Bus route will tear the heart out of cycle path, says Sustrans chief

UK's leading cycling charity vows to fight controversial bus lane

The UK’s leading cycling charity has said plans for a bus route alongside its flagship bike path will “tear the heart out” of it.

The Bristol to Bath Railway Path was built by Sustrans in the early 1980s and became the first route on the National Cycle Network, which now stretches more than 10,000 miles.

But last week local transport chiefs unveiled plans to build a bus lane running along half of its 13 mile length – despite warnings by cyclists that there is simply not enough room.

Currently the path is used by some 2.4million cyclists and walkers each year.

In a letter to Bristol City Council, which, along with three other local councils, is behind the plans, Sustrans chief executive John Grimshaw said: “We are implacably opposed to the proposed route from Bristol city centre to Emersons Green because of the highly negative impact it will have on levels of walking and cycling in Bristol.

“Given the commitments made by Bristol to sustainability, it is counter-intuitive, to say the absolute least, for you to be proposing a bus route which would tear the heart out of what is already one of the best used public spaces…in Bristol and, indeed, the UK.”

A public statement released by Mr Grimshaw on the day his letter was sent said: “It is now widely accepted that well-designed high quality paths, bridges and  walkways are crucial for enabling many more people to walk and cycle for everyday journeys.  

“Indeed recent guidance from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence says just this, and urges transport planners to focus on creating excellent routes for walkers and cyclists to combat our spiraling obesity rates.

“Whilst Sustrans  absolutely supports the development of high quality public transport to complement walking and cycling for local journeys, one should not be developed to the detriment of  the other.  This is robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

The path is completely car-free, but parts of it run close to busy main roads in Bristol and a disused railway.

It is on these sections of the route that the West of England Partnership – an umbrella group for the four main local councils, wants to install a six metre wide bus lane.

But much of the path is not currently wide enough to take a bus lane, prompting fears that trees and hedgerows which border the route will be destroyed, along with local wildlife.

The proposals were first mooted several years ago, including the use of hybrid fuel buses along the path, but then seemed to die a death.

However, they have now been revived and form a major part of the partnership’s plans for the next decade. Sustrans owns part of the route, which has prompted fears the partnership could use compulsory purchase powers to take it over.

The partnership has pledged to consult cycling groups, but if the plans go ahead construction could begin as early as 2011, with completion expected by 2014.

Local cyclists are planning a public meeting on Tuesday, February 5, to discuss what action to take. It will be held at the Cornubia Pub, in Temple Street, Bristol, at 7.30pm.

An online petition against the plans has also been launched.

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