The third in this occasional series on the network planning meetings being held by Chris Boardman’s team with Greater Manchester’s borough councils. After Bury’s mild bemusement and Rochdale’s cautious realism, the tone of the Salford meeting (held on 28 March) was more upbeat and lively, with the takeaway message of the day for me being “the world has changed” – an exciting acknowledgement of the opportunities afforded by the Made to Move strategy.
Getting there, or: what’s it like to cycle in Salford at the moment
Although not included in the original event invitation, on inquiring I was supplied with cycling directions (described as the “least worst route”) from central Manchester to the meeting in Swinton by Salford’s lead officer for cycling and walking. However, despite my best attempts to follow the instructions, my notoriously hopeless sense of direction led me on a somewhat improvised tour, which nonetheless gave me a sense of past attempts at cycling provision in the borough. This is clearly a Council that has been experimenting with what might work for cycling for some time, with predictably varying results. Here are just a few of the things I encountered on my disorientated trundles there and back (of course this is by no means an exhaustive catalogue of the designs on the ground across Salford).
1) The original experiment with armadillos. A modified version of this “light” protection was subsequently deployed on the Broughton Cycleway on Great Clowes St. (a scheme with its own issues that I may discuss in a separate piece). In sum, between the wands, these don’t provide any real sense of separation or safety from motor traffic.
2) Nicely demarcated, resurfaced, pothole-free shared space, with bike lanes running away from the road and behind bus stops (albeit without cycle priority at side roads) and clear lines to separate pedestrians and bikes. This felt most pleasant to ride on.
3) Blue rectangular signs with a bike symbol. The official meaning of these is “Route recommended for pedal cycles on main road” (https://www.drivingtesttips.biz/blue-road-signs.html), i.e. you can cycle on this road to get where you’re going. For someone as lacking in natural way-finding capacity as me, these are pretty useless without actual destinations marked on them because of course we’re allowed to cycle on most roads to get where we’re going.
4) Another, less comfortable manifestation of shared space. On Bolton Road bikes are directed on to the right-hand pavement, which is both shared with pedestrians and intended to serve bikes travelling in both directions. Whilst the path does go behind the bus stops, there are unhelpful “Cyclists dismount” signs at each stop. So the idea is that you cycle along a shared path, dodging pedestrians and people cycling the other way, and get off and push your cycle through every bus stop, getting back on till the next bus stop etc. Not a design I hope to see carried forward in any hurry!
5) Follow the cycling route signs here and you end up going the wrong way along an apparently unshared pavement on Langworthy Road.
6) Gratifying absence of the usual exhortation to dismount, at least where this cycle lane is concerned – one thing a lot of other councils have to learn.
7) Thankfully, a row of bike stands was immediately visible by the car park at the Salford Civic Centre, where the meeting was to be held. Thus, there were no bike-parking issues like those on other occasions (mentioning no names, Rochdale…).
So as we can see, Salford has obviously been thinking about cycling for a while, and this also came through at the meeting itself.
Chris Boardman, Greater Manchester’s Cycling and Walking Commissioner (yes, really); Brian Deegan (GMCA’s Infrastructure Lead) and Martin Key (GMCA’s Senior Transport Advisor).
TfGM: Cycling Officer
Salford Council: Eight representatives, including the Lead Officer on Cycling and Walking; the Head of Highways and Infrastructure; Lead Officer for Active Travel from the Public Health Team (i.e. Salford get that cycling/walking is more than just transport); and also a Councillor (who shall remain anonymous under Purdah rules).
Urban Vision (Salford Council’s urban planning joint venture operation): Four representatives, including Group Leaders and Senior Engineers.
Three cycling campaigners (including me)
Two Salford residents who cycle
So a busy meeting!
Now, regular readers may recall I have been tracking diversity of participants at previous meetings and I was rather curious as to how Salford would fare in these stakes. This was especially so given that Salford’s Cycling and Walking lead who hosted the meeting is a dynamic young woman who was keen to see greater visibility of underrepresented groups. Indeed, as a white man of a certain age, I had to exercise a certain degree of persuasion even to be invited… so how did they do? Well, with four women (two Council officers, two residents) and a couple of minority ethnic Council officers present, the ratios were better than the other meetings I’d attended, but we once again see that there’s a way to go in both cycling and town planning before we can claim anything approaching proportionate representation.
In fact, there’s little to report here. Brian Deegan briefly opened the session by explaining the task (for those unaware of the methodology, it’s described in some detail in the account of the Bury meeting), and everyone got stuck in straight away: no introductions, just eagerness to get those lines drawn in on the map.
Outcomes and key projects
Salford are totally up for this. A phrase I heard multiple times during the session was “the world has changed”, i.e. what used to be pie in the sky in terms of cycling and walking is now potentially within reach. And accordingly, this was really was a lively meeting, with the officers in particular engaging in animated discussions around the emerging network. Indeed, the allotted two hours were nowhere near enough given the task of covering a borough of this complexity, and we were verily booted out of the room as the meeting after ours grew impatient as we threatened to overrun. This was a Council that was brimming with ideas and eager to superimpose them on to the Deegan schematic.
There was little debate around the key route (black pen, “cycle superhighway”): the A6, and detailed and ambitious plans for at least part of that route were presented and circulated in the room. With this much enthusiasm, it seemed a little unfair to limit the choice to one “big ticket” item, but if the Boardman strategy of awarding money to schemes that meet the right, stringent standards is indeed rolled out, I suspect that we’ll see a fair number of impressive projects taking shape in Salford as other Councils look on. Other items discussed (not “big ticket” per se, simply crossings between cells) included a pedestrian and cycle bridge connecting the Salford and Trafford sides of the Quays, and similar bold interventions – not necessarily in keeping with the Deegan method, but as an opportunity to realise long-desired projects thus far deprived of adequate funding.
Similarly, the discussion around the mini-Holland scheme identified various worthy alternatives. The Ordsall neighbourhood had been presented as the early front-runner – with many existing point closures it’s an easy area to demonstrate how modal filters (i.e. routes that are impassable to vehicles but permeable to bikes and pedestrians) can work well. Discussions were had about Walkden town centre, Irlams o’ th’ Height and Campbell Road in Swinton – with the officers agreeing to consider these further internally with an option to revert to Brian at a later juncture.
As mentioned earlier, Chris Boardman himself was at this meeting to witness how Mr. Deegan et al. go about this network planning process. Of course I took the opportunity to quiz him on a few aspects of his vision for cycling and walking in Greater Manchester. (Apart from anything else, the fact I was recently on a pub quiz team called “Quiz Boardman” with some cycling chums means that there was no way I was going to pass up an actual opportunity to quiz Boardman! But I digress.)
The conversation went roughly as follows:
Me: “How are you going to ensure that all Councils across GM share equal levels of enthusiasm in your vision for cycling and walking, given that the initial reception has been somewhat mixed?”
CB: “The Councils that are the keenest will get money to build top-notch projects. The others will see these projects being built and will want the same themselves. A process of gentle encouragement.”
Me: “So kind of a fear of missing out?”
Moving the discussion from Council to individual level, I asked,
Me: “How are you going to get the message through to the average driver to leave the car at home and to walk or use a bike for certain journeys instead?”
CB: “We’ll make it more attractive, so when they look out of their car window, they think, ‘Why aren’t I out there on a bike? Why am I sat here in a car? That looks so much more appealing’. We’ve got to make it relatable, so people can put themselves in that position and be inspired to make the switch.”
Me: “So kind of a fear of missing out?”
Me: It’s good that the London Cycling Design Standards and also the NACTO design standards are being adopted for GM cycling and walking projects. However, for them to be truly effective, they need to be included across the board, in all highways projects, and not just those aimed at cycling. Is that the plan?”
(Sorry, I couldn’t work a FOMO into this one.)
Of the three meetings I’ve attended, this was by far the most positive, clued-up and ambitious. Chris Boardman being there of course added a little extra frisson to proceedings, but that aside, this was a Council that already has big ideas on how to switch the focus away from vehicles, towards people, and they have the drive (pun unintended) to get it done. The world has changed, and Salford want to show us how. Game on.
How you can help
If you’d like to be part of this process in your area, or if you’d like to take part in cycling advocacy more generally across Greater Manchester, please use the form provided by Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign at gmcc.org.uk/register and add a note in the box provided to let us know that you’d like to get involved.