Today’s blog is by Cabinet lead for Transport, Energy and a Green New Deal Cllr Kye Dudd.
The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown are having a dramatic effect on Bristol’s transport network, challenging deeply ingrained travel patterns and behaviours in a way that we’ve never seen before. It is important we harness these changes to improve the way people move around the city forever.
We welcome the Government’s commitments – and cash – for cycling and walking in response. They have now released information and guidance for operators and passengers, which I would encourage people to take a look at here. The advice is that if people cannot work from home and have to travel for work, they should first consider alternatives to public transport. Those driving their own cars have been asked to avoid busy areas.
In Bristol, today we are sharing our plans, as we have previously announced, to improve the central areas for both people and commuters. Our plans to pedestrianise the Old City and close Bristol Bridge and Baldwin street to through car traffic is a real step forward to cleaner air and improved public realm and we have accelerated those plans while the travel patterns have changed. These changes will be made by the end of the summer as an experimental traffic order, and we will use that as a bridge to consult fully on more permanent changes.
This is a key element in delivering the bus deal, with more buses and the longer term mass transit proposals through the centre, while providing opportunities for significant walking and cycling enhancements.
And we are going further, with new cycle lanes in central areas, including Marlborough Street, Park Row, Victoria Street, Lewins Mead and the Clifton Triangle. We know that to make walking and cycling an inclusive and accessible option for as many Bristolians as possible, we have to go beyond the centre and shift focus to other areas of the city. So we are also announcing measures in many other areas such as pavement widening in Bedminster Parade, Stapleton Road and Henbury to make these as safe to use and provide local shopping options for people, supporting our local high streets.
These changes will take just a matter of weeks to implement.
Many of the schemes announced today are already mapped out through the £400m infrastructure programme in the West of England Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan. Because of this, these interventions are evidence-based, building on the work we have already done. We have taken time to explore potential unintended consequences on people shielding, their deliveries, or requirements for disabled access and the safety of junctions. We have to be mindful of the effects on emergency vehicles and displacement of traffic that these interventions have, so we will be watching the impacts (especially on air quality) closely.
To cope with the need for more social distancing, and also proactively approach the challenge our network will face as more people start to move around the city, we are bringing forward additional measures. We are starting from a better point than other Core Cites and we are committed to build on it. Our cycling figures are usually the best of the core cities. For instance four times as many cycling trips per population compared to Manchester, or that we have four times as many miles of segregated cycle-ways as Cardiff.
The road to recovery is difficult to predict, but it is clear that our public transport will be heavily impacted. Operators are experiencing a steep drop in demand, but also a significant change in their capacity as social distancing means buses take reduced number of passengers. We are committed to supporting our bus operators as part of the combined authority, and through the City Office by helping co-ordinate plans for returning to work.
Surveys by Transport Focus have shown that while many people will consider walking and cycling as options to get to work in future, even more will look to use private cars. It found that while 51% of people would be ‘more’ or ‘very likely’ to cycle or walk more often, 60% are also ‘likely’ to take more car journeys. In a city like Bristol, with congestion, clean air issues and a historically neglected transport network, that is a huge challenge.
We’ve always known that people need to have realistic and reliable alternatives to private car travel – we cannot simply force them out. This is why we’ve led on work with our bus deal, and will still work towards the mass transit system Bristol so clearly needs. Our bus network is vital for people, and we need it to succeed in the long term if we are to reach our air quality and carbon neutrality targets.
Finally I want to thank everyone involved in keeping Bristol moving, especially when recent government figures show that it is our taxi, bus and coach drivers who are disproportionately affected by the virus. We are committed to working together with operators and the public to make sure everyone in Bristol feels safe on their way to, from and at work.