Manchester City Council has come under fire after it was revealed that it will not be installing any pop-up cycling infrastructure since it does not believe there is sufficient demand from commuters as lockdown eases. The news comes as the Greater Manchester, which also comprises nine other local authorities, prepares to outline its emergency active travel measures this week. This evening, the city region’s cycling and walking commissioner, Chris Boardman, took to Twitter to explain the issues involved with bringing together different local authorities on the issue.
On Friday – the deadline for application for the first tranche of a share of the £225 million funding for emergency cycling infrastructure – Manchester City Council, in response to a question on Twitter about when pop-up cycle lanes might appear there, said: “Temporary pop-up cycling infrastructure may seem like a good short-term solution. However, we believe long-term, sustainable modal shift to bikes is best supported through investment in creating safe, durable cycling infrastructure.”
It added: “The first two major schemes in our £79m pipeline, supported by the Greater Manchester Mayor's Challenge Fund, are currently being constructed, as part of our long-term commitment to supporting our residents to make the shift to cycling and walking.”
Given the investment being made in cycling and walking by Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) under Mayor Andy Burnham, the tweet caused confusion as well as anger on the social network.
Greater Manchester is made up of a number of local authority areas – with eight metropolitan boroughs, Bolton, Bury, Oldham, Rochdale, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford and Wigan, as well as the cities of Manchester and Salford.
That creates a similar situation to that in Greater London where individual boroughs have thwarted plans by Mayor Sadiq Khan and Transport for London to roll out safe cycling infrastructure – Kensington & Chelsea and the City of Westminster being the two more high-profile examples.
Yesterday, Andrew Gwynne, the Labour MP for Denton and Reddish, highlighted that all the planned pop-up cycle lanes in Greater Manchester finish at the city council’s boundary.
Why do the Greater Manchester pop-up cycleways all, more or less, end at the Manchester City Council boundary? Come on @ManCityCouncil - play your part, do your bit and help us ALL to #BuildBackBetter 🚲 🐝 pic.twitter.com/q8Arnpsoqi
— 🌈 Andrew Gwynne MP (@GwynneMP) June 6, 2020
But Labour-run Manchester City Council’s executive member for environment, planning and transport, Angeliki Stogia, posted a series of tweets to insist that the council is “committed to improving cycling infrastructure in the city,” but on “the principle that it is well designed, fully funded and permanent,” rather than temporary.
She wrote: “Pop-up cycle lanes have traction with the press and looks like they are also popular with (commuter) cyclists. Light segregation schemes are becoming increasingly popular in other cities on the back of the Covid19 pandemic.
“Sure they offer value for money and with being temporary, they also offer adaptability. Estimated cost of constructing a kerb-separated cycle track in central London is approximately £700,000 per km, compared to around £60,000 per km for light segregation.”
She welcomed the shift towards active travel in Greater Manchester in recent weeks, but highlighted that despite public transport use falling by between 83 and 93 per cent depending on the mode, and the recent good weather, “cycling accounts [for] 4 per cent of trips [while] walking accounts for 5 times more trips than cycling (19 per cent).”
She pointed out that cycle commuting had gone down during the lockdown period, as evidenced by the counters on Oxford Road – unsurprising, given the number of businesses that are closed or have staff working from home – and that “growth in cycling was driven by increase in cycling activity on local streets and traffic-free routes,” with the routes and times indicative of more cycling for leisure.
“The recent increase in cycling on A and B Roads and the increase in numbers during the traditional AM peak suggest that there may be an increase or return to cycling for commuting,” she continued, although she said more data would be needed.
Despite the government encouraging people to cycle to work as lockdown lifts, Stogia insisted that cycling’s modal share means “it's not going to meet the demand for travel to work that exists” and that energy would be better directed on “getting people (safely) back to public transport.”
She said: “The evidence points to the need for neighbourhood improvements, rather than pop up temporary cones for commuter cyclists down major routes which take capacity from public transport and don't form part of an integrated transport network.
“In addition, according to our experience, light segregation devices of temporary nature raise serious safety concerns in respect to ability to protect cyclists and other vulnerable road users.”
Underlining that emergency funding from the Department for Transport has strict criteria attached, the councillor maintained that “there are no easy answers, or enough resources to apply for everything that needs doing across the city,” and that the council would continue to work alongside TfGM on existing planned cycling and walking schemes.
Some people replying to her tweets highlighted that she sits on the board of National Car Parks Manchester, although as one user pointed out, she does so as the representative of Manchester City Council as part of its joint venture with the parking firm, as her predecessors in her post have done.
This evening on Twitter, Boardman, who has been developing the Bee Network of walking and cycling routes across Greater Manchester with TfGM, explained in a series of tweets some of the difficulties that creates.
While not specifically mentioning Manchester City Council, the reference seems clear.
“Right. Lots of people pushing for details on Greater Manchester’s emergency active travel measures, details of which will be released this coming week,” he wrote. “But there’s a few things people should know.
“My job as Commissioner is to come up with ideas, present options, coordinate where requested and aid those who want to enable people to travel actively.
“It is not my job to dictate what happens, I don’t have control of the roads, and nor should I, that burden rests with the people you have elected to make those decisions.
“Whether you agree with those decisions or not, you should keep in mind these actions have consequences that those responsible are accountable for and it’s a tough job.
“So be thankful for those who make brave decisions that perhaps align with your views. But be courteous to those you don’t agree with.
“If it goes well, councillors will get little thanks, if it goes wrong they will be criticised. Remember that.
It’s a thankless not very well paid job considering it’s one of the most important in our country. I certainly wouldn’t want to do it.
“So whilst I might not agree with all of the decisions being made around me, I do appreciate those that have had the courage to stand up and be accountable,” he added. “I hope you will too.”
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.