The Downs. No Cycling? Or a car-free leisure route?

Why we need space for cycling on the Downs.

The annual Cycle Sunday event is a brilliant way to demonstrate the huge demand for car-free cycling around the Downs to the Downs Committee, who manage this beautiful area. (To those unfamiliar with Bristol, the Clifton and Durdham Downs lie to the north of the city centre and overlook the ecologically significant Avon Gorge).

We can expect between one and three thousand people to attend these family-friendly events (depending on the weather). People of all ages and abilities come to enjoy a stress-free cycle without the worry and ‘woosh’ factor of passing cars. We think it would be brilliant if people could ride like this on the Downs any day of the year and wonder if you do too?

Sadly, at present, there are only two short sections of cycle path near the Downs – Stoke Road and Westbury Road. Neither take people to the most beautiful and peaceful areas, and the rest of this 400 acres of flat parkland (in a very hilly city) is a no-go zone for family cycling. A bylaw from 1861 prohibits cycling, and visitors are “greeted” with painted NO CYCLING signs at all arrival points.

Could the cycling ban change?

In 2015, a comprehensive report (the Downs Place & Movement Framework v1.1) on cycling and walking was written and presented to the Downs Committee (which is jointly run by Bristol City Council and the Merchant Venturers).

The report made some excellent suggestions, for example making Circular Road one way and introducing a separate two-way cycling route:

Another idea was to take eroded tracks (known as “desire lines”) on the Downs and turn them into paths that could accommodate leisure cyclists as well as those on foot:

Unfortunately, none of the report’s recommendations have been properly developed in the two and a half years since it was written. There has recently been a low key, behind the scenes discussion about joining up the existing paths near the A4018 Westbury Road, but without any robust work on funding to make it a reality.

In contrast, the Downs Committee are drawing up plans to re-develop the toilet block at the Seawalls into a café with toilets and have found a grant as well as money in their reserves to build it. We think this is a great idea and are going to be campaigning for them to find additional funds to incorporate cycle paths into the project so that visitors of all ages and cycling abilities can get to the café by bike. Longer term, we think it would be brilliant if there was bike hire near the water tower to improve access for people from all over the city who could get the bus up to the Downs and jump on a bike.

What can you do to help?

It would be fantastic if you could support our campaign for cycling infrastructure on the Downs. Why not join Bristol Cycling now! (Please join here). We can do the hard work lobbying, knocking on doors and generally mithering the powers that be, so that you don’t have to. By joining, we can update you on the campaign. For example, we might ask you to sign a petition, or send a short email to your local councillor.