Cycling and the Greater Manchester mayoral election

On 4 May 2017, the people of Greater Manchester will be electing a mayor, as part of a devolution package that will see powers for transport, planning, housing and training move to the region.

Anyone who’s watched the improvements for cycling in London, through the segregated Cycle Superhighways and Mini-Holland schemes, will know how instrumental the mayor of London at the time, Boris Johnson and his cycling commissioner Andrew Gilligan were to making this happen.

DSC_5882
Santander Cycles bikes next to East-West Cycle Superhighway on London’s Victoria Embankment

Now I’m certainly no supporter of Boris Johnson, for many reasons that I won’t go into here. But from a cycling perspective, he did manage to deliver real improvements for cycling in London, pushing through schemes that were unpopular with some. In the interest of balance, he also spent a lot of time and effort putting paint on roads that at best was useless, and at worst cost lives.

It’s hard to see without the drive and commitment of the mayor, how any of this would have ever been achieved. Getting that kind of vision and consensus across boroughs would have been impossible. Indeed, the current mayor Sadiq Khan, despite saying all the right things during the election, has failed to deliver much in the way of progress for cycling since assuming office in May 2016.

Mayoral candidates have until the 5 April 2017 to put themselves forward, so we don’t have a full list of nominations as yet. But we do know who the candidates are from the main parties, their views on cycling and manifesto commitments. So where do they stand?

Sean Anstee (Conservative)

Sean Anstee is currently leader of Trafford Council and a councillor for Bowdon. He is standing as the Conservative candidate for mayor.

Sean has touched upon cycling in his manifesto. He has also spoken to Cycling UK recently though as part of their Vote Bike campaign.

Sean has the following to say in his manifesto regarding cycling:

  • I will make our city region cycling-friendly by working with local councils to create safer junctions and smarter bus stops. I will also establish a bike rental scheme so that everyone has access to this mode of transport.

Although I welcome this, I don’t believe it goes far enough. Yes, safer junctions and bus stops are needed, but is this enough to get people cycling, especially if we’re talking all abilities and ages (8 to 80)? There’s no commitment to increasing the amount of protected cycle infrastructure or building a cohesive cycle network, but there is a commitment to investigating transport technologies like Hyperloop. Why? Is that really a serious manifesto commitment?

Much of Sean’s manifesto commitments for transport focus on Metrolink, roads and air. Some of these are welcome, in the case of smart ticketing. But I don’t see the commitments addressing the transport issues Greater Manchester faces now, never mind into the future. A bike share scheme is definitely welcome, but TfGM have already committed to look at this in their 2040 strategy.

Being leader of Trafford Council since 2014 and patron of Trafford Cycle Forum, I think we can understand Sean’s commitment to cycling through the changes we’ve seen in the borough.

So what are the significant changes to cycling in Trafford in the years since Sean became leader? Well, as a Stretford resident and a Trafford Cycle Forum member, I am reasonably well placed to comment.

The most significant change for cycling in Trafford in recent years has been the Bridgewater Way improvements, part of the Local Sustainable Transport Fund (LSTF) projects undertaken in Greater Manchester. This has seen big improvements to the towpath by the canal, making it much more usable for cycling and walking, and it is pretty popular. Though we need to be clear, this is very much a leisure route and shouldn’t be classed as part of our transport network.

Other changes have been more piecemeal, where we’ve seen improvements made somewhat in isolation. On Talbot Road for example, motor traffic lanes have been reduced and a mandatory cycle lane has been added. Up to now, this hasn’t been segregated, so it has suffered the typical issues with paint on road infrastructure, such as motor traffic encroaching on the lane or it being used for loading and waiting. Plans are under way to introduce light segregation, which will help, but it’s a world away from what’s happening on Oxford Road / Wilmslow Road.

In addition to this, it’s worth noting that the supposed public realm improvements Trafford are pushing ahead with in Stretford will see no improvement for people on bikes on what is effectively an urban motorway. This is while capacity for motor traffic is increased, leading to even worse air quality for the local area. Pedestrians also get a bad deal, as the subways are being filled in, forcing everyone to cross a dangerous and busy junction using at grade crossings.

A56 Corridor
Wholly inadequate provision for cycling in the Stretford public realm improvements

Although Sean may be saying the right things, I’m not seeing much in the way of substance in his manifesto to back it up. Saying streets need to be as comfortable for people on bikes as they are for people in cars is great, but how is this going to be achieved?

I’ve also not seen much evidence in his tenure at Trafford Council that’d make me think he would be willing to give walking and cycling the priority it needs.

Jane Brophy (Liberal Democrat)

Jane Brophy is currently a councillor for Timperley and is standing as the Liberal Democrat candidate for mayor.

As with Sean, Jane has touched upon cycling in her manifesto. She has also spoken to Cycling UK recently.

In her manifesto, Jane says she will:

  • Improve cycling and walking facilities across Greater Manchester, with a goal of making Greater Manchester the cycling capital of the UK.

From what Jane has said and what’s in her manifesto, I think see she gets it when it comes to having a sustainable travel strategy for Greater Manchester and the positive impact it would have on the people of the region. And I welcome her commitment to making Greater Manchester the cycling capital of the UK, and delivering better public transport.

I’d really like Jane to say how she will make Greater Manchester the cycling capital of the UK. Saying it is one thing, having a plan to back it up is another.

Andy Burnham (Labour)

Andy Burnham is currently MP for Leigh and is standing as the Labour candidate for mayor.

Andy was the first to launch his manifesto and I think it’s fair to say he was first off the mark when it came to talking about cycling and was the first to speak to CyclingUK.

In his manifesto, Andy has the following commitments for cycling:

  • We will work with our councils to build a new network of dedicated cycle lanes, making full use of old infrastructure (such as disused railways and canal towpaths), to link up each borough to the city-centre and create radial links.
  • We will launch an iconic bike-hire scheme, making use of the latest technology, to make cycling a more accessible and convenient way to get around.
  • Together, let’s make Greater Manchester the best place to cycle in the country.
  • We will appoint an Active Travel Commissioner for Greater Manchester and ask them to report back to the Mayor on a regular basis.

I really welcome the amount of engagement Andy has already had with the cycling community in Greater Manchester, I also welcome the commitment to build a network of dedicated cycle lanes and the appointment of an active travel commissioner. As I mentioned earlier, the TfGM have already committed to look at bike share scheme in their 2040 strategy.

There is a word of warning though, in the part about “making full use of old infrastructure (such as disused railways and canal towpaths)”. Now this type of infrastructure is great for leisure, but should it be part of a transport network? We need cycle infrastructure to be where people live and work, not on old railways and towpaths.

As we’ve seen from what’s happened in London and from other examples of bikelash from elsewhere in the world. Delivering something that has a significant positive impact for cycling and for sustainable travel in general, will require a willingness to make tough and sometimes unpopular decisions, such as taking space away from motor traffic.

Where do the candidates stand right now?

In my view, Andy Burnham is way ahead when it comes to understanding what we need to do to really drive cycling numbers up and having the manifesto commitments to back it up.

The level of engagement he’s had with the cycling community is a really welcome sign and is something the other candidates should take on board. I’d urge the candidates to really think about what it takes to encourage all abilities and ages (8 to 80) to take up cycling and not just think about those already doing it.


More on the mayoral election

 

 

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