Campaigners to save the UK’s oldest cycle path were overwhelmed last night when so many supporters arrived at a meeting about the route that dozens were forced to listen at an open window.
At least 800 people turned up to show their support and organisers of the event had to shut the doors to the hall where it was taking place.
That didn’t put off the supporters, who repeatedly asked to be let in, and crowded round a window to eavesdrop on the proceedings.
Inside the hall people sat on tables and crammed into corners to listen.
The meeting, held by the Bristol Cycling Campaign, was called after news that the Bristol to Bath Railway Path could be turned into a bus route if local transport chiefs get their way.
The path was the first one to be built on the National Cycle Network by Sustrans, the UK’s leading cycling charity.
Sustrans recently won £50million in Lottery money to massively expand the UK’s cycle path network, but that hasn’t stopped officials targeting the Bristol path.
They want to put a bus lane along half of the currently traffic free route.
However, campaigners say there simply isn’t enough room, and fear wildlife and vegetation would be destroyed during the bus lane’s construction.
BCC founder Rowland Dye stayed outside the meeting hall to speak to people who couldn't get in.
He told BikeRadar.com: “I was inspired by cycling and the whole sustainable transport [movement] by going on the opening ride of the Bristol to Bath Railway Path. It was a significant moment for me.”
Fellow member Steve Loughran told the meeting the petition against the scheme already had 6,180 signatures.
“There are so many cars in Bristol that now there’s congestion everywhere, so people have been looking for a solution, but there is nothing at the far end of this route for people to go out to.
“So the buses may be full going into the city, but they’ll be empty coming back. At the most it’s going to carry 300 people an hour.”
During the meeting, which was attending by retiring Sustrans chief John Grimshaw, campaigners vowed to continue their fight against the plans, using a series of strategies.
These include objecting to the scheme on nature protection grounds – the route is home to bats, badgers and sloeworms as well as a variety of more common local wildlife.
The group will also call on planners to reconsider proposals to put a bus lane on the hard shoulder of the nearby M32 motorway instead.
A steering group has been formed to take the opposition to the next level with the hope of scuppering officials’ plans to submit an application for Government funding in time for a deadline in September this year.
The West of England Partnership, made up of the four local councils, is bidding for Government cash to pay for the £49million project.