On Mending a Neighbourhood Divide

There is currently a rare opportunity to improve the streets in Levenshulme and Burnage, South Manchester. In March 2019, “programme entry” to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) “Mayor’s Challenge Fund” (MCF) was gained, which allocated a speculative £2.5m to the project: a large sum of money won by the very hard work of local residents who spent a lot of their own time making the case, talking to councillors, and forming a bid document.

While – due to politics I won’t get into here – those same people are no longer on the project team, the legacy of work remains, and in December, a “trial” version of some elements of the scheme will go in. It has been made clear from the very beginning that the scheme would include measures to reduce traffic volumes and speeds, as well as public realm improvements, cycle parking, crossings of main roads, bus gates, etc.

However, I believe due to a misunderstanding of how the scheme is funded, there has been a lot of pushback from some local residents. I hope this post can go some way into explaining both their position (as I understand it), and the funding source, in an effort to bring everyone back together to secure this funding and get these improvements built. I will be the first to admit that both sides of the debate have been involved in “straw man” fallacies and such, so I hope that putting my understanding of the relevant arguments down as best I can, in total good faith, it might help. I don’t think it’s helpful to anyone to accuse one side as “NIMBYs”, “disgruntled motorists” or such, just as it isn’t helpful to accuse the other side of being “gentrifiers”, “london cycle hipsters”, or wanting to “poison” certain residents.
As I understand it, the main objection to the scheme is due to the fact that there is currently only a plan to install temporary, trial versions of the “modal filters”, which are bollards/planters placed in tactical locations to make a street/group of streets access only for motorists, while allowing pedestrians and cyclists to use it as a through route. Some people have a position that installing these modal filters will reduce traffic volumes on certain streets, while pushing it to other streets which already have high traffic volumes, which they say is unfair. And in and of itself, I don’t think anyone would say that’s a bad point. Of course it would be unfair to do that. The extent of which that is actually the outcome is debated: there’s a school of thought, with some evidence, that due to the filters many people will choose walking or cycling instead of driving, reducing total traffic volumes in the area.
Indeed, the council’s own materials state that they expect a 50-70% drop in traffic on some roads, and a slight increase on the boundary roads for 3-6 months before it returns to current levels.
However, I think this represents a slight misunderstanding of the funding stream and process. While it’s true there is £2.5m allocated to the project, only an initial £700,000 has been released. This was to allow the council and project team to come up with a “business case” to release the remainder of the funding (and potentially even more, for a particularly strong business case). With this money, research into the intervention locations has already been done, school street reports and initial designs have been produced, and engagement has been done, with more currently being done. Some of this fund will allow modal filters to be cheaply put in, with temporary materials, to gauge their effectiveness. This is so that if an issue is found, a filter can simply be cheaply moved or removed, compared to if an expensive filter had been built. The council has also indicated some temporary crossings on busy roads might be trialled simultaneously.
After the trial, monitoring data and resident feedback will be collated which will inform the full design of the scheme, which will then be submitted to the GMCA for the remainder of the MCF to be released, and full construction can start, including all of the traffic calming and crossing measures. 
With this explanation of the funding stream, I hope now people can see the need for the cheap modal filter trials: there simply isn’t money released at the moment for extensive speed calming and crossings. A single crossing can cost £100k and speed tables can reach five figures, so you won’t get many of those for the £700k, and there’d be no business case to get the rest of the money.
I hope a message that everyone in the area can get behind is that everyone wants to see safer, more pleasant streets. And no one wants to see some streets benefit at the detriment of others, which will not happen when the full scheme is put in. The trials are necessary to get the full funding released, otherwise funding will be lost and Levenshulme and Burnage will get nothing. I’d ask people to stop saying everyone with concerns is a “NIMBY”, and I’d ask people to stop spreading disinformation about the scheme (“it will cause congestion”, “it will delay fire engines” etc) when we can’t possibly know that prior to the trials.
I think it’s time to come together and get the best scheme for everyone.

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