City Centre re-modelling – let’s open the debate

Draft plans have been drawn up looking at how Bristol city centre might incorporate a bus rapid transit system in the future.

Cllr Jon Rogers - Cabinet Member for Transport and Sustainability

Cllr Jon Rogers - Cabinet Member for Transport and Sustainability

Cllr Jon Rogers, Cabinet Member for Transport and Sustainable Development, comments: “By 2015 our bus rapid transit system must connect in the centre and work in harmony with the Greater Bristol Bus Network arrivals and departures. When it does, we’d like passengers to alight in a smart, sustainable space, with clean air and a calm atmosphere.

“2015 is a long way off, but we need to open the debate on what could work and what plans could mean for pedestrians, cyclists, public transport users and motorists.

“We’re many miles from a formal plan, and even further from a decision. But this is your city and we know that many Bristol people will have strong views, so we have sketched out a very rough plan, which we call Draft A to kick-start a debate.

“It has been drawn up so we can all start thinking about this now, make the necessary changes before presenting more formal proposals and hopefully come up with a final plan which does the job it needs to do, but with some consensus that it is a good plan.

“When the centre was first laid out in 2000, the council already knew it needed to incorporate future changes for new modes of public transport. So there would not be a huge re-modelling job, just a reworking of the current design with traffic movements realigned and public transport interchanges further developed.”

City Centre plan A for traffic flow

City centre draft A

Cllr Rogers said the aim was to achieve:

  • A route through the centre for the bus rapid transit network incorporating plans for an interchange
  • a safer and more accessible space for pedestrians
  • a way to keep cyclists safer
  • a better environment
  • a peaceful, respectful and well-landscaped Cenotaph monument
  • a way to manage taxi traffic and party-goers

Cllr Rogers added: “We will have to revisit the issue of motor traffic and its impact in this space. But by 2015, Bristol will be a very different place.

“Public transport including bus rapid transit and the Greater Bristol Bus Network will provide a far greater percentage of journeys to the Centre. And cyclists will have doubled in number.”

Please have a look at the pdf of Draft A before commenting below.

Visualisation towards Colston Hall and Colston Tower

Visualisation towards Colston Hall and Colston Tower

Draft A plans include the following ideas:

  • general traffic would be reduced to one lane in each direction down the Hippodrome side.
  • the whole of the east side would be designed for public transport.
  • the western end of Baldwin Street would be closed to general traffic.
  • two-way traffic using Baldwin Street would reroute down Marsh Street.
  • Colston Street could be closed at the bottom to all but buses and a shared space considered in front of the Colston Hall.

Work is now underway to better understand what impact this could have on existing traffic patterns and existing public transport services and whether it is feasible. Also it will look at what other schemes may be possible or necessary to mitigate what is proposed.

Please have a look at the pdf of Draft A before commenting below.

Visualisation of view from Colston Hall

Visualisation of view from Colston Hall

New visualisations added for northern section of city centre

This discussion has now closed. Thank you for the useful comments and information you have provided. These will be used to inform the Major Scheme Business Case submission to the DfT we are currently preparing as part of the North Fringe to Hengrove Package which is due to be submitted in late March 2010.

This is not the end of our engagement process with the public and other stakeholders. As the project progresses, there will be many more opportunities to have your say on Bristol City Centre. Developing and regenerating Bristol City Centre, especially the Centre, can be an emotive issue and we need to make sure this is done in a considered manner. We look forward to engaging with you about this in the future.

156 thoughts on “City Centre re-modelling – let’s open the debate

  1. The only practical solution to congestion is congestion charging (or road pricing).

    Congestion is a manifestation of the demand for road capacity exceeding the supply. But the demand is inflated by road capacity being made available ‘free at the point of use’, unlike public transport. If road capacity were charged for at a market rate, which would vary with demand, there would be no congestion. It really is that simple.

    In reality all this BRT stuff is preparing the ground for congestion charging. The idea is that once an adequate network is in place the public will be willing to accept congestion charging. Personally I don’t buy that, but who knows.

    Anyway, BRT in isolation just doesn’t add up. Patronage levels will not generate sufficient revenue to pay for it, which is another way of saying the benefits will be less than the costs. But with congestion charging pushing people out of cars it might be a different story.

    Financial justification for the BRT investment will be based not only on what people are prepared to pay to use it but also on other notional benefits to other road users, mainly motorists, resulting from lower levels of congestion than would occur if there were no BRT. But it’s all very hypothetical and is little more than a contrivance to secure taxpayer subsidy.

    Claims that BRT will reduce congestion are based on hypothetical projections of congestion into the future where congestion is projected to be vastly worse than at present and where BRT appears to relieve that implausibly high level of congestion. But congestion even with BRT is still envisaged as higher than at present!

    So we’re back to congestion charging as the only answer. Making buses ‘free at the point of use’ would undoubtedly increase bus patronage but would it reduce car use? Not without congestion charging or some other form of restraint. Which raises the question of why we don’t just go for congestion charging now.

    Congestion charging could be introduced progressively over a number of years so people have time to adapt, starting with fairly nominal charges then ratcheting them up so they start to bite. Travel patterns would then start to change to relieve congestion and allow buses to operate more efficiently, so reducing fares. Walking and cycling would also become more popular.

    It’s a straight choice – congestion, or congestion charging. You can pay in time or in money. But paying in time screws up the highway system for everyone, including public transport, and degrades the environment. Paying in money on the other hand raises the sort of funds that could even deliver the kind of tram system that everyone says they want.

  2. Jon

    The North Fringe to Hengrove park is estimated at £191 million? How many people per annum do you realistically think will benefit from such an ‘improvement’ over whatever exists already? Plus of course there will the inevitable roadworks and traffic delays to both private and public transport during the construction phase – whatever the timescale for that is?

    I would seriously like to hear what the estimated cost would be to fund the existing public transport (buses) network free of charge at the current usage rate?Can First Bus provide us with a figure that they must easily have to hand?

    I know we have to ‘progress’ on transport but just building more roads to create jobs is not neccassary. Divert just a fraction of that £191 million (which is only for a small sector of the city’s transport requirements) into funding free buses over the entire network for a trial period of one month and see how much congestion reduces by – I’d guess 25 at least initially. Then you would have more room on the highways for more buses moving freely and efficiently as possible.

    After the initial disbelief of free buses I’m sure the idea would snowball with more people making the change to reliable public transport.

    You also have to acknowledge there are a number of people who will always have to use cars because of their type of work for visiting clients etc and those people should not be penalised – tolls etc, if they have no realistic alternative option. If they are penalised those companies will only pass their cost onto us consumers – again.

  3. 2015 isn’t that far away and when the reality of the impact of peak oil hits we need a travel system for public transport, cycling and walking that will cope with increased numbers of people. We need to make it more affordable to use public transport and less appealing to drive cars into the centre. If the plans can limit the flow of cars through the centre it will make it a more pleasant place for us all. Congestion is actually decreasing the quality of our lives, I know people will argue that they need their car but for short journeys there are alternatives. If these can be affordable and get us out of our “metal boxes” and actually interacting as humans again I’m all for it!

  4. Jon Rogers wrote “(c) The rapid transit routes can quickly deliver bus infrastructure, but do not preclude later fitting rail if funds become available.”


    Once you have dedicated busways, the option to lay tracks at a later date would certainly be expensive and difficult.

    The options would be:
    (1) Close the busways and divert the buses along trafficked roads
    (2) Lay the tracks at night

    Once you have opted for buses, the opportunity for trams will have gone for ever

  5. Its good that you open a debate for this particular topic, for the welfare of the majority. I like the aim and the idea for this project. I hope it this will become successful.

  6. Its good that you a debate for this particular topic for the welfare of the majority. I like the aim and the idea for this project. I hope it this will become successful.

  7. Fair play to Jon, for opening this debate and encouraging contibutors to argue from different perspectives. My comments on weak leadership are about institutional rather than politically leadership.

    I think only an Integrate Transport Authority, which will pool the resources and energies of the 4 councils to develop greatrer expertise and capacity for the region can solve the transport challenges which Bristol faces.

    A long term transport strategy is required, along the lines of what the Mayor of London has just consulted upon. The Bristol city region needs to be clear about the strategic challenges and develop long term solutions including how to fund them. This would ultimately result in a more ambitious set of options including a light rail system, an oyster type card, green routes, enhanced accessibility and better quality of life.

  8. QS Builder: Nottingham are partly funding their trams through a workplade parking levy, they have chosen this over congestion charging. Bristol has no ambition to be great – sadly we have weak leadership, all the major parties have ruled out trams. Someone should think more creatively about how they could be funded, surely we can’t afford the current levels of congestion with its related disbenefits. There is a mentality in Bristol which I believe thinks that traffic congestion is a sign of a booming successful place – wrong, its a sign of failure. It could all be so different…………

    • Granted here is a sort of shambly-can’t-really-be-that-arsed-ness about Bristol but in many ways is an attractive feature of the place. Too much thrusting and self-important ambition in a city can be as much of a culture-killer as anything else. For example I know many people who visit/have moved here from London who find it wonderfully relaxing and chilled out. It’s good that a city can mull over ideas and allows things to grow organically, but I agree that more focus on the right elements (re-localisation, culture, sustainability, environment, humanity, etc) would help it flourish into something really special. Bristol has many of the pieces of a great puzzle, it just needs a little bit more vision to put them in the right places, so to speak.

      One point you allude too though which is very true is the completely elastic idea of how anything is costed and what can be afforded or not. As a nation we can make a split-second decision to print billions of pounds to re-capitalise our failed private banking sector, pour millions every day into wars in the Middle East, and yet when the public consistently demand radically better public transport infrastructure decade after decade all we effectively hear is ‘we can’t afford it’….

      • MD – Loved your comments and couldn’t agree more. My comments about the lack of ambition are partly borne out of a frustration that Bristol is not realising its potential to be a great city with a vibrant culture and beautiful urban realm. But also how parochial the city has become, everyone settles for mediocrity, the harbourside developments are so disappointing with the downmarket corporate space and psuedo european appartments. Lets see something more creative and organically Bristolian. We’ve got the spaces, economy and most importantly creative and clever people to make this place the most fun, clean, green, accessible, inclusive and socially integrated city in the UK. Come on Bristol lets drop the can’t-really-be-that-arsed-ness and do something about it!

        • We can all chat about these issues forever and we bloggers may not be representative of public opinion any more than elected representatives or authority officers are. I assume that the reality is that the Council and its partners will make their corporate minds up after what they see as an adequate public consultation period. That is the conventional, if highly limited approach to democratic accountability.

          It is, though, a very narrow approach and I do wonder what Bristolians actually want and how they can register their views collectively on issues that will determine the shape and extent of the city’s transport infrastructure for many years to come. Could there not be a variety of referenda questions on, for example:
          1. Do you want a long term plan that is based on trams or guided buses?
          2. Do you want the Portishead rail link reinstated and integrated into the rail infrastructure?
          3. Do you want serious money spent on supporting cycling in and around the city.
          4. Do you want a (close to) zero carbon transport policy
          etc etc. – add you own question…

          The fear is that the limitations of the agenda have already been framed up and that the LA is really consulting on the detail. i.e. we are getting buses and the consultation is just about small variations.

          If we need a radical far-sighted plan for transprot that looks at needs for the next 50 years, I do not think the existing consultation process and the options presented are anything like good enough. Can we not be more radical in ways we consult with our residents. we might be surprised at their views.

  9. It’s nice to have a large public space, but it’s a waste if there’s nothing happening there — European-style cafes in the centre would help give people a reason to be there rather than just pass through!

  10. On January 3, 2010 at 11:54, Jon Rogers replied regarding a tram system

    “The problem is that it would cost too much. We don’t have the money. The Government funding only allocates 75% of the funds required for rail based soultions, whereas for bus and road solutions they allocate 90%.”

    (1) Please explain how other cities have managed to afford a rail based sytem?

    (2) Please give us full details of your cost plan and/or feasiblity study which substantiates the above comment about “not having the money”

    (3) I personally am totally against a politically motivated sub-standard solution which wastes taxpayers money and which will probably be outdated even before it’s completed. I would rather wait a year or two and get something worth having than a temporary compromise now

    (4) Are you prepared to abandon this scheme of yours and seriously consider the more ambitious and far sighted vision of a modern, fast. reliable and integrated rapid publice transport system?

    • qsbuilder asks “(1) Please explain how other cities have managed to afford a rail based sytem?

      These are “off the top of head” comments and reflect my understanding. Happy to be corrected.

      (a) I think previous government funding had been equally supportive of bus, rail and tram schemes. This changed when the huge costs of rail based solutions became apparent.

      (b) Existing city schemes often use existing rail lines – we are similarly looking at Severn Beach Line, Portishead Line and Henbury Loop, as well as the remaining rail infrastructure.

      (c) The rapid transit routes can quickly deliver bus infrastructure, but do not preclude later fitting rail if funds become available.

      • “(c) The rapid transit routes can quickly deliver bus infrastructure, but do not preclude later fitting rail if funds become available.”

        Well, that is true of course, but it also seems rather disingenuous of you to suggest that. I’m slightly disappointed that you are (still) propagating this myth that an upgrade to light rail later is a possibility if the circumstances are right; I think you know full well that this is rather unlikely, even if technically possible: as if it wasn’t hard enough to find funding for new third-class infrastructure like the BRT system. I’m trying hard to imagine what it would take for a cost-benefit study to be able to justify this kind of upgrade…

    • qsbuilder continues, “I personally am totally against a politically motivated sub-standard solution which wastes taxpayers money and which will probably be outdated even before it’s completed. I would rather wait a year or two and get something worth having than a temporary compromise now

      You are entitled to your view. I believe that we need to deliver some top quality bus and rail links in and around the city, and I am not prepared to throw away this opportunity. Neither are colleagues of all other parties (except the Green Party, who strangely voted against the BRT2 scheme at Full Council. In my opinion we need pragmatism and realism as well as idealism.

    • Finally qsbuilder asks, “Are you prepared to abandon this scheme of yours and seriously consider the more ambitious and far sighted vision of a modern, fast. reliable and integrated rapid publice transport system?

      It is not “my scheme”. It is a scheme developed over a number of years, with cross-party support, and support between all four local authorities, GOSW and the Government. I want to see public transport improvements in my lifetime, not throw away opportunities in the hope that “something better will come along”.

    • Dear qsbuilder, I have now had some officer responses to try and “explain how other cities have managed to afford a rail-based system?

      In the 1990s tram systems in other cities in England were generally able to take advantage of a more sympathetic government policy towards funding light rail schemes prevalent at the time, particularly in cities such as Manchester, Sheffield and Birmingham, with higher populations and higher forecast passenger flows than for corridors in the West of England sub-region now being considered for bus-based rapid transit routes.

      Patronage flows following construction were initially disappointing in the latter two systems (although loadings have since improved) and schemes being promoted since then (with the exception of Nottingham and extensions to Manchester Metrolink) experienced substantial cost excalations and subsequent withdrawal of government funding.

      For these two reasons the DfT has since been more sympathetic to bus-based solutions which are seen to provide better value for money on a cost per passenger basis whilst still providing most of the advantages of a tram in terms of reducing car dependency and tackling congestion. This issue is also expected to be increasingly relevant during any possible future limits on government funding for major transport schemes following the economic downturn, and strengthens the need to ensure bids for such schemes are robust, affordable and offer value for money, or face the risk of allocated funding being withdrawn.

      Officers have continued with “full details of your cost plan and/or feasibility study which substantiates the above comment about “not having the money”

      Costs for the North Fringe to Hengrove Package, although still being finalised at this stage, are currently estimated at £191 million (construction cost at future year prices). The schemes making up the Package were assessed through the Greater Bristol Strategic Transport Study. This was a major land use and transportation study which reported in 2006 and considered a range of transport investment and development scenarios including a bus-based rapid transit network. This study has informed both the Joint Local Transport Plan and the sub-region’s transport major scheme programme including rapid transit routes.

      In addition, in December 2009 a separate Technology Review was undertaken for the North Fringe to Hengrove Package which assessed a range of potential modes and recommended a bus-based mode on the basis of a range of criteria including affordability and deliverability. The Review estimated that the lowest possible cost for a `Light Weight Rail’ alternative would be at least £70 million more expensive than the bus rapid transit alternative and would require a significantly higher funding contribution to be sourced locally.

      The bid submission for the North Fringe to Hengrove Package, will include the final cost estimates in March 2010 and will include a full assessment and final cost for the scheme.

      I hope this is helpful?


      • Jon

        Thank you very much for your reply. I did look at the consultation document briefly too, but haven’t had the time to go through it thoroughly.

        It is such a shame that central government is so short sighted. Perhaps local authorities should consider lobbying central government to change their funding policies. On the one hand they are telling all of us to cut emissions, and yet on the other hand they are encouraging the continued use of such polluting vehicles as diesel buses….which regularly can be found parked up but with diesel engines still running.

        If central government would themselves specify a rail gauge (probably same as the rail system) and the trams themselves, then this standardisation might bring down costs.

        I am just very disappointed in this policy from central government. They are depriving Bristol, and other UK cities, from what I still believe to be the very best rapid public transport system and which would be the most attractive to entice people out of their cars.

      • Hello Jon
        I can quite see the problem that we have here regarding costs and congestion in the context of recession and close control of government finances and I do understand that we cannot ignore this. But there does seem to be a will among Bristolians for a plan that will form a visionary, long term and sustainable integrated policy that will set us up to have a transport system we can be proud of for the next 50 years. Is that out of the question in the face of tightening public finances? In the past, recessions have been times when imaginative public works have often germinated.

        Putting the trams vs buses debate aside for a moment, why havent we done a lot more already with our existing rail infrastructure anyway – Portishead, Severn Beach, existing and new local stations, some tram-train ideas for the airport, city centre link. Does all that have to be prohibitively expensive as well?

        I keep coming back to the need for a Vision that we cann all sign up to that inspires us and can be a lever for private investment to complement the public purse.


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