It’s hard to say really. The whole thing seems to be a bit of a mess right now. I originally wrote about this scheme here: https://bangingonaboutbikes.wordpress.com/2015/12/03/on-why-its-crucial-to-get-cycling-right-in-prestwich/ and those thoughts are still very much valid, albeit now tinged by an unhelpful dose of realism.
Last night (Monday 21 December) I attended another public meeting, which had been primarily convened for residents on the western side of Prestwich to voice their concerns about the proposed closure of Warwick Street and the one-way plan for Clifton Road. The opposition from some residents on that side of the village is fierce, so much so that it looks like derailing the entire scheme.
In this regeneration we are being given a choice between Prestwich simply being a thoroughfare for people travelling to other places on the A56 and slowly dying on its arse as a local focal point, which is where we are now, or Prestwich actually being a nice, thriving and attractive place to live, which I think is what the scheme is ultimately trying to achieve. I say I only think that for the following reasons:
- The scheme’s mission statement is fuzzy to say the least: “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.” There is an implication in there that traffic will be less dominant if the proposed plans go ahead, but no explicit statement of how this is supposed to happen.
- At the first public meeting I attended on 7 December, I explicitly asked whether the scheme envisaged any kind of “mode shift”, i.e. any conscious vision to disincentivise driving and facilitate more sustainable forms of getting people into Prestwich. I was told, emphatically, no. That was not part of the thinking behind the plans. Everything is based on an assumption that traffic levels will remain the same, which begs the question: how can we possibly reduce the dominance of traffic without actually reducing traffic itself? To me that’s a paradoxical and impossible objective.
- The large part of the discussion still centres around vehicle access, parking etc. which suggests that in whatever form the scheme is implemented the car will still be king, and if that is the case, the scheme’s objectives of making Pretswich more liveable will fail.
Now, originally, I didn’t think that the objections to the road closure/one-way plan were hugely detrimental to our alternative ideas for protected cycle lanes, given that the plans as they stand envisage rasied tables at side roads, giving priority to pedestrians and cyclists. I’m now not so sure. Our (Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign’s) proposed improvements are as follows, with protected lanes as depicted in the featured image above:
At both meetings I have made the point that the key issue for regenerating Prestwich is access. There’s no law of nature that demands that access needs to be by car, and indeed when I made my points about providing safe, protected cycle lanes that cater predominantly for people who don’t currently cycle, which would improve people’s options for travelling into Prestwich, enhance the attractiveness of the place by actually reducing traffic and thereby also to an extent obviating issues of congestion and parking (legal or illegal), and also improve access to local businesses, there was widespread approval and the sound of pennies dropping. People like the idea of people being able to cycle safely; however, that is also where we experience a troubling disconnect. “That sounds great. But will I still be able to drive my car as much and as conveniently as I do now?” The short answer is no.
We can’t have everything. We either build Prestwich for people, or we build it for cars. Do we think Prestwich would benefit from lower traffic levels? I think most would agree that that is so. However, what that also means is that we all individually need to start making different choices. We can’t have less traffic and simultaneously all keep driving as much as we do now. We either have less traffic or the same amount of traffic. We can either make Prestwich into a really pleasant place or a merely slightly less unpleasant place.
Which is why I am coming round to believing that the interventions on Warwick/Clifton are actually pretty central to the whole endeavour. Councillor O’Brien made the very useful point that if you build to accommodate cars, you get more cars. It’s a well-known phenomenon in traffic planning called “induced demand”. If you make something convenient, people will use it (sometimes known as the “build it and they will come” effect). The converse of that is that if you make driving less convenient and other modes more accessible, people will start making different choices. People in the houses that currently use Warwick/Clifton for access will find different ways of making short trips, by walking, cycling or public transport. Of course, car trips will still be possible, but more cumbersome, and if people think twice before firing up a polluting, potentially lethal tonne of metal merely to travel a few hundred yards to e.g. meet a friend for coffee, that can only be a good thing.
And I think that’s where the scheme at present falls down. Subtly, subliminally I think the plans do want to get car use down. But without Bury Council clearly communicating this and providing, and indeed spelling out, alternatives to private motor travel, it will inevitably be a fudge that benefits few, if any. It could be a bold, ambitious project that makes deliberate and considered interventions that will positively impact people’s choices about how they travel. Having spoken at meetings, I get the distinct impression that there is an appetite for that, and if we get it right, it could really put Prestwich on the map. Yet the official line is to merely subtly tinker with the status quo.
The choice is ours to make: we either create a nice place to live, which means modifying our own habits and behaviours to a certain extent, or we keep driving our cars to the exclusion of everything and everyone else. I know what I’d rather see. How about you?