Bristol calling for safer cycling opportunities on the Downs

By Jon Usher,
A young girl riding on Bristol Downs

Cycling has formed a core part of transport policy in Bristol for over 20 years. Continued investment over a long period has led to Bristol boasting one of the highest rates for commuting cycling in the UK, indeed the highest of the Core Cities.

Sustrans’ own National Cycle Network was born in Bristol with the construction of the Bristol and Bath Railway Path in the early 1980s. More recently, the £22.8million Cycling City Project which ran from 2008-2011 developed a network of radial routes for cycling into the city centre.

Since the end of this project the network has continued to develop with funding from the Local Sustainable Transport Fund, and now the Cycling City Ambition Fund. Bristol has continued to demonstrate to Government that investment in cycling as a mode of transport can and will bring real change. 

However, for at least two generations, planning and transport practice in the UK have focused on the car. An unintended consequence of this has been to suppress walking and cycling across all sectors of society. This decline in physically active travel has been a significant contributor to ill-health of many types, including the obesity epidemic currently afflicting all parts of the UK.

We need to reverse this trend, and to come up with a radical vision centred on active travel.

As a result of investment indicated above, there has been a proliferation of routes for cycling through the north east, south east and south west of Bristol. However, there is only one signed cycle route through north west Bristol partly as a result of the topography, but largely as a result of the policy of the Downs Committee in prohibiting cycling on the Downs. In consequence of this, cycling can take place only on the existing highway network, which carries high volumes of traffic and is in no way conducive to encouraging people to cycle.

Previous discussions about improvements to the cycling conditions across the Downs themselves have not resulted in any major improvements with existing facilities pushed to the margins on substandard width paths.

With Bristol being awarded European Green Capital in 2015 there is a perfect opportunity to encourage greater use of sustainable transport modes across the Clifton and Durdham Downs.

Bristol has high aspirations for changing the cycling environment across the city, and Mayor Ferguson has a stated objective of increasing the levels of commuting cycling to 20% by 2020 (from its current level of 7.8% as reported by the 2011 Census). In order to achieve this level of change, existing cyclists cannot be expected to cycle more.

Many would like to cycle but find the existing road environment too intimidating as a result of the speed and volume of traffic. The only means of addressing this is to provide people with safe routes to enable them to cycle in comfort and with freedom from fear.

These ambitious plans for the city have seen the development of a strategic cycle network plan.

This network is comprehensive and largely mirrors the primary road network across the city. A mesh size of approximately 500m means you’re never far away from a high quality, safe and attractive facility. This will enable a far greater number of journeys to be made by bike both into the city for work and leisure, but also across the city for shorter utility journeys.

Cycling on the Downs – the current position:

It shall be lawful for the Downs Committee from time to time to exercise the following powers with respect to the said Downs, and make all necessary orders for carrying the same into effect: ... They may from time to time direct what parts of the said Downs shall or shall not be used by carriages and horses.[1]

The Downs Committee currently prohibits cycling on any part of the Clifton or Durdham Downs, whether across the turfed areas or made paths through existing bylaw powers. These powers are within the gift of the Downs Committee to alter at any time as they see fit.

Sustrans is supporting a local community group who are calling for a series of temporary road closures of Circular Road during 2015 as a celebration of Bristol’s status as European Green Capital.

Read Sustrans' Cycling on Clifton and Durdham Downs Report, presented to the Downs Committee in July 2014.

The closures would provide the perfect opportunity for families to cycle without the fear of motor traffic – providing a space to learn to cycle, to play and to enjoy the Downs’ environment free from motor traffic. The planned closures would work much like the hugely successful Make Sundays Special events in the centre, but have already been objected to by the Downs Committee.

A petition has been set up, calling on the Committee to review its decision, which has now reached over 3,000 signatures and we would urge all who want to see safer opportunities for cycling on the Downs to support it too.

Read News stories about Sustrans' work in the South West.

Find out more about how Sustrans works to get communities active.




More blog posts by Jon Usher