Save the Bristol & Bath Railway Path

Site of Fishponds Railway Station (Author : Weirdoldhattie)

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Celebrating the Bristol and Bath Railway Path on Sunday 30th March 2008

West of England Partnership (composed predominantly of representatives of the 4 local councils) plan to install a “bus rapid transit” route along this famous greenway, from Emerson’s Green to Bristol city centre.

The £49 million bus route would mean:

  • Ugly, concrete trackways and the removal of all vegetation
  • Reduction of the path to a mere 3 metres width, loss of wildlife corridor and fenced in.
  • Loss of crossing points over the track (described as ‘Rationalisation’). Rather than linking them as the current path does now the bus track will divide communities, as the M32 does to St Werburghs and Easton.
  • Possible replacement of historic bridges across the path.

This is an appalling idea.

  • this path is the most popular part of the National Cycle Network with 2.4 million journeys a year, and rising at 10%. We want it widened, not squeezed out!
  • It is a ‘green lung’ in an urban area, used by local people, including those with disabilities, not just for cycling but walking to school, shops, allotments, friends houses, walking the dog, and jogging.
  • Technically, it is a path within a linear park, a designated open space and and SNCI – official Site of Nature Conservation Interest.
  • It is contrary to the Councils’ overall plan, the Joint Local Transport Plan (2006).
  • The Council wants to make it clear that “no contracts have been awarded regarding the rapid transit operators”. However, they fail to mention that First Bus have seats on the project board!
  • It is highly unlikely to make a significant impact on congestion. The project documentation admits that it would only have a useful impact when thousands of new houses are built out past Emerson’s Green.

We don’t oppose bus rapid transit schemes in principle but they should use roadspace – such as the M32 – not space used by the most vulnerable and least powerful groups – pedestrians, cyclists, children and the disabled.

It is counterintuitive to propose a bus route that diminishes the quality of even more sustainable and desirable transport choices such as walking jogging, running and cycling.

More details

In December 2007 we wrote to West of England Partnership asking for details of the BRT plans concerning the cyclepath as none were publicly available: they had announced an outline plan at a Bristol Transport Forum in November. The Partnership (which comprises the Bristol, South Glos, BANES and North Somerset councils) refused to give us any details claiming that they would consult in the spring or summer 2008. Consequently we had to use the Freedom of Information Act to find out what our Councils were doing.

See the documents obtained throught the FOI request..

These have shown:

  • The Railway Path route will be turned into a dual track bus rapid transport system from the city centre to Emerson’s Green with one track through the Staple Hill tunnel.
  • There will six stops between Temple Meads and Emersons Green: Lawrence Hill, Devon Road, Ridgeway Road, Fishponds, Staple Hill and Staple Hill East.
  • A mere 3m width is allocated alongside for cyclists and pedestrians (Council officials have asked since that this be increased to 4m but it has not been agreed and we find it hard to see how it is possible alongside a 9 or 10 m bus track).
  • All vegetation will be removed (though grass may be allowed to grow between the tracks!).
  • Compulsory purchase of land alongside the path is inevitable (gardens and garages at clay bottom appear extremely vulnerable).
  • This route is not the one published in the Joint Local Transport Plan 2 years ago – in that document, the city centre to Emersons Green route ran along the M32 then up through fishponds on the A432. No reasons have been given for the change.
  • Other greenway and cyclepaths, such as the Malago Greenway, are under threat from the BRT plans for other parts of the city.
  • Your favourite bus company, First, have a seat on the project board.

Where on the path is it wide enough to fit all this in?

Right idea, wrong route says Sustrans

Sustrans replies to the WEP

Why it won’t reduce congestion

6 buses an hour are planned in rush hour: assuming there are 50 people on each all of whom would have driven instead, that is only a maximum of 300 cars over that period.

Meanwhile some of the many cyclists and pedestrians that use the path may well decide to drive or bus it instead of using the now narrow, fenced in, ugly track.

£49 million to bus 300 commuters an hour down the railway path!

That is in rush hour: useage is likely to be mainly one way, inbound in the morning, outbound in the evening so buses will be making the return trip empty. This will double the pollution and running costs per passenger carried.

Bristol area’s most serious congestion is to the north, stretching north up the M32 from the city centre and round the ring round to Filton. This bus route will not affect that.

Press coverage

Some articles in the local press.

This scheme is contrary to the following existing council plans:

  • Joint Local Transport Plan 2006/7 to 2010/11
  • Bristol Local Plan re Movement, Leisure & the Natural Environment
  • Bristol Development Framework – (Preferred options January 2008 is out for consultation until 22 Feb 2008)
  • Joint Rights of Way Improvement Plan 2007 – 2011

And it is probably contrary to:

  • Parks & Open Spaces Strategy (final draft awaited)

More information on this point

What we propose instead

As part of the Transport for Greater Bristol Alliance, we suggest the following alternatives:

  1. Develop the Bus rapid transit route from the city centre to the northern fringe via the M32 using the hard shoulder – why experiment with our paths when you can run a rapid bus or light rail service up the M32 instead?
  2. Create an integrated transport authority for the Bristol Area, and regain control of the buses.
  3. Get the Showcase bus routes working properly by enforcement of parking restrictions on them.
  4. Restart a passenger rail service to Portishead
  5. Widen the existing Bristol/Bath Railway Path to accommodate the increasing numbers of those using it to walk and cycle (2.4 million a year and rising), and further encourage people to cycle and walk.
  6. Have First Great Western fulfil their promise to increase the frequency of trains on the Severn Beach line.