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. 

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.

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!

A57 Widening Consultation

Update: One of the councillors has stated that the scheme has now been stopped due to feedback today and the council will be working with Chris Boardman’s team to develop a walking and cycling route along the length of Hyde Road! Fantastic news.

On the tables were plans of the road, as well as photos of the new bridge (below), and other schematics to do with the bridge and walls.

I think the new bridge is quite attractive but the people there were unable to give me a definite width. I was told it was about the same as the existing one but the pictures look nowhere near as wide. Perhaps the new one will be of the same design but wider? The current bridge is 7 metres wide. (Note I am talking about the width as you are cycling across it, not the length that it spans over the road which will obviously be longer as it’s spanning 4 lanes rather than 2).
Now for some history on the scheme, as it was told to me. The scheme is a central government pinch point scheme. The plans originally had segregated cycle lanes.
I was told that this was why the scheme was delayed for so long, they wanted to get extra funding for the cycleways (I’ve since heard that the delay was due to the land ownership). When the Bee Network came about, they applied for funding to build them but was declined as the scheme was “only 300 metres”. This seems a bit odd, as Princess Road roundabout is a similarly small and disconnected scheme yet has Bee Network funding because TfGM understand that it makes sense to spend a little now to get cycleways that can be tied into later, rather than spending a lot of money later ro dig it all up again. It would make total sense for a small bid to build the above now as it will not be possible later without completely ripping up the entire carriageway and footway again as the alignments are all wrong.
These are the current plans. These plans if built would completely lock out the potential of cycleways on either side of the road, instead forcing a bidirectional cycleway on one side of the road. The plans have 5.15m on the top, but 2.15m is given to a grass verge which is a large waste of space, and pedestrians and cyclists are squeezed into 3.0m which is far too narrow for a shared path. There really isn’t much room here to add a future cycle scheme without ripping up the whole road again, so getting this right now makes perfect sense and provides far better value for money.
As for suggestions I and others made (assuming that it was impossible to get proper cycleways):
  • Narrow the lanes to 3.25m and remove the central island. This not only frees up an additional 1.3m for the shared path which is space that can be used for a cycleway later, but also has the benefit of reducing traffic speeds which is vital around the crossing. 3.65m is the worst possible lane width for close passes on cyclists too, drivers think they can squeeze past without going into the other lane. Not only that, but a shorter crossing with no central island is better for pedestrians as they have less distance to cross, but also for traffic as the green man doesn’t need to be as long. This was what I was most adamant about and in fairness, MCC said this might be a possibility.
  • Remove the stairs and add a ramp. A ramp is realistically not much more than stairs. The land is owned by Sustrans as far as we know. The council said it wasn’t possible to have a ramp due to land ownership, but they did not know who Sustrans was.
  • Have continuous pavements over the side roads. The side roads are dead ends or low traffic. Continuous pavements would slow turning cars and give pedestrians priority over turning traffic. The MCC officers had never heard of continuous pavements and didn’t see the point. One said “why not have a zebra?” I said a zebra on each would be very welcome, but I didn’t see them spending the £20-40k for each one. Despite several of us explaining continuous footways and showing an example from as close to home as trafford, they were adamant that it’s not in the design manual and so can’t be done.
  • Ensure the diversion is accessible. If there are any barriers on the ramps and underpasses that would discriminate against people with trailers, nonstandard bicycles etc, then remove them and replace them with single bollards. On the ride home along the Fallowfield Loop there were several access points which were easily accessible to motorcycles, so motorcycles should not be an excuse to make the diversion inaccessible. It’s already bad enough that a bridge crossing that takes 5 seconds currently will now take several minutes. MCC said this might be a possibility too.

Unfortunately this event gave me the impression that pretty much everything was set in stone. It wasn’t really a consultation at all. Despite the promise that lessons were learned from Great Ancoats Street and it would not happen again, the exact same thing is happening again. Cycling is being locked out because there isn’t the ambition to do it correctly now. I’d like to see the scheme put on hold, and Bee Network funding properly applied for so this section can be done. The people there did not know that Hyde Road is a future “busy bee” scheme and would need doing at some point, so it makes sense to do this section now.

I wonder when we’ll finally start to see all council schemes actually include cycling from the very start, and include locals too. The past few schemes (MSIRR, Princess Road, Great Ancoats Street) have not had consultations, they have had sessions telling us “we’re doing this”. I hope future schemes can be more inclusive.

Regent Road, “better for cycling?”

The news came out today that the council is about to finish works on Regent Road, which forms part of the Manchester and Salford Inner Ring Road (MSIRR) that encircles the city centre. These works have been ongoing for over a year now and will provide about 20% extra capacity for motor vehicles. Ignoring the effects of induced demand, where when you widen a road it just attracts more vehicles and congestion stays the same, or the effects we are already seeing where this junction is more efficient but the M602 roundabout is now busier, how do the plans fare for walking and cycling? The council insists that the crossings are better. But are they really?

Of course it’s worth noting that the junctions beforehand were not good for walking or cycling, but the comparison is still important. Surely a junction designed decades later, with all we know now, should have great active travel provision?

I will compare several cycle routes from before and after the changes. I will draw the route you must take in green, and use red lines for crossings where you might have to stop. Due to timings, you might not have to stop at every single one every time, but in a worst case scenario, you will have to stop at most if not all.

Regent Road to Hulme

On the before image we can see this is relatively stress free. Going towards Hulme, you leave the road into a segregated cycleway, and there’s a crossing over the left turn lane. Then you rejoin the road in a painted cycle lane and might have to stop again before you can go straight on with the cars. Being in a painted cycle lane is not pleasant, but as the left turn traffic was removed, you know no one will turn over you so this isn’t terribly unsafe, if not that enjoyable. Then you simply veer left onto the other painted cycle lane and you’re away to Hulme.
Min Stops: 1,  Max Stops: 2.

Away from Hulme is even simpler. You’re completely away from the road and there’s a crossing of Water Street. This crossing has give way lines rather than lights. As Water Street is a dead end and low traffic, you could often do this without stopping at all.
Min Stops: 0, Max Stops: 1.

The after image is rather sad. Across the board, cycle lanes and cycleways have been completely removed. Pedestrians and cyclists now share the same narrow paths and small islands, to the detriment of both modes. And to make any crossing, you must now do it in multiple stages. Towards Hulme, you now have to make FOUR crossings, zigzagging around on these tiny islands with guardrails which is downright difficult on a normal bike, impossible with a trailer. While the light phasing might be such that this can be done in less than the maximum of four stages, it seems impossible that it could be less than two or three.
Min Stops: 2?, Max Stops: 4.

The away is no better. What was a straight crossing over a small road is now two stage, with another staggered island shared with pedestrians. The only good thing about Toucan crossings (crossings shared by pedestrians and cycles) is that cyclists can legally treat the red man as advisory like pedestrians, so if there’s low traffic you can legally cross on red. But the stagger of the island means that what was a give way before with a potential zero stops, is now:
Min Stops: 1, Max Stops: 2.

The other routes fare similarly. The before situation was dire enough, but the after situation is actually a huge step backwards, embarassing for a city that’s declared a climate emergency, wants to cut down on illegal and lethal air pollution, and wants to limit car use in favour of walking and cycling. One might say that to remove cars from the city centre you need a working ring road, to which I agree, however you also need excellent crossings of said ring road if you don’t want your city centre to be completely cut off from the surrounding areas. As it stands, Deansgate Interchange and Oxford Road are pretty much the only two acceptable crossings of the ring road, all the others massively put people off from walking and cycling, and to make a mediocre one into a terrible one is going backwards.
For completeness, the works also took place on Deansgate Interchange. This had semi decent crossings already, which have been moderately improved. The waiting islands are bigger, and there’s a new crossing of Chorlton Road to remove a previously unsignalised dash across three lanes. However, it does have some boneheaded design decisions such as adding an extra lane into the city centre from Chester Road, and a Scalextric crossover for cyclists. Don’t believe me?
Yep! Cyclists going northbound are expected to use the existing cycle lane that merges with the northbound road. Cyclists going southbound are expected to use the shared pavement. And at the junction, the two tracks cross over each other scalextric style. If that’s not proof the designers don’t really care about cycling, I don’t know what is. When did they last crossover two car lanes like that?
These junctions will need digging up again in less than 5 years at huge expense to add the crossings they desperately need. No joined up thinking at Manchester Council!