Wednesday 18 September 2019

Hotwell's future in a divided city

Bristol is a divided city.

It's divided between North -especially North West- Bristol where the professionals who moved into the city into the city in the 1980s and 1990s settled, and those parts of the city, where families have lived for generations.

It's divided by the future options in life which children going up North of the river have, compare to those in forgotten places like Hartcliffe.

It's divided by air quality, where people who live outside the air quality management area and drive into or through the centre, then get home expressing how glad they are they don't live in the polluted zone, while complaining that even the delayed and inadequate antipollution plans reluctantly produced by the mayor's office an unacceptable attack on their right to drive to work.

It's divided into those people who live in the city and likely to walk, cycle or take the bus, and those people who live in out-of-town dormitory villages. The latter opted for a mock-rural life with an expectation that driving to work in the city should be easy and free. Really, who moved to Portishead without noticing that the A369 is a traffic jam morning and evening because everyone else had the same idea? Who buys a little Georgian something in Chipping Sodbury and then drives to work down the M4 and A4174 without expecting the roads to be moving 30 mph in the rush hour -and why the fuck do you think the rest of us really want to hear about this fact every fucking morning?

Hotwells is one of those places where the division in transport choices are so starkly apparent.

The Plimsoll Bridge: one of the key ways people drive from South to North Bristol -and vice versa, and the way those North Somerset extra-urban commuters can bring their overweight SUVs from their two-cars-per-household mock rural semi-detached houses into what ever office car park they somehow get to park their oversized vehicles.

Alongside it, the Merchants Road Bridge: how people on foot and bike get between the two halves of the city. Visiting it on Saturday, apart from one or two cars heading to or from Spike Island -the majority of traffic was people are using their own legs to get them over.

Admittedly, the Nova Scotia, the Pump House, and The Cottage seem popular destinations for the pedestrians, so legless could well be final state of the journey -but what better places to enjoy a bevvy or four than the waterside pubs in quiet and historic part of the Harbour?

On a bike, you can carry on over the now reopened "Create Centre Bridge" and then on to points south and west (east is a topic for another post). It's here that the literal stratification of transport choices becomes so apparent. While the people in their cars, are busy wondering which lane to take, under the flyover, people are walking and cycling around without anyone cutting them up.

There is a BMX area for those with skills, and a pump trail, for children and adults alike to enjoy trying to negotiate its bumps and berms in a lovely setting. None of this is apparent to people in their cars.

Which group of people do you think are behind these proposals to destroy Hotwells? Is it the families that bring a small kids down on scooters to enjoy the pump trail? Is it people crossing the Create Centre and the merchants road bridges on their e-bikes, ready to -somehow- get into the city centre unscathed? No. It's those business executives who live either in North Somerset villages, or corners of Clifton, and who only ever see the bridge for more than 30 seconds when they're stuck in traffic jam. Which is why they don't seem to have any qualms about destroying what is a key walking and cycling connection point between the two cities -North Bristol and Greater Bemmy. They won't even know it's there, except on some footnote of page 20 on a report; a report they stopped reading on page 3 once the cost of building a tunnel became apparent, the fact that repairing the existing bridge wouldn't make the money became obvious --and that there was some land adjacent to the river which nobody important seemed to be using.

Yes, the council did donate that land "to the people" in the 1960s to compensate for the bits of the park they'd used for the interchange -but they didn't have spreadsheets in that era. We do now, and they send a message to those people who look at numbers on screens in the day, and think about those numbers as they queue on the A370 en route to the newly opened traffic jam that is the new Southern Link Road.

What we're seeing here is one of those moments when we get to decide what city we want to live in. The attempts to convert the railway path into the first of the Metrobus routes was the last time we really got this. A council deciding that a bus route, was more important then anyone trying to walk or cycle into the city, that East Bristol didn't really need its parkland, not when it held up commuters from Emersons Green.

So what city do we want? We can see what city the mayor wants. We just don't understand why he has chosen to represent the car-first commuters are North Somerset and profit-first businessman of Clifton, ahead of the rest of us.

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