When I first became involved in cycle campaigning in the early 2010s, there was nowhere in Greater Manchester that showcased best practice in cycling infrastructure design – you’d have to travel to somewhere like the Netherlands (or London at a push) to experience a quality bike lane. However, after a decade or so of various funding initiatives and different boroughs’ more or less keen experiments, a network of pleasantly useable cycle routes is gradually emerging across parts of our city-region. And a gradually emerging network provides the perfect backdrop for a “cycle infrastructure safari”: an excursion on bikes where folk can experience different types of cycling infrastructure “in the wild” with the aim of generating awareness of and support for the stuff that works.
With my local council of Bury one of the less ambitious, less active GM boroughs when it comes to making cycling safe and accessible, it made sense to invite representatives of environmental groups from across Bury a) to show them just how much progress has been made in other parts of GM; and b) by contrast, to demonstrate how urgently Bury Council needs to pull its finger out.
The safari riders were (with current cycling level in brackets):
- Charlie – Bury Green Party Chair (hasn’t cycled for a while)
- Rob – Bury Climate Action member (cycle commuter)
- Glyn – Bury Green Party activist (erstwhile cycle commuter)
- Dan – Prestwich Environmental Forum (cycle commuter)
- Richard – Prestwich resident (leisure cyclist)
- Milena – Resident of car-centric Crewe (leisure cyclist)
A striking factor of the gradually emerging network of safe cycle lanes is that we’re somewhat spoilt for choice: an eight-mile safari around Manchester/Salford/Trafford involves some picking and choosing, necessarily leaving some notable features out. That in itself is worth a moment’s pause.
Also, the Beryl bike hire scheme enhanced accessibility of the event: the two participants who are not regular cyclists were able to travel to Manchester by other means and pick up ebikes for the safari, showing how useful that resource can be for the casual rider.
Rather than stopping and discussing each piece of infrastructure in turn, we rode a route divided into six stages to simulate the kind of short trips that can and ought to be made by bike:
- All Saints Park (Manchester) to Bloom St. (Salford)
- Trinity Way to Oldfield Rd. (both Salford)
- Oldfield Rd. to M602 roundabout (both Salford)
- M602 roundabout (Salford) to Old Trafford (Trafford)
- Old Trafford (Trafford) to Royce Road cyclops (Manchester)
- Royce Road to All Saints Park (both Manchester)
Sights we saw included:
- Oxford Road cycle lanes
- Salford’s Chapel Street wands
- SUDS drainage systems
- School street/LTN in Salford
- Salford’s impressive cycle lanes on Middlewood St./Liverpool Street/Trafford Road
- Trafford’s wand-protected Talbot Road & cycle crossing at Chester/Stretford Rd.
- CYCLOPS cycle-optimised roundabouts, e.g. Royce Rd. on the Chorlton Cycleway
- Different approaches to roundabouts in Salford’s underpasses under the M602/Regent Rd. and Manchester’s surface-level crossings of the Princess Rd./Mancunian Way roundabout.
Following the safari, I asked the riders a few brief questions to gauge their impressions of what they experienced on the day. This is what they said:
1) In a few words, what, if anything, would help you to cycle more frequently?
Rob added a little extra flavour of some additional hazards one encounters: “[…] stop parking in cycle lanes and put an end to using mobile phones whilst driving”.
And Dan touched on another key issue: “changing attitudes”, which we need really across the board, not only among (motorised) road users, but especially decision-makers on transport policy.
Dan added a little extra detail, highlighting that good cycle infrastructure should also not create conflict with pedestrians: “it shows the importance of […] making it really obvious how the space should be used so that pedestrians don’t have to concentrate/be alert to just go for a walk and that it feels really natural for anyone else”.
The CYCLOPS roundabouts (one of which does exist – somewhat incongruously – in Bury, cf. my video review here): “I liked the cyclops systems”, said Glyn.
3) And which piece of infrastructure did you enjoy the least? Why?
Rob flagged up the route into Manchester from Bury – which as a key arterial route is crying out for protected infrastructure but is always bafflingly ignored: “The cycle link from Bury to Manchester which is almost nonexistent and in my opinion dangerous.”
Glyn, whose height is in the upper range for which the Beryl bikes are designed, stated that: “The hire bikes unfortunatley are difficult to balance at very low speeds.”
And Dan very thoughtfully noted that “some of the more complex systems (such as on the large roundabout) are very slow, results in waiting at multiple red lights and is overall much slower than the main car-route… Like building a bypass that’s slower and expecting cars to use it!”. In other words, if you want people to use cycling infrastructure, it has to be safe, convenient and quick!
4) How, if at all, has the safari changed your view of cycle infrastructure?
Charlie: “I was very impressed with what could be achieved with some thoughtful planning. The cyclops were brilliant and I don’t know why Bury can’t do what they’ve done in Salford.”
Rob: “The number of cyclists using the Salford cycle infrastructure proves if you invest in a fit for purpose, inclusive, LTN scheme then people will use it.”
Glyn: “The Safari has reinforced to me the importance of investing in safe, easy-to-use cycle infrastructure. I would certainly prefer to use it if it was available to the same standard in Bury. When I commuted on the bicycle, the infrastructure was so poor it was safer and much quicker to cycle on the roads with the cars as the cars used the cyclists’ spaces anyway. Salford’s cycling infrastructure keeps cars and bicycles apart.”
Dan: “It’s been really refreshing to see some positive infrastructure put in by some councils across Greater Manchester – it clearly shows what is possible and does not have to mean conflict between cars, cyclists and pedestrians. The differences between councils is stark and it begs the question of why any new road development is not automatically developed with cyclists’ needs included.”
5) If we ran the safari again, who would you recommend we invite and why?