Progress on the Chorlton Cycleway: Chorlton Road, December 2020

What better a time to go for a ride than a crisp Boxing Day morning? Today I found myself on the site of the future Chorlton Cycleway (“Area 1b”) where works have been ongoing since the summer. The route will eventually form a link between Manchester City Centre, and Chorlton Park, 3.5 miles to the south. This stretch runs along Chorlton Road and should be done around Spring 2021. I have linked detailed drawings, for those inclined.

Before the cycleway can go in (it will be carriageway level, demarked with kerbs, as seen above), there are some enabling works that must first be done. This includes a full resurface of the footways, and rebuilding the side road junctions to make them safer for walking and cycling.

Much of this work is now nearing completion. Footways have been re-kerbed with 45° kerbs to allow for a slightly wider cycleway, and resurfaced (although this is regrettably just black asphalt and not a more attractive material). Side roads have also had the footway built out to make for tighter corners for drivers, and shorter distances for pedestrians and cycles to cross.

The side roads will have a raised footway to act as a visual and physical speed bump for drivers. This design doesn’t quite comply with the recommended ones from the latest LTN1/20 statutory guidance, as it doesn’t protect the cycleway quite as well as the footway. However, it’s still a much safer design than currently, and I think most people will feel safe walking and riding across. Regrettably, there are no temporary plastic or asphalt ramps to allow pram/wheelchair users to cross the road before the raised table goes in, making the road unnecessarily inaccessible during construction.

Dropped kerb crossing at Bankwell Street, despite plans showing a raised table

One thing I have not been able to get an answer for, is why a number of roads (3 or 4) have been built with dropped kerbs rather than raised crossings as they are shown on the plans. Bankwell Street, above, clearly has new dropped kerbs, but the plans show it as a raised table. It is unclear whether this is contractor error, a temporary accessible solution, or a change in the plans.

On a more exciting note, the first bus stop is well underway! The previous lay-by (which served to delay buses and endanger cyclists for motorist convenience) has been filled in, with cyclists going round the back of a new bus island in the road. There do appear to be some differences from the plans: the “rain garden” planting areas have not been built: again it is unclear whether they are yet to go in, or have been removed from the plans. The bus shelter has also not been moved to the island (yet?)

Hopefully, now these prepatory works are nearly finished, the cycleway can start to be constructed in the new year! It’s still amazing to finally see progress on the construction of this route since my post way back in 2019 on the then radio silence!

Longford Park Low Traffic Neighbourhood: Transforming Stretford

Stretford is not an area that’s a stranger to Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs). There are already many existing “filter points”: closures of roads to cars that still let pedestrians and/or cyclists through. A map of all of the modal filters in Trafford has been compiled by Urmston Bee Network. Indeed, there are historic LTNs that are entirely access only for motor traffic, but permeable for active travel:

An existing Low Traffic Neighbourhood in Stretford, formed by the A56 dual carriageway, some “modal filters”, and the canal/railway lines.

However, using Emergency Active Travel funds, Trafford Council have now implemented the first new LTN for decades. It will be first delivered as a trial and, if successful, made permanent.

Implementation

Credit: Mark P on Longford Facebook Group.

The LTN has been implemented using heavy wooden planters and signage, backed up by legal orders that prohibit motoring. The image above shows the locations of said filters, as well as how traffic flows have changed. Note that the LTN is what’s known as “leaky” rather than perfectly filtered, which means that through access is possible. However, it also means that residents can easily drive to either main road rather than going the long way around.

The LTN has been very robustly installed. The signage is excellent, with signage on the main roads telling motorists not to turn left/right where there are filters, and showing diversion routes. The diversion routes have you follow repeated symbol signs, and they take you along Edge Lane and Kings Road, rather than cutting through.

Effects

It’s been immediately clear that these roads are now far quieter than they’ve been for decades, and much safer. This LTN is actually not very well positioned for cyclists. It doesn’t really lead into any cycle routes, and there are two well used routes on either side of it. However, it’s clear that there’s now far more people stopping to chat in the streets. The ambience was once one of noisy polluting motors, but now it’s the rustling of the leaves, birds chirping, and people having a doorstep chat.

Drivers think LTN’s are solely for cyclists. They arent. They improve safety, improve the lives of residents, pedestrians and children. Fantastic.

@StephenCatlow
Video showing the quietness of the filtered streets

There has been no noticable increase in traffic on the main roads, which were always busy. There does appear to be slightly more traffic (i.e. a couple of cars a minute) on the “leak” route on the map above, however it is not clear whether this is just residents driving through to enter/leave the area, or if it’s actually non-residents cutting through.

Response

The response has been a mostly positive one. Of course this wasn’t a surprise: residents had been asking for measures for well over a decade. A leaflet was also circulated to all the houses prior to installation and a majority of responses wanted the filters.

There has been a little pushback, in the form of a few residents expressing unhappiness on social media. There has been some (faux?) concern over emergency service access. Of course the North West Ambulance service, when directly asked, said it doesn’t affect their response times at all:

Usually the “concerns” some people raise about Emergency Services as a reason to not have LTNs or other walking and cycling facilities are quite selective, as explained in Mark Treasure’s excellent post. Often, when such facilities are removed and roads are clogged with 4 lanes of queuing traffic again, such concerns are never raised again by these people.

According to the council, the majority of the concern is from residents of Kenwood Road. Anecdotally, it does appear to be getting slightly more traffic than the other roads, but still relatively low.

Potential Changes

Following resident concerns mentioned above, the council have started another survey. In the survey there are three options. Keep the LTN how it is, re-arrange it to eliminate all through traffic, or remove it entirely.

Proposed new filter locations, again from Mark P

These new locations would involve moving two of the filters slightly, but would cut off all through traffic. This would make all roads similarly quiet.

As I see it, there are a number of pros and cons with these new proposals vs the current trial. The decision should take into account resident preferences as well as traffic count data. These proposals would mean that residents only have access to one main road: they’d have to drive round the block to reach the other. This might have the potential to convert some previously pro-residents to anti-residents. However, it would be much more likely to win over the residents on the roads with slightly increased traffic.

Another slight downside is the cost of getting a new legal order, and moving the filters, turn restriction signs, diversion signs etc. This is money that could be spent on nearby cycleways. However, if there’s not enough support for the filters in their current location, then it would be better to spend the money relocating them, rather than lose them.

My preference is for the filters to remain in place for the full 6 months (so until April 2021) for the changes to properly bed in, and then if people still want to move them, they can be trialled in the new locations for 6 months.

In Future

Traffic counts have been undertaken and, as previously mentioned, there is a survey currently going on. I will revisit this LTN in a future post, seeing how traffic counts changed on the official data, reporting if the filters have moved etc.

The filters have had a transformational effect on the area, very much for the better. It’s shown that LTNs don’t just work in London, but they work up here too, and that many more should be rolled out as soon as possible.

Shows two planters forming a modal filter in a low traffic neighbourhood in Longford Park, Stretford

Central Islands on cycle crossings: a Greater Manchester curiosity

You might have read the title and thought: that doesn’t sound very interesting or consequential! And perhaps you’re right, but I wanted to write a blog about an interesting design feature I’ve noticed on recent Greater Manchester walking and cycling junctions. Note, this only applies to those which use bi-directional cycle paths and crossings: many of the simpler “CYCLOPS” designs only have single-direction cycle paths and so don’t have this feature. I am talking about a peculiar central island at the start and end of each cycle crossing. Here is a photo of an existing one at Deansgate Interchange, Saddle Junction, and a plan of new ones being built at Princess Road Roundabout

Deansgate Interchange
Saddle Junction

New layout being built at Princess Road roundabout
All signal junction designs for the 10 Greater Manchester councils go through Transport for Greater Manchester’s Urban Traffic Control team for design input and other centralised resources such as modelling, staging etc. So I think it’s possible to suggest that the TfGM UTC team is suggesting/specifying this island, which could be why it’s showing up on every bi-directional crossing across all the councils. I am unsure of the rationale, obviously it provides a nice place to mount the second low level cycle signal as can be seen above, I wonder if there’s a fear of oncoming cycle collisions too?
As we can see from London examples, bidirectional crossings can be built without this island.

 The main issue I have with it, is that it narrows the cycleway. As you can see in the plan above, for a ~4m wide footprint, we only get 1.65m for each direction of cycles. This is barely wide enough for two abreast if riding very close together, but most people will go through this pinch point in single file. Since cycle stages are often quite short on large roundabouts like this (except when “hold the left” phasing is used), this means that the cycle capacity is often quite low.

In the summer, there was an A56 popup cycleway support ride, and a few of us went across Deansgate Interchange. Due to the low capacity of the crossing, and short green times, it took us 4 signal cycles, and several minutes, to get all 30 people across the junction.

The Dutch have known for a while, that not only is a large effective width at crossings vital for high capacity, but also a “chip cone” shape of crossings can improve capacity. As BicycleDutch’s brilliant article and video explains, the optimal shape for a cycle crossing is as below:

This so called “chip cone” means that many cyclists can queue abreast of each other, which increases the number who can go through the junction when the signal goes green. People naturally overtake each other and narrow out due to differences in riding speed, meaning the entrance to the cycle path on the other side can be much narrower. The same happens for cycles in the other direction. This allows a much higher capacity than if the crossings were painted straight, and certainly a higher capacity than if there was a central island.
I’d love to see some rationale for the central islands we are building in crossings like this in Greater Manchester, perhaps there’s something I’m missing!