A56 pop-up cycle lanes and beyond (Part 2)

This is part 2 of A56 pop-up cycle lanes and beyond, looking at Trafford Council’s response to walking and cycling during the 2020 pandemic and what it means for the future.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Photo gallery (Google Photos)

The Timperley extension and the start of the backlash

Seizing the moment, Trafford Council started work on extending the pop-up lanes in the south to Timperley. Like the Gorse Hill section of the A56, the route out to Timperley was always going to be challenging. The road is relatively narrow for 4 lanes of traffic and there are many right turns along the way.

In all honesty, I expected the council to hold off extending the route here because of these challenges. I probably would have held off doing this section until the rest of the route had bedded-in and issues had been ironed out.

On the way to Sale, this is as far as I got, the rest was ripped out before I had chance to use it

In what seemed like a blink of an eye, the pop-up lanes reached Timperley, before being swiftly removed 12 hours later. The reason given for the removal was because “the level of delay to traffic quickly became unmanageable”. The route wasn’t even given time to be completed before it was removed!

As sure as night follows day, the Trafford Tories and their leader Nathan Evans, were at the front of a backlash against the pop-up lanes. Anyone who’s followed Nathan Evans’ pro-car/anti-people antics will no doubt be unsurprised by this action.

While the Tory heartland in the south of the borough is regularly gridlocked with motor traffic, the Trafford Tories knows the anti-cycling agenda plays out well with their core voters, so they continue to peddle it, while going against their own government’s statutory guidance.

While I’ve disagreed with Sean Anstee, the previous leader of the Trafford Tories on many things. I think he did at least have a genuine desire to improve things for cycling, which was evident in the work his executive did on the Bridgewater Way and Stretford Cycleway.

The same can’t be said for Nathan Evans, who just opposes any improvements for walking and cycling and doesn’t have a genuine response when questioned on what he’d do otherwise, other than funnel people cycling onto unsafe and inconvenient routes that go nowhere near where they want to go.

By now, the backlash started to gain traction in the press and there were soon campaigns and petitions on either side, while a war of words played out across Twitter and various local Facebook groups.

Disappointingly, the council decided to listen to those angry voices shouting the most and scaled the route back through Sale, to Dane Road.

Time to write to the council

Following the removal of the Sale and Timperley sections of the A56 pop-up lanes, I decided it was time to write to Trafford Council Leader Andrew Western and Executive Member for Environment, Air Quality and Climate Change Steve Adshead, in support of the pop-up lanes.

Good evening,

Having previously praised Trafford Council for taking the bold step of introducing pop-up bike lanes on the A56, I am incredibly disappointed to see that the bike lane has been scaled back to Dane Road, before the whole route was even completed and given a chance to bed in.

While I appreciate there were some teething issues, I am worried about the apparent knee jerk reaction to these issues and the precedence it sets for the remainder of the route. I am also disappointed to see that this decision has been taken based on “people’s opinions” as stated in the press release and not facts and data.

While I’m sure this has made some motorists very happy, it does absolutely nothing to help the people without access to a car, get back to work or go about their daily lives, with the reduced public transport capacity. I am sure you don’t need me to make you aware that the council has a statutory obligation to provide walking and cycling alternatives for such people.

I strongly hope you reconsider the decision to scale back the route, and don’t resort to shoving people cycling onto indirect and inconvenient alternative routes. Specifically, the Bridgewater Way canal path must not be seen as a viable alternative, as it is unsuitable for many reasons.

While this is a significant setback, I hope the council can look at what has been achieved so far and enhance it further with protected east/west routes, connecting towns such as Urmston, Old Trafford, Ashton-On-Mersey and Sale Moor to the A56 pop-up bike lane. This would massively increase access to the route and provide many more people with another option.

There are many people in Trafford who support the creation of these temporary measures, but we need evidence and data to counter the false accusations that the cycling facilities are not being used. What data are you gathering on usage of the route and are you able to share it? If you don’t have bike counters already in place on the route, I strongly urge you to add them, so data can be used to drive decision making.

I hope the council learns from what has happened in Sale and Timperley and doesn’t become afraid of being bold again, in taking the steps necessary to support all people in the borough, not just those with the luxury of their own car.

my letter to council leader Andrew Western and exec member Steve Adshead on 24 June 2020

A week later, I received the following reply from the Executive Member for Environment, Air Quality and Climate Change, Steve Adshead, with some pretty clear signs of where the A56 pop-up lanes were heading.

Thank you for your message in relation to the temporary cycle lanes,

As you will be aware these temporary facilities were set up to help with support during the coronavirus pandemic when public transport was drastically reduced and people strongly advised not to use it in order to help leave the remaining capacity for those key workers without their own transport. When we first started setting them up the roads were very quiet compared to normal and this was the ideal time for temporary cycling lanes in line with Government advice

We had no funding ourselves for such work with resources focussing on the pandemic. However with funding being made available for this temporary work via TfGM we decided to set up temporary facilities for pedestrians and cyclists across the borough including the A56. However it was always envisaged these works were temporary and would be kept under constant review as lockdown eased and traffic levels increased.

While the early sections like the three lane sections were always going to be the easiest to manage, we did recognise even before the schemes were put in there could be real challenges south of the M60. However we took the view (rightly in my opinion) we needed to try this and see if it worked or not. Had we not done so we would never have fully known if this was the case or not, so I make no apologies for trialling this work. However having trialled these sections it was simply too much for this particular section of the temporary pop up scheme.

Yes we had complaints from drivers, but crucially also from our partners and stakeholders like local businesses and bus operators whose passengers were stuck in the congestion some of whom would have been key workers. Journey times from Sale to Timperley were taking nearly an hour, these are facts and official data backs this up.

Therefore acting on this information from stakeholders, large number of complaints, with data backing all this up we took the decision to move the temporary scheme back to Dane Road. This was the right decision, in the same way it was right to trial this in the first. In taking the scheme back to Dane Road we have shown we willing to listen about these problems and complaints and act upon them. I would add to this point of course that this works both ways and that in the first instance we listened the cycle groups to trial this, so we have acted fairly to all sides in this work. The remaining sections, all being well, will remain in place till late August, subject to monitoring.

In the current environment with schools closed, parents furloughed and warm and sunny weather yes this has led to an increase in cycling as you would expect, especially with families cycling to green spaces rather than commuter routes. The information shows that cycling up from 2% to 2.3% which I understand is actually a lot in cycling numbers, however as you would also expect this figure fell dramatically by around some 250% when the weather turned.    

We have asked council officers to look at any potential spots that run alongside these sections of the A56 that could be considered for similar work, and this work is currently taking place. I can of course also confirm these temporary schemes aside, we continue with our long standing and permanent schemes some of which I am detailing here.  

in the Urmston areas you may be aware of the work being done for the ‘active neighbourhood’ covering all of the M41 areas, which will be taking place over the next couple of years or so once all the consultation and design work has been completed. This will link into the Trafford Park routes up to White City and then link in with the Salford and Chorlton cycle ways into the city centre. The proposals for around White City itself are really amazing with what’s been dubbed a floating island linking with all the surrounding cycling routes.

We are doing similar work around Sale to Sale Moor, which will link with the Highways England work with a link from Urmston meadows through to Chorlton water park and then link with the Chorlton cycle way and into the city centre. We also are looking at routes from Altrincham to link into this network, this is in addition to the Stretford cycle way which will link into the White City work and again then into the Chorlton cycle way route into the city centre. a popular one already in place is the Ashton–on-Mersey to Urmston route, again link up the network .   

Most of this is funded through the ‘Mayors Challenge fund’ the aim is to create a lot of safe routes for cycling linking different areas to the city centre away from heavy commuter routes making it much safer for people like yourself. I helped set up the local cycle forum in the mid-nineties when I was chair of the highways committee and have continued to support this work for a long time now. Working with various groups and organisations including a number of cycling groups we have developed the above strategy across Greater Manchester in supporting pleasant and safe routes to encourage cycling away from the heavy, congested and polluted commuter routes.

As part of regeneration plans for Stretford town centre over the next few years it will include reviewing the road network as well as the Mall, and this will involve extensive public consultations. However one point we seem to have broad agreement on is scrapping the gyratory and replacing with a fully signalised junction.    

We are of course working on other strategies linking to all this work to help encourage people to use alternatives such as public transport, as well as cycling, however we recognise you cannot simply flick a switch, this takes time.

I therefore trust the above helps assists in understanding the work we are doing around both these temporary Covid work, and our longer term permanent strategies

Steve Adshead‘s response on 2 July 2020

I posted my original letter and Steve Adshead’s response on Twitter, along with the key points I took from it on this thread. This was back in July 2020 and things have moved on since then, though I believe the points I raised are as valid now as they were then.

  1. The council’s decision to remove the the Sale and Timperley sections makes it look as though they fundamentally don’t understand how temporary measures for cycling and modal shift works.

    There wouldn’t have been sufficient data to back up any decision in the time it was installed, particularly the Timperley section, which was only there for a blink of an eye. It’s hard to see this as anything other than a knee-jerk reaction to certain complaints.
  1. In wanting to remove the A56 pop-up bike lane in August, before schools go back and many people return to work, the council appear to not understand the purpose of these measures and statutory guidance from the government on walking and cycling.

    With reduced public transport capacity, councils need to provide walking and cycling alternatives for those who don’t have access to a car and to ensure the road network doesn’t become even more congested. You don’t just remove these alternatives at the point they’re needed most.
  1. The council are happy for the A56 to return to being a 6 lane urban motorway through Stretford and put traffic flow before the needs and health of local residents. We already know we have illegal levels of air pollution and huge problems with severance caused by the A56.

    The temporary reduction in motor traffic lanes has shown it doesn’t have to be this way. These measures should be kept in place and the council should be pushing ahead with making them permanent, not waiting for some mythical consultation that’ll likely never happen.
  1. The council seem to be suggesting the key route for Urmston residents commuting by bike to the city centre is through Trafford Park, not Stretford. This raises massive issues around social safety and will be a significant barrier to many commuting by bike, women in particular.

    Is this just because they don’t want to upset drivers by building a safe cycle route between Urmston to Stretford. This was once touted as being one of the early Bee Network schemes Urmston to Chorlton, but it has since been quietly shelved.
  1. Similarly, while the Highways England work linking Urmston to Sale is a nice addition. It is an off-road leisure route and shouldn’t be looked at as being part of the core cycle network, again because of massive issues around social safety.

    It’s points like this that make me wonder if the council still don’t get what’s trying to be achieved. Cycling as a means of transport, not just for leisure.
  1. The council’s knee-jerk decision to remove the pop-up bike lane makes it look very unlikely to ever see a permanent safe protected cycle route along the A56.

    The nature of this route, particularly south of the M60, means that difficult decisions would need to be taken to achieve it and the council would have to stand up to some opposition. The current council exec has shown they’re not willing to do this.
  1. It’s now unclear what contribution Trafford Council had with the £21.5m funding bid to the government for 200km of protected cycle lanes, if the only significant temporary measure is now being removed in August.
  2. It’s now also unclear what the purpose of the Commonplace map is, if the council’s view is the temporary measures are only in place until the traffic returns in Sept. Lots of people have put effort into adding to the map, was that all a waste of time?

#LoveTheLanes campaign and organised rides

Around this time, local resident Ruth Hannan started organising rides along the A56, in support of the pop-up lanes. Significant numbers turned out for each of these rides, despite the restrictions in place for the pandemic.

Unfortunately, as you can probably guess, this did little to change the council’s plan for the future (or lack of it) for the pop-up lanes. Perhaps people need to spend less time cycling along the lanes and more time shouting on Facebook groups?

Gorse Hill and the gyratory to Dane Road removal

The whole route between Cornbrook and Dane Road remained in place into September after schools went back, with very few people complaining. Then on the 15 September, the council announced the removal of the Gorse Hill and gyratory to Dane Road sections.

This left us with just the Bridgewater Way expressway section and the Davyhulme Road East to gyratory sections of the pop-up lanes remaining.

The Bridgewater Way expressway section doesn’t link to anything useful. At one end, you’ve got the Manchester City Council border. At the other end, you’re dumped into the middle of the White City Way junction, which is a really dangerous and unpleasant place to be.

The end of the line for the Bridgewater Way expressway section, good luck negotiating the White City Way junction

People cycling are now supposed to use the Stretford Cycleway for part of the route, but there’s no safe way to it from the Bridgewater Way expressway and it’s a reasonably significant detour. It’s certainly not a route I’d choose to take.

There’s no safe way of getting from the A56 pop-up lane to the Stretford Cycleway on Talbot Road, you have to take your chances against speeding traffic

At the end of Stretford Cycleway at the Talbot Road/A56 junction, we’re still waiting on some progress with the proposed improvements as part of a long-delayed Bee Network scheme. There’s been been no apparent progress for some time and it doesn’t even appear on the Bee Network map now. This junction has always been a major barrier to people cycling.

And that brings us up to where things are currently with the A56 pop-up lanes in December 2020, though work is now under way on the Active Travel Fund schemes, which I’ll come on to in part 3.

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