A regional mayor under pressure to deliver a key election pledge to remove a cycle lane — estimated to have cost £1.7 million and accused of causing injuries to cyclists and pedestrians, as well as failing to prevent motorists parking in it — has insisted it will be scrapped, but only once the council has the money to do so.
The recently elected Mayor of Middlesbrough Chris Cooke released a campaign video in the run up to May's vote saying that the "absolute disaster" Linthorpe Road cycle lane had "caused nothing but injury and mayhem" and would be got "rid of" on "May 4".
Since the early summer, however, Cooke's time as mayor has seen criticism of the lack of action, the Labour-run council this month being accused of an "abysmal failure" for failing to remove the cycle lane, which critics say, despite increasing the number of cyclists using the road by 70 per cent, has been unable to prevent illegal parking and caused several incidents resulting in injuries to cyclists and pedestrians.
Last October, Paul Harris was thrown over his handlebars after colliding with a cycle lane separator and suffered a bruised and protruding collarbone and needed three stitches above his left eye. That incident came two months after a 78-year-old woman was left with a broken wrist, a black eye and concussion after tripping over one of the bike lane markers on the same road.
The incidents led to criticism that the 'orca' separators, installed to provide cyclists a "quick and safe" route into the town centre were a hazard, but also not sufficient to prevent motorists entering and parking in the infrastructure.
"The problem with the cycle route is that cars are still parking there, delivery drivers are still parking there, and the bus stops are still there. You have to cycle over the bumps to pass the bus stop so you’re constantly checking the traffic," Harris said at the time.
Off the back of heavy criticism at a council meeting earlier in November, Middlesbrough's mayor Cooke addressed the issue with Teeside Live and insisted he does "still want to see the cycle lane removed to address the concerns of local people and businesses" but pointed to the council's financial problems as explanation for why this had not been done sooner.
"The cycle lane was built using funding from the Tees Valley Combined Authority, but we would need to spend Middlesbrough Council money to remove it – money that we don't have at the moment given the financial situation we have inherited," he said.
According to the local press, Middlesbrough Council is reported to be battling a multi-million pound funding black hole, Cooke saying there is no money left to remove the scheme which cost an estimated £1.7 million.
Cooke's Conservative mayoral counterpart in Tees Valley, Ben Houchen, said he seems "incapable of delivering".
"He should just be honest with the people of Middlesbrough, come clean and apologise for ditching his promise to remove this cycle lane," Houchen said. "I'd urge the Middlesbrough Mayor to explain to people what his plans for Middlesbrough are, other than flip-flopping on his very, very simple election pledge."
Other recent criticism for the project came from Liberal Democrat and independent councillors, Tom Livingstone labelling the cycle lane "disastrous", while Joan McTigue said "half the town's asking the same question" about when it will be withdrawn.
Janet Thompson, the local authority's executive member for community safety, responded: "I am aware of issues with illegal parking in and around the town centre, particularly around the Linthorpe cycle lane.
"I've been contacted and sent photos which I've passed on to our enforcement team, this has also been reported to council by businesses in this area. Our wardens have been conducting patrols to address the problems and are continuing to do this. So in light of what these issues are, I agree with what you're saying about the removal of the cycle lane."
In response, Labour group leader Matt Storey said that some of the mayor's election pledges, such as the cycle lane, "will take time to come through".
"But we're six months into this administration. The council is under a tremendous amount of pressure, financial pressure. We've inherited a terrible financial position from the previous administration. The government is still watching us like hawks because of the previous administration. This Labour council and Labour mayor are trying to put those things right."
Dan joined road.cc in 2020, and spent most of his first year (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. At the start of 2022 he took on the role of news editor. Before joining road.cc, Dan wrote about various sports, including football and boxing for the Daily Express, and covered the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for The Non-League Paper. Part of the generation inspired by the 2012 Olympics, Dan has been 'enjoying' life on two wheels ever since and spends his weekends making bonk-induced trips to the petrol stations of the south of England.