Bridging the divide

Bridges are an important part of Bristol’s story. While many visitors today might associate Bristol with Brunel’s iconic suspension bridge, the city grew up around the banks of river Avon and what is now known as Bristol Bridge was where the city started.

The name ‘Bristol’ itself is derived from the Saxon Brycgstow or ‘Brigstowe’, meaning ‘place of the bridge’ so we know this has always been an important part of how the city operates and functions. It has changed and adapted over the centuries as Bristolians have crossed over and under it, traded on it and expanded it. On Sunday 2 August we took a bold step to change how people use Bristol Bridge, by no longer allowing private cars to use it as a through route and prioritising public transport, especially buses and taxis as well as improving access for active travel for cyclists and pedestrians.

By restricting general through-traffic from our central areas we will protect public health and unlock barriers to inclusive economic growth as well as taking another step to cleaner air, safer and better public transport, and improved walking and cycling routes for everyone. We are working with businesses and residents to minimise disruption and we are keen to engage with communities as we monitor the impacts caused by these changes.

Access to all the same areas of the city centre for cars will remain available, but via alternative routes. We know that this has been a concern for people with disabilities, and I want to assure them that we are working with Bristol Physical Access Chain on this.  We are also reviewing disabled parking options in the wider area, such as outside the Old Vic, before any permanent measures are put in place.

These major transport improvements were already in the pipeline, but the coronavirus means we now need to accelerate the plans to help Bristol emerge from this crisis as a more inclusive and sustainable city.

Interventions which prioritise buses and remove the congestion which slows down buses in the city centre mean performance will improve and make them more reliable. On the back of this intervention we’re pleased that First Bus have announced the creation of the 2A route today, which parallels the 2 all the way from Stockwood through the Centre to Henleaze and then goes to Southmead where it terminates at Charlton Road. The effect is to double the frequency of buses between Stockwood, Temple Meads, Centre, Whiteladies Road and Henleaze. We’re asking people for further ideas on how to improve the route.

The bus deal of prioritisation measures matched with investment in services by the operators is part of our transport plan that will see a ‘Circle Line’ circular bus route looping around the city centre to link up all the routes, remove traffic from  the heart of the city and further improve punctuality. 

As we continue to build up our bus network with strategic park and ride routes from the Portway, Brislington, Long Ashton and the M32, it puts in place the foundations that will enable the development of the mass transit system and Bristol’s first ever fully integrated network. The mass transit will transform travel in the city and we will link key routes from Temple Meads station through south Bristol to the airport, a line through east Bristol to the Lyde Green Park and Ride and a line to the north taking in Montpelier, Southmead Hospital and Cribbs. This network will be the world-class system Bristol needs, linking people to people, people to jobs and people to opportunity.

And crucially, these steps will have a positive impact on air quality. As we have always acknowledged, a Clean Air Zone (CAZ) is a blunt instrument for dealing with air quality. A charging zone is often considered a ‘poor tax’ – a tax on people with the oldest cars who are least able to upgrade. We must protect the most economically deprived in our city, because while air quality contributes to early deaths, we must also challenge the biggest killer of all – poverty.

While we are still progressing our plans for a CAZ, we have been speaking to government about how we take into account the new working practices and changes to travel arrangements generated by Covid-19. We are discussing a more effective  solution that includes the management of through-traffic out of central areas such as Baldwin Street, achieving air quality compliance as fast, if not quicker than a charging zone.

A small number of roads are key barriers to achieving clean air and we are reassessing whether we can make more radical structural changes to these sites to deliver compliance as quickly as possible. New bike lanes being installed along Park Row, Upper Maudlin Street and Marlborough Street should improve air quality, as well as help people get around safely during the pandemic.

This is an exciting time in Bristol’s development. Action we take now will contribute to reducing air pollution, improving people movement for all Bristolians – and help us build back better.

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