Bury Council are currently proposing to regenerate a 500 metre stretch of the A56 in Prestwich (Prestwich High Street). The stated aim of the regeneration is: “Prestwich will be centred on a lively high street, full of independent retailers, where traffic adds to the vitality of the town centre and the street scene rather than dominating the environment.” That in itself seems a bizarre aim: traffic, as we well know, tends to add to mortality instead of vitality, but let’s leave that aside for now.
There are currently two proposals on the table: proposal one includes bike lanes in both directions (http://www.bury.gov.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=17175&p=0), and proposal two, a part-time north-bound bus lane (http://www.bury.gov.uk/CHttpHandler.ashx?id=17175&p=0). Having spoken to council staff on their own views and the public feedback to date, the bus-lane plan seems to be a non-starter, so we’ll concentrate on proposal one.
But before we do, a few thoughts on why more cycling would be good for Prestwich.
1) Getting more people into Prestwich more easily: Prestwich is typical of many small urban centres in that it is struggling. With a large local Tesco at the northern end of Prestwich and a Sainsbury’s, Morrison’s and Asda not too far away, most independent food retailers in Prestwich have gone to the wall. The Longfield Suite, an ugly relic of the modernist vision but stoutly defended by locals, forms an important community focal point. There are various restaurants and pubs providing decent nightlife/social options, and in its bolder moments Prestwich sees itself as becoming a northern counterpoint to Chorlton and Didsbury. There are a range of other retailers in the area predominantly reliant on local trade. Businesses in Prestwich need people coming into the village to stay afloat. It doesn’t matter how they get there, they just need to be able to access the area and spend money. In fact, there is a body of research that indicates making an area more acessible for people walking and riding bikes (and thus a more pleasant place to spend time) will positively impact local business. A few links with examples of how cycling has rejuvenated local businesses:
Just compare how easy it is to lock a bike outside a shop and pop in for a few bits compared to the hassle of finding a parking space, worrying about time limits, parking attendants etc. It makes total sense.
Although I don’t know of any data that breaks down how far people travel to get into Prestwich village, I would venture that the majority come from within a radius of a couple of miles. Bicycles are a perfect means of making short trips of this nature, which brings me on to…
2) Parking: Despite extensive parking provision in the centre of Prestwich, it will never be enough to cope with demand unless car usage is reduced. Indeed, provision of parking space on the main carriageway of the A56 is likely to be one of the key battlegrounds in determining the ultimate form of the regeneration scheme. Now, imagine if a significant number of people who currently drive from their home in Prestwich into the centre came by bike instead and what an effect that would have on the current strained parking situation.
3) Ease of getting around Prestwich: Bury Council have recently announced plans to introduce further 20mph zones in Prestwich (slower speeds = safer roads, at least in theory), and have also spent money on cycling provision on Rectory Lane/Whittaker Lane/Heaton Park crossing. If this could feed into safe cycling provision through Prestwich Village, and even beyond, e.g. actually connecting on to the cycle path in front of Tesco and up to the M60 roundabout, people would feel more confident using the bike for short trips around Prestwich instead of the car. Imagine how much more pleasant it would be to be able to cycle safely from the Clough side to Heaton Park with friends/family/kids instead of the hassle of driving and paying for parking. Sounds good, no?
4) Getting people through Prestwich: The A56 is a key artery between Bury and Manchester and all the places in between. Manchester City Council has a stated policy aim of increasing person trips into central Manchester by 30% by 2040 with no increase in private motor vehicle levels. This means that any work done on any main artery needs to consider this objective. Ultimately that means maximising the opportunities for active travel and public transport when devising road schemes. Although this is only a short stretch of the overall road, if we get it right here it will set the standard when the time comes to redevelop other sections. If we don’t, the route stays hostile to cycling and we simply get more congestion, pollution and frustration.
And now to the actual proposal. I personally do not consider that proposal 1 as it currently stands will provide any of the above benefits. Whilst putting bike lanes in seems eminently sensible, the proposed design is for painted, unprotected lanes on the outside of parking bays. This is a potentially fatal design flaw as it requires cyclists to ride in what is known as the “door zone” – the space where you could easily get knocked off by a driver opening their door without checking behind them. Indeed, the following video is a perfect illustration of how fatally flawed this design variant is:
Add to that the fact that the proposed cycle lanes run outside the bus stops, you would have buses criss-crossing the painted bike lanes, which again enhances rather than reduces the risk to people on bikes. Drivers will assume that cyclists are to stay within the cycle lane, so on a bike you’d be penned in between a potential dooring and traffic passing on the right. This is simply not acceptable and will have no impact on increasing cycling levels in or through Prestwich.
In fact, this design had been used in Curry Mile in Rusholme, one of the most dangerous cycle routes in Manchester. This is now considered obsolete and is being replaced with protected lanes that run behind the parking and bus stops, which provides more protection not only for less confident cyclists, but also better pedestrian amenity as the cycle lanes provide an extra barrier between footways and the road.
So the question is begged: why are Bury Council proposing a design that is proven to be dangerous, provides no protection for people on bikes and increases conflict (and we can assume hostility) between different road users? For all the reasons set out above, we need safe cycling provision in Prestwich that goes above and beyond the tried and discredited painted white line.
So, despite being what you might call a keen cyclist, I am not happy to see just any old infrastructure being put in place to tick a box, but rather it has to provide real benefit to people who ride and people who would like to ride. I don’t consider that this scheme goes far enough in its ambitions for active travel and therefore will be making a qualified opposition to this scheme: bike lanes, yes please, but not these. If you wouldn’t be happy for an 8-year-old child or your 80-year-old granny to use a piece of cycle infrastructure, it’s not good enough. And sadly, that’s the case with this proposal.
There is a further public meeting planned for Monday 7 December at 6 p.m. at the aforementioned Prestwich Longfield centre where I will be raising these objections with Council representatives. If you cycle or would like to cycle in Prestwich, please attend if you can. Let’s get the point across and make sure it’s done right.
Note there is an update on this post here: https://bangingonaboutbikes.wordpress.com/2015/12/22/on-where-were-up-to-on-the-prestwich-high-street-plans