Has Curo found a solution to the problems of cycling north-south in Bath? Survey: we would be interested in your views

Home News & Events Latest News Has Curo found a solution to the problems of cycling north-south in Bath? Survey: we would be interested in your views


During the planning stages of the development of 700 homes on the ex-MOD site at Foxhill in Bath Curo have proposed a number of alternative solutions to the problem of how to encourage cycling at the top of a very steep hill. This is a problem common to much of Bath, which is built on a steep sided valley and has congested roads which are not designed to accommodate both cyclists and vehicular traffic. Cycling along a north-south axis is restricted to the super fit because of the steepness of the hills.

Curo’s suggested solutions to date have included:

  1. A cable car
  2. A vertical passenger and cycle lift from the twin tunnels cycle path
  3. A Trondheim like cycle lift
  4. Racks on the back of public buses

While it is early days and no commitment to any of these solutions has been made by Curo, we set out in this article to examine these options, plus three extra choices of our own suggestion:

  1. Provision of electric bikes for all new homes in Foxhill
  2. A ‘Boris Bikes’ like cycle hire scheme, but with electric bikes
  3. A funicular railway

Each of the tabs below contains further information on the options, background and summary information. We are not experts at accurately estimating costs but we have done our best to provide this in order to inform your views.

It would be very helpful if you could complete the questionnaire at the bottom. We will present the results in a future post and feed them back to Curo and the council. This survey is independent of both the Curo and the council, we are hoping to use the results to inform discussion. If you have any questions please contact us at website@transitionbath.org .

Background - the hills

Background – the hills

A brief examination of the elevation change for a cycle route from Lansdown in the north to Foxhill in the south shows a steep drop of 150m (500ft) and then a steep climb of 140m (460ft) across a distance of 5.5km (3.5 miles):

01 Landown to Foxhill Elevation

Looking at the gradients, they are in the 5% to 10% range for much of the way:

02 Lansdown to Foxhill Gradient

If we narrowly look at the cross-section of the hill to the south of Bath:

03 Prior Park Rd to Foxhill Annotated Elevation

We see there is an elevation change from about 30m at Prior Park Road to 170m at Foxhill i.e. about 140m. The gradient on the direct road route from Prior Park Road

04 Prior Park Rd to Foxhill Gradient

Is relatively steep most of the way, but is steeper at the 0.3km mark and just before Foxhill at about 1.0km when it reaches 20%, although taking a less direct and slightly longer route at the top via Fersfield reduces this to 10%.

The flatter but more circuitous alternative would be to take the official cycle path along the Avon to Oldfield Park and then follow the Twin Tunnels Cycle Path up to the Combe Down tunnel entrance and then onto the top of Perrymead (the path doesn’t exist at the moment):

05 Prior Park Rd to Foxhill Gradient with tunnel

1. Cable car/Gondola

The Alternatives

1. Cable Car/Gondola

This was an early stage suggestion which now looks unlikely to be taken forward. It has the major benefit that it provides a solution for foot traffic and cycling from the centre of Bath to the southern rim of the valley. It would also make Foxhill a destination for tourists providing additional revenue and employment at Foxhill. For foot traffic it would be a significant improvement over the buses as it would avoid the congestion on the roads leading from the centre of town and the Bradford Road.

It would however be very expensive and would be planning permission in a World Heritage Site would be difficult.

Cost?: It is difficult to know how much a cable car running 1.2km with an elevation change of 140m would cost. The new Emirates gondola lift at Greenwich cost £45 million. Based on this feasibility study of a similar urban cable car of about twice the length it would cost about £15million (£800K/annum financing costs) to construct, and about £1million to run annually, against this you might expect an income of £1.6million (200 tourists at £10, 600 commuters at £4 per day). So the route would lose about £200K/annum. However some of the capital cost could probably be recovered via a government or national lottery grant. It would clearly not be something Curo would want to fund as the £15million investment would be about 10% of the capital costs of the whole site development i.e. most of any profit margin they might expect to make from the site. Compared to the £27million recently spent on Bath’s park and rides, and the £1.1 million annual subsidy for bus services in BANES the costs are not high.

For: Solves both cycling and foot passenger public transport problems, would make Foxhill a ‘destination’, would be an additional tourist attraction for Bath, it would provide a revenue stream contributing to the cost of running it, would reduce car/bus congestion

Against: Needs someone with a ‘big vision’ to push through, planning permission difficult, high capital outlay, risky without central government support, might make First Bus service to Combe Down uneconomic. Would those with free bus passes use the service? Not good solution if you suffer from vertigo or its very windy!

2. A vertical lift from the Two Tunnels tunnel

2. A vertical lift from the Two Tunnels tunnel

The second option which was reviewed but also looks unlikely to be pursued is a vertical lift shaft down 80m from the centre of the Foxhill site to Twin Tunnels cycle path’s Combe Down tunnel. Like the remaining solutions this would only solve the issue of cycling up the hill as pedestrians would be more likely either to use the bus or walk up the hill on a more direct route. One of our volunteers used to cycle commute in London through the Greenwich foot tunnel which has 20m lifts at both ends and in his opinion it worked very well.

Again Transition Bath is not really in a position to accurately estimating capital costs, in this case for digging and installing an 80metre lift shaft. If you assume a worst case $10,000/metre for digging the shaft (£500,000) and £100,000 for the lift, plus £150,000 for the building to house it at the top plus other costs, the total cost of a lift would be close to £1million.

For: Would save having to climb 60% of the way up the hill, lower capital costs than a cable car

Against: Who would pay to run and service it as there is not obvious revenue stream? Only solves cyclist’s problems. Potential security issues in tunnel in evenings?

3. A Trondheim-like cycle lift

3. A Trondheim-like cycle lift

Curo’s current proposal is a cycle lift like one currently working in Trondheim. The lift travels 130m up a a 200 incline, and involves cyclists putting their right foot into onto a ‘ledge’ which travels up a channel in the road. It is probably best understood by watching this video!

It is likely to cost about £2000/m , assuming a 300m section up Perrymead and a 200m section along a new track between the entrance of the Two Tunnels tunnel and Perrymead, then the total costs is likely to be about £1million..

For: might become a minor tourist attraction, would save 60% of the hill climb, relatively cheap at £1million

Against: Only solves cyclist’s problems. Would it be reliable and continue to be used in the long term?

4. Cycle Racks on public buses

4. Cycle Racks on public buses

Wessex Water already have bike racks installed on their employee bus service up to Combe Down, although the rumour is that it is little used.

If we assume each bike rack costs £5,000 and they are fitted to 20 buses then the cost is £100,000.

For: cheap, low risk option

Against: may be of limited benefit to cyclists if they also have to pay bus fares. Doesn’t reduce congestion significantly. Service may not be used as per Wessex Water service?

5. Provision of electric bikes for all new homes in Foxhill

5. Provision of electric bikes for all new homes in Foxhill

Electric bikes are solution to dealing with steep hills and are a common sight in Bath. They are significantly more expensive than cheap standard bikes, so to ensure they are seen as a credible alternative to other forms of transport Curo would probably have to subsidize them.

If we assume a cost of £600 per bicycle and one is provided to each of the 700 households, then the cost would be £420,000. The bicycles would have to be seen as an asset of the house to avoid losing bikes when tenants/owners move away.

For: would encourage cycling particularly if reasonable quality bicycles were offered

Against: administration potentially complicated with insurance/maintenance, would only solve problems of transport of those living in new homes. Some bikes might never be used.

6. A ‘Boris Bikes’ like cycle hire scheme, but with electric bikes

6. A ‘Boris Bikes’ like cycle hire scheme, but with electric bikes

This is a variation of the previous proposal but using a scheme like the current Bath bicycle hire scheme. The current service costs £5/day on an annual basis, but we would suspect with the higher costs of more expensive electric bicycles and the fact that there will be limited reuse of the bicycles – i.e. regular commuters will travel down in the morning and back up in the afternoon the price would be nearer to £10/day. At £10/day regular commuters would do better to lease or finance the purchase of their own bikes, and with insurance and maintenance this would cost less than £1.20/day reducing the incentive to use the £10/day hire scheme.

For: more flexible than the scheme 5. (Curo purchasing bikes), would have wider audience outside new home occupiers

Against: probably too expensive

7. A funicular railway

7. A funicular railway

This has similar capital costs to the cable car. Based on a scheme in the Cairngorms we would estimate £15million. Economically it would be similar to the cable car idea, but we can’t see an obvious route for the railway into the centre of town, it would probably have to stop short somewhere near the junction of Perrymead and Ralph Allen Drive.

For: tourist attraction, would reduce congestion

Against: unlikely to happen because of problems routing the track


1.Cable Car£15M but self-financing with income?Tourist attraction, local employmentExpensive, high risk, planning permission?
2. Vertical lift from Twin Tunnels£1MRelatively cheapCycle only solution, only 60% of vertical height
3. Trondheim cycle lift£1MRelatively cheapCycle only solution, only 60% of vertical height, longevity?
4. Racks on public buses£100KCheapMay not get used based on Wessex Water solution, may not increase number of cyclists
5. Electric bikes purchased for new residents of Foxhill£420KGood valueOnly helps those in new homes
6. Electric ‘Boris Bikes’£10/day/bikeFlexibleToo expensive
7. Funicular Railway£15M but self-financing with income?Tourist attraction, local employmentRouting of track difficult, high risk, planning permission

* these cost estimates have been provided by Transition Bath, to date Curo have not made public any estimates it might have calculated