Regular readers of this blog will be aware that things have been afoot (and a-bike-wheel) for a while here in Greater Manchester. To recap briefly:
- May 2017: Andy Burnham elected Mayor of Greater Manchester
- July 2017: Burnham appoints Chris Boardman as the first Greater Manchester Cycling and Walking Commissioner
- September 2017: Boardman takes up post
- December 2017: Boardman publishes his first report on walking and cycling in GM, Made to Move
- Spring 2018: Boardman’s team visits each of the ten GM boroughs to draft an initial cycling/walking network plan
- June 2018: Boardman publishes the network plan as part of the Beelines vision for Greater Manchester. The report can be downloaded here.
Beelines is an inspired name, is it not? The worker bee, longstanding symbol of the industry of the Manchester region, has latterly also become a sign of unity and resilience in the wake of the awful Arena bombing in 2017. As such, it’s a clever motif for the bringing together of the GM city-region through a joined-up network of pleasant cycling and walking routes. Further, it pins the project to the place we live in and not the activity of cycling and all the manufactured controversy that depressingly surrounds that. Look a little closer, however, and we see that the bee’s antennae are shaped like a BMX handlebar, plus there are nods to the walking element in the zebra-crossing stripes on the wings, and to the ten boroughs in that there are ten stripes. The yellow, I understand, is to mirror Metrolink branding to foster a consistent GM transport hue. And there may well also be some hidden meaning on the bee’s abdomen that I’m not presently aware of.
As well as looking good, Beelines also sounds good. To list just a few of the memorable moments from the report:
- Greater Manchester is to be the first UK city region with a fully joined up cycling and walking network covering covering 1,000 miles
- It proposes over 75 miles of segregated cycling and walking routes, plus 1,400 new crossings
- £160 million has already been allocated to kick-start the project, raising Greater Manchester’s spend on cycling and walking to at least £15 per head per year, almost equivalent to Amsterdam and Copenhagen
- Beelines focuses not on current regular cyclers or walkers, but the two thirds of people who currently use the car as their main mode of transport
All of which is music to the ears of campaigners for everyday cycling and walking. But does the more detailed proposed implementation of the vision stand up to scrutiny? Let’s have a look.
Where the Beelines approach differs from previous cycling schemes is that it plans to deliver a comprehensive network as opposed to standalone projects that simply end when the money runs out (even Manchester’s over-praised Oxford Road Corridor simply spits riders into the congested turmoil of Manchester city centre at the northern end). Beelines is first and foremost about crossings. This should be no surprise to those who read the post about the Bury network meeting, which outlines Brian Deegan’s methodological planning approach, but may seem a little unorthodox for those who conceive of routes as corridors as opposed to nodes.
The basic idea is that 80% of GM’s roads are regarded as quiet and are theoretically suitable for cycling and/or walking on. By linking up such quiet routes via safe and pleasant crossings of big, nasty roads, a cycling and walking network can be produced quickly and inexpensively. And once people have the appetite for cycling and walking these routes, upgrading them for those activities becomes less problematic. Politically, too, starting with crossings is expedient. Imagine the outcry if the whole of GM were to be dug up to build wall-to-wall protected lanes for those bloody ungrateful cyclists. Compare that to an approach that makes crossings safer so kids can safely walk to school, which only a dick would oppose. That’s canny thinking.
Of course, the Beelines scheme also takes account of the fact that not all journeys can be made on quiet roads, which is why each borough was asked to propose a “big-ticket” project. These are marked in thick yellow lines on the Beelines map. These are to be treated with “full and light segregation” as well as features such as continuous footways to benefit pedestrians.
The oddity here is that the borough-by-borough approach to network planning means that a “big-ticket” route in one borough was likely not prioritised in the neighbouring one. Thus, for instance, Bury’s big-ticket reimagining of Bury New Road as a protected corridor all the way to Manchester ends at the Salford border (Salford proposed the A6, which thick yellow line in turn ends abruptly at the Manchester border). Presumably this was accounted for in the design process, and in any event needs to flagged up at this initial feedback stage.
Again, the report makes all the right noises about other issues. It talks about 20mph zones along beelines, monitoring of their effectiveness, proper maintenance, enforcement of speed limits and other traffic law, as well as a concerted behaviour-change campaign to induce initial shifts in habits. What’s more, no route will be awarded Beeline status unless it meets rigorous design criteria. All sounds rather good, doesn’t it?
I was fortunate to attend the Cycling City, Active City conference on urban cycling and walking last week, and attended a panel discussion that included Andy Burnham and Chris Boardman. Hearing the two of them speak the day after the Beelines launch convinced me that this is a serious initiative that will be made to happen. Boardman’s cycling advocacy is well-known; but to hear Burnham, not a bike-rider himself, talk with such fire about shifting transport habits to mitigate the grotesquely damaging effects of motor-dependency was quite inspiring. If political will is the magic ingredient to get active travel schemes off the ground, then GM now has it in spades. All rather stirring stuff.
In keeping with the crowdsourced nature of the network plans, the entire Beelines map is subject to public consultation and feedback, and my understanding is that it will remain so throughout the project lifetime. For those of us who are online, the map can be viewed and commented on here. There’s even a handy user’s guide. For those without computer access, there doesn’t yet seem to be any kind of roadshow planned, but given the already not inconsiderable support for the proposals now they’re out there, I think that would also be a strong tool in securing hearts and minds for the vision.
Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign also have an initiative for members of the public to pledge their support for Beelines: https://forms.gmcc.org.uk/buzz/.
In sum: exciting times. The Beelines report, if implemented as intended, will transform not only how we travel in Greater Manchester, but how we live, how we interact with each other and how we experience our city. The project has been placed in our hands. Let’s do everything we can to make it a reality.