Get a grip on roadworks accessibility, Bristol

The Frome Greenway has been closed for more than half a year, and nobody seems to care. I chatted about it in this video I made about Bristol’s camouflaged cycleways. The Frome Greenway starts/ends on Castlemead, at the foot of the Castlemead Tower office block, and specifically at a drop kerb adjacent to a pedestrian crossing that lets you enter/exit the carriageway. It’s one of those facilities that Boris Johnson once described as “fiddly things” — a cobbling together of bits of shared use rather than a coherent cycleway — but it’s quite handy all the same, I use it a lot when heading out of town from Horsefair. The pedestrian crossing has been, legitimately, closed for months, because the pavement opposite Casltemead is closed while the cladding is removed from the Harvey Nichols apartments, so the crossing goes nowhere. The cycleway dropped kerb is also closed, with no such legitimate reason, blocked off with a barrier that keeps getting moved back across it, presumably because the “fiddly thing” is so unrecognisable as a cycleway that the construction team don’t realise what they’re doing. Perhaps the council which built the thing with much fanfare only a decade or so ago have forgotten it’s there too. I reported it to them months ago, but got no response and nothing has changed.

These past couple of weeks, utilities works have been taking place on New Thomas Street, next to Gardiner Haskins, on one of the main signed cycle routes to the Railway Path. They’ve reduced the road to a single lane width. Despite New Thomas Street being very inessential as a through route for motor traffic, through traffic has been maintained with two-way traffic signals. Except, New Thomas Street has a side-street off it, Straight Street — which is, in fact, the way that main cycle route goes — which has been omitted from the signal controls, despite being mid way along the controlled section. Presumably because Straight Street is not accessible to motor vehicles, so the construction crew thought nothing of it. Now cyclists heading towards the Railway Path enter a narrowed carriageway where the other road users are under signal control and will assume they have sole right of way — and neither party will have warning of that situation.

There’s surely no need to maintain through traffic on a tiny, easily avoided backstreet like New Thomas Street for the duration of some utilities works, so long as property access is maintained. The section through the road works could have been turned into a temporary cycleway, and saved the wastefulness of running a set of temporary traffic lights.

Similar works were happening for a few days last week at the corner of Trinity Street and St Philip’s Road, the official start/end of the Railway Path — again, two-way signal control, though this time the cycle route was at least accommodated with a “cyclists dismount” sign, despite the Railway Path being by far the largest traffic flow at that junction.

Currently blocking the dropped kerb on a major walking and cycling route, with no alternative ramp or crossing.

Now roadworks have popped up along Pugs Lane, at Anvil Street and Avon Street — the pedestrian and cycle route leading up to Cheesegrater Bridge. They block the footways and dropped kerbs in places, but no ramps or crossing points have been provided for wheeled pavement users to go around or switch to the path opposite. Nor for that matter are there any such ramps for cyclists to bypass the blocked dropped kerbs on the cycle route — or any instructions or diversions for cyclists at all, suggesting that once again the team behind the works didn’t even notice, or care, that they were blocking a busy cycle route.

The overall impression is that no construction or utilities crew in Bristol cares in the slightest about non-motorised street users, and the council are making no effort to change the situation or to enforce even basic statutory regulations, let alone best practice.

In recent years in London, TfL has really got to grips with a lot of this kind of cowboy traffic management and utilities works. When a company wants to block the road or pavement, TfL makes sure they’re properly considering walking, cycling and the needs of disabled people. The default is no longer to preserve as much motor traffic flow as possible, and stuff everyone else, regardless of whether a route is even an important one for motor traffic. If a company wants to close a footway or cycleway for construction or utilities work, TfL will typically instruct them to close the street — or one lane of it — to make a temporary one. Or just as often, they’ll help the company to understand that with the right planning and kit, they don’t need a closure at all.

It took a lot of work to get them there — much of it from Michael Barratt at TfL, who for years has been training and advising construction and roadworks teams, and making site visits to enforce better practice. Bristol City Council needs a Michael Barratt — or at the very least least, to hire the actual Michael Barratt to give their teams a training course, if he offers such a thing.

New housing rising beside a trunk bus route, with the Somerset green belt in the distance.

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