The Bristol Transport Strategy consultation launched last week, and I can hear you asking - ‘so what?’.
While it might not strike you as the most scintillating news, this single document will underpin everything that happens with the city’s transport system for the next 18 years.
Its potential to influence is significant. Rather surprisingly, it’s the first time such a document has existed in Bristol - in living memory at least - and discusses for the first time, exactly how the city is going to face up to the challenges of congestion, poor air quality and the problems in the current system.
It ticks all the right boxes
As these things go, it ticks all the right boxes. It talks about the need for dramatic carbon reductions from the way we move, the need for more walking and cycling and for real measures to cut the number of vehicles on our streets.
All this is set against the backdrop of an additional 100,000 new homes and 80,000 new jobs in the region during the same period. So there is no time to stand still - if the city fails to move at pace on any of the measures it sets itself, it will be falling backwards, quickly.
We can already see tensions emerging - streets full to capacity at peak commuting times, busses that are full to bursting, pedestrian crossings with people crammed two or three deep on the centre waiting for the lights to change, and people cycling seemingly everywhere.
The transport strategy needs to offer something radical
The simple fact is that we’ve not been keeping pace with the rate of population increase. So the Transport Strategy needs to offer something radical - a step change in the way we consider and deliver transport improvements for the city, and importantly, we need them now.
There are some radical ideas, although none of which haven’t already been done in other UK cities, or that are already under development. The headline grabber is the underground metro, but more realistic are ideas such as road user (congestion) charging, a workplace parking levy, comprehensive walking and cycling networks and a ring of park and rides.
But, we’re not likely to see change very soon. Metrobus took the city 12 years to deliver from concept stage to near completion. And that’s a big problem. For instance, the city has been discussing park and ride for the M32 for what feels like a generation. Workplace parking levy was considered in 2013, but dropped.
We cannot build our way out of congestion
There are too many proposals in the document that won’t be in place for years, and there isn’t a single one that will be easy to deliver. All will need strong political drive and commitment to achieve because they all require space taken from motor vehicles.
There’ll be plenty of cries of a ‘new war on the motorist’ I’m sure, but we simply cannot build our way out of our current congestion levels and all the health and wellbeing problems it causes.
And that’s a big problem. Too many of the proposals rely on something else happening first. Because we’re wedded to the status quo, and elections aren’t won by removing car capacity, cycling improvements on our main roads won’t happen before park and rides (nor will bus improvements).
The argument will be that there’ll need to be an alternative in place for all those drivers to switch to first. But that’s always been the argument, and firmly puts the egg before the chicken. Despite record levels of bike and bus use in the city, congestion hasn’t got any better because people are buying more cars and there are more people.
So, what happens if park and rides aren’t deliverable? Or, the underground metro is costed at more than the £4billion already estimated? What will happen then? Will we be left with more of the status quo? Will the bus and cycling improvements have to keep on waiting?
Make your opinion count and tell the council
Regardless of what I think, it’s important that people’s views are heard. This transport strategy will have too great an influence for people not to sit and wait for whatever comes.
Now is the time to engage in the process and let Bristol City Council know what you think the priorities should be. It’s too important to let another generation pass us by - after all, by the time the strategy period is over, my four-year-old daughter will be old enough to graduate from university. Decisions taken now will influence how she’s able to get to school, to visit friends and travel to her first gig in town.