The following examines the main proposals of the council’s Easton Safer Streets plan and responds with comments and views that have been expressed by various members of Easton Voice.
Whilst it presents our concerns and counter arguments to many of the proposals our intention is that it should be seen as part of a necessary discussion and debate that considers all the implications of these plans for our area.
The council’s stated ambition for their ‘Easton Safer Streets’ plan
The overall purpose of these proposals is to try to force behaviour change upon the residents of Easton. Apparently the intention is to make it much more difficult to move around Easton in a vehicle and it is suggested this will encourage us to abandon our cars and take up walking and cycling instead.
One aspect of this that we find particularly troubling is an implicit middle-class bias in the assumptions that underpin it. The council’s own data has demonstrated that Easton is one of the most economically deprived areas of the city, and indeed within the UK as a whole. It is characterised by a predominantly working class population for whom travel costs are a critical expense, typically employed in low-pay, shift work and zero-hours contracts roles; also typically jobs without the benefit of flexible working arrangements and where failure to arrive on time leads to a loss of pay. Often these jobs are not easily accessible by public transport at the unsocial hours that shifts start or end. These changes will impact upon people who are already facing considerable pressure on their daily schedules. The assumption that they are even in a position to suddenly embrace sustainable transport alternatives takes no account of the additional practical and economic challenges that it would impose upon them.
Moreover, again the council’s own data shows that Easton also has an above average incidence of disability in the community, with an associated need for assisted travel, as well as regular and easy accessibility by mobile care staff. Those are not ‘optional’ travel arrangements that can be easily replaced by walking or cycling.
These proposals seem not to take account of the many and complex reasons for vehicle use by the residents of Easton, presenting a picture of a seamless transition to an urban idyll where everyone has ample time to stroll to school or shops and still get to work on time, and everyone’s job is local and easy to reach. In reality most peoples’ schedules and the demands of their lives necessitate independent transport; simply taking steps to massively inconvenience them doesn’t really seem to be engaging with the broader reasons behind vehicle use and ownership.
And cycling isn’t suitable for everyone. By the time you exclude those too young, or old, or infirm to cycle you have a minority of the population. Add in the need to transport dependents, or family shopping, and the viable cycling option gets even smaller [Source 2010 Transport for London: ‘23% of trips could be cycled in ideal conditions’]. Even then, the simple fact is that walking and cycling has far less appeal or practicality in the depths of a British winter. And then there are many people with genuine and well-founded concerns about their safety on a bicycle once they’ve joined the main routes around the city, irrespective of whether Easton may be any safer.
We also have concerns about the consultation process that has supposedly informed the plan. Many sections of the community remained completely unaware of these proposals until recently. Then there was the recent consultation phase that was scheduled during Ramadan, an insensitive decision and one that would have done little to encourage genuine engagement from the Muslim community, whose focus would have been on other matters.
You can see the council’s map detailing their proposed changes by clicking here – it’s a PDF that will open in a new browser tab.
Key elements of the council’s proposals:
1. Closing Rosemary Lane to through traffic.
The stated intention is to stop vehicles using this as an access route to Fishponds Road. The argument presented by the council is that 15% of the vehicles using this route is through traffic from outside the area. We’d suggest another way of looking at that statistic, which is that 85% of the people using this route are local residents.
Rosemary Lane, Easton.
If Rosemary Lane is closed then all that, primarily local, traffic will be forced to use the Robertson Road junction to join Stapleton Road/Fishponds Road (already a major congestion black spot at many times of day). That means more congestion and pollution to be suffered by those who live alongside this already very busy zone, whilst making it more difficult for anyone who needs to travel in or out of Easton in a vehicle at peak times, as delays at these critical pinch points will have knock-on effects further back in the network of streets too.
Peak-time traffic, Robertson Road lights.
These negative consequences apply equally to the main feeder routes to the south side of the area too, for all those trying to exit on to Whitehall Road.
The proposals may alleviate pollution and congestion problems in some areas, but only to make them considerably worse in other parts of Easton that are already blighted by poor air problems, particularly those with proximity to the M32.
Studies have demonstrated that, in an area such as Easton, highly localised measures to reduce airborne pollution tend to achieve little overall benefit, as pollution levels simply increase in adjacent streets and dispersal patterns mean that noxious gases and particulate deposits will eventually degrade air quality across the entire area anyway.
2. Bannerman Road bridge closure
Bannerman Road rail bridge.
The reasoning behind this is that it would reduce traffic passing up All Hallows Road and thus past the Bannerman Road school complex. Anticipating the need for traffic to still use this road it has been suggested that a new turning circle be created outside the school’s entrance. It is hard to see how such a development could do anything other than produce an entirely new congestion problem on All Hallows Road and streets around it, with traffic trying to travel back up the road meeting those coming down.
This proposal would also have the effect of seeing the railway embankment become even more the ‘great wall of Easton’ than it already is, with those parts of the area either side effectively becoming disconnected from each other, at least for anyone not walking or cycling. This will be exacerbated by the introduction of an extended one-way under the only other bridging point on St. Mark’s Road, making the division almost complete.
Closures would mean rail embankment becomes ‘Great Wall of Easton’, dividing the area.
Any vehicle needing to move between one side and the other will have to leave the area, travel around the perimeter and then re-enter it to achieve that aim. By emphasising this separation, the proposals risk creating deeper divisions within the community, and will make it more difficult for many to reach important retail, cultural and religious facilities.
Although the bollards enforcing these closures may be of the locked, removable variety, there has to be some concern over the potential delays this could cause to emergency vehicles that need to pass through the area, especially in circumstances where any delay could have life or death consequences. In the light of recent events in London, Fire Authorities around the UK are advising against the use of locking bollards because of the critical delays these can create in response times for fire engines and ambulances. It could even impede the police, as it will be possible for those committing criminal acts to flee a pursuing vehicle by exploiting the restricted traffic flow in the area.
A simple illustration of the effect of the proposed changes. Currently an ambulance can get from the Ambulance Station at Croydon Street, to Chelsea Park in 3 minutes – at either 06:30, or 18:30 weekdays. After the proposed changes, this will take at 06:30 = 7 minutes; 18:30 = 9 minutes. (Source: Google Maps, and making no allowance for the additional traffic on Devon Road courtesy of the proposed changes.)
3. Closure of High Street/Roman Road
The proposed plan is to extend the one way on St Marks Road to under the railway bridge and to close High Street to vehicles at the Roman Road junction, permitting only cyclist access. This would also prevent vehicle access to Church Street, Church Avenue, Chapel Street and Greenbank Avenue West from St Marks Road/Roman Road. The only vehicle access to Church Street, Church Avenue and Chapel Street would then be along Bellevue Road and access via Greenbank Avenue West or High Street. This would significantly increase traffic along Bellevue Road, by our childrens’ play area, and on Greenbank Avenue West. These changes would have the effect of merging Bellevue Road, Greenbank Avenue West, Church Street and High Street into a high traffic, congested, and two-way ‘pollution loop’, encompassing the playground. Once again this negates the proposed benefits of cleaner air and safer streets.
Nor would it resolve the existing traffic problems on High Street but displace and contain it within a smaller area, increasing the likelihood of the frequent road rage altercations, often seen on High Street, expanding into the surrounding streets. It would also have the effect of severely restricting emergency vehicle access to our ageing population via the quickest route.
High Street & Roman Road, Easton.
4. Closure of lane between Washington Avenue and Devon Road
The ‘Easton Safer Streets’ website indicates that the lane between Washington Avenue and Devon Road will be closed to cars, with bollards erected across the end of the lane. Making this road into a dead-end is a major alteration that will significantly affect the lives of residents, impact the flow of traffic out of the street, create difficulties for cars and larger vehicles turning and trapping those at the top of Washington Avenue, when, as is often the case, an ambulance is parked in the middle of the street attending upon one of the area’s many elderly residents.
5. Parking restrictions around every junction in Easton
The plan is to introduce waiting restrictions (double yellow lines) extending 5 metres in either direction around every road junction in Easton. The stated purpose is to make junctions safer by improving visibility. In one sense that’s hard to dispute, but the practical impact of doing this throughout Easton will be to remove on-street parking for a lot of residents’ vehicles. Anyone who lives in Easton knows that the parking situation is always difficult; this will make it a whole lot worse. We would recommend that this proposal be reviewed to encompass only those junctions where significant risk factors are identified by a majority of the residents of the affected streets. This will ensure that local knowledge is applied, and people ‘own’ the decision, something that will be critical in defusing the tensions that will inevitably arise when trying to park after a long, physically tiring, day’s work for low pay; in effect the norm for Easton.
Some general remarks:
Another stated ambition by the council is to tackle dangerous driving. We would argue that dangerous driving is not a problem arising from infrastructure design but rather one of attitude and competency. Most of us – especially any of us using two wheels, be it bicycle or motorcycle – routinely encounter poor driving standards on a daily basis. Sadly, the majority of road accidents are not the result of badly designed roads, but failures on the part of drivers that include: poor observation and spatial awareness, lethal inattention and distraction, a lack of fundamental vehicle control skills, both deliberate and mistaken disregard for traffic rules, hand-held mobile phone use while driving (many still disregard the legal penalties), inadequately maintained vehicles, and inconsiderate, abusive and occasionally outright aggressive attitudes. We would also be interested to know whether there is any supporting evidence that suggests whether these changes would actually incentivise people to use sustainable transport alternatives. We are concerned that this may be more of an optimistic wish than a likely consequence. It is difficult to imagine that many additional people will suddenly start embracing the idea of cycling through, say, bitterly cold January rain, so we would be interested to know if there is an expected impact in terms of numbers of people cycling.
Walking is frequently hampered by parking on pavements, and again, we would recommend that each street decide if/where this is so unacceptable as to be subject to prohibition and fines.
By the council’s own admission this is a plan that has been formulated in response to a funding opportunity (from the government’s Cycling Ambition Fund), rather than emerging from a genuine need expressed by a broad section of the community. It appears that Easton has been selected for this because it presents the possibility for a neatly contained ‘solution’ within its boundaries, tailored to align with the grant application’s requirements. But on that basis what we have is a problem that is being created solely in order to seek funds to ‘solve’ it.
None of us are unsympathetic toward the council’s need to gain funding from any sources that it can in the present economic climate, but we take exception to our area being changed and disrupted merely for the purpose of acquiring operating capital for Bristol City Council.
Nor are any of us unsympathetic to the ambition of making our streets safer. However, we’d like to see the evidence – in terms of actual recorded statistics – that suggests Easton is a demonstrably high-risk area, more so than any other, where these measures are actually required.
Please tell us what YOU think about these proposals: Complete our online survey questionnaire (click here)