While it’s only coming up to the start of September, let’s take some time to reflect on how cycling has changed in Manchester since Septermber last year. Given that they signed up to the Made to Move manifesto in 2017, and have some of the UK’s most talented walking and cycling engineers and project managers at their disposal in TfGM, has Manchester progressed towards being a “byword for cycling” or one of the “best places to walk and cycle”? Lets see…
The Manchester and Salford Inner Ring Road works began in September of 2018. About a month beforehand, signs went up saying works were to begin and to check the website for information. However, the website had only very vague descriptions and no actual schematics, something that remains true to this day. Even as the works are finishing, there hasn’t been a single publicly shared plan. The public was deliberately kept in the dark so we wouldn’t have a chance to object before it was too late.
Deansgate Interchange does see some minor upgrades to cycle infrastructure that was already there, but car capacity into the city centre has been increased, and the most dangerous spots including an unsignalised cycle crossing over a roundabout exit have not been addressed. The only benefits for cycling are larger islands to wait in, and a signalised crossing over Chorlton Road. Very welcome, but very minor.
Chorlton Cycleway: December 2018 – September 2019 (Ongoing)
Back in December 2018, the plans for Chorlton Cycleway were unveiled. This is a very old scheme using government cycle grant money that has been in the works for a while. It was supposed to be built by now, but the decision was made to delay the scheme and use the new Bee Network money to improve the safety. This is very welcome. There was a consultation over Christmas. Many of the local traders were rather hostile towards the scheme as it would mean losing on street parking spaces to provide a safe space to walk and cycle. Some even published a response using falsehoods stating that Trafford’s Talbot Road cycleway had “increased congestion” despite them only protecting existing cycle lanes and not reducing car capacity at all.
After the consultation ended in Jan, we have heard very little about the scheme since. The consultation report was supposed to have been published on the council website in “June/July”, however this never materialised despite my countless requests throughout July and August.
Today I thought progress might finally be being made, however instead of publishing the promised consultation report, the website was simply quietly updated to read “September”.
A Freedom of Information Request I made last month was responded to, saying that the consultation report would be published “in the coming months” and that the scheme would be built in stages, starting from the City Centre/Hulme end. It appears that much of the Chorlton section will go back to consultation with revised plans. We can only hope that the council didn’t kowtow to the unreasonable requests of some traders and compromise safety of pedestrians and cyclists through Chorlton at the expense of motor vehicles. It seems Chorlton might not be a safe place to travel actively for a while yet.
Sackville Street: Feb 2019 – September 2019 (Ongoing)
One day in February, I attempted to cycle southbound on Sackville Street (it’s a one way northbound road with a cycle contraflow lane) to discover the contraflow lane had been dug up. A few weeks later, a new road layout had been installed. The hotel development had taken over one footway and some of the road. Manchester Council deemed it necessary to maintain two lanes on what should be a quiet pleasant road in the middle of the gay village, so they dug up the contraflow cycle lane to make room for the second lane. I complained about this, and another week later, a cycle lane had been painted on the pavement that made both the cycle lane and pavement far too narrow. This then rejoined the road at exactly the worst part, where the oncoming right turn lane began.
Drivers were driving down the whole length of the contraflow lane to get to the right turn lane earlier, which was a clear safety risk.
A Zebra Crossing was then installed to help people cross from the closed footway to the other one. This had severe design flaws and did not comply with the design regulations at all. Drivers often do not stop for people here, even people halfway across the road. After more complaining to the council where I suggested wand orcas to stop people driving in the cycle lane, however orcas were installed. These did absolutely nothing and were driven over with ease by taxi drivers and even buses. You can see the damage on them from only a week or two here. Finally, after much more complaining and sending multiple videos every week to the council of buses driving down the contraflow cycle lane, the wand orcas I originally suggested were installed. However, only two of them were installed. These stopped the driving in the cycle lane at this one specific point, but it is still a massive problem on the whole rest of the road, including the lethal section where the contraflow cycle lane leaves the pavement into the right turn lane, which remains as bad as ever.
After six months of constant tweets and emails to the council, countless photographic and video evidence of clear safety issues, and practical suggestions as to how to fix it, these two wand orcas are the only mitigation measures that have been installed, and their effectiveness is extremely limited to the section they occupy. The rest of the road is still as bad as in March.
It leaves a bit of a sour taste when the council can remove an existing cycle lane overnight with no warning and it takes 6 months and significant amounts of mine (and other campaigners) time to get some incredibly minor and largely ineffective mitigation measures put in. I expect it will take someone dying here before it’s taken remotely seriously.
This is still ongoing. Will it ever be safe?
Chorlton School Schemes: Summer 2019
As part of the council’s school crossing safety programme, some new infrastructure was built around Chorlton High school, Chorlton Park Primary, and Loreto High. The former two schools got Manchester’s first “tiger crossing”, a zebra crossing with provision for cyclists too.
This is very welcome and has been implemented quite decently, although I find that the cycle section is not particularly visible and some drivers are hesitant to stop for waiting cyclists as they (presumably) don’t feel they have to. This is part of a larger issue in the area where these roads are used as rat runs. They are wide, smooth surfaced, the 20 limit is ignored, and everyone parks their cars entirely on the pavement to allow drivers to zoom past. A better solution would have been to make these roads access only with a few bollards, or even “School Streets”: motor traffic free at dropping off/kicking out time.
The Chorlton High route runs along the newly shared pavement to the alleyway that runs parallel to Sandy Lane. Again, this is far from ideal and I would have preferred to see Sandy Lane fixed, but this is probably out of the scope of this scheme. The unacceptable part is that the alleyway has anti cycling barriers on it, despite being a new cycle route. These make it almost impossible to get through with non standard bicycles, such as a trailer. A route to schools should really allow for child trailers…
The Loreto route is equally poor. It’s little more than painted lines on a bumpy pavement. You must give way at every side road, even to cul de sacs and private car parks.
Cycles should really have priority over these side roads. Of course if you stay in the road you do have priority, but this has a similar issue where it’s a major rat run. There is a parallel main road, there is no reason to have through traffic on this road. The parking bays should have been put on the pavement, the whole road double yellow line’d and the road made access only or even a School Street so people can happily cycle on the lovely smooth road surface and what little traffic there is can easily give plenty of space.
These schemes are stated as still ongoing on the council’s website, so there will potentially be further improvements. I have requested the plans but no response as of yet.
Great Ancoats Street – Summer 2019
In short, the council published renders of a “redesign” of Great Ancoats Street, stating that work would soon be starting. There had been a consultation a while back but it was not publicised at all and the consultation materials were misleading, saying the street would see “no overall change”. However, the new plans show that the existing (subpar) cycle lanes were being removed, and there would be no safe space for cycling.
This generated a huge backlash as this is a vital route. It has housing, offices, shops on it. The council’s proposed alternative route that runs down the back streets does not access any of these: people will still want and need to access these places by bike and will be put directly at risk by the new scheme that prioritises motor traffic first, pedestrians second, and cyclists under a lorry.
There was a protest ride broadcast on ITV and the BBC. There was a 1000 strong petition. The council’s own scrutiny committee all agreed that the consultation had not been sufficient and recommended that the plan must go back to consultation. Residents came up with alternative plans, including a fantastic detailed schematic by engineer Bryn Buck, definitively proving that safe cycling could be installed without affecting motor traffic (it would actually improve flow), or pedestrians.
Further digging revealed that TfGM had produced a design with segregated cycleways but this was refused by the council and additional taxpayers money was spent on a plan omitting these.
Despite all the strong opposition from residents, the universal recommendation of the scrutiny committee that the plan goes back to consultation, the executive is going on with the plan regardless, so we must ask serious questions about how democratic Manchester City Council really is. They have been doubling down on easily disproven falsehoods like “cycle lanes cause pollution” and have been ignoring valid points in emails and saying “we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one”.
A6 Widening: June 2019
In June 2019, plans surfaced for a widening of the A6. Unlike other similar schemes, this one actually included a segregated cycle track and bus stop bypass that was much welcomed, however the rest was actively dangerous.
The cycle track emerges into a 1.1m (assuming the drawing is to scale, it is not measured, probably because they know it’s not acceptable) cycle lane. Even the oldest and most outdated government road design guidelines state that 1.1m is not only unacceptably narrow, but actively more dangerous than including no cycle lane at all. The cycle lane emerges into the carriageway as vehicles are moving left towards the junction, creating a nasty pinch point. Vehicles in the leftmost lane will be encouraged to perform an extremely dangerously close pass.
Nothing much more to say about this. Hopefully the plans will be improved, but it’s a long way off being remotely safe for cycling.
Princess Road Roundabout: July 2019
Another MSIRR scheme popped up halfway through the year
, this time to redevelop the roundabout at Princess Road/Mancunian Way. Once again this is a motor traffic central scheme, but thankfully some Bee Network money was added at the last minute to try and improve things for walking and cycling.
There isn’t much to say on this as there has not been any final design approved yet, but there have been three sample designs. On all of the designs, the existing subways (dark and scary) have been filled in and replaced with surface crossings. This worries me a bit as this happened at the A56/Edge Lane junction in Stretford two years ago and the surface crossings now take 3-5 minutes and make you stand in the middle of an 8 lane dual carriageway inhaling fumes as cars zoom past on both sides. There is also one surface crossing currently existing at the roundabout. It takes an absolute age to cross and sadly has a ghost bike where someone was run over a while back.
I understand the subways are not fit for purpose and are too scary for most people, but I would have liked to see them remain as an option, or upgraded to Dutch standards, in addition to surface crossings. Currently, all of the concept designs have three to four stage crossings for those walking and cycling, or huge detours.
The council has been unable to tell us the affect on congestion or emissions. The council has been unable to confirm whether a privately owned community garden will be paved over for the scheme. The council has been unable to say whether the crossings will be convenient, or whether the light signalling will be purely for motor traffic with pedestrians and cyclists only allowed to cross when cars are already stopped for other cars, as is the case with all other similar junctions in Manchester.
I do hope the final plans that are due to be posted soon are acceptable, but there will be very little time to object since construction is also due to start very soon. I do hope it isn’t another scheme like the rest of this list where a car centric scheme is pushed through because construction starts too soon after the release of the plans for any meaningful objection.
A57 Widening: September 2019
Today plans dropped
for a widening of the A57 in Gorton. The road goes from four lanes down to two as it passes under an old railway bridge that now houses the Fallowfield Loop walking and Cycling Route and the council wish to widen this bridge so they can fit four lanes in. Their website states: “As this is only a 300 metre section of the road, no specific cycle lanes are included in this scheme.”
This goes entirely against the made to move manifesto that states that walking and cycling will be at the heart of all new schemes. The plans are also to add a flight of stairs to the Fallowfield Loop which is discriminatory towards disabled users, or people with cycle trailers, heavy bikes they cannot easily wheel up etc. The cycle forum was informed a while back that there was scope for an accessible ramp here but it seems the easy way has been taken.
During the works (which will last a year), the existing bridge carrying the Floop will be demolished. A councillor on Twitter has assured that the Floop will still be continuous, however it is not clear what route this will take, what safety measures will be put in, and how much delay there will be in crossing the A57 that used to take 5 seconds on the bridge. Once again, existing cycle infrastructure is being ripped up and compromised for the convenience of motorists.
In true Manchester City Council fashion, plans emerged from 2013 showing this section of road with 4 lanes AND segregated cycleways.
The council has as of yet been unable to justify why they spent additional taxpayers money on new plans that deliberately exclude cycling when these already existed and were pretty good. They seem to expect cyclists to use the 3.65m traffic lanes, a width used on motorways that will encourage speeds far in excess of the 30mph limit, and a width proven to be the exact sweet spot for encouraging as many close passes on cyclists as possible.
Their proposal seems to be for a 3.0m wide shared path on the north side of the road, but this is simply not acceptable. 3.0m is very narrow for a shared path and puts pedestrians and cycles in direct conflict when they don’t have to be. Cyclists must give way at every side road which they do not have to do in the road. It also encourages road rage from drivers towards cyclists who understandably do not use the shared path, with dangerous driving and shouting “GET IN THE CYCLE LANE!”. The path is also completely inaccessible to westbound cyclists.
It is unclear why the council wishes this conflict on people who simply want to ride to work. Workable plans with safe cycling infrastructure were already made, I have no explanation as to why they were scrapped and nor does the council.
The past year has been extremely poor for cycling in Manchester, actively going backwards. The council seems to think they only have to provide for cycling on certain routes that are being funded by the mayor, and they are free to keep all other routes hostile for cycling. And those few mayors fund routes we do have, are facing delay after delay. It seems dubious that we’ll see construction on any of them in 2019. Cycling and walking must have a holistic strategy that encompasses every new development on the highway. If we are to take the climate emergency, air pollution crisis, congestion crisis, and road death problem seriously, that is the only solution. Manchester’s current attitude is extremely damaging and will not go far enough, pursuing some utopia where traffic flows freely and people can drive everywhere. In reality of course, we know that due to induced demand and further pinch points up the road, these road widening schemes will do almost nothing for congestion, just like all the ones before them.
A successful city is not one where the poor (are forced to) drive, but one where the rich get the bus or a bike. MCC spearheaded by Sir Richard Leese is frankly chasing the former right now.
Let’s hope for a better report card this time next year.