Temporary shuttle lights which had been in place at Parkway Bridge since June 2020 were removed at the start of September, coinciding with the start of the new school year and an anticipated increase in traffic levels. At the same time, footways under the bridge have been permanently widened by small amounts and a 20mph speed limit for road users introduced.
The move appears to represent a climbdown by officers at South Gloucestershire Council (SGC), who as recently as May 2021 argued that the “experimental” scheme should stay in place for a further 12 months.
The measures to temporarily widen the footways on either side under the bridge were originally put in place to allow pedestrians and cyclists to ‘socially distance’ from one another, with traffic reduced to one lane controlled by traffic lights.
However, as traffic levels increased following the end of the third coronavirus lockdown, the three Stoke Gifford ward councillors were unanimous in calling for the scheme to be removed, whilst at the same time pressing for the longer-term solution of building a second, parallel tunnel through the embankment, dedicated for use by pedestrians and cyclists.
Cllr Ernie Brown, writing in the Stoke Gifford Parish Council annual report published in May 2021, said: “The restrictions put in place due to the pandemic have run their course and we are again requesting South Gloucestershire to have them removed.”
However, in a briefing note published later that month, SGC officers responded with a recommendation to keep the scheme in place for a further 12 months, saying that it had “encouraged active travel and improved road safety whilst not having an adverse impact on the highway network”.
With traffic levels expected to further increase from September as the schools returned, the three Stoke Gifford ward councillors persisted with their demands and were eventually successful in securing a new scheme that will “prioritise safety whilst allowing a more controlled free-flowing traffic”.
A report prepared for SGC’s director of environment and community services, who made the decision to remove the lights, shows that three options were on the table:
- Retain the scheme for a further 12 months
- Remove the lights and return to the pre-Covid layout
- Remove the lights and introduce pedestrian and cycle safety measures
Within Option 3, there were three variations proposed: (a) widen the footway on the eastern side and implement a protective pedestrian barrier on that side; (b) widen the shared use path on the western side and remove the footway on the eastern side; and (c) widen the footways by 0.5m on the eastern side and 0.3m on the western side.
The decision reached was that Option 3c be implemented, which the report states reduces the carriageway width to 5.7m, adding that this is “an adequate width for two-way traffic”.
The cost of carrying out the work is put at “approx. £60,000”, although this sum is said to include “funding for several active travel initiatives [at local schools and businesses]”.
The work to widen the footways under the bridge was carried out during a two-week-long series of overnight road closures that started on Monday 23rd August and concluded on Friday 3rd September. The temporary traffic lights and barriers were then removed, allowing two-way traffic under the bridge to resume from the morning of Saturday 4th September.
The new 20mph speed limit on Brierly Furlong and Hatchet Road extends from south of the Church Road mini-roundabout to the Ratcliffe Drive roundabout.
The council says it will be working alongside local schools to further promote road safety and to ensure local children who use the bridge underpass understand the changes.
Speaking after the decision to remove the lights was made public, SGC’s Cabinet member for regeneration, environment and strategic infrastructure, Cllr Steve Reade, said:
“With Covid restrictions having been lifted and the vaccine rollout continuing, the necessity for the current measures under Parkway Bridge to enable social distancing have significantly reduced and we are in a position to look again at how best to manage this junction.”
“I am pleased that the new scheme, agreed following consultation with local members, enables us to again allow traffic to flow more freely under this pinch point without sacrificing the safety of pedestrians and cyclists that travel under the bridge every day, including commuters and students ranging from primary to Post-16.”
Stoke Gifford councillors Brian Allinson, Ernie Brown and Keith Cranney said:
“We are absolutely delighted that the council has listened to our calls on behalf of the community to remove these lights and free up traffic with these positive measures, helping to keep Stoke Gifford moving as we look to move past the Covid-19 pandemic.”
“Public safety remains a top priority for us as local councillors and we are pleased to see the footpaths being widened and the speed limit being changed to 20mph to encourage more considerate driving under and around the bridge.”
“Our campaign continues for a new pedestrian tunnel [through the embankment], removing the risks posed by traffic to the public on foot and bikes, and we will keep pushing the council and the West of England Combined Authority to get this delivered as soon as possible.”
In response to concerns voiced by some readers regarding the reduced road width, an SGC spokesperson said:
“The changes being made to the road layout under the bridge are in line with guidance from the Manual for Streets. There is good visibility between the roundabouts either side of the bridge, which means the new width of 5.7m along this short stretch of carriageway is appropriate. Any high-sided vehicle using this stretch of road, including buses, will, as with the previous road layout, need to follow the designated path because of the bridge’s restricted height. This stretch of road is also being reduced to 20mph, which will make manoeuvring through narrower sections of carriageway easier and safer.”
This article originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of the Stoke Gifford Journal magazine (on pages 10 & 11). The magazine is delivered FREE, nine times a year, to over 5,000 homes in Stoke Gifford, Little Stoke and Harry Stoke. Phone 01454 300 400 to enquire about advertising or leaflet insertion.