Manchester is aiming to radically change its cycling culture and become England’s showcase city for safe cycling.
Amid plans for a cycle hire scheme to rival London’s so-called Boris Bikes and Liverpool’s hugely successful ‘Citybike’ hire scheme, there has been continued rhetoric from Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) about making Manchester a ‘cycle city.’
This is all great news for cyclists but in order to do this and encourage more people to take to two wheels, things need to change. As traffic woes continue to blight Manchester city centre, two questions many repeatedly ask themselves are: Will the seemingly endless scourge of road works and resulting congestion afflicting the city centre ever be completed? If so, will the city be any safer for cyclists?
The current congestion nightmare clearly demonstrates how Manchester is struggling to cope with existing traffic levels in the city centre. The sheer volume of construction work being carried out at present has rendered the city centre virtually impenetrable and it’s hardly surprising that when those who normally travel in by car find themselves corralled into an ever decreasing space, the result is paralysis.
At present, cycling from one side of the city to the other is said to be almost impossible legally without having to negotiate tram tracks, cycle on the pavement and ride up one-way streets the wrong way. If there was better cycling infrastructure in town, more people would feel safer about taking to two wheels and the city would benefit enormously from a reduction in congestion and the resulting improved air quality.
The most often heard gripes amongst cyclists include the fact that Manchester’s busiest cycle route, Oxford Road, is taking forever to renovate and now that it’s finally reopened, the previously raised cycle lanes have now been lowered to road level and the vehicle lanes are much narrower. Upper Brook Street is more dangerous now than ever, cycle lanes have actually been removed from St Peter’s Square and Princess Street, and Portland Street is utter chaos with no planned provision for cycling whatsoever.
Many cyclists complain that Greater Manchester Police are not doing enough to enforce traffic violations such as double parking and parking in bus lanes. Clearly, this makes cycling much more dangerous than it needs to be and some have likened the inner ring road that surrounds the city centre as akin to a motorway.
Other complaints involve the lack of planning that has apparently gone into cycle lane layouts which mean many cyclists have to negotiate dangerous one-way systems, pointless bollards, vehicles overtaking too close or left hooking into their lanes, and potholed and cratered road surfaces that “make you wonder if the Luftwaffe ever left.”
While there is clearly a lot more work to do, Manchester is determined to make its streets more accommodating to cyclists. The Department of Transport has allocated £42m in funding to enable new and upgraded cycle routes such as the Fallowfield Loop, major improvements including Dutch-style cycle junctions - which allow cyclists to safely pass bus stops whilst remaining segregated from traffic lanes - in Wilmslow Road, Moseley Road and Wilbraham Road, as well as on-going improvements for cyclists along Oxford Road.
TfGM say they are committed to delivering on their Velocity 2025 strategy with the aim to create more than 60km of largely segregated cycle routes across Greater Manchester. In order to do this and to make cycling more appealing, TfGM need to address road culture and create a safer cycling environment with better protected cycling infrastructure along arterial routes into the city.
Currently most cycle routes run alongside canals. This is clearly wonderful for a nice leisurely weekend cycle but most routes don’t actually take cyclists where they want to go during the week, such as the city centre, and they certainly don’t facilitate cycling at speed which is obviously useful for commuting.
In 2014, the number of serious cycling accidents was said to have risen by 23% over the last decade. Wilmslow Road and The Curry Mile are notorious cycling accident black spots and FOI requests have revealed that there have been a number of collisions involving cyclists on Bury New Road, Oxford Road and Bolton Road.
More than 2,000 cyclists use the Oxford Road corridor every day and if Manchester is to truly revolutionise cycling in the city then safety measures such as more 20mph speed limits, cycle-friendly junctions using early-release traffic lights, kerb-protected cycle lanes and restrictions on HGVs in the city centre, are key.
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