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Making Bristol better for cycling

Is Bristol’s Temple Gate project really deserving of an award?

We were shocked to see that the Temple Gate scheme is up for an award from the Institution of Civil Engineers. Whilst we are sure that this was a complex engineering project, to talk of a ‘significantly enhanced user experience for cyclists’ is more than stretching it. 

In 2015 we wrote that “these proposals show potential but need to show a lot more ambition”. This has certainly played out, the area is filled with dangerous shared pavements, cycle lanes that end suddenly and ‘beg buttons’ to cross a six lane highway.

We fed back (see here) that there was not enough separation for people cycling, that the plans did not connect to the existing network and that “Several parts of the plan simply show an intent to legalise pavement cycling. This is completely insufficient and introduces conflict. As with other flaws in the plans this does not meet the standards put forward in the Bristol Cycle Strategy.”

We spoke with officers and recommended a different approach (see picture below) but unfortunately our advice was not heeded.

Temple Gate is a good example of the sustainable transport hierarchy flipped on its head – cars prioritised with walking and cycling at the bottom of the pile, and this is recognised in the award nomination spiel with the phrase “without significant detriment to road traffic.” when talking about the success of the scheme. This is the experience of many users of the scheme, that even though our city needs a huge reduction in car journeys, the priority in this project was to maintain vehicle movements.

Shortly after its opening, we filmed ourselves travelling through the area by bike, both on the road with the cars, and on the cycle network. The journey took 2.5x longer by bicycle, and required “beg buttons” to be pushed 6 times in the space of just 600m.

We should be looking at Temple Gate as an example of a 1960s-style planning mistake which cuts off our historic railway station from our wonderful city, that creates delays for anyone not in a car and is dangerous and uninviting for those on a bike.

What makes it all the more frustrating is that the scale of the project meant that the entire highway network was ripped up, redesigned and replaced – a blank canvas to design something of a truly high standard. A once-in-a-generation opportunity has been missed, and will now be much more difficult to rectify in the future.

To see it nominated for an award is a kick in the teeth for active travel in Bristol.