Roman Road on The Downs – It’s a bit better. Oh no it isn’t!

Guest Blog from Wheels On The Bike about traffic on The Downs. Plans to improve this very problematic and unpleasant route have been dropped. What does this say about making Space for Cycling in Bristol?

Reposted with permission from

Roman Road is one of many car-sick roads in Bristol. It’s a odd one-way road, that cuts a corner of the Downs. It’s simultaneously a rat run that avoids traffic lights at the end of Stoke Road, a long thin car park, a bus route, and a cycling route, created against a backdrop of the green leisure filled Durdham Downs. 

What’s wrong with Roman Road, and how could it be better? 


The sole segregated bike path on the Downs exits onto Roman Road, right at the junction with Stoke Road. This junction is wide and allows for high motor vehicle speeds, but has poor sight lines due to constant car parking. On a hot summer afternoon in 2014 a child was almost killed by a driver at this junction.


Here the cycle path exit is blocked by the Scaffolding Design van, another frequent problem. Note the two parked cars behind the van which heavily restrict vision. 

National Cycle Route 4 goes down Roman Road. As the road has been narrowed by permanently parked cars (resulting in a long ‘door zone’) there is no Space for Cycling. It was also purposefully excluded from the 20mph rollout. This is not a safe route. 


There is no safe space for cycling here. Spot the painted cycle symbol under the vans wheel. 

Only the most feeble of nods is given to cycling; a morning ban on private motor traffic. This is commonly ignored and essentially unenforced by Avon and Somerset Police. It also acts as a sieve: in the morning peak reasonable and careful drivers are kept out by the ban, inattentive and impatient drivers are allowed to threaten people who cycle. 

Earlier in 2015 a review of parking on the Downs gave an opportunity to make a minor improvement to this space by removing conflict between people who cycle and the motor traffic that endangers them. While the scheme was driven by a need to manage commuter car parking, there’s every reason why every scheme in Bristol should deliver key improvements for kids and adults who want to cycle. 

The initial consultation, opened in August 2014 made no effort to improve cycling conditions at all on the Downs. It could have done very easily with a flowing arrangement of people focused traffic cells that the surrounding green leisurely space describes and deserves, and essentially for free. But Bristol Council treats Space for Cycling as a special or decidedly optional extra!

Fortunately a mediocre amount of reason broke through. After the responses were in on December 17th 2014 it was decided that Roman Road was to be improved. 

“Roman Road is part of the National Cycle Network and Number 40 bus route and the police felt the current timed ‘No Entry’ was unenforceable. Requests were received to close this road to all traffic except buses and cycles which would make cycling more pleasant and slightly improve bus journey times.”

So instead of sharing with all traffic, people who cycle would have more space (thanks to no parking) and would mix only with relatively infrequent buses – a problem but certainly less severe than it is at present. 

Aside: I also believe that this would improve private and bus traffic on Westbury Road. Currently traffic has to yield to a triple whammy of traffic from Upper Belgrave Road, Stoke Road, and what is effectively red light jumping traffic from Roman Road. Without motor traffic from Roman Road there’d be more of a gap to the lengthy queues common on Westbury Road. It’s common to see that improvements for cycling and walking improve other modes!

Almost a year has passed without any further action. Despite the hints at urgency, “these restrictions will be prepared for Statutory Advertisement as soon as possible”, not a peep was heard until the 24th of November 2015 from the blog of the local neighbourhood partnership. Those who were involved in the consultation were not contacted, or even made aware that the consultation was having repeated do-overs until it was made more dangerous for people who cycle. I’m told that Bristol Conservatives are the ones who are over ruling consultation results in this instance. 

“Removal of the proposed closure of Roman Road. This will now remain in its current form with no changes to the restrictions on access or parking aside from an extension to the double yellow lines at either end to protect the drop kerbs.”

No justification was given. For some unknown reason Bristol Council’s Mark Sperduty has canned improvements to cycling safety. It’s no surprise that he’s a fit white male Vehicular Cyclist. 

Now, Roman Road isn’t the root of all issues in Bristol. While I’d love someone to make just the smallest improvement to my commute on this short road this isn’t the largest problem. That award goes to the mess that is Bristol Council. Cycling has to be baked into all schemes, the same way that pavements are just put in, or roads built to access properties. Safe space for cycling has to be an intrinsic part of the roads from now on, if we want to see change in our lifetimes. 

Despite an official cycling strategy this just isn’t happening. New roads are built with legalised pavement cycling at best, narrow pinch points are plonked down without any thought, and opportunities to make Space for Cycling aren’t grasped keenly with both hands. 

I get that the council is a slow ship to turn, but it’s clear that motor-supremacy is still getting the first turn on the drawing board. Even when the people want improvements for cycling, which is what came through on the first consultation response for Roman Road, the motor-centric status quo can overrule them, apparently unchallenged. 

What I want to know is what’s going to change? What is changing the narrative and putting people, not even more space for cars, first? 

Will it come from cycling mayor Mayor Ferguson? I just can’t see it. Even large important schemes like Metrobus that are completely changing The Centre have been allowed to create plans that don’t have cycle lanes from inception (yet builds a new road for motor traffic!). What hope is there for the hundreds of smaller schemes that are made by council staff under the motor-dom narrative, left unchallenged by the supposed cycling friendly change in leadership. 

I’d like an answer as to why, yet again, cycling has not been catered for. When will it be, George?