I’m a resident of Stretford, and I’ve been following Trafford Council’s proposals for the public realm around Stretford for some time.

I’ve commented on the previous proposals in the following posts:

Phase 1 proposals

Since the publication of the consultation results back in January, Trafford Council has moved ahead with drawing up detailed designs for phase 1, covering the area around the A56/Edge Lane Junction, as shown below (originals can be found on the Stretford Town Centre website).

Proposed public realm upgrades phase 1
Proposed public realm upgrades phase 1

According to the information on the Stretford Town Centre website, the consultation focuses on the following:

  1. Provision of new pedestrian crossing facility at A56/Edge Lane Junction
  2. Rejuvenating the main entrance to Stretford Mall
  3. Revitalisation of existing subway access near Stretford Public Hall
  4. Creating a sense of place upon arrival to Stretford
  5. Introducing a distinctive palette of paving materials and street furniture to strengthen local character
Proposed material palette
Proposed material palette

Trafford Council are not giving residents much opportunity to respond, with proposals being published on 21 July 2016 and the deadline for responses 29 July, so just 8 days. Given that and the previous consultations, it makes me wonder how serious Trafford Council are on hearing what people have to say.

I was told previously by Councillor Stephen Adshead at the Trafford Cycle Forum in February 2016, that the forum would get the opportunity to be involved in design, but this hasn’t happened and seems unlikely that it will.

Key issues with the phase 1 designs

Some of this has already been covered in my previous posts. So, if you want to skip the detail, these are the key issues I have with what’s proposed:

  • Removal of the underpasses brings little benefit and significantly reduces options for pedestrians and people on bikes
  • At grade crossings have too many stages, will be less convenient than the underpasses
  • Cycle provision is poor quality and will do little to encourage more people to cycle
  • Additional traffic lanes will increase motor traffic, causing more pollution
  • Without changes to road layout and/or enforcement, speed limit decrease to 30mph will be ignored
Proposed junction improvements - Phase 1 - General arrangement
Proposed junction improvements – Phase 1 – General arrangement

Removal of underpasses

Out of the four existing underpasses, all but one are to be filled in and replaced with at grade crossings. The purpose of this we’re told is part of “Rejuvenating the main entrance to Stretford Mall” and “Creating a sense of place upon arrival to Stretford”. Though to me, it looks more like it’s about creating space for additional motor traffic lanes and development.

Underpasses in general have quite a poor reputation and it’s fair to say that the ones at this junction are not that welcoming. Though that doesn’t mean they’re a bad idea. Indeed, they provide a convenient way of crossing many lanes of traffic safely, without worrying about the traffic or having to wait. When crossing the junction with children or on a bike, the importance of this convenience shouldn’t be underestimated.

Well designed underpass in The Netherlands, with clear routes through and good levels of social safety
Well designed underpass in The Netherlands, with clear routes through and good levels of social safety

Much could be done to improve the underpasses, making changes to bring them up to today’s standards. As described in As Easy As Riding A Bike’s posts Rehabilitating the underpass and Taking responsibility for social safety, if underpasses are open, overlooked, with clear routes through, they can have high levels of social safety.

For those who still feel unsafe using the underpasses, at grade crossings could be provided as an alternative. But in my option, these should just be an alternative, not the only option.

If underpasses are such a bad idea, then why has Trafford Council decided that one of the underpasses should be kept? It doesn’t make sense. Unless the real motive is about freeing up space for additional traffic and development.

At grade crossings

The introduction of at grade crossings is being done to replace the existing underpasses that are being removed. I welcome the addition of at grade crossings in principle, but only as an alternative to the underpasses, not as a replacement.

I can appreciate there’s times when people would prefer to cross at grade, particularly at night. There’s times when I’d choose to use the at grade crossings over the underpasses. But overall, they offer quite a poor way to cross the junction, given the number of lanes to cross, the number of stages and the time spent waiting.

For example, say you want to go from the north side of Edge Lane to the south side of Kingsway, if you were going from the Metrolink stop to Stretford Mall. Currently, this is pretty quick and easy using the underpass.

Using at grade crossings will require going across 7 stages and 13 lanes of traffic. Undoubtedly, traffic will be given priority, so how long will it take to cross? While crossing, you’ll be stood in fumes, close to high volumes of traffic, with vehicles speeding, jumping red lights etc. Does this sound like an improvement?

Poor quality cycle provision

There are plenty of examples of what good quality cycle provision looks like. The recent changes on Wilmslow Road show that, although not perfect, better can be achieved. Even in Manchester.

New segregated cycleway on Wilmslow Road, Rusholme, what the A56 should have
New segregated cycleway on Wilmslow Road, Rusholme, what the A56 should have

It’s clear looking at the designs, 1.5m of advisory cycle lane is far from good. It is the bare minimum they could get away with, as confirmed on the drawings:

All proposed cycle lanes are 1.5m as per the Recommended minimum width suggested in greater Manchester cycling design guidance

The A56 is the key route into Manchester from Trafford, but it sadly lacks any real cycle provision along its length. Recently, the Bridgewater Way has become the main route into Manchester for those wanting to avoid mixing with traffic. Though there are many issues with this route.

The Bridgewater Way is very much a leisure route, given its location next to the canal, its narrowness and shared use status. It’s pretty clear it is now inadequate for the amount of use it gets and conflict is now all too common.

Trafford desperately needs high quality cycle provision along the A56 that can cope with the number bikes and goes through the key towns in the borough. Trafford Council seem to be capable of doing this with Talbot Road and Stretford Road that are both getting upgrades, but are incapable of doing the same on the A56, where it’s needed most.

So, on what is a 6-8 lane urban motorway, bikes are given 1.5m of space, a painted line and no actual protection. What’s the purpose of this? Is it going to be a safe, attractive option for people of all ages to ride their bikes? Of course it isn’t.

Increase in motor traffic lanes

In the proposals, the right filter that takes you onto Edge Lane has been increased from 1 lane to 2. This filter is currently quite a problem. At rush hour, it’s common to see traffic backing up round the corner to the gyratory. It is also common to see vehicles using the 3rd ahead lane to jump into the right filter to cut through the queue.

So in a simplistic way, it might seem logical to increase this filer to 2 lanes. But is it? What will actually happen if this increase goes ahead?

Well for a time, traffic might flow through the junction a little quicker, and the amount of traffic backing up along the A56 may decrease. But to anyone who knows anything about induced demand will tell you this is only a temporary improvement. Provide more capacity to motor traffic and unsurprisingly, it fills up with more motor traffic, much more than before. So before you know it, we’ll be back to where we are now, except the overall numbers of vehicles will have increased, along with levels of pollution.

Speed limit decrease without changes to road layout

As with the majority of people in Stretford, I welcome a decrease in the speed limit to 30mph along the A56. But will changing the speed limit alone change driver behaviour? It’s doubtful.

This section of the A56 is a 6-8 lane urban motorway. It’s designed to encourage people to drive fast. With the existing 40mph limit, it’s not uncommon to see vehicles travelling at 10-20mph above the limit. Further along the A56 between Gorse Hill and Old Trafford, where the road narrows to 4 lanes and the speed limit decreases to 30mph, many vehicles do around 40mph.

Without significant changes to the road layout, it’s unlikely that reducing the speed limit will have any noticeable impact on the speeds drivers do. Mix into that the fact there’ll be many more pedestrians mixing with traffic, due to the removal of the underpasses and you end up with a dangerous combination.

Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?

In the name of traffic flow, Stretford has received a poor deal over the years. It had the centre of the town ripped out to make way for what is now a largely outdated shopping mall. It also saw a significant amount of demolition to make way for widening schemes on the A56, Edge Lane and the introduction of Kingsway.

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A56 Chester Road before widening

Stretford is a town divided by traffic, principally the A56, but also Kingsway, Edge Lane and Barton Road. What once a bustling busy place, is now largely a ghost town that people drive through and don’t stop at, particularly in the evenings. This is what happens if your town planning puts the needs of vehicles ahead of people.

What Stretford now needs is a bold plan to address the traffic issues head on. Unfortunately, Trafford Council’s approach is largely cosmetic and doesn’t address any of the issues.

Ultimately, this will end up holding Stretford back for a generation. Once this money has been spent, it’s unlikely there’ll be any more available for a long time. By setting the goals so low, Trafford Council’s planners and councillors have sold us out.

TfGM’s Greater Manchester Transport Strategy 2040 sets out many aims to deliver better transport and local environments to improve the lives of those that live and work here. In particular, it says:

Transport is only part of the solution, but developing urban centres and residential areas with attractive streets and public spaces, that are easy to walk and cycle around, and that are served by modern and affordable transport systems, will help to make Greater Manchester a more attractive place to live and work.

Does any of what’s proposed in phase 1 help to make that happen? I don’t believe so.

Trafford Council’s engagement with the public on these proposals has been woeful. In the consultation back in January, the questions were heavily loaded to get the outcome they want. In this consultation, the only thing we’re being asked for an opinion on is the street lighting. It’s also clear looking at the detailed designs that zero changes have been made in light of concerns raised by the public. Trafford Council are not interested in hearing our views, this is a box ticking exercise.

Complete the questionnaire, closing date 29 July

There isn’t much time to respond as the closing date is 29 July. There’s a questionnaire on the Stretford Town Centre website that can be sent to Mark.Ford@amey.co.uk. Please fill it out and make your views known.

Join the campaign

As many of us believe Trafford Council aren’t taking notice of the consultation responses and ignoring the views of the local residents, a campaign has been started to save our subways. Get involved on the Save our Subways Facebook page, Facebook group and Twitter page.

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