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Bristol risks becoming a graveyard of cycling ambition

Promoting safety for cyclists has a positive knock-on effect for health, air pollution and the climate crisis – but without enough political will, funding or decent planning, getting people into the saddle will be an uphill battle.

Illustration: megan_mila

Edition 28

With Bristol’s Clean Air Zone coming soon, this year I’d like to make more journeys by bike. But I know this means I will need to spend time planning safe routes for my journeys and secure places to leave my bike, which will be a disincentive when I can just hop in the car.

I joined the Bristol Cycling campaign because I wanted to help try to make Bristol a place where anyone of any age can feel able to use their bike. It’s a group of volunteers who have been working to make cycling safer and more accessible for over 30 years. There is no doubt that some progress has been made, but our city remains a long way from where it could be.

Even worse, when compared to the substantial plans being implemented in London, Manchester and Birmingham for walking and cycling, today’s leaders appear to have lost the ambition that existed back in 2008, when Bristol was named as Britain’s first Cycling City.

Bristol Cycling believes creating the conditions to give people the confidence to switch to cycling should be a key priority for local and regional government leaders. We see that inactivity is leading to a reduction in health and wellbeing, and reliance on motor vehicles – even for short journeys – is feeding illegal levels of air pollution in inner Bristol, with associated carbon emissions contributing to the climate crisis.

“Infrastructure needs to be continuous and coherent – not the short, disconnected sections we all too commonly see in fading paint on Bristol roads.”

But while two-thirds of UK adults express that, “It is too dangerous for me to cycle on the roads”, we are not going to see more people opting for a bike. The danger perception is real, with cyclists – along with motorcyclists and pedestrians – being far more likely to be killed or seriously injured per mile travelled than car drivers. One of the reasons for the changes to the Highway Code this year is to protect these groups.

Each year, Bristol Cycling carries out a survey to measure attitudes to cycling in Bristol. Our most recent from November 2021 was completed by more than 1,200 people, a third of whom did not cycle regularly. Across all respondents, the primary reasons for not cycling more were concerns about road safety/collisions, bike theft and personal safety.

Conversely, when asked about what things would encourage more cycling the top responses were “protected cycle routes on main roads”, followed by “quiet streets with less traffic”, and “suitable cycle parking at my destination(s)”.

The resurgence of cycling encouraged by the quiet roads during lockdown appears to have been short lived – just like many of the temporary bike lanes – with the majority (80%) of people telling us they are cycling the same or less than pre-Covid, with only one in five saying they are now cycling more.

Going forward, for cycling to become more popular, more people need to be convinced that it is both safe and sensible. Protected bike lanes are an essential component to give people, especially novice or nervous cyclists, the confidence to get on their bike. This infrastructure needs to be continuous and coherent to provide protection from heavy and fast traffic for the whole journey, not the short, disconnected sections we all too commonly see in fading paint on Bristol roads.

We are encouraged by work completed on Baldwin Street and the plan described in the recent consultation for Park Row. But we feel that these small steps in the centre will not change people’s perceptions of overall road safety and hence their willingness to cycle. And certainly, the No 2 bus route (A37/A4018) consultation demonstrates precious little cycling ambition outside of the city centre.

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We think it’s particularly disappointing that this lack of ambition means our region is missing out on a greater share of substantial central government funding being pumped into city regions over the next five years to encourage more walking and cycling. It is depressing, because a bigger slice of funds could have helped reduce transport carbon more quickly, contributing towards the city’s goal of net zero emissions by 2030, together with steps to make public transport better and walking safer.

However, it is reassuring that future cycling infrastructure design and spend will be overseen by a new statutory body called Active Travel England, which will be responsible for ensuring that only high-quality plans are approved for funding.

Huge increases in bike use have been quickly achieved in cities around the world where ambition has been turned into action, notably in Paris (Mayor Hidalgo’s “Plan Vélo”), Barcelona (Urban Mobility Plan), and even car-centric New York (Streets Plan). And the bottom line is that cycling gets safer the more people who do it. Isn’t it time for Bristol to get on its bike?

The No 2 bus route (A37/A4018) consultation is open for comments until 28th January.

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  • Just a small point;
    Parking places for bikes have massively improved in the last 15 years.
    I find it easier to find a place to park a bike than a car in Bristol. [but I’m still releuctant to leave a high-value bike anywhere].


  • Why does the majority of ‘speed/exercise’ cyclists wear dark, often black clothing. They become near invisible against a dark background. Is this all about vanity or do these cyclist suffer the same illusion of power that afflicts large SUV drivers.


    • As you have demonstrated by your very scientific count of the majority, they are indeed visible. I suggest that anyone who can’t see something 5 feet high and 2 feet wide in the road in broad daylight should hand back their licence.


  • There are a number of areas where Bristol has gone backwards compared to other cities, even in the UK, with regards to cycling.
    Firstly just painting the edge of the road as a cycle path without any protection from motorised traffic can still feel very unsafe for many potential cyclists. Without some more obvious barriers as have recently appeared along Park Row, these cycle paths achieve very little, especially when there is so much motorised traffic around. Plus they need to be continuous, not just for a few hundred yards then stop before starting again further down the road.
    Secondly there are not enough options for securing bicycles both near to home and at destinations. Other places in the UK have invested in secure on-street cycle lockers for residents but Bristol has never got past half a dozen trial lockers. Why? In large parts of the inner city having a bike means either bringing into or through the house, which is far from ideal. Also there need to be better options for securing bikes at destinations rather than just a bar and hoping no-one tries to cut through the lock while you aren’t there.
    Thirdly Bristol has not engaged with children to make cycling to school the norm. Far too many are still delivered by car. We need to engage future generations. But again if the routes aren’t clear and safe, plus there isn’t enough provision to store bikes at the school, it won’t happen.
    Finally, things have gone backwards since the e-scooter trial started. It hasn’t displaced driving for those with cars but it has meant that particularly younger people who could have cycled are now taking the lazy and less healthy option of using an e-scooter rather than walking or cycling. Plus the e-scooters can be as much of a nuisance to cyclists as they are to every other road user.
    As for Arne’s point, he is right about the middle-aged (mainly middle class) men in Lycra, going out at a weekend for their exercise, in their dark outfits, but it shouldn’t just be about them. They should be a minority of cyclists and it should be that people in Bristol are just happy to use their bikes to get around more generally. This what you see in places that really are cycling cities such as Copenhagen or Amsterdam.


  • I would have some sympathy with cyclists if it wasn’t for the fact that far too many of them break the rules. I would accept their concerns about inadequate cycle lanes if they didn’t already have unfettered access to all paved infrastructure. The fact is that compared to pedestrians, cyclists are in the minority yet too many ride with impunity on FOOTpaths and other pedestrianised areas. Cyclists have access to far more infrastructure than walkers, despite pedestrians outnumbering cyclists by many hundreds to one.

    We must not forget that cyclists believe they have right of way on the roads, priority on the footpaths and, woe betides if a pedestrian strays onto a cycle path. In my experience, too many cyclist are reckless, inconsiderate and at times, down right dangerous.

    It’s an inconvenient truth that cyclists need drivers to be more considerate than vice versa, because roads are far more dangerous for cyclists than drivers.

    Drivers are more likely to injure or even kill cyclists, than the other way round, so cyclists need other road users to change their bad habits, far more than drivers need cyclist to improve their ways.

    I believe one way to achieve safer shared spaces would be for cyclists to be beyond reproach in all aspects of road use. That means cyclists should NOT:
    Ignore red lights
    Ride no-handed
    Use phones whilst cycling
    Cycle after dark without lights
    Pop wheelies on public highways
    Cycle in busy pedestrianised spaces
    Ride the wrong way along one way streets
    Expect pedestrians to get out of their way on footpaths…yes FOOTpaths!

    If more cyclists stuck to the rules, they may well get more respect from other road users, which would make roads and footpaths safer for everyone. Further, I believe that some cyclist get bad press BECAUSE they are guilty of antisocial cycling.


    • It has been proven over and over that drivers break more rules than cyclists. The thing is if you get a jerk behind the wheel of a vehicle they are dangerous, on a bike they are annoying. It’s cars after all that kill 5 people a day, not cyclists. That’s before you get into the pollution health issues.


    • We are all individuals.

      I’m not responsible for, and shouldn’t be held accountable for, the activities of a load of cyclists I don’t know simply because they and I ride bikes, any more than I’d expect you to be held accountable for the activities of a speeding motorist or someone who drives their truck into a crowd…


  • Bristol council have paid lip-service to ‘cycling city’ but undermine it everyday
    1) Failure to resolve old pinch points and creation of new ‘pinch points’ where cyclists riding on wide and safe roads are forced into direct confrontation with heavy vehicles all across the city. Off the top of my head (a) top of 2 mile hill by the old Lord Russel pub heading east, (b) top of bristol hill brislington heading north (c) the entry to A38 off St James Barton roundabout where the widened pavement and painted cycle path leaves no space for buses to make the turn without crossing the cycle path (d) all along Fishponds Rd NE from Eastville Park etc etc
    2) Use of “top dressing” loose gravel repairs on roads across bristol
    3) potholes and unrepaired road seams –

    It does not require other road users to make us feel at risk….the council do it


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