“We fight for space here.” Mr Bell is referring to his wife, who has to squeeze past cars parked on the pavement on her mobility scooter. The elderly couple have lived just off Church Road for 35 years. “The thing is, there’s no space to park in the road either,” Mrs Bell says.
At the end of their street is Beaufort Road, where a car recently crashed into a house. The road has become infamous locally for collisions, as cars drive in and out of this part of east Bristol to avoid the main roads.
Outside their homes, two neighbours chat while cars whoosh past along the narrow street. “It’s so dangerous,” one says, adding that there have been many crashes over the years and it’s hard for pedestrians to cross. “The fumes are bad when I have my window open, my breathing is terrible.”
“Traffic is so bad,” her neighbour of 25 years says, adding it’s only getting worse. “It would be good to restrict cars, but it is quite a major road.”
Limiting traffic is one of the changes that could come to the area if it becomes Bristol’s first Liveable Neighbourhood. Following single road schemes in Clifton and Cotham Hill, where through-traffic was stopped, Bristol City Council is now consulting on whether cars should be restricted over a large area of east Bristol spanning Barton Hill, Redfield, and St George. The aims would be to reduce ‘rat-running’ on residential streets, improve air quality and encourage walking and cycling.
Liveable Neighbourhoods (LNs) have been introduced in other cities, notably London, since the pandemic hit. They have ignited impassioned debates, and some schemes were abandoned, but there is also emerging evidence of growing support and improved road safety.
Such divisive proposals aren’t new to Bristol either. In 2020, the prospect of St Marks Road in Easton being pedestrianised sparked a bitter spat between campaigners and local businesses – and now the plan seems to be dead.
But the East Bristol Liveable Neighbourhood Pilot is based on a lengthy consultation and co-production phase, where potential changes will be discussed with local people, before being trialled later this year.
What residents are worried about
Early consultation with local people has revealed concerns about pavement parking, litter, graffiti, the speed of cars, traffic using residential streets as cut throughs, and pollution caused by idling vehicles.
On a blustery day in Barton Hill, the issue of ‘rat-running’ feels very real. By the Banksy mural at the junction between Marsh Lane and Avonvale Road, cars are snaking their way up from Feeder Road in the south up towards Church Road.
I see dozens of cars drive up Marsh Lane and carry on straight up Mildred Street, a narrow residential road running alongside a school. This is understandably one of the biggest concerns raised by local residents. The house at the end of the road had a car crash into it, so no wonder there are planters at the end of the road bearing the message ‘Please slow down’.
One of the residents, Robert, who has lived here since 1949, says he’d support the limits on cars. “It’s a bit of a nuisance, there’s too many vans and people parking on the road who don’t live here.”
Round the corner is Avonvale Road, one of the main routes cars and buses take up to Church Road, running along the top of Netham Park. Cars squeeze past each other along the narrow road. Stella Cochrane, 35, is pushing her toddler along in a buggy: “It would be nice for there to be less cars. They come along this road quite fast and there are lots of parked cars.”
Another spot with a bad reputation is a stretch of Crews Hole Road along the Avon, where it’s hard for pedestrians to cross, the pavement ends just before the bend, and cyclists join the road blind from the cycle path.
School stress: a sign of things to come?
Restricting cars in this area isn’t brand new. It’s pick up time at Redfield Educate, a primary school on Avonvale Road that has been restricting cars since May 2021 as part of a ‘School Streets’ scheme. It was one of four Bristol schools to trial closing a stretch of road outside the front gates at drop off and pick up times, to encourage families to walk to school, and improve safety and air quality.
Most of the parents I speak to support the scheme, except one mum who finds it harder to walk to school with her kids because of a health condition, and another who has driven from Brislington and had to park further away.
Laura Quaiter, about to walk home with her three kids, tells me: “I think it’s a really good idea. It makes it much safer… I’ve lived here a long time and the traffic is getting heavier, and people use cut throughs, it’s making it quite an unhealthy place to live.
Another tells me: “I definitely think it’s made a difference, it’s healthier for not so many cars to be around. Some people are moaning, but they’re not seeing the bigger picture for their kids.” She says the amount of cars in the wider area is ridiculous and should be limited.
Lyndsey Melling, chair of St George Active Travel Group, has been campaigning on these issues since 2020, when residents wanted temporary restrictions introduced during the pandemic to be made permanent.
She lives on Beaufort Road, which is “horrendous, noisy, and polluted”. “It was never designed to carry this much traffic from East Bristol to the south.” Melling has been involved in a ‘play street’ scheme, where a short stretch of Beaufort Road is closed once a month for a few hours to allow kids to play out.
“Anything like speed humps, speed cameras, one way schemes, which have all been suggested for this part of the road, are just bandaids for a problem which is not going away unless we reduce the amount of through traffic.”
She says as few as two traffic filters could be enough to make the whole Beaufort Road area a LN, which she wants to be rolled out across the city once lessons are learned from this pilot.
Engaging with the community
Despite support from some locals for restricting through-traffic, others I speak to are unaware of it or disinterested. One resident says the LN pilot “doesn’t seem to be that high on people’s priorities”, adding she’s against restricting cars because it shifts them somewhere else.
But it doesn’t seem like any organised opposition to the idea of a LN has emerged yet, perhaps because the scheme hasn’t reached the point of concrete proposals.
Asher Craig, Deputy Mayor and councillor for St George West, says: “We’ve got some great ideas coming through. Predominantly, we want to reduce the amount of traffic that may come through the area and that’s people’s biggest concern.”
Don Alexander, the council’s cabinet member for transport, says the co-design stage exploring concrete solutions over the summer will be more challenging. “Sometimes everyone would like to change other people’s behaviour rather than their own.
“We want to help people feel assured that this isn’t a top down imposition, but working with communities to get the best possible solution for everyone.”
I ask Alexander and Craig about what lessons can be learnt from St Marks Road in Easton, a clear failure in community engagement on cars and active travel. “You have to bring people with you,” Craig says. “What you’re getting from St George is not a skewed view from a small group of individuals with their own interests. You’re getting lots of people with different views.”
Alexander adds: “It’s down to the quality of the work of local councillors. I’m not happy with what’s gone on with St Marks Road.”
But it was also a party-political dispute. Last year, Easton’s two Labour councillors were voted out and replaced by Greens. Recently, the Labour administration criticised the Greens’ inability to bring local people together on how to improve St Marks Road, but many point the finger at the administration and local Labour councillors for how they handled the consultation in 2020.
Barry Parsons is one of the Green councillors for Easton, which includes part of the East Bristol LN area south of Church Road. “With St Marks Road, the proposal was presented as a solution before discussions about what the problems were,” he tells me. But he is more hopeful this time: “The council is actually giving themselves time to properly engage with residents and not focusing on a single commercial street where traders felt their commercial interests were threatened.”
A common fear about LNs is that they push traffic elsewhere, but Parsons says evidence from other schemes shows traffic on boundary roads isn’t always increased. Stopping cars turning onto Church Road so much could improve traffic flow and reduce accidents, which have been a big issue in recent years, he says.
“Church Road needs to be a really important place for people to walk and cycle,” he says. “LN’s aren’t the magic bullet. They can be really beneficial but there also needs to be better cycling infrastructure and improvements to the dire public transport.”
He hasn’t met much opposition so far, remains worried about facing backlash similar to St Marks Road, or the Easton Safer Streets scheme that was scaled back. He is also concerned that funding for implementation still needs to be secured.
Temporary measures are expected to be introduced later this year. The council has committed to a second pilot area, but it remains unclear where this will be and when it will be announced.
Melling from St George Active Travel Group agrees that it’s crucial to get the consultation right. “There’s always going to be people who don’t like the choices being made,” she says. “But at least they will be able to see they’re being made by their neighbours.
“If we get it wrong, we haven’t lost anything, we can take it out, move it around. But if we do nothing, we’re throwing away a once in a generation opportunity. I know people are scared, completely understandably so, because this is where they live, but the risks are small and the benefits are huge.”