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Next phase of Manchester's Oxford Road cycleway begins

Work starts tomorrow to upgrade cycling infrastructure. However, campaigners say "watered down" plans could put cyclists and pedestrians at risk...

New cycle lane being built, but concerns raised about quality…

Work starts tomorrow on the next phase of a major cycle route on Manchester city centre’s Oxford Road.

The first section of the Oxford Road bike lane, part of a £1bn bus priority scheme to reduce traffic congestion and pollution, started in February, and sections of the partially kerb-protected route are now complete. The latest phase will see Oxford Road between Hathersage Road and Booth Street closed to two-way traffic while cycle lanes, including “Dutch-style” bus stop bypasses, pictured above, are built.

However, campaigners have raised concerns plans are being “watered down” with new designs showing a section of cycle lane placed on the outside of parked cars, another disappearing beside a loading bay and a third forcing cyclists to re-join the carriageway potentially obscured by buses.

Work begins to improve Manchester’s Oxford Road for buses and cyclists

Councillor Andrew Fender, Chair of the TfGM (Transport for Greater Manchester) Committee, said: “We’ll start to see a real difference to Oxford Road by the autumn, making the whole area a much more pleasant space for everyone who uses it.

“As well as the environmental improvements, the result will be better transport connections for people offering more, direct travel choices for work, education, leisure and healthcare.

“This is a significant investment in Greater Manchester’s economic future, the long-lasting benefits of which will easily outweigh the short-term disruption caused by its implementation, and I’m grateful for everyone’s patience and understanding while we get there.”

Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council, added: “Oxford Road is one of the busiest routes into the city centre, used by thousands of people each day. These improvements are about making the Oxford Road corridor as safe as possible for all road users and pedestrians, while also making sure cyclists of any ability are confident in using the new cycle infrastructure.”

Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign (GMCC) has voiced concerns about scheme “redesigns”, which were presented to the city’s Cycle Forum in June. GMCC says the changes to designs, which were consulted on last year, are a backwards step, and it urges supporters to sign a petition calling for original designs to be reinstated.

“Instead of providing protected cycleways throughout, TfGM and [Manchester City Council] are now considering designs that would make the cycling route less safe and attractive,” wrote GMCC.

“Designs from September 2015, as published on TfGM’s website following extensive consultations, show that safe cycleways can be accommodated throughout the route. The Oxford Road corridor is Manchester’s busiest cycling route so it deserves a flagship scheme, with continuous dedicated cycleways to minimise the potential for conflict with pedestrians and motorised traffic.

It adds: “We welcome the scheme as a whole but its value risks being compromised by its weakest link(s), which must be addressed so that people who don’t currently cycle are able to consider cycling as a viable transport option in the future.

“These re-designs are backwards steps that are not appropriate for a cycling scheme that intends to be of a high quality and suitable for people of all ages and abilities.”

Under the newly-proposed plans three sections of bike lane, near the Palace Theatre, opposite Nelson and Grafton streets, and opposite Sidney Street, will be altered from original designs.  

By the Palace Theatre new designs show the bike lane on the outside of parked cars and loading bays, rather than the inside, which GMCC says could put cycles and motor vehicles in conflict; at Grafton and Nelson Street a traffic light bypass will be removed, while a redesigned plan of the route has introduced two "give ways" for the cycle lane. At Sidney Street, part of the cycleway has been removed in front of a bus stop, which GMCC says means people on bikes emerge from the bike route with poor visibility of traffic.

A spokesperson for Manchester City Council told “We are using feedback from cyclists, residents, businesses and other stakeholders – as well as our own learning from installing similar measures elsewhere – to finesse our plans as we progress. We will continue to adapt and modify our plans as appropriate. 
“The purpose of our investment is to make cycle trips more attractive and we will continue to review and modify our plans as appropriate to meet that objective, balancing the needs of everyone who needs to use our roads.” 

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Grumpy17 | 7 years ago

Great to see money spent on cycling infrastructure. But as a regular user of this route I have to say I have only used this cycle lane on Wilmslow Road once and won’t be doing it again. It is just not designed for, or suited to, the serious commuter travelling at anything more than 10mph. Look on streetview at the ‘Curry Mile’ stretch between Platt lane and Moss Lane East and make note of all the potential hazards and dangers to users of the cycle lane. 1) Pedestrians walking in a state of oblivion along the length of the cycle lane and crossing over it,  inevitable because of the narrow pavement and all the shops nearby-I counted 20 on the streetview before I got bored.

 2) Car parking bays situated right next to the cycle lane with the hazard of car doors being opened into the path of cyclists and passengers stepping out of their cars straight onto the cycle lane.

3) No less than 14 side roads or service roads off the main Wilmslow Rd on this short 0.5 mile stretch, with the added pleasure of vehicles having to turn across the cycle lane to enter or emerge from these side roads- the streetview again illustrates the problem this causes- with a large white box van emerging from a side road and completely blocking the cycle lane.

4)The cycle lane meanders every few metres away from the direction of the main road near to these junctions, bringing cyclists into closer conflict with vehicles trying to enter the main road and making the cyclist’s journey a longer and  more stressful one.

I have commuted for the past 7 years into Manchester from the south side without serious incident. I don’t wear any Hi-Viz and I hardly ever use a cycle lane. Because I know what’s safe and what isn’t. And if you’re riding at a decent commuting pace that cycle lane isn’t safe.

Chrisplol | 7 years ago
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This is a great scheme for Manchester and Greater Manchester and it is a little disappointing that you should run with this line that designs have been "watered down". Other variants used locally particularly on Twitter include "sabotaged". And our regional daily paper was even persuaded to run a web story saying these plans had been "scrapped" which their credit they revised to being potentially "changed".

So, what has actually been going on? I'm not an engineer or a transport planner but I'll try to explain as best I can.

Manchester City Council as the highways authority has seen the commissioning of the Wilmslow Road Cycleway which runs from Didsbury to Whitworth Park. There are a variety of views about this as we might expect. From my point of view it would have been much improved by further reducing or eliminating kerbside parking by providing a decked car park nearby. But on balance people on bikes do approve and people on foot are becoming more comfortable with it.

Whitworth Street is the start of the further section into the city centre, being built largely with Bus Priority funding. Topping this up with a small proportion of bike money has given very significant improvements to a project design which has been in the works for many years.

Very reasonably Manchester felt it was wise to consider whether there was any learning to be had from the recently commissioned Wilmslow Road scheme for this and for other future schemes, and to work with Transport for Greater Manchester (TFGM) to review and check designs for some detailed elements of the new works against this learning.

The general arrangements of largely separated and continuous cycle lanes, favourable signalling and a dozen high specification bus stop by passes were to be retained whether or not any detailed elements were changed in this process.

That so much - let's say 95% of the design - was in this category was a testament to the hard work of officers and councillors, in particular then Exec Member for environment Cllr Kate Chappell, who methodically dealt with many of the concerns raised by our cycling commuting council leader Sir Richard Leese, by traders, by pedestrians and of course by the cycling lobby.

What remained moot after this process? One general design principle and just five small sections, essentially at three locations. The possible changes on these were put out to a short consultation.

The general design principle was use of more gaps in the long runs of kerb separation between the general carriageway and the Cycleway. Two slightly different dimensions for those gaps - 2.5 metres or 3 metres - were tested on the ground. This was not particularly controversial.

Travelling from South to North there were then side by side elements at Nelson Street and Grafton Street near the Central Manchester Hospitals including the Eye Hospital; at Sidney Street near the Manchester Metropolitan University, and finally along Oxford Street between Charles Street and Portland Street near the Palace Theatre and Palace Hotel.

Near the Central Manchester Hospitals the issues were in bound. A loading bay opposite Nelson Street by passed in the previous designs and opposite Grafton Street a by pass through a narrow and high footfall footway in front of shops. This was for a set of traffic lights controlling crossings and movements at a sometimes busy T junction with hospital access. 

Responses to the possible changes here from those who attended a special edition of the TFGM cycle reference group which I chair, from GM Love Your Bike, and from individuals including myself were I think clear and positive. The loading bay should still be by passed, as this was far safer for people on bikes and no great conflict for professional drivers, and that if the crossing by pass was not available the bike lane should still be separate and the green signal as favourable as possible.

The next change was opposite Sidney Street where previous designs had included a by pass through a busy footway for a simple on demand pedestrian crossing with modest use. We argued that if the by pass could not be retained separation alongside the carriageway should be, with lights naturally suited to keeping people on bikes moving, except when pedestrians were crossing.

Finally, and probably most difficult, it was suggested that the proposal for a parking and loading protected bike lane southwards for the one city block from Portland Street to Whitworth Street be replaced with a door zone lane outside the bays. The concern here, though the footways are far wider - two to three times wider - than through the curry mile in Rusholme, was that there would be conflict between pedestrians stepping into the lane and people on bikes.

We felt that at the start of the outward route it would be a huge disappointment to have a door zone lane even with a buffer and that our pedestrians and people on bikes could learn to coexist safely with a buffer still but towards the kerbside.

So we asked that if the protected lane could not be simply retained in the design - because of legitimate concerns that could not be fully resolved with drawings - that the preferred layout should be introduced using paint and temporary fittings along the lines of New York City experiments and then made permanent if and only if all was well.

An announcement from Manchester City Council and TFGM is imminent. As we wait I feel that two principles are important here.

FIrst, the principle of learning from each commissioned schemes as we move on to the next. And second the principle, often neglected, of our highways hierarchy that sees footway users with higher mobility and sensory needs - with fewer advocates than those on bikes it must be said - and general pedestrians - above people on bikes and sustainable passenger transport.

Let's hope that our thoughtful response to the potential changes is heard and that this great step forward in urban design in Manchester gets the green light in the best form it possibly can. We have made a good case. If our ideas are not adopted this will not be for want of trying or from any lack of good faith from those who reasonably called for the review.

Let's hope too that unhelpful dog whistles such as "watered down", "sabotaged" and "scrapped" are avoided when there are important discussions to be had about safety, when new ways of working are being established, and when the hierarchy of users is getting the attention it deserves.



Argos74 replied to Chrisplol | 7 years ago

Chrisplol wrote:

a great scheme for Manchester


No it's not. It's really not. It was horrible before, and the extensive (and expensive) changes do nothing to address any of the more dangerous bits*, and for quicker riders, adds some more dangerous bits, just for you.

For slow-medium paced riders, the protected lanes are a welcome addition. So I can find a small positive. But anywhere above 30kph, and they feel very scary, especially in the dark, or wet/icy weather. There's also some crazy windy bits, and one strange section (Platt Fields Park) where the bike path crosses the pedestrian bit of the pavement back and forth repeatedly. FFS.

The GMCC was pushing hard against alterations to the changes, but restoring them would for me like putting make up on a pig's arse. You can try, and try real hard, but it's always gonna be a pig's arse.

My commuting and route selection advice is the same - for fast riders, use Princess Road. For slower riders, follow the 111 bus route through Moss Side and Withington. Or Anson Road/Stockport Road - I don't know that side of Manchester as well.

* The incomprehensible southbound diversions just north and south of the Mosley Road junction, the parking bays along side the bike lanes through the Curry Mile. If they'd just addressed these, it would have been fine, okay, fineish, and at a miniscule fraction of the cost.

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