Saturday, 9 January 2016

Prewar Bristol

A lot of newcomers ask us: "what was it like before the war began?", or "How was the city centre before it was ruined by the war?"

Well, the War on Motorists began over 25 years ago —and the city is still suffering under it. Before the war, you could drive from temple way over the rickety flyover, straight to the centre, then past the cathedral and out to the A4, with only a couple of traffic lights in your way. Not now.

Some of the history of pre-war Bristol is still there, if you know where to look. Redcliffe Way for example —have you noticed how wide it is? Or why the road from the Jacob's Wells Road roundabout to (what's left of) the Bristol library is wide, yet deserted. All distant memories of a city before the war.

Here, in our historical artifacts, we've found an A-Z map of Bristol from 1985, when the motorists were not yet under attack by a car-hating council.

Look at the subtle differences
  1.  Castle Park is as it once was: parking. A large amount of its surface area was dedicated to medium to long stay parking for "Broadmead Shopping Precinct" —one of Britain's premier shopping areas. Now: stolen by greenery. And of course, there's a bike path. And look what happened to Broadmead —its decline is not a coincidence.
  2. There's a road, "College Green", where now there is a park: "College Green". Newcomers just don't appreciate how wonderful it was to have a main road going past the cathedral entrance, between it and the council house —showing the council what mattered to Bristol: fast-moving cars. When Anchor Road was reworked in the early 1990s, it was designated the through road, and College Green taken from us; Dean Road becoming a cul-de-sac.  And of course, the park added a bike path. This was one of the first losses in the war —and possibly the greatest strategically. No longer did the council get to see a main road out their windows. And without that, they lost their way: they forgot what mattered.
  3. Redcliffe Way goes all the way through to The Centre, via what is now known as "Queen's Square". That got captured by the tree-huggers at the turn of the century —who went out to plant trees to commemorate their victory. And of course, a bike path.
  4. The infamous rickety flyover has gone. Nobody who has arrived in the last 15 years will ever appreciate the thrill of driving over that single lane flyover, wondering if today would be the day that it fell down. Stolen, replaced by a lights-controlled gyratory. And of course, a bike path.
  5. Templemeads had a motorail terminal. Actually, this was news to us. Apparently you could drive onto a sleeper train and get to Scotland overnight. Of course, being able to drive up the M5, get stuck at Spaghetti Junction, crawl over Wolverhampton on the M6 and then eventually get to the A74 replaced that. And even now, with the M74 and new motorways round Glasgow, the speed enforcement on those motorways have made the journey worse.
  6. The railway path doesn't exist. While they didn't steal our roads for that —they could have converted that old railway line into a new road, or at least extra parking. Instead: a route designed to encourage more law-breaking cyclists to come into the city.
  7. The M32 ends at the "Allied Carpet and sex shops" junction, rather than the more convoluted "queue for Cabot Circus Parking" junction. Again, the addition of vast amounts of parking has made congestion worse on the M32. And, with more lights, pedestrian and cycle crossings.
  8. Nine Tree hill is open to through traffic. This was the great partition of Kingsdown. Before then you could drive down Springfield road, cut through Ninetree Hill and make your way to Jamaica street —allowing you to get all the way from The Downs to the city centre without a traffic light. Not now —and by forcing everyone to drive down Whiteladies Road, St Michael's Hill or Arley Hill+ Cheltenham road, it only makes congestion worse. And again: there's a bike path on the roads they stole.
  9. Prince Street Bridge. Two way, Closed to cars —possibly indefinitely.
  10. Lots of the other little "P" areas have been taken away by offices and housing. And what have we got in exchange? Nothing but the multi-storey parking of The Galleries, the multi-storey parking of Cabot Circus, the underground parking at @Bristol and the vast amount of parking behind Temple meads. That's it.
You can see, then, the multipronged battles which we've been fighting —and losing— in the war on motorists. Those bits of red paint on the main roads aren't the real war, they are just the victory signs, the equivalent of unionist and nationalist kerb painting. No, the battles fought have been far more strategic
  • The closure of the inner ring road, the replacement of College Green and Queen's Square's main roads with parkland and bike paths. And in doing so —increasing congestion on the remaining roads.
  • The closure of important rat-runs, closures which partition whole parts of the city. And in doing so —increasing congestion on the remaining roads.
  • The replacement of surface parking with multi-storey parking facilities. And in doing so: encouraging congestion.
This is what we are up against. And while it's easy to point to the current mayor and say "20 mph zones! RPZ zones!" and accuse him of conducting a war on motorists, those aren't the real war. Those are details in a conflict going back decades.


Unknown said...

Whatever the politics of transport in Bristol I think that in discussing changes over the last 25 years we need to consider the inreaded demands made on Bristol's roads by motor vehicles. I have just checked some national figures and find that between 1994 and 2015 the total number of licensed motor vehicles in Great Britain has gone up by 46%, from 25 to 36.5 million.

As a successful city Bristol has been growing ahead of national trends, so we can conclude that Bristol has experienced at least a 46% increase in the number of vehicles being used on its roads.

It could be argued that, with this increasing demand for motor vehicle journeys on roads, with the consequent increase in demand for parking and loading on roadsides, Bristol's real problem is how that increase can be reversed while not diminishng the city's attractiveness as a place to live, work and study.

Douglas Carnall, @juliuzbeezer said...

The car is a victim of its own success. Car ownership over the last twenty-five years has continued to increase linearly--see this very clear RAC report:

According to the RAC, there were 20 million cars on Britain's roads in 1991; by 2007 there were 26 million, with considerable growth in two- and three-car households.

Whilst these might at first sight be considered figures that support your argument for more parking and roads, the problem in town is that space is limited and choices have to be made. If every trip into the centre of town were to made by car, congestion would rise. Consider the graphic attached to this tweet which illustrates the amount of road space needed by 48 people using various transport modes: a car, the bus, walking, or a bike. It is clear that cars occupy a vast amount of urban space—and the faster they move, the more they need. This high requirement for space is to the detriment of all other modes, and choices have to be made.

Presenting this as a war on the motorist, is to fail to understand the impossible demands of the mode for urban space in any streetscape conceived before the 20th century. A streetscape designed for the car looks like Los Angeles, not Bristol, and if you want a city like Bristol to work for everybody, car use has got to be limited in some way.