How Bristol can be made safer for cyclists to be debated next week

Bristol councillors will debate next week about how the city can be made safer for cyclists after thousands signed a petition. Cycling campaigners are calling for more bike lanes, secure storage and training schemes.

About 2,000 cyclists took part in a demonstration at the start of October, and more than 3,500 have petitioned for safer cycling. Bristol City Council will debate how the city’s infrastructure could be upgraded, at a full council on Tuesday, November 8, exploring potential solutions.

Campaigners are calling for a comprehensive network of safe cycling routes throughout the city, rather than the piecemeal and hodgepodge current bike lanes, many of which don’t clearly join up with other routes or stop suddenly.

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Three years ago Bristol City Council published a wide-ranging new transport plan, setting out how travelling around the city would be made better. This plan mentioned that transport chiefs at the council would publish a new cycling strategy “in the near future” — but Bristol’s cyclists are still waiting.

It’s understood the delays to publishing a new cycling strategy were due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the government introducing a new emergency pot of funding for councils to install new temporary bike lanes during the lockdown. When the UK first entered lockdown, roads in many places suddenly saw far fewer cars, leading to an increase in people cycling.

Ian Pond, chair of the Bristol Cycling Campaign, said: “We feel that there needs to be a comprehensive and concerted approach towards cycling and a delivery plan. The transport plan referenced a new cycling strategy for Bristol, but that’s not happened.

“With the removal of the bike lane on Cheltenham Road and the threat on Whiteladies Road, we feel there seems to be a retrograde step in the approach towards cycling — at a time when the nation and the city want to encourage people away from the car and towards public transport, walking and cycling. This in the face of where things should be going.

“Hopefully there will be a new strategy developed soon. Within our supporters, we have some experts and skills that could help in that process. We’re very happy to do that.”

Bristol City Council is investing some money into installing new bike lanes and paths. A new bike path opened at the start of October in Stoke Park, which the council said would help people using bicycles, wheelchairs or pushchairs to enjoy the park. Upgrades are also planned for Park Row, Old Market, the Bristol Bridge, and a long section of Concorde Way.

The West of England combined authority has also set out some plans for building new bike lanes in Bristol and elsewhere in the region. Its £411-million Local Cycling and Walking Infrastructure Plan details plans for main arterial routes into Bristol city centre, but does not include timescales of when the works will be done — other than at some point before 2036.

Mr Pond said that many people feel discouraged from cycling due to concerns about safety, like bike theft for example, and so might choose to travel short journeys by car instead. Another issue is how many bike lanes have been installed in a piecemeal way, without connecting up to a wider network.

He said: “We have seen progress in Bristol with short sections of cycleways but they don’t join up very well. You go on one section and it feels great but then you’re back in traffic again. Bristol does have a good level of cycle participation, a lot of people cycle here. But these changes aren’t just about the people who cycle today, most of whom put up with the challenges of cycling in the city.

“It’s also about people who might have bought a bike during lockdown and started using it when the roads were quieter and now have stopped using it. Or for other people who might consider cycling, with a short journey to work or seeing petrol prices going up, and particularly with the Clean Air Zone coming in.”

Last year, the Bristol Cycling Campaign surveyed more than 1,200 cyclists and found that half of respondents were put off from cycling more often due to concerns about road safety, while more than a third said they were put off by concerns about bike theft. Members of the public are free to attend the debate next week and submit questions or statements to the council. The full council meeting will be held at City Hall and begins at 6pm.

Mr Pond said: “We’re encouraging people who signed the petition or support what we’re trying to do to raise questions or make statements to the council. It’s a public event, so if people want to get involved, then there’s a good way to do it.”

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