A trip by bicycle into South Gloucestershire

Following Claire Prospert's excellent report on her visit to Assen and Gronigen on a David Hembrow Study Tour, we thought we'd bring you down to earth with a report of the Cycling Embassy's own trip into South Gloucestershire during their AGM weekend in Bath and Bristol.

This is no Netherlands. Heading north-east from Bristol city centre, you quickly enter a cycling wasteland, where the streetscape is entirely designed around the private motor vehicle.

South Gloucestershire, as a whole, is not a place where space is at a premium. The streets are wide, and new roads and development can - and do - spread easily. 

On most streets there is a complete lack of amenity - benches, trees, or the like. Only acres of tarmac, which it appears are not sufficient to accommodate cars, which tend to be parked on the pavements.

These pictures are of a mainly residential street - Filton Avenue - which runs parallel to the main arterial road, the A38. However, there is still a 30 mph speed limit, and nothing to make the street pleasant for cycling. In practice this is simply another road for drivers to hare along, in and out of the city.

On our way to look at the University of the West of England's campus, and the Ministry of Defence's Abbey Wood site, we had to cycle on the A4174 'Link Road', which connects the A38 to the M32 (the motorway built into the centre of Bristol from the M4).

This is a fast dual carriageway, with only a narrow 'shared use' pavement. We have to cycle barely inches away from vehicles heading towards us, at speed. In places it is very narrow indeed. A huge amount of space, but an inability to design properly for bicycles.

I'm assuming the road was built with a pavement, which was subsequently converted to 'shared use' once it was realised that nobody wanted to cycle on a fast dual carriageway. The lampposts remain in dangerous places, however.

Approaching the MOD site, we can see the acres of space available here to do things properly. But they haven't been. A narrow pavement with two-way cycle use.

A roundabout 'treatment' -

Dangerous confusion over priority - who has to give way to who? No clear indication, or give way lines.


The entrance to Filton Abbey Wood station, from the shared use path. We were visiting on a Sunday morning, so the area was practically deserted. But on a weekday, this is busy area, with commuters and students disemarking trains here.

The path is not adequate to accommodate a high volume of pedestrian traffic, and people on bicycles.

Crossing back over the railway line into Filton, we have gates that provide a great hindrance to all but the slenderest cyclist.

The best portion of our trip into South Gloucestershire was the partially 'homezoned' Wordsworth Road, rendered a quiet street by some filtered permeability.

Unfortunately the permeability has been made less than perfect for bicycles in an attempt to stop mopeds passing through (presumably the same logic that led to the installation of the gates in the picture above).

The overall impression from our brief trip into South Gloucestershire was of an authority that just didn't really care about the bicycle as a mode of transport. The low-density sprawl of development here is built around car use; wide, fast roads that are easy to use by motor vehicle, but intimidating to use on a bike. Safe, direct and convenient routes are hard to find, and what little there is has been designed and built to very low standards, or is disjointed. 

We didn't see anyone else on a bicycle.

If you wish to read more about dystopian South Gloucestershire, visit the People's Front of South Gloucestershire - this post is particularly recommended - WARNING: CONTAINS SWEARING!


"We didn't see anyone else on a bicycle."

Not quite true. There was one person who passed while we were stopped next to Filton Abbey Wood station:


The next person on a bike we passed was back in Bristol, on the Concorde Way.

And you didn't even see the best bit!  And just to add insult to injury, it was done during SGlos' participation in "Cycling City".


The bit I'm referring to is the new junction on the A38, just north of the airfield, which appears to have been designed by a transport planner who hates all forms of transport, from pedestrians to hummer drivers, but especially cyclists.  Every applicable set of cycling guidance has been ignored.  Cycling through the junction is difficult, time-consuming and relatively hazardous, and to make absolutely sure that you won't enjoy it, the shared use path appears to have been surfaced by a drunken chimpanzee with a shovel.


In the long history of SGlos' failings, with all the promises of a "Cycling Culture" and the uncountable "we got it wrong this time, but it'll never happen again" occasions, this junction is the pinnacle of their achievement, without a single redeeming feature.  There was yet again no consultation, and when cyclists made their views known, the council blamed the developers, as if the council wasn't the planning and highway authority.


The council used to have an Executive member system, with a single person responsible for transport.  This was first Cllr Pat Hockey, who frequently repeated the phrase that "cycling culture is now embedded in the transport department" followed by Cllr Brian Allinson, who was also Cycling Champion for SGlos during the Cycling City project, despite the fact that he didn't ride a bike.  His commitment could be measured by the number of cycle forums he attended during the two years of the project - a big fat zero.


The good news is that the council have changed the exec member system, and now have a committee, but you might not want to cheer to hard: the chair of the new committee is Brian Allinson, and the vice chair is Pat Hockey.