TfGM’s Oxford Road corridor changes risk the lives of cyclists

The forthcoming Oxford Road bus corridor in Manchester is to be accompanied by a series of changes to the surrounding roads, including Upper Brook Street and Upper Lloyd Street. In their current form, the changes offer pitifully little for pedestrians and are potentially lethal for cyclists. In a consultation found here, the proposed changes to the layouts of these roads can be seen in detailed the detailed plans found here.

The specific details of what will be offered for cyclists on the relatively short section of Oxford Road from which general motor traffic is to be excluded will not be shared in any detail until 2013. This makes the current consultation relatively useless as we are prevented from seeing what may or may not be gained in exchange for the significant reduction in cyclists’ safety on the surrounding roads. Even in the unlikely event that both the short section of Oxford Road from which private motor vehicles are to be excluded from, and the remainder of this important route are to be brought up to something resembling Dutch standards, as unlikely as this would be, this does not excuse the significant increase in danger posed by the redesign of the surrounding roads, which cyclists would still have to use.

Here we see where Upper Brook Street meets Grosvenor Street. The protected contra-flow cycle lane on Grosvenor street, whilst not perfect was a welcome step in the right direction. Sadly the hideously botched Toucan crossing solution for cyclists where Grosvenor Street looks set to remain. A missed opportunity to make this unfinished bit of infrastructure, still one of the most notable in Manchester, into something genuinely fit for purpose.

Under the present layout, this is a far North as traffic can travel into the city, however the proposals will make Upper Brook Street two way as far as Portland Street for the first time in decades. Truly a step in the wrong direction.

Plymouth Grove is to have advisory cycle lanes added to it for possibly as much as 100 metres southbound. As risible as this is, the bigger issue is that the motorway sliproad geometry where Plymouth Grove peels off from Upper Brook Street remains, placing cyclists continuing along Upper Brook Street in completely avoidable danger of a left-hook.

In a show of contempt for both cyclists and pedestrians, this overly-wide section of road is to have its southbound pavement converted into shared use between Plymouth grove and Grafton Street. From this point southwards, Upper Brook Street is to have one additional lane squeezed into the existing space. This extra lane it switches use to the opposite direction of traffic roughly every signalised junction. I used to live near here and I couldn’t count the number of dangerously close overtakes I endured using the current two-lane arrangement. This area also sees a great deal of pedestrian traffic due to the hospital and University, yet the proposed changes (or rather lack of improvements to existing dire facilities such as crossings) show a complete disregard for the needs and convenience of pedestrians. 

As the extra motor vehicle lanes South of this point are not continuous in one direction, it will not create any extra vehicle capacity, instead encouraging motorists to dangerously speed through the sections where the road is two lanes before forming a jam immediately after the lights where two lanes are forced to merge back into one. This unnecessary extra merging will simply result in additional collisions between cars without providing any time benefit to motorists, whilst the additional lane will necessitate lane narrowing which will bring cars and cycles into conflict, making an increase in the number of injuries and fatalities an inevitability should the proposed designs be implemented. TfGM’s designs for this section of Upper Brook Street in particular will force cyclists and motor vehicles into even closer conflict. I have little doubt that, if implemented, these designs will lead to the deaths of cyclists.

Despite Upper Brook Street seeing significant amounts of pedestrian traffic, the proposal does nothing to facilitate this whatsoever, with existing anti-pedestrian junction geometries and multi-stage crossings requiring pedestrians to deviate repeatedly from desire lines remaining in place. Where additional crossing are to be provided, such as at Brunswick Street, pedestrians are treated with contempt; forced to cross via a ludicrous number of stages so as not to inconvenience motorists coming onto Upper Brook Street from popular residential rat-runs. Cyclists and pedestrians are to be brought into conflict between Plymouth Grove and Grafton Street by the lazy conversion of the inappropriate-width footway to ‘shared use’ in order to allow an unjustifiable three-lane stack at the junction between Upper Brook Street and Grafton Street. This junction, separating the Manchester Royal Infirmary, blood bank, flats and the University of Manchester Medical School sees a significant amount of foot traffic, making the atrocious treatment of pedestrians by the proposed design at this point inexcusable.

The proposed changes to Upper Brook Street in particular represent a potentially lethal attempt to squeeze ever more private cars into the same amount of space. In addition to the increase in fatalities and injuries, many cyclists will be intimidated off these roads entirely, either continuing to cycle but on the pavement, causing problems for pedestrians, or switching to another, less desirable mode of transport. Where cycle infrastructure is proposed, such as Booth Street West and Higher Cambridge Street, it is of the same kind which has been shown time and time again to fail to meet the needs of cyclists for both safety and convenience; advisory cycle lanes and ASLs. Advisory cycle lanes are generally less than useless, they are frequently blocked by legally parked cars and routinely abandon their users at junctions, anywhere where the road design becomes confusing or complex or where the road starts to narrow and cyclists might genuinely need some additional protection from the motor vehicles which have been brought into close proximity with them. In the few places where cycle infrastructure is proposed in the current designs they are simply paint on the carriageway or lazy footway ‘conversions’. At junctions, turning geometries are not tightened up at all (as is commonplace in The Netherlands and Denmark) meaning left turning vehicles can perform turns at higher speeds, increasing the chances of a ‘left-hook’ collision with a cyclist, which are often fatal for the cyclist.

In addition to the problems caused for pedestrians by ill-conceived shard use paths as between Plymouth Grove and Grafton Street and the risk of overall increased pavement cycling, the few additional measures included supposedly to benefit pedestrians have been done in a manner which shows utter contempt for the value of pedestrians’ time and the quality of their experience of walking. The increase number of vehicle lanes will increase noise and pollution endured by pedestrians, cyclists and residents, which make the already formidable barrier presented by the road even more difficult for pedestrians to overcome.

These designs need to be changed as a matter of urgency. In their current form they represent a disaster waiting to happen.

Manchester Cycling Strategy

The Interim Strategy for Cycling in Manchester (draft) was recently brought to my attention via the GMCC. The draft can be found here (Hat tip: Manchester FOE). The Manchester Cycling Strategy (MCS) is a result of the Memorandum of Understanding between British Cycling and Manchester City Council. The executive summary on page 4 states,  “Manchester is the home of British Cycling – cycling’s national governing body.” Whilst it is true that British Cycling is the governing body of cyclesport, the relevance of British Cycling to transport cycling is at best, dubious. Whilst British Cycling have recently started to devote some attention to cycling as transport, they are first and foremost the governing body of cyclesport and not an organisation for furthering the aims of everyday folk who want to use a bike for transport.


The biggest problems in the MCS draft are often a result of this confusing mixture of sports promotion and facilitating cycling as transport. A good example to illustrate the absurdity of this is to consider motorsport. Whilst I am sure that there are a good number of people in Greater Manchester who participate in the various disciplines of motorsports, from rallying to formula three, the groups which represent these interests rarely weigh in on transport consultations such as the LTP3. Where they do decide to comment, it is extremely unlikely that they would try to present themselves as the ‘voice of the motorist’ because clearly they aren’t – they are the voice of motorsports. Whilst these two groups are superficially similar, their interests, needs and wishes are (quite rightly) lobbied for by separate groups. 


In cycling, the distinction is less commonly made, perhaps because there are so few people who regularly use bicycles for any purpose. The problem with this is that cycling is conflated with cyclesport, giving cyclesport a louder voice than it perhaps deserves, whilst making cycling for transport less visible and less attractive to normal people who aren’t interested in getting hot and sweaty in order to go shopping or to work.


This conflation of cycle sport with cycling for transport is illustrated well on page 5 which includes a list of headline figures for investment in ‘cycling’ over the past five years:

  • Over £3.2 million on infrastructure through LTP Highways Capital Programme
  • £518,000 on child cycle training
  • £56,000 promoting bike week
  • £24 million building the National Indoor BMX area
  • Over £12,000 in small grants to community groups
  • £2.5 million on promoting and supporting club and sport cycling
  • Over £250,000 on promoting cycling through initiatives such as Sky Rid [sic]
From this list, several issues stand out to me.
  1. Is all of this funding coming out of a single pot for ‘cycling?’
  2. What does the National Indoor BMX Arena, supporting club and sport cycling and to a certain extent, the Sky Ride, have to do with cycling for transport?
  3. If (1.) is in fact the case, how can £24 million for the National Indoor BMX Arena and £2.5 million on promoting club and sport cycling be justified when only £3.2 million is spent on cycle infrastructure for transport cycling, which has the highest potential for growth and thus has easily the highest potential economic, social and public heath returns.
  4. The cyclesport-oriented aspects of this report should be part of a wider report on the uptake, promotion and enabling of sports in Manchester (which in itself is an important and laudable aim)
  5. The cycling for transport-oriented aspects of this report should be part of Manchester’s wider transport strategy (and dramatically increased in their scope)
Where the report discusses strategies for increasing and improving cycling in Manchester it refers to the LTP3 plan mentioned previously. The LTP3 is worded in a way which allows for the construction of a real network of quality cycle corridors to Dutch standards, the result of which would be immense growth in transport cycling in Manchester and the enormous wider benefits that brings. Unfortunately, it is also vague enough to allow for little change from the status quo, beyond a bit of paint and some crap signage along back-streets; the sort of measures which have already been well-established to be ineffective. The strategy goes on to identify five ‘key issues’ holding back transport cycling in Manchester:
  • Addressing the demand for cycle parking
  • Making major junctions safer for cyclists
  • Working with partners to reduce cycle theft
  • Liaising with City Centre employers to improve workplace cycle parking and changing facilities
  • Improving opportunities to cross the inner ring road
Sadly, these issues are more likely ‘things which existing cyclists would like fixed’ rather than issues which hold back those who wish to cycle for transport but do not currently do so. These issues are likely to be along the lines of:
  • Fear of being killed or injured when cycling with motor traffic
  • Separated bicycle tracks on main roads
  • Junction designs put cyclists (and pedestrians) in unnecessary danger in order to prioritise private motor traffic
  • Rat-running makes riding on streets feel unsafe
All of these issues are tackled in The Netherlands road network model; busy main routes have separate tracks and motor-vehicle rat-running (and hence volume) is eliminated on streets where people live (making them attractive for cycling despite the lack of separation). Address these issues (even in the form of a barebones functional network) and cycling rates in Manchester could easily be increased to 10-15 times their current level. 

Despite the paramount importance of infrastructure in making cycling into a viable mode of transport for normal people, the only infrastructure mentioned in the MCS draft are the three cycle centres to be built in the city centre. These will only improve the experience for existing cyclists, they will provide little or no benefit for would-be cyclists. My mother doesn’t ride a bike, not because there is nowhere for her to park her bike, shower and stash her lycras in a locker. She doesn’t cycle because she (entirely understandably) feels unsafe when cycling on our roads as they currently exist. Providing facilities which would be unnecessary in a mainstream cycling culture is not the way to build a mainstream cycling culture. Where cycling for transport is mainstream, people ride in whatever clothing they need to be wearing at their destination (possibly in addition to a coat and gloves) with the idea of needing to shower and change after cycling to work being something which is utterly irrelevant in a mass cycling culture.

The MCS at least does not explicitly exclude measures which would actually allow cycling for transport to grow, but unfortunately it takes the traditional approach of ‘tinkering around the edges,’ focussing on marginal improvements for existing cyclists whilst completely ignoring the reasons why normal people would never consider cycling for transport. In addition to the desperate need for vastly increasing the scope of the measures proposed to increase cycling for transport, the inclusion of so much irrelevant material pertaining to cyclesport confuses the issues for all users of cycles. Ideally, the cyclesport content in the MCS should exist as a part of a wider ‘Sport in Manchester’ strategy in order to prevent the needs of those participating in these two largely unrelated activities being confused. The report also focusses on leisure cycling separately. It is my belief that leisure cycling does not require a huge amount of specific ‘strategy’ to grow, provided that cycles are considered during the design or renovation of parks & towpaths etc. The measures which will make cycling for transport attractive to normal people will also increase the appeal of cycling for leisure.

Greater Manchester LPT3 Consultation

I have been reviewing the preliminary information coming out of the Greater Manchester LTP3 consultation. It lists the specific responses given to the proposal by various organisation, in addition to the broad trends seen in individual’s responses:

Comments on Cycling & Walking Issues


Amongst the 163 comments received on cycling and walking issues, the following comments were made with significant frequency:
 

39 comments were made encouraging the development of cycle
lanes/paths.

23 comments highlighted the importance of cycle promotion activities.

22 comments revisited the call for cycle carriage on Metrolink

Whilst I am not sure about the promotion of cycling being particularly important in relation to the actual provision of infrastructure, it is nice to see a reasonable number of people asked for more cycle infrastructure. I hope enough of them added the condition that it should at least meet existing minimum design standards, or be based on best practise from The Netherlands etc. It does seem a shame however, that there is little attention from those who read the proposal on the issues affecting walking.
Further along the document comes the aforementioned organisational responses:

British Cycling highlighted:


The link between health and the economy

The potential for 20mph enforcement in residential areas

British Cycling is mainly the regulatory body for cycling sport, but it is nice to see them weighing in on the LTP3. Oddly however, there is no mention of dedicated cycle infrastructure based on best practise from The Netherlands and Denmark, those similarly developed countries where cycling has a much higher modal share than the UK.

Cyclists Touring Club (CTC) highlighted: 



The need to specifically include cycling in the LTP ‘Vision’

The impact of ‘safety in numbers’ in promoting cycling

Potential greater emphasis on the carbon benefits of cycling

The importance of consistent safety levels across the whole road network

The potential for 20 mph as default speed in residential areas

The need to provide parking at other major (non public transport) destinations

The potential for the carriage of bikes on trams

The need to increase capacity on trains

A general call for more resources for cycling

Unlike British Cycling, the CTC describes itself as “As the UK’s National Cyclists’ Organisation,” and is not focussed as strongly on sport cycling as British Cycling is. Most of the points raised are completely valid. Oddly however, there is no mention of dedicated cycle infrastructure based on best practise from The Netherlands and Denmark, those similarly developed countries where cycling has a much higher modal share than the UK.

GM Cycling Campaign highlighted:



The potential for more focus on reducing need to travel
The potential for further commitment on alternative fuel sources for buses

The potential for cycle carriage on buses and Metrolink

A request for more detail on cycle parking at stations

The potential to charge for car park & ride

The potential for 20mph as a default position in residential area

From the GMCC site; “The Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign is a voluntary group working to make cycling in Greater Manchester quicker, safer, easier and more enjoyable. The group wants more people to use bicycles – or other kinds of human powered vehicle – for transport and leisure. And it represents and empowers people who do this.” Oddly however, there is no mention of dedicated cycle infrastructure based on best practise from The Netherlands and Denmark, those similarly developed countries where cycling has a much higher modal share than the UK.

Collective input from a convened group of deaf/hard of hearing representatives highlighted: 



Training areas for bus drivers

The importance of segregating spaces for cycles and pedestrians
A request for further accessibility both on trams and at tram stops.

Specific  views  on  the orientation  and  regulation  of  pedestrian  (green  man)
crossing signals

The importance of addressing deaf people’s information requirement

The only definitive reference to segregation of cycles comes not from one of the three cyclists’ organisations who responded, but for a groups of representatives for the deaf or heard of hearing. Even then, understandably their focus is segregating cyclists from pedestrians rather than other traffic, due to the inevitable problems caused by “shared use” to those who are deaf/hard of hearing (and presumably also the blind too).

Trafford Youth Cabinet highlighted: 



A suggestion for reduced fares on short bus journeys / school bus services and a
general need for more simplified fares across the system

The need for more double tram units

Support for more cycle lanes needed and later cycling proficiency

I had not heard of Trafford Youth Cabinet before, but their site described them as “Representatives of the children and young people of Trafford.”  Its members are aged 11-19. They are also not a dedicated cyclists’ organisation, but they can see the need for dedicated cycle infrastructure and they correctly see this as being more important than cycle training

University of Salford highlighted:

The need for links to Mediacity/Salford Quays from the Salford Crescent area

The potential for safe cycle routes from the university area

Whilst “safe” is open to interpretation, I would interpret this is alluding to segregated away from motor traffic.
These are the main organisational responses which relate to cycling. British Cycling, the CTC and the GMCC all failed to mention the only thing which has been shown to be successful in promoting mass cycling in similarly developed parts of the world; dedicated, segregated where needed cycle infrastructure.
Personally, as a cyclist, I feel that my needs and the needs of the wider community of existing (and importantly the many more potential) cyclists has been utterly failed by the fact that these organisations, which claim to represent cyclists’ interests, have chosen to ignore the successes of other great cycling nations. Instead they have chosen to stick to the same basic strategies which have failed to deliver mass cycling in the UK for decades.
And yes, I am aware of how much I sound like Freewheeler right now.