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Is Cycling Coming Home?

You’d be forgiven for expecting to see pigs fly last week; Danny Dyer was praised as a national hero, England fans expressed elation over losing a world cup match…and Manchester’s vulnerable road users were told to expect infrastructure investment that will see the city match some of the world’s cycling meccas. 

The announcement made last Wednesday, that Manchester is committed to investing around £500m to create a network of 1,000 miles of safe cycling and walking routes in Greater Manchester, was neatly dovetailed on Friday with a national announcement (also made in Manchester) that police will now be able to target motorists for fines and 3 points on their licence if they fail to pass cyclists more than 1.5m on their bikes.  The region’s cycling and walking tsar Chris Boardman, would be forgiven for thinking all his Christmases (no pun intended) had come at once. 

The creation of the new cycling routes would bring total spend per head to around £15 per head on cycling and walking – higher than any other UK city – and mean that Greater Manchester would be home to the largest joined-up cycling network in the UK. 

Regular readers of our blog (and avid followers of team Twisted Spokes) will know that a few months ago, we were delighted to be able to host an infrastructure debate, where we invited guest speakers from Sustrans, Greater Manchester Cycling Committee and The Guardian, to tell an engaged room what they believed would make a perfect cycling city.  The creation of more Dutch-style cycling routes were a natural talking point, and the idea that the newly-Christened Beelines would build on the success of existing Dutch-style routes at the likes of Oxford Road, adding 75 more miles of segregated lanes, is a tantalising one. 

Nadia Kerr, head of our team, espoused at our March event that if you build it, they will come and it certainly feels as though there’s a growing sense of momentum to achieve just that in the Greater Manchester area.  But, just like our expectations being raised as soon as England depart the group stage, some nasty little stingers exist to suggest that everything in the garden may not be as rosy as we’d hope.  In Tuesday's Times, we were cautioned that last week’s close pass cycling fines are still reliant on enforcing the careless driving provisions made in the Road Traffic Accidents Act 1988 – the reality being that police are simply being encouraged to enforce the provisions insofar as they affect cyclists. 

Added to that is the knowledge that behind last Wednesday’s spectacular funding announcement, revisions to the Beelines and where it is perceived that they will have the most effective impact are no doubt on the horizon; the proposals as they stand being merely the first draft.  There have been numerous complaints from cycling organisations and activist groups in the past that transport masterplanning has ultimately paid little more than lip service to cyclists’ needs and one cannot help but fear that the same could come to pass of Beelines and a wonderful opportunity is missed thanks to some quarters seeking to service individual motorists at the expense of vulnerable road users. 

So depending on your perspective, either everyone seems to know the score, they’ve seen it all before or you can pray that you’re looking at the new masterplan. 

You know what they say though; when something’s good, it’s never wrong and I will continue to hope both that police do take a tougher stance on close passes, and that Greater Manchester’s local authorities commit to a plan that benefits all people and the most vulnerable road users.  After all, I am all for the anticipation of the appearance of porcine-like animals in the sky...

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