Features / Transport

Bristol’s transport in 2050

By ellie pipe, Thursday Feb 27, 2020

The active travel officer heard the collision before she saw it. Regretfully leaving a steaming latte on the countertop, she rushed out to her hoverboard and shot over to the scene of carnage just by the Cascade Steps in the city centre, now overlooked by the Watershed which has nine cinema screens.

The impact of the crash between a cyclist and pedestrian has left the contents of shopping bags strewn across the busy thoroughfare, obstructing impatient commuters trying to make their way across town.

Thankfully, no one was seriously injured this time but it’s the fifth incident in the area this week.

The officer – drafted in as part of the government’s 2045 initiative to police active travel – inwardly rolls her eyes at the generations of councils that have failed to upgrade the poorly-marked shared pathways, despite the campaigning efforts of Sustrans and others.

Following Bristol’s blanket car ban that came into force in 2035, the majority of the population shifted to walking and cycling to get around the city, far exceeding the target of 40 per cent set out in the One City Plan in 2019. But much of the infrastructure remains unchanged since the pre-2020s.

Of course, it’s not entirely the council’s fault; Britain’s exit from the EU in 2020, coupled with the then-Tory government’s clampdown on immigration, led to a chronic shortage of workers that took its toll on everything from health care to construction.

Getting out her notebook to record this latest collision, the officer notes the date: May 23, 2050. This is a momentous day for Bristol as, more than 30 years since plans were first unveiled, the first underground line is finally due to open – an event city leaders claim will revolutionise transport in the city.

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Meanwhile across town, the minister for transport, who has been flown in specially to cut the ribbon on the brand new line, is running late because she has been stuck in traffic in a taxi by Temple Meads for the past half hour and counting.

The multi-million-pound project to improve the area around Temple Quarter started in 2017, when the now world-famous enterprise zone was still in the planning stages. As the ambitious expansion of the area has continued, so have the ongoing upgrades to infrastructure.

Avon Street within the Bristol Temple Quarter Enterprise Zone has been transformed over the last 30 years. Image City Design Group & Richard Carman LD

The long-awaited improvements to the Grade-1 listed station, bringing in the two new entrances and bus interchange, were widely welcomed. But after billions of pounds of public money was wasted on the ultimately-doomed HS2 project, all funding for the West was cut back, meaning early plans to link up Bristol’s newly reinstalled tram network with the existing infrastructure were kicked into the long grass for another decade.

Hopes the much-needed upgrades would be finished in time for the opening of the underground station were then dashed in January 2050, when the council said work would be ongoing until at least 2052, due to complications brought about by the need to further mitigate against the flood risk of rising tides, with hundreds of homes built in the Western Harbour now lying abandoned.

The result is an almost permanent gridlock of taxis, buses, bikes and hoverboards, made worse by the new private drone taxis, commissioned by Bristol Airport to transport visitors into the city centre.

Back when plans for the upgrades to Bristol Temple Meads railway station were just in the planning stages. Source Bristol City Council

Sitting in one of Bristol’s quaint blue taxis, the minister for transport looks through the notes prepared for her by one of the government’s top transport advisers, former mayor of Bristol, Lord Rees of Greenbank.

After the ribbon-cutting, she is due to have a tour of the UK’s first climate adapted innovation districts in the thriving Temple Quarter district. First outlined in a report to Bristol City Council’s scrutiny committee in 2020, the concept has met with international acclaim and has now secured EU funding to pilot similar initiatives in Hartcliffe, Easton, Redland and Southmead.

It’s the first injection of European funding the UK has received in 30 years since recently being readmitted to the EU, and the minister privately wishes it had gone to her Surrey constituency.

The minister will continue her day in the city by having a tour of Bristol Rovers’ new stadium among a new multi-billion-pound housing development on Horfield Common. At least she can fly straight home to London now thanks to the opening of the second runway at Bristol Airport. Efforts to halt the airport’s expansion plans in 2020 were short-lived when the case went to appeal and the decision to refuse expansion plans were overturned by a government inspector.

Keen to see the region’s economy flourish, airport bosses have now surpassed plans to increase capacity to 20m by the mid-2040s, opened the second runway in late 2049 and are already drawing up plans for a third.

An emergency meeting is due to convene behind the scenes next month ahead of the planned visit of veteran campaigner Greta Thunberg. When the environmentalist last visited Bristol as a teenager in 2020, she single-handedly caused a reduction in air travel by 30 per cent, and there are fears a repeat incident could prove catastrophic for the troubled industry.

Subject to increasingly intense lobbying, air travel remains the only sector holding back Bristol’s long-held zero carbon ambitions. With trams now running freely through the city and the success of the UK’s first cable car network, which is soon due to open a new line out to Emersons Green, the heat has all turned on the airport.

Finally arriving at the new underground station, the minister is met by city planners, supporters and campaigners. She publicly denounces the airport’s plans for a third runway, discreetly looking at her watch to see how long before she can board her privately-charted plane to return to the capital.

Bristol’s cable car network is set to expand. Image courtesy of Clifton Cable Car Company

Main illustration by Parys Gardener (www.parysgardener.com).

Read more: Lofty ambitions for cable car system in Bristol

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