As the mayoral election approaches, we’re starting to get a better picture of the candidates views and commitments on cycling. While on the whole these have been pretty positive, with the candidates saying the kinds of things we want to hear. It’s still important that we’re clear about what we want to see happen when the new mayor is elected.
The following is very much my personal wish list for what I’d like to see happen for cycling, public transport and our streets in Greater Manchester.
1. Road pricing / parking levy
OK, probably not a popular one this, but I think Greater Manchester really missed a trick not introducing road pricing. Having a referendum was never going to work though, like turkeys voting for Christmas.
A lot of the good that’s happened in London for travel in recent years can be traced back to the introduction of road pricing. As well as raising funds, road pricing really helps people think about their travel choices, making public transport a much attractive option.
Nottingham has some of the highest public transport use outside London, currently just over 40%. There’s a number of reasons for this, though a significant factor was the introduction of a workplace parking levy. This has had the benefit of making public transport a more attractive option, while raising much needed funds.
Despite a massive increase in the Metrolink network, which we’re told is the answer to Greater Manchester’s transport issues, people are still far too reliant on cars for travel and commuting here. Public transport is often seen by many as unreliable, overcrowded and expensive compared to the car. And in some ways that’s true, especially as the city centre is still circled by plots of vacant land, offering cheap all-day parking from £3.00. A Metrolink peak time return ticket from Altrincham to the city centre is £6.50.
Improvements to public transport are only going to get us so far. Ultimately, we need to make driving a less attractive option. Partly this can done by transferring space used for motor traffic over to public transport and active travel. But having road pricing or a parking levy would give Greater Manchester the ability to really tackle the worst aspects of congestion while raising much needed funds.
2. Open streets / car-free days
Open streets / car-free days are really starting to gain momentum in cities around the world, the Open Streets Project and Paris being good examples. Events like these can be a real catalyst for change, showing people what their city is like when it’s not clogged up traffic, noise and pollution, giving them the space usually reserved for motor traffic.
Wherever you see open streets / car-free days introduced, you see people come out and come together, walk, ride, play, socialise and enjoy themselves. Isn’t that what our cities should be about?
In Greater Manchester, we see a glimpse of this every now and again, when roads are closed for sporting events, such as the marathon or the Sky Ride. I live quite close to the marathon route and look forward to it each year as I can wander down the A56 without a car in sight. Just imagine if this was a regular event (every month?) and covered the whole of the city centre and Mancunian Way.
3. Better air quality monitoring and alerting
Air quality monitoring as it stands in Greater Manchester is really quite poor. The number of monitoring sites is low, with each site covering a vast area. In Manchester we’re proud of our innovation. How about doing something truly innovative like Chicago and its Array of Things project?
Keeping informed about air quality in Greater Manchester is difficult, the information on the GreatAir Manchester site is quite limited, the site is dated and there’s no mobile apps or alerts. We need easy access to air quality data and regular alerts to help inform our choices, on similar lines to London Air. We also encouragement to leave the car at home on days with poor air quality.
4. Low emission zones
We need to act to tackle poor air quality in Greater Manchester, whether in the city centre, near the M60 or around the main commuting routes. We need a low emission zone to get the worst polluting vehicles off the roads now and put plans in place for a future ultra low emission zone as London is doing.
Poor air quality is a contributing factor to a huge number of deaths, and we’re only beginning to understand the effects it has on the most vulnerable, the young and the old.
This should be covered by TfGM’s Greater Manchester Low-Emission Strategy and Greater Manchester Air Quality Action Plan, though we the mayor to ensure these deliver meaningful improvements.
5. Active travel commissioner
You only need to look at the massive positive impact London’s first cycling commissioner Andrew Gilligan had, to understand why this is necessary. Without having someone focused on delivering improvements in active travel, walking and cycling will continue to not get the attention and priority they need.
To understand what the alternative looks like, take a look at Trafford Council, where there isn’t a single person responsible for walking and cycling. Instead, a number of people within the council are responsible for different aspects of active travel, whether it be infrastructure, promotion etc. The result is a strategy that isn’t joined up and doesn’t deliver.
6. Bike share scheme
It’s 2017 and Greater Manchester still doesn’t have a bike share scheme. I find this really hard to comprehend, and to me it shows the lack of ambition the city has had in recent years. Liverpool has had one for a while now, implemented on a fraction of the budget London had.
The benefits of bike share schemes are massive for both local people and visitors. Being able to hop on and off a bike as and when you need to changes the way you interact with a city. They encourage more people to ride a bike, many of which wouldn’t buy one. They drive tourism and encourage tourists to venture further.
I’ve used bike share schemes visiting a few different cities, London, Boston, Brussels, Liverpool and Paris. I’ve found they’ve completely changed the way I’ve experienced the city. In London for example, touring the city on bike is worlds apart from using public transport.
7. Dedicated, consistent per head funding for cycling
There’s been a lot of talk about consistent per head funding for cycling. In particular, comparing the modest and sporadic levels of funding in the UK outside London compared to places like The Netherlands.
Why is having consistent per head funding so important? Well, in places like The Netherlands where they have this, it enables the delivery high quality cycling infrastructure, as a well planned network. It also ensures cycle infrastructure is well maintained and can be improved over time.
Funding in the UK is sporadic, often timed for political gain and usually comes with tight deadlines. This can lead to schemes that are not very well planned, or have significant compromises to meet timescales.
We need the new mayor to commit to reach the same levels of spending on cycling as seen in London as a minimum, and for this to be maintained consistently year on year. That way, we’ll be able to put in place long terms plans to deliver a high quality cycle network.
8. A high quality cycle network plan
The implementation of cycling infrastructure in the UK up to now can probably be best described as piecemeal. While there’s some rare cases where this isn’t the case, planning is often sporadic, tied to specific pots of funding and not very well thought out.
Before we consider further improvements for cycling, the new mayor needs to draw up plans for a high quality cycle network for the region. This network should focus on providing high quality cycleways on key routes that link up with well thought out and implemented filtered / quiet routes.
Having a cycle network plan would help secure funding for future schemes, while providing a basis for how money should be spent to maximise funds and effectiveness.
9. Mini-Hollands / Healthy Streets
So much of the good and bad publicity in London focuses on the Cycle Superhighways. While the protected Cycle Superhighways have had a significant positive impact, I think Mini-Holland (now to become Healthy Streets) schemes have the potential to outshine them.
So why do I think that? Well, in a lot of cases, the Cycle Superhighways are about commuting to and from central London. While this is helping to take cars off the roads, it’s probably more likely to impact public transport numbers. Also, with the greater distances from the suburbs, they’re probably going to attract the more experience rider. I know that might be a bit of a generalisation, but go with it for now.
So how are the Mini-Holland schemes different? Well, the schemes are focused on the outer boroughs that are typically more residential. Their purpose is to encourage people to cycle or cycle more often, and to improve streets and public spaces for all. Typically, Mini-Holland schemes will include protected cycleways, filtering to reduce rat-running, better junction design, bike parking and town centre improvements.
All of these changes help to encourage people to choose to ride a bike for those shorter journeys, whether it’s trips to the shops or the school run. They also remove many of the barriers that put novice riders off, by providing a safe, less intimidating environment. There’s benefits for people who don’t ride too. Quieter residential streets, better air quality, safer junctions with priority for pedestrians and more pleasant town centres and public spaces. What is there not to like?
In my opinion, the Mini-Holland / Healthy Streets schemes have the biggest potential to improve our quality of life, while getting more of the people who don’t currently ride a bike to start. I’d love to see our mayoral candidates commit to bringing Mini-Hollands / Healthy Streets to Greater Manchester, ideally starting where I live.
10. Re-regulation of buses and smart ticketing
I think even the most ardent Thatcherite would struggle defend bus deregulation. Since deregulation, Greater Manchester has been affected by the same issues seen all around the country. Whether it’s too many bus operators and tickets, oversupply on lucrative routes, while less lucrative routes struggle, poor reliability and service or expensive fares. Only this week, further cuts to bus services have been announced.
As good as light rail schemes like Metrolink can be, they are expensive to implement, inflexible and often don’t go to where people to where people live or walk. The Metrolink quite often serves the communities it passes through quite poorly. I don’t live far from the Metrolink network, but the distance to the nearest stop makes it impractical to use.
Buses on the other hand, have a network of roads they can use. They’re also very flexible and routes can be drawn up to meet demand, at relatively little cost. Visit any city with a cheap, efficient bus network and you’ll see it’s a world away from what we currently have in Greater Manchester.
Once elected, the new mayor will have the power to control routes and frequency, while being able to set fare prices and ticketing. We need the new mayor to use these powers to make buses more affordable, reliable, with simpler ticketing that can be used across all public transport.
Just looking at the number of different tickets available for buses shows what a mess we’re currently in when it comes to ticketing, even without factoring in Metrolink and local train services. Having a commute that requires multiple types of public transport or even more than one bus is expensive and confusing.
Having a single Oyster-card style scheme in Greater Manchester would transform our public transport, simplify and speed up journeys on public transport. To really encourage the take-up of public transport in Greater Manchester, we need to remove the barriers to use, make it more affordable and simpler to understand. That requires a single, fully integrated smart ticketing system across all public transport.
11. More cycle storage and parking
Did I say ten? Oh well, one more.
While I’m generally in favour of what TfGM have been doing with the Cycle Hubs, I have a few reservations. Although the cost to use most of the Cycle Hubs is reasonable (£10 a year), the cost of the City Tower and MediaCityUK Cycle Hubs is £100 a year. I think this is prohibitively expensive and puts many people off, particularly casual riders.
There’s currently only three in the centre, at City Tower, Oxford Road and Salford Central train stations. There’s nothing at the bigger train stations, Piccadilly and Victoria, and there’s nothing near the main shopping areas or universities. Realistically, are you going to use a Cycle Hub and have a 10-15 walk after parking?
The emphasis seems to be on the ‘serious commuters’, in terms of lockers and showers. So it can be quite off-putting to the more casual riders. And while secure parking like the Cycle Hubs has its place, I think it’s jumping the gun a little when there’s so little on-street cycle parking throughout Greater Manchester.
So, what would I like to see? Well, we need far more on-street cycle parking throughout Greater Manchester. At district centres, shopping parades, places of study/employment and so on. Something you really notice in London is just the amount of on-street cycle there is. It’s also often installed parallel to the road, so it doesn’t take up much space and stops motor vehicles pavement parking.
Cycle storage at home is a massive problem for many. If you live in a terraced house or a flat, often you don’t have access to anywhere secure and are forced to take your bike inside or up stairs. This can make owning and using a bike impractical and very off-putting. We need secure bike hangars like these from Cyclehoop rolled out across residential areas of Greater Manchester, so that people have secure and convenient options for overnight storage.
In addition to this, we need to ensure that all new commercial and residential development includes high quality cycle parking and storage, particularly with the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework. All too often, this is poor quality, inadequate and a box ticking exercise.