Levenshulme Active Neighbourhood: When is an LTN not an LTN?

This week, Manchester council published updated plans and timelines for the Levenshulme Active Neighbourhood. The council’s own wording can be read here but to summarise:

  • Filters will start to be installed by Jan 4 and are due to be finished by Jan 8.
  • Of the 25 filters proposed on the initial plan, only 14 are to be installed in Jan.
  • A further five have potential to be included later in the trial.
  • The final six are not being proposed at all anymore.
First, we should look at the impact that these changes will have on how the active neighbourhood works. Thanks to “Streets for People“, there is an excellent image that neatly demonstrates the benefits of the proposed layout from earlier this year (click for a larger version):
As can be seen wonderfully from the image, the original plans were a “perfect” filtered neighbourhood that splits the area into a number of “cells”, each of which only has access from one main road. This means that “rat running” (cutting down residential streets in a car to avoid queues or traffic signals on main roads) is no longer possible.
In the last 10 years alone, traffic volumes on unclassified (read: residential) roads have increased by nearly 50% while traffic volumes on A Roads and B Roads have stayed at the same level. This is likely due to the A & B Roads being at full capacity, and the proliferation of sat nav apps which direct users down residential streets to save a minute or two.
In the old plan, the A and B roads in the area are already pretty much at capacity, so by reducing the overall traffic capacity of the area, less driving would inevitably take place, due to a phenomenon known as “traffic evaporation” where reducing the capacity of the road reduces the number of cars using it. This is because people either take a different route avoiding Levenshulme (i.e. the ring road), make journeys at different times, make them by different modes (walking, cycling, bus, aka “modal shift“), or don’t make the journey at all (perhaps they consolidate multiple into one). The old plan also allowed people walking and cycling to take the most direct route, making active travel more convenient than driving, discouraging car use for local trips. Evidence of this can be read here.
However, in the new plan, the area is no longer a “perfect” LTN (low traffic neighbourhood), but what is sometimes called a “leaky” one, where there are significant gaps in the filters that allow drivers to continue to cut through many residential streets. Indeed, it could be argued that the new plans for Levenshulme are so leaky as to not really be an LTN at all.
I have done my best to draw the impact of the new plans. An interactive map can be found here, or see the screenshot below:
In this new map, the black lines are the proposed 14 modal filters. I have marked the designated through routes (a.k.a. “main roads”) in red. Then, using the available evidence and some personal judgement, I have marked streets in either green, purple, or pink. Green streets represent filtered streets, or streets where the only motor traffic is likely to be residents and deliveries. Purple represents a possible through route for motor traffic, but not necessarily very busy, and pink represents roads where it is both possible and convenient for motorists to rat run. 
As you can see, there are still a number of green streets (some historic due to pre-existing filters and culdesacs) which represent good walking and cycling conditions, however they are now not well joined up, with plenty of rat runs between them. This means it will be much more difficult to find a quiet and pleasant walking and cycling route through the area, than if the original plans had been implemented. In particular, the Fallowfield Loop offroad cycle path that links to the rest of South Manchester, and the city centre via Wilmslow Road, is no longer accessible via quiet streets, with Crayfield Road being a major rat run between the A6 and B6178 Broom Lane.
There is also now little reason for drivers to give up their cars for short trips within the area, as they can still easily bypass the filters, so the modal shift benefits may not be so strongly felt.
This is a poor downgrade from the original plans, and it is extremely odd, since MCC themselves state that over 2/3 of the comments were in favour of an LTN. The original engagement site made no mention that there would be “referenda” on individual filters, with individual ones being removed if support was not high enough. Modal filters work in tandem to prevent through motoring in an entire area, simply removing one without repositioning others leaves an area exposed to rat running. Removing 11 can have a catastrophic effect on the usefulness of an LTN, as can be seen above.
It is good to hear that a further five may be reinstated later in the trial, and I hope that MCC can swiftly redesign and implement these ASAP. However, the cancelled modal filters must be reconsidered: the scheme simply cannot work with multiple rat runs left open. 
I thought I’d look a bit closer at the rationale for cancelling some of the filters. Atlas Place (purple on my above map) has been a culdesac for a while now due to construction. Manchester council says: “The proposal for a filter at Atlas Place received neither positive nor negative feedback, and so will not be progressed at this stage”. However, when looking into the publicly available data from the Commonplace Engagement (available here, in raw JSON form), I could not come to this conclusion myself. There were a total of 7 responses for Atlas Place. 4 of these were clearly positive, 1 was marked neutral (with a positive comment), and only 2 were negative.
Its worth nothing that all but one of the positive comments mentioned Atlas Place itself, and how the filter would help the local area. The two negative comments did not. Indeed, the top comment, which was too long to replicate here but can be found in the raw data, was an unrelated rant about the whole scheme, which was copy and pasted onto every filter.
Therefore, from this data, I don’t think there can be any doubt that there was overwhelming support for this filter. Indeed, one commenter was quite right in saying that this filter was needed for two others to work. And its removal now means that the area is completely open.
Manchester Council need to release how they analysed the data (as well as comments they received by email or physical media), because this discrepancy looks a little odd.
I am glad the trials are finally starting. I would like to see the removed filters reinstated as swiftly as possible, at least only for a trial, because otherwise I am not convinced the trial will have the positive effect desired and it may harm the business case for full funding to be released.
I would also like to see the promised trial crossings over main roads, and the promised school streets, to really help give people the option to leave the car at home and make that modal shift happen. 

Levenshulme LTN Leaflet: A Fact Check.

If you live in Levenshulme, you may have received a leaflet dropped off by a group known as “One Levenshulme & Co”. This is a group “Campaigning for an Equitable and Inclusive Low Traffic Neighbourhood” in the area, a goal I think everyone can get behind. I have previously written here about the planned Low Traffic Neighbourhood in Levenshulme and Burnage, and how the funding works. I’d recommend reading my previous article first to gain a better context for the fact checking below. As a summary, Manchester Council has received £700k to develop trials and a business case to unlock a further £1.8m (or more, for a particularly strong case) funding to improve the streets in the area. The initial £700k will be used to trial some “modal filters” which make streets access only for cars, while retaining through routes for those on foot/wheelchair, or cycles, as well as trialling a few crossings on busy roads. The remaining money, once unlocked, can be spent on school streets, nicer public realm, crossings, traffic calming, etc.

The following leaflet has been going around. Unfortunately it is a blurry picture, and “One Levenshulme & Co” has refrained from publishing a digital, accessible version, so I have taken it upon myself to type out the letter, which can be found in the Appendix below. I will also quote from it throughout this article.

A leaflet handed out by One Levenshulme & Co. Transcript available in article Appendix

The letter begins with the following:

STOP THE ROAD BLOCKS!!             

We are One Levenshulme & Co, a group of Levenshulme and Burnage Residents who need your help. The Council has proposed an Active Neighbourhood in Levenshulme and Burnage by putting 25 ROAD BLOCKS! into the Levenshulme area in Phase 1. The plan is then to extend the Active Neighbourhood by performing the same disruptive measures throughout Burnage. We want a better scheme but we must act now to demand better roads for all and effective improvements for walking and cycling.

While I appreciate any choice of phrase is used to try to get across a specific point, the immediate use of the phrase “road blocks” without explaining that the road isn’t blocked as pedestrians and cycles can still proceed through, might make some residents unnecessarily worried. I will be using the phrase “modal filter” throughout this piece as it’s the generally accepted term for these interventions. I have explained its meaning in the first paragraph above to avoid any confusion. I think the leaflet could have used a sentence explaining that the “road blocks” are still open to pedestrians and cycles, and all homes will remain accessible to all vehicles, to avoid uncertainty.

This project claims to reduce traffic and make roads safer but will increase congestion and pollution on our busiest roads. This has happened in other places where these projects have been installed. It will make these roads more dangerous as traffic is forced to use “through roads” to get around.

This is the first series of claims that have been made as if they were fact. Of course (and this applies for all claims relating to exactly what will happen to Levenshulme in this article, both by One Levenshulme and myself), there is no possible way to know exactly what impact the scheme will have on the area. There are so many factors and there is no traffic modelling system in existence that can make predictions in a post-Covid world. This is why trials are important, to see exactly what happens, and why the council is using easily moved planters to allow for the trials to be tweaked as necessary if issues arise. I am happy to provide this disclaimer and will always change my stance based on new evidence.

Nevertheless, it’s worth exploring whether similar schemes have increased congestion and pollution on the busiest roads, or made them more dangerous. A similar scheme often raised, is Waltham Forest in London. Immediately after implementation of the scheme, it is indeed true that boundary roads saw an increase in vehicles of 3 – 28%, although it is worth noting that these numbers are still very low compared to the numbers these roads saw just 10 years prior, and in subsequent years, these figures appeared to have dropped again

Table showing the traffic counts on boundary roads in Waltham Forest before and after the low traffic neighbourhood. Boundary roads saw increases of between 3 to 28%
For example, while Lea Bridge Road saw an 11% increase to 16,674 immediately after the scheme, this is still lower than the road was in the early 2000s, and since then, this location has fallen to just over 14k daily vehicles. 
Traffic count data from the DfT for Lea Bridge Road, as linked above. Shows Lea Bridge Road counts appear to have fallen again to pre-LTN levels.

Similar stories can be told for all three roads in the above “Table 3”. The post-LTN numbers are still lower than the roads had seen 10-15 years ago, and numbers have dropped again between 2016 and 2019. Traffic counts in the whole of the LTN area (including boundary roads) have dropped by half, which means not just lower pollution for those on the quieter roads, but for those on boundary roads too.

Maps showing the relative pollution in Waltham Forest before and after the LTN. Before shows a high concentration on the main roads and residential roads. After shows a lower concentration on the main roads, and nearly none on the residential roads.
This is consistent with Manchester Council’s own predictions for Levenshulme and Burnage, taken from their FAQs on the project site:
What happens to all the traffic? Have you done any traffic modelling? Will it not just make the main roads worse? Streets within the Active neighbourhood cells should experience reductions in volume of 50-70% compared to pre-covid levels. As they will only be used for vehicle trips starting and ending in the area (residents, deliveries and school traffic) speeds should also significantly reduce. In the short term, the boundary roads might experience a slight increase in traffic compared to current levels. It’s difficult to compare to pre-covid but we will monitor. Evidence shows a short-term increase (3-6 months) before it drops back to pre-Active Neighbourhood levels. Covid-19 has transformed our mobility patterns, with many fewer trips, schools closed etc. The impact will continue for the rest of the year and potentially beyond, with many people working from home more often, school start times staggered and reduced public transport capacity. As such, any traffic modelling exercise would be unable to accurately predict how people will travel, when and by what mode. We collected traffic before the pandemic and will be monitoring traffic volumes after the trial has gone in, checking whether it meets its stated objectives of reducing traffic volumes and speeds on residential streets.
The council states that it expects traffic levels on boundary roads to rise slightly for 3-6 months while the scheme “beds in”, and then as peoples travel habits shift, (a widely recognised phenomenon known as “modal shift”), these roads will return to pre-LTN levels.
A number of new similar schemes have recently been installed in London and across the country. Unfortunately, due to them not being in place for that long yet, public quantitative data on their efficacy and traffic levels is not yet available. However, this has not stopped folk using them as anecdotal “evidence” that LTNs increase main road traffic, with people taking photographs of boundary roads with long traffic queues on. I don’t think this is useful data either way. Due to the pandemic and fewer people using public transport, road traffic levels in outer London have increased to 150% of 2019 levels. Low Traffic Neighbourhoods are an easy scapegoat for these traffic queues but they aren’t necessarily causing them. In fact they could be helping by ensuring some streets get a relief from the queues, allowing people to walk and cycle in safety and not need to take the car, as well as reducing the total traffic capacity in the area, which through a process known as “induced demand”, ensures that fewer people will attempt to drive. Indeed, Wandsworth removed LTNs after public pressure and still regularly sees queues on all main roads, but now also on residential streets.
In terms of the increased danger claims on the boundary roads, initial data from Waltham Forest indicated that the roads within the filtered area saw a decrease in traffic collisions, and the boundary roads saw similar levels to previously. I couldn’t find evidence to suggest that LTNs increase road danger on the boundary roads.
The leaflet continues:

Getting to and from your home will take longer. Emergency services will take longer to respond. Bin collections will be harder to maintain. Deliveries will take longer. Getting around the area will be harder for care workers, taxi drivers, and vehicles servicing businesses. The Burnage plans in Phase 2 will severely impact the A34, Crossley Road, and Grangethorpe Drive amongst others.

This is quite a long list of “citation needed”. Of course, it is a design aim of the LTN to make motor vehicle trips slightly less convenient, by making walking or cycling faster and more direct for local journeys. A 5 minute car journey might become a 10-15 minute one, or a 5 minute cycle. The hope is that people who are able, will switch their short journeys, where possible, to active travel. However, as a percentage of total journey time, the extra distance for longer, more vital car journeys, is negligible. Delivery drivers will not be affected as all properties are still accessible by van or lorry, and delivery routing satnavs will take the filters into account and find the quickest route.

Of course, the claim that getting around will take longer completely ignores that journey times for people walking and cycling will be unaffected, or even improved: about 40% of Levenshulme households don’t have access to a car.

Regarding the emergency services, there is also no evidence for the claim that response times will increase. In Waltham Forest, both the fire service and ambulance service saw decreases in journey times after the LTN was implemented:

There is also not any evidence that bin collections will be disrupted. Biffa already collects from many cul-de-sacs, and even existing “low traffic neighbourhoods” in Manchester such as Chorltonville. They do not have significant issues.

Finally, the leaflet says:

We support the Active Neighbourhood project’s aims to make it easier and safer to walk and cycle around our area and reduce car use, but we want something better than this plan. Practical improvements to benefit everyone including:

New and improved crossings, repaired pavements with dropped kerbs, better lighting, more seating, one-way streets (to reduce pavement parking), traffic calming and safer junctions, more pedestrian controls at traffic lights, school streets for drop-off and collection times, cycle lane infrastructure, and play streets to reclaim our streets for people.

Again, I think this is a (wilful or not) misunderstanding of the funding stream. The final scheme has always included many – if not most – of these elements. Manchester Council must submit a business case to TfGM that demonstrates that their scheme will reduce motoring and increase walking and cycling. Otherwise there is no further cash. Spending the trial money on resurfacing pavements, or reconfiguring junctions (except where necessary to make the trial work), would not be a cost effective use of the limited funds. The trial will demonstrate that the proposed filter locations work (or not), which will allow the council to develop a business case and final scheme that works for everyone, including traffic calming and crossings on the boundary roads where necessary.

I think everyone in the area agrees that no road should experience a detriment for the improvement of others. Which is why it’s very important that people respond to the Commonplace engagement with details of where they think crossings, traffic calming, etc need to be installed in the final scheme. But I don’t think opposing the trials entirely is productive. The money must be spent by 2022, and TfGM and Chris Boardman have been clear that councils dragging their feet on spending it could see it reallocated to other areas who are more willing. We need to help MCC form a robust business case to unlock as much money as possible. This involves being realistic about what can be delivered in a trial, and what can be delivered by 2022 with the available funds. 

I think anyone hoping for a complete redesign of the scheme will probably be disappointed, it seems unlikely there’s time for a redesign, a trial, a business case, and a full scheme installation by 2022 now. So make sure you get onto Commonplace and suggest improvements/tweaks to ensure the scheme is as good as possible and the money remains in Levenshulme and Burnage!

Appendix: Full “One Levenshulme & Co” leaflet transcript.

STOP THE ROAD BLOCKS!!             

We are One Levenshulme & Co, a group of Levenshulme and Burnage Residents who need your help. The Council has proposed an Active Neighbourhood in Levenshulme and Burnage by putting 25 ROAD BLOCKS! into the Levenshulme area in Phase 1. The plan is then to extend the Active Neighbourhood by performing the same disruptive measures throughout Burnage. We want a better scheme but we must act now to demand better roads for all and effective improvements for walking and cycling.

This project claims to reduce traffic and make roads safer but will increase congestion and pollution on our busiest roads. This has happened in other places where these projects have been installed. It will make these roads more dangerous as traffic is forced to use “through roads” to get around.

All Traffic going through the area will be forced to use ONLY these roads:
Stockport Road, Barlow Road, Matthews Lane, Mount Road, Cromwell Grove, Broom Lane, Slade Lane, Albert Road, and Moseley Road

Getting to and from your home will take longer. Emergency services will take longer to respond. Bin collections will be harder to maintain. Deliveries will take longer. Getting around the area will be harder for care workers, taxi drivers, and vehicles servicing businesses. The Burnage plans in Phase 2 will severely impact the A34, Crossley Road, and Grangethorpe Drive amongst others.

We support the Active Neighbourhood project’s aims to make it easier and safer to walk and cycle around our area and reduce car use, but we want something better than this plan. Practical improvements to benefit everyone including:

New and improved crossings, repaired pavements with dropped kerbs, better lighting, more seating, one-way streets (to reduce pavement parking), traffic calming and safer junctions, more pedestrian controls at traffic lights, school streets for drop-off and collection times, cycle lane infrastructure, and play streets to reclaim our streets for people.

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.

Hyde Road: 6 months later

 It has been 6 months since my last post on Hyde Road, it’s time for an update, as there has been new information. 

My last post explained some serious issues that had been found with the consultation, where the council had deliberately misclassified comments who profoundly disagreed with the scheme as “neutral” to make the scheme seem more popular than it really was. This was explored further by Andrea Sandor in her excellent post for Manchester Confidentials, including an attempt at justification from the council:

Comments criticising the lack of a cycleway were categorised as neutral, reflecting the fact that it was impossible to satisfy those who wanted the inclusion of a cycleway, because funding is not available to deliver this element.

So it seems that if a scheme doesn’t have funding to implement basic pedestrian/cycle safety features, the council thinks that all comments even mentioning anything of the sort should be classified as “Neutral” even if they had significant issues with the rest of the scheme. Quite how this aligns with MCC delaying schemes such as Chorlton Cycleway and Levenshulme Active Neighbourhood due to complaints from motorists, I don’t know, since the funding for these schemes is purely for walking and cycling and so motorists comments should have been categorised as “neutral” by this logic.

Let’s ignore that, and focus on WHY funding was not available to deliver basic pedestrian and cycle safety. A quote from the same response reads: “We applied to the Greater Manchester Mayor’s Challenge Fund for funding to include a cycleway in this project, but unfortunately, this bid was declined”

This is a line the council has used a lot for this scheme, and we touched on this in my last post, linked above. It seems the wording of this is carefully written to shift the blame to GMCA/TfGM for not providing the funding, rather than to MCC for not producing a good enough bid to secure the funding. As I mentioned in my previous post, I got hold of the bid document and it was rather poorly written with typos and missing/incorrect information. Therefore I decided to FOI Request more info from TfGM as to why the bid failed, the response to which can be seen here.

TfGM sent over several documents regarding MCC’s bid for funding from the Mayors Challenge Fund to implement basic walking and cycling safety features alongside the widening scheme. The first of which can be seen below, an excerpt from an email from TfGM to MCC advising that the bid would not succeed in its current form due to a lack of integration into the wider network, and very poor value for money, asking ten times as much per kilometre as the Wilmslow Road cycleways.

Another document outlines a similar story, that MCC had made little to no effort to demonstrate how the scheme would tie into the wider network. The Fallowfield Loop runs on the bridge above and was proposed to have just stairs for access with a wheeling ramp. Of course as we know, after people complained that stairs aren’t accessible to all, MCC have since removed them from the plans completely so everyone is equally disadvantaged. There also appears to have been little to no evidence of MCC getting in touch with Tameside to link this scheme to the Tameside ambition of having the whole A57 walking and cycling friendly.
This document makes it clear that TfGM explicitly advised MCC that the scheme would be unlikely to succeed in the current form, and yet it appears it was submitted like this anyway. It seems that the submission of this scheme might therefore only be so that MCC could state in future announcements that they had applied for funding but it was declined (which is exactly what they’ve been doing). It appears to me that TfGM explained clearly what MCC needed to do to give this bid a better chance at succeeding and it appears little to nothing was done. Therefore it cannot be a surprise to MCC that the bid failed and any attempt by themselves to shift blame onto TfGM for this failure is cynical and unfair.

New Bridge Design

The council have recently had several press opportunities where they have taken photos of officers and councillors standing on the new bridge. Looks are subjective but I think most can agree the new bridge is more attractive than the old one, however the old one was definitely more historic. There’s also the issue where before you were shielded well from the noise and pollution of the road below by the high walls (indeed, it was hard to know you were even crossing a road), whereas now that is not the case with the more open design.

 What is never mentioned however is that the old bridge was 7m+ wide, and the new one is 4m. Considering that there is an open consultation for the Fallowfield Loop and one of the most popular suggestions is to separate pedestrians and cycles, which needs at least 5.5m width to be done properly (3.0m cycle path, 0.5m separator, 2.0m footway), it’s ironic that the Hyde Road scheme removed a “pinch point” on the road, and added a new one on the Fallowfield Loop.

Something also mentioned beforehand, both online and directly to officers and councillors at the consultation event, was concern that the more open bridge design would allow for people to throw stuff off the bridge onto vehicles below.

And indeed recently, due to a problem with kids throwing stuff off the bridge onto the road below, and I hear even climbing on the outside of the bridge, “temporary” scaffolding barriers have had to be installed. I do wonder what the long term plan is, as these barriers are further reducing the already low effective width of the bridge, as well as removing any subjective aesthetic advantage the new bridge had over the old one, but this is just another case of the council not listening to legitimate comments at the consultation and ploughing ahead regardless.

Not a hugely positive 6 month update then. Unfortunately not, but I think it’s important these failings are out in the open so that they can be prevented on future schemes. The road widening is still ongoing below the bridge, let’s hope this is all the bad news out of the way and everything else goes as smoothly as is possible for 1960s-worthy plans being built in 2020.

Hyde Road: a council failing to engage and listen to the community.

The Hyde Road widening scheme is a fair few years old now. It was funded by a government “pinch point” funding scheme where local authorities can bid for schemes to alleviate congestion. The scheme has been pending for such a length of time that signs forewarning of “imminent” construction have been in place since around 2015-2016

A screenshot of Google Streetview from 2015 showing a sign warning of imminent construction

It is worth pointing out the plans originally shared in 2013 at the council’s cycle forum which showed segregated cycle lanes throughout the scheme, and a bypassed bus stop. While these look a little underwhelming in 2019/2020, back in 2013 they were positively ambitious and still represent a far higher level of service than on 99.5% of Greater Manchester’s roads.

Image
As such, everyone had assumed this was the layout that would eventually be built and quietly forgot about it.

That is, until August 2019 when the council website was update with new plans:

These plans show a straight across pedestrian crossing rather than a staggered one (good) and it is closer to the access steps for the Fallowfield Loop cycle path which passes on a bridge overhead (also good). However, they have removed any sort of safe space for cycling. Not only this, but the website stated that the Fallowfield Loop bridge would be demolished for the widening and a new one wouldn’t be added in until 12 months later, leaving the city’s second most popular cycleway split in two for a whole year.

The current historic old railway bridge would be removed and replaced with a longer new bridge which looks a lot less interesting but can span the 4 lanes of traffic. New access steps would be installed to access this path, however there would be no ramp, only a wheeling ramp on the stairs for cyclists to walk their bikes up.
Naturally this was met with negative reactions. Even if we ignore the wider issues with the whole scheme (i.e. that this section of Hyde Road doesn’t appear to be the pinch point, or that widening roads actually often induces extra traffic, and thus noise/pollution without significantly improving journey times), there were many legitimate objections. The lack of any space for cycling was an obvious one, the lack of an equality act compliant access point to the Fallowfield Loop was another. 
It was also identified that it would be difficult to cross the side roads along Hyde Road, and that continuous footways should be used where possible to re-enforce pedestrian priority.
There was a consultation event which I attended and have previously written up. At the time, a local councillor present at the event stated that she was unhappy with the negative feedback the plans had received and would be putting the scheme on hold until it could be redesigned to suit everyone. As we now know, this was not the case and I speculate that while this councillor intended to do just that, higher ups in MCC pushed back and pushed this scheme through as is.
All was quiet for a while, so I put in a Freedom of Information Request for the results of the consultation. Sure enough, just under 20 days later, we got an update. There are several inaccuracies in this response which I will go through now. 
While it is true the works do only run for 300 metres, this has not stopped the Stockport Road widening scheme, funded from a similar source, from including cycle facilities. It is obviously untrue that the road does not link to any other cycle networks as the Fallowfield Loop runs directly overhead, which links to the Ashton Canal, Wilmslow Road to Didsbury or the City Centre, and the upcoming Chorlton Cycleway and thus Stretford Cycleway. The road also categorically is a “Bee Line” (i.e. a route on the proposed Bee Network of cycling and walking).
The orange line denotes the proposed Beeline along Hyde Road, and the yellow is the Fallowfield Loop. TfGM intends that the whole of the A57 from the city centre to Derbyshire will have protected walking and cycling facilities in 10 years. Tameside are already progressing a section in Denton. So it would make perfect sense to do this section of Hyde Road now to avoid future disruption and cost. As it stands, with the proposed plans, there is no room to retrofit cycleways in, without removing traffic lanes. In an ideal world, the scheme would be made wide enough now to fit 4 lanes plus two cycleways, so two lanes can be converted to bus lanes and cycleways built in the future. This is extremely short sighted planning. The only space left for cycling is a 3.0 metre wide pavement on the North side which is too narrow, and shared pavements are awful provision on city streets which see little use.
While it is technically correct that a bid was made to the Mayor’s Challenge Fund (TfGM) for money to add the cycle improvements, it is not surprising it wasn’t accepted. Thanks to another FOI, I have the bid document and it is poorly written with plenty of typos, and little evidence to back anything up. They are also asking for £3m for 300 metres of cycleway, which is quite high, especially since the whole road widening scheme is costing £4.5m, including removing a bridge and digging up an entire road! I do not believe that it could cost £3m to add some segregation kerbs and green tarmac to a road that’s already dug up. While it is technically true that a bid was made and rejected, this seems to be entirely MCC’s fault.
This is simply a shocking decision. As people complained that the steps discriminated against disabled users, and those riding non standard cycles that cannot be easily wheeled (trikes, cargo bikes, tandems), MCC’s response was to simply remove all access from the plans, including the steps. This feels entirely like a punishment for those of us who chose to respond critically to a consultation rather than just agreeing. I have still not been given a reason as to why the ramp isn’t possible: the land is seemingly owned by Sustrans, a walking and cycling charity who maintains the Fallowfield Loop, so it seems odd that an arrangement couldn’t be made with them.
The only positive changes I can see in the new plans is that the lane widths have been narrowed slightly at the crossing as I suggested (which helps protect pedestrians and also those cyclists who are brave enough to use the road here), and an island has been added on one of the side roads to assist people crossing. No continuous footways, no cycle tracks, nothing. The image shows the lack of steps now too.
As such, I decided to make yet more Freedom of Information Requests. I asked for the equality impact assessment. Despite all of the flaws noted above in terms of accessibility, cycle safety, issues with crossing side roads etc, it only contains the marginally positive aspects and ignores the negative ones entirely. Using this new evaluation method that MCC are pioneering, I will be rating my washing up tonight. I smashed half the dishes and the rest have food still on. However, we will ignore those: two of them are as clean as you’d expect, so I give myself a perfect rating on washing up.
I also asked for traffic and emissions modelling. None could be provided.
I asked for the Road Safety Audit. Despite stating that there were eight vulnerable road user (pedestrian, cycle, motorcycle) collisions with three serious in only 5 years, it ignores all the dangerous parts: cyclists being asked to ride on a four lane road with buses and HGVs thundering along, or pedestrians having to cross side roads with no help. Instead it only mentions signage, guardrails, and parking. A grand total of four items for the entire scheme when I can think of double that off the top of my head. See the above innovative self-evaluation method.
Finally, I asked for the full consultation results, i.e. what everyone had commented. And these are the most interesting. As I asked for the comments made by any means (verbal, email, letter, website), we can assume this is the full data-set that decisions were made from.
I draw your attention to the above pie chart which was published with the original consultation result FOI, prior to me requesting the individual comments. This is how MCC categorised the comments, to make it seem like the dissenters were a minority. However, reading the comments in the above PDF, it is hard to see how these figures were reached. 
The PDF is colour coded. No key was given as to what the colours mean. I cannot tell what the difference is between the red (C) and blue (N) responses. Both red and blue are overwhelmingly negative, some very so. Yellow (Y) does appear to be positive. The minority of responses are truly neutral from my evaluation. Green appears to be official responses, noteworthy how the Tameside Cycling Development Officer who was critical of the plans was not graced with a response.

Plotting my evaluation on a similar pie chart, we can see a completely different story to what MCC claimed on their site. I am trying to work out why this can be. It appears the agree percentage is the same, but they have far more “neutral” than the data really shows (the vast majority of the data takes either a positive or negative stance, and the neutrals are spread between the colour classification MCC used, so I haven’t plotted “neutral”, see the data above to confirm for yourself). My FOI requested all responses, including ones made in person or by post, so we must assume that this data is included. Even being generous with assigning “neutral” stances to what are quite negative comments, I simply cannot come close to MCC’s numbers. The majority of comments disagreed, by my evaluation. Whether that’s a slight majority or a vast majority is debatable but I don’t think there can be any doubt that there was a majority.

As such it is shocking that the scheme is going ahead with effectively no positive changes, despite suggestions made in the responses. This is another case of MCC ignoring what people want from them, and doing everything they can to spin it in their favour, even though basic fact checking can debunk many of their claims.

All of this is very reminiscent of the Great Ancoats Street Swindle which went down in much the same way. Walking and Cycling campaigners were promised by MCC’s Executive Member for the Environment, Planning and Transport, that it would not happen again with Hyde Road. Well… it has.

With the climate crisis looming, extremely poor air quality and congestion in Manchester, the ever persistent threat of road danger, and people being forced into car ownership by unfair, unequal, outdated road design, it is astonishing that schemes like this are not only being proposed in 2019/2020 but actively pushed through against the wishes of the public, councillors, cycling commissioners, and even MPs/MEPs.

Let’s hope 2020 brings better…

Happy New Year all!
















Manchester: Cycling City? 2019 Report Card.

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…

MSIRR: September 2018 – September 2019 (Ongoing)

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.

A member of the community managed to get hold of the plans and sent them to me. The plans include removing all dedicated signalised cycleways at Regent Road in favour of multi stage crossings shared with pedestrians, and being stuck on tiny islands in the middle of the junction as traffic roars past.

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.

So, the plans aren’t very good for cycling (or walking). But has the traffic management been any better?

In short, no. For over a year now, the cycleways across Deansgate Interchange have been mostly unusable. They have been unsurfaced with high kerbs to bounce over, cycle lights have been removed, pedestrians and cyclists have been corralled together into tiny temporary paths, and it’s sometimes been impossible to rejoin the road after you’ve been forced onto a pavement.

There has been exactly zero consideration for pedestrians and cyclists during these works and it has been so unpleasant that I have completely changed my route for the last year to avoid this junction entirely.

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

This one was well documented, and a more detailed explanation can be found here: https://greatancoats2020.weebly.com/
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.

Conclusion

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.