintenance track on the side nearest RPD. (This would facilitate a direct link to existing NCN route 26 between Marsh Lane Bridge and M5 Tunnel.)
  2. Detailed design of the station layout should provide space for convenient links between the cycle/maintenance track, cycle parking, Trinity foot/cycle bridge, pedestrian/cycle promenade leading to Waitrose Car Park and cycle facilities on the local highway network.

For Portishead cyclists living some distance from the proposed railway station, a Bristol commute would be nearly 20 km via NCNs 26 & 41. Because of the distance the route needs to be direct, reasonably flat well-paved, traffic-free and not along the Sheepway rat-run. We are doing ‘pinch-point’ surveys on the disused section of railway to check there is be adequate width for one rail track and maintenance track/cycleway.

The plan shown sets out the necessary new and upgraded route for all-weather and e-bike suitable commuting and leisure use.

We further put forward an proposal for an extension to the MetroBus network to provide a 10-minute frequency MetroBus services that would be more attractive to commuters. Note that this includes a section of tunnel providing a much more sensible ‘underground’ than other proposals.