Considerate Cycling 33: Cycling Over Prince Street Bridge


Prince Street runs North-South and crosses one of Bristol’s several waters on a swing bridge, helpfully known as “Prince Street Bridge”. The bridge is guarded by traffic lights and is sometimes closed to all traffic (even bicycles) and swung round to allow boats to pass along the channel. The first picture in this sequence, with its bright yellow bendy bus, looks north from the bridge itself. Local political processes are currently struggling to decide on how or whether to make this bridging place part of a new scheme for bottling quarts of travellers into pints of road space.

My narrower interest in Prince Street Bridge is in the pedantic but immediate question of how I should use it as a considerate cyclist. Let’s imagine I am crossing it from the south.


Picture 2 shows my approach. Ahead of me is a blocked advisory cycle lane, traffic lights, swing bridge lights, some cast-iron bollards and a Shared Space sign. A black car has moved across the centre line and is waiting for a green light before moving into the right hand lane and crossing the bridge.


Inching past the parked van, another vehicle is parked in front of it. The black car is still waiting for the green light to cross where oncoming vehicles are currently moving. My cycle/pedestrian route seems to be between cast-iron bollards. I notice that the bollard directing the car is plastic and well-lit.


Moving up to the line I see that another cyclist is using this side of the bridge and that the road-painted symbols indicate pedestrians and cyclists can use the whole lane.


Looking back I can see the end of the advisory cycle lane emerging from underneath the van and car. On another day that would be the approach I should adopt. I also note the wisdom of high-visibility clothing.


Picture 6 show the view from the opposite side of the bridge. It looks south. Traffic lights and bollards reflect those on the other side. There is an advance stop line for cyclists to get ahead of the pack. but it is not very clear. The bike symbol itself is very faded.


Looking back there are marks leading up to the bridge that might once have been an advisory cycle lane across the cobbles. Back at the junction we can see a hint of a bike symbol on the tarmac that might confirm the hypothesis. The row of bollards is impressive. Its lack of reflective properties rather less so. Let’s see how a cyclist negotiates this northern approach.


During my brief observation this crossover tactic was used many times. The nearside cycle lane in ignored and the cyclist crosses the road to go “contraflow”. Here is an interesting example of the same thing:


While his mate has cut across early, a second cyclist, pushing a third bike, is manoeuvring towards the lethal bollards. A motor cyclist is waiting at the white line in front of the traffic lights.


And a final hurrah from a determined pavementeer. Wobbling past me ( I was standing on the footpath) he wobbled off into a happy cluster of pedestrians.

The conclusion I draw from this (and so many episodes around Bristol) is that many accommodations have been made for cyclists at the expense of creating further conflicts that can only be resolved with ingenuity and/or unpredictability. It would be nice if the next wave of progress is done with reference to guidelines that have this kind of muddled situation designed out.


7 thoughts on “Considerate Cycling 33: Cycling Over Prince Street Bridge

  1. You’ve missed what is (to me) the most poorly resolved aspect – when travelling south across the bridge, what do you do when you get to the end of the bridge? If following Festival Way to turn right behind M-shed, do you continue in the advisory cycle lane (against the flow of traffic)? Or mount the pavement? Or turn in and hug the wall of the M-shed? Or – and I don’t recommend this – give up on the official route and go in front of the M-shed? I do this route every working day and I still havent worked out what I am expected to do. This is so emblematic of (so-called) ‘flagship’ routes – as soon as it gets too difficult, they just abandon you. It would be funny if it didn’t also place people in such danger.

    1. Peter – you are dead right. I actually tried that manouevre this week, and it was very awkward. Over the whole section of road the one problem is that nothing is standard and nothing is well signed. Even where markings are present they are nearly worn away and individual road users adapt to whatever suits them. Rather than resulting in the nirvanah of Shared Space, we get the anxious/confused mess of every man or woman for themselves.

  2. I cross this bridge everyday and it does does strike me as one of the most outdated bits of infrastructure considering the amount of traffic it carries. Travelling south in the morning, I usually choose to stick to the road, as crossing to the shared path would, until recently, mean crossing road to get to that, again at the other end of the bridge to get back on the road, and then right shortly after behind the Mshed. Crossing the traffic 3 times in 100m seems slightly less preferably than dealing with motorists’ perception of cyclists as having massively inconvenienced them through here (enforced by the presence of the ‘2-way’ shared path) although I suspect the real effect is negligible. The right turn I do still have to make feels like the most dangerous part of my commute, crossing slowing, but fairly constant traffic, cyclists behind them, and a busy footpath, all on a road that is narrow, but slightly too wide to justify assuming primary position and with above mentioned drivers breathing down my neck.

    Recently there has been a few lines painted on the road, crossing the pavement from the shared path and ending at the road behind the Mshed. I had a taxi driver giving me grief about riding on the road “just to annoy us” yesterday, so thought I’d give this a go, but was immediately put in to a head on collision path with another cyclist coming the other way, as there wasn’t enough room for him, me and pedestrians walking in both directions. Shortly after, I had to cross the very busy pedestrian footpath, then round a blind corner on to the service road behind the Mshed.

    Sorry about the essay, but I really feel that this junction is a nasty accident waiting to happen. I thought I might have seen something about improvement works, in the pipeline, but when I emailed the council to confirm I got no response, and I can’t find it again now.

    1. Thanks for the input. Much appreciated.

      My reading of the bridge is that your southbound solution (stay left on the road) is the correct and intended route. There is no other point in having the pre-bridge cycle lane on that side.

      And as you say, crossing lanes involves conflict with both cyclists and pedestrians on what I call the northbound side.

      In brief, it’s one of the worst cases in Bristol (and there are plenty) of ad hoc experiments in cycle provision that do not follow well-established principles.

      I understand how it happens. Bristol has been ahead of the game in many ways, and the restrictions placed by current regulations inhibit all cycling developments. What we need is firm guidance from the Department For Transport on Mandatory and Permitted infrastructure and an insistence that where “experimental” schemes are installed that these should be genuine experiments with resources to observe, record and report the consequences.

      I’m less sure about accidents waiting to happen. Cyclist collision injuries are still rare on Bristol roads (most involve solo upsets). What does suffer is the confidence and comfort of all road users who try to negotiate poor infrastructure. I believe (but I don’t know for sure) that anxiety and conflict over who should be where has a low-level but real consequence in terms of support for active travel. In effect, everyone has a set of stories to tell about a crazy cyclist or a stupid pedestrian (your taxi driver, for example) and infrastructure which has novel or ambiguous rules is going to add to people’s negative experiences. The consequence can be political opposition to even the most sensible improvements.

      1. I think the southbound cycle lane before the bridge predates the west lane being demotorised and may be there simply because no one ordered its redesign into something that made sense. This was planned as a short term measure to misuse cyclists as a tool to discourage driving on that route and make it easier for the misguided buses from Long Ashton to take over the bridge, I think, but hopefully that plan has changed since I last heard.

  3. This is interesting reading for me as I had a run-in with a motorist who was coming north a few days ago who was so cross at me cycling across the bridge on the road that she assaulted me and ran over my bike causing £90 of damage. I was cycling south and turning left after the bridge (so why would I cross traffic to go over to the cycle lane and cross traffic again to turn left, that just strikes me as plain dangerous). The lights changed while I was going across and I didn’t have time to get to the other side. The police are currently looking in to it.
    I really think the council could help here by painting a very clear bike in the box to at least alert motorists that cyclists have a legal right to use this highway too. It might help to counteract the instances of road rage that I have encountered. Previously, I had a motorist beeping me from behind as I was cycling across and calling me names. This bridge is totally confusing to everyone and the sooner it is sorted out the better.

    1. Lucie, this is not at all good, is it? If you have any difficulty at all get in touch with Bristol Cycling Campaign (or I can do it for you) or the national equivalent, the CTC. There is a Road Justice Camapaign run by people who know lots more than I do about this sort of thing. The person driving the car and the City Council both need to get a better understanding of what their actions (and inaction) can lead to and how they might make things less chaotic in the future.

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