I use the Wilmslow Road/Manchester Road stretch of the Stockport Cycleway on my commute, so I looked with interest when I saw the proposals.

Wilmslow Road/Manchester Road has never been a particularly pleasant place to ride, with a 40mph speed limit and cars often overtaking far too closely. So in theory, improvements should benefit me. Though, as we’ve seen with the other CCAG work carried out in Greater Manchester, this is often not the case.

Unfortunately, the warning signs were there in the plans. Instead of dedicated cycle provision, the proposal was to increase the width of the existing pavement, taking space away from the road, and provide a shared use path.

I assume cost must have played a big part in this decision, as it was possible to provide the shared use path by taking space away from the road. It’s unlikely this would have been the case if a proper dedicated cycle path was included.

At the time the proposals were circulated, I raised a number of concerns:

  • Substandard provision would end up ignored by a lot of potential users, who would continue to use the road
  • The narrowing of the road would lead to conflicts between people in vehicles and people on bikes
  • A reduction in the speed limit to 30mph would likely be ignored
  • Access to the path would be difficult for those travelling north
  • The Shared use path would lead to conflicts between people walking and people on bikes, particularly on the narrower section on the Mersey bridge (see A view from the cycle path’s thorough post on the problems of shared use paths)
  • It wasn’t clear what would happen to those travelling on to Parrs Wood and beyond

Unfortunately, none of these concerns and the concerns of others were taken on board, and work began last summer, with little change to the plans.

The construction got under way, with a reasonable amount of disruption to traffic. But hey, it was only for 12 weeks over the summer. 12 weeks came and went and the work carried on into September. Eventually, most of the work was complete, but we were left with the section over the M60 unfinished, with a temporary barrier on the road.

Still to be completed, the shared use path over the M60
Still to be completed, the shared use path over the M60

It’s now a year on since the construction started and we still have an unfinished section across the M60 bridge and temporary barrier. I raised the issue with Cllr Iain Roberts earlier in the year and was informed that the council hadn’t obtained the necessary permission from the Highways Agency to carry out the work.

Now, call me silly. But it was pretty clear from the plans that changes would be necessary to the M60 bridge. Given that Stockport is pretty much dissected by the M60, I’d have thought there would have been someone who’d have known that permission from the Highways Agency would need to be sought and this would take some time.

Bikes on the narrowed Manchester Road
Bikes on the narrowed Manchester Road

I continue to ride along Wilmslow Road/Manchester Road and I’ve observed that most of the concerns I raised have been realised.

Although the new path gets some usage by people on bike. It’s clear that there’s a substantial, if not majority who ignore it and continue to use the road. This is particularly true for those travelling northbound, where access on and off the path is problematic.

Avoiding the new shared use path
Avoiding the new shared use path

A new crossing has been added near the entrance to Abney Hall, though I’ve not seen much evidence of it being used to access the shared use path. Where the path finishes at the Parrs Wood end, just over the Mersey bridge, there’s no crossing and you’re faced with a long wait to get across to the other side.

It’s difficult to tell from the plans, what’s intended when you reach Mersey bridge if you want to continue to Parrs Wood. This is the border between Stockport and Manchester, so at this point, it becomes Manchester’s responsibility. I suspect you’re just dumped onto the northbound stretch of Wilmslow Road, once you’ve finally managed to cross over.

As a significant number of people continue to use the road to ride on and as the road is much narrower, it is leading to much more conflict. It’s now a common sight to see people on bikes with a row of cars behind them, waiting to overtake. Previously, the road was mostly wide enough to allow vehicles to overtake.

The speed limit has been reduced to 30mph. But there’s no sign of drivers adhering to this and no sign of it being enforced.

Pinch point as the path narrows on the bridge over the Mersey
Pinch point as the path narrows on the bridge over the Mersey

I’ve not seen as much conflict on the shared use path as I expected. People walking and people on bikes seem to be getting along. I suspect the reason for this is the relatively low numbers using the path.

One exception to this is the section of path crossing the Mersey, where the path narrows significantly due to the width limitations of the bridge. This section of path is far too narrow to be shared use. Particularly as there’s the crossing point,  the entrance to the Trans Pennine Trail and the point where most people heading southbound board the path. This leads to a lot of conflict and needs to be addressed.

K Barriers onto the Trans Pennine Trail, leading to accessibility issues
K Barriers onto the Trans Pennine Trail, leading to accessibility issues

It’s also very disappointing to see that K Barriers have been fitted to the newly upgraded entrance to the Trans Pennine Trail. These are a massive problem for anyone with a non-standard bike, so those with trailers, cargo bikes or three wheel bikes. This significantly impacts accessibility and shouldn’t be allowed. Especially when you compare it with what you see in The Netherlands at a similar junction.

Post at the end of the path on the way to Leiden, no silly inaccessible gates like in the UK
Post at the end of the path on the way to Leiden, no silly inaccessible gates like in the UK

To me, the Stockport Cycleway is typical of the CCAG work being carried out in Greater Manchester. Budget and potential is being squandered by delivering poor quality cycling infrastructure that’s way behind what is generally accepted as best practice. When concerns are raised during consultation, they’re ignored, and plans carry on regardless.

Why is this happening? There’s sufficient budget to do some good work, if there’s the vision. We know we need a substantial increase in investment in cycling infrastructure. But based on what I’ve seen, if we had the money, I’d have no faith in it being invested correctly and not wasted on half-hearted attempts like this. And ultimately, that amounts to fewer people riding bikes because it’s not as safe or attractive as it could be.

This is just part of the Stockport Cycleway, work continues on the other stretches of the route that I’ve not used. I have spotted some of the woefully inadequate plastic bollards that Mad Cycle Lanes of Manchester has covered being installed on Brinksway. So I’m not particularly hopeful.

Update (08/08/15)

Disappointingly, the Stockport Cycleway is now being used as an unofficial car park, with no sign of parking enforcement ticketing or removing the cars. As seen in the following tweets from Jim Pritchett.

This really does show how, even with investment, Greater Manchester councils and TfGM continue to get it wrong. With CCAG funding essentially being used to subsidise parking spaces. This is not space for cycling, this is just a waste of money.