Transport for Greater Manchester is encouraging people to cycle, but shouldn't it sort out the roads first?

11th August 2015 Personal Injury

Recently, my Twitter newsfeed has featured images of wholesome Manchester locals holding onto bicycles with the statement 'I'm not a cyclist' emblazoned across the photos. Though initially appearing as a contradictory image, these ads are designed to reveal the 'secret' that not all people who cycle are bound by lycra. These ads are part of the 'Life on 2 Wheels' campaign currently in operation under Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM). Its aim? To normalise cycling in order to get more people on bikes and to promote the many benefits of cycling.

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(Image source: Twisted Spokes. To see original 'Life on 2 Wheels' images go to http://lifeon2wheels.tfgm.com/)

In theory, I think this is a wonderful idea: cycling should be normalised so that it feels more accessible for all. However, I can't help suspecting that TfGM is putting the cart before the horse by claiming that 'Getting on your bike in Greater Manchester has never been easier.' The improved routes, parking spaces and free cycling activities that TfGM proffers as the reasons for this statement have yet to make themselves known to me. I continue to make my daily commute to work on one of the main access routes into Manchester from Stockport without seeing a single improvement on the existing cycling infrastructure available.

In my experience, provision for cyclists has actually got worse in the last 12 months. Owing to resurfacing work on part of my route, the Advanced Stop Lines / cycle lanes at some of the traffic lights I encounter have either disappeared or become impossible to use owing to new road layouts. It is particularly unsafe for cyclists using the new road layout at the junction with Princess Street and Portland Street. Development of a larger pavement and merged lanes at this junction means that left-turning traffic can now cut right across vulnerable cyclists who are liable to be missed and knocked down with frightening ease. I am an experienced cyclist, used to riding in city centre traffic and I find this layout intimidating and scary.

True Cycling Culture by 2025

To give TfGM its due, it has been successful in securing cycling grants worth around £40m and there are plans underway to transform Greater Manchester into a 'cycling city;' one which will include seven new cycle routes and a 'true cycling culture' by 2025. This of course, is welcomed. But the overabundance of roadworks (which don't seem to make any temporary provisions for cyclists) in the meantime is highly detrimental, especially for the new cyclists TfGM is hoping to encourage.

Currently, on my route in and out of Manchester I am required to cycle along narrow lanes demarcated by cones past road works that give no passing room for motorists, who are often impatient and attempt unsafe passes as a result. TfGM should remember that cyclists still need safe space while development is on-going.

In the ten years that it will take to make this cycling culture a reality, the roads will still be affected by the relentless onslaught of major roadworks that have blighted Manchester for the past several years. Just one glance at a map of Manchester on the Greater Manchester roadworks site will show you how all-pervasive these roadworks are across the city centre. And while it is true that some of the roadworks are for the provision of better cycling infrastructure, I can see no reason why so much of it needs to happen at once.

For the people new to cycling whom the Life on 2 Wheels campaign hopes to inspire, one bad experience could be enough to put them off trying it again.

 (Image source: http://www.gmroadworks.org/MapSearch.aspx?lat=53.4797130766&lng=-2.2443457437&)


'One of the most oft-repeated concerns is how unsafe people perceive cycling to be and that if it was safer they would cycle'

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The problem with a campaign like Life on 2 Wheels is that its organisers seem to think that it can exist outside of its local context. Going 'on tour' and giving out free cycling goodies is a very short-term solution. It might function as good PR for TfGM, but really, what is the point in encouraging people to cycle if the roads simply are not fit for casual use? I agree that people shouldn't have to feel that they need specialist gear simply to cycle to work, but the fact of the matter is, if you cycle around Manchester during the rush hour, there's very little that's 'casual' about your journey. You might not need lycra, but you do require superhuman levels of alertness to make best use of the counterintuitive design that characterises Manchester's confusing cycle lanes.

In a national survey we conducted earlier on in the year, 79.7% of respondents said that they did not think that current road infrastructure was fit for cyclists. And more locally, statistics garnered from TfGM's own research suggested that in 2012 20,000 people travelling within Manchester said they would like to cycle into the city, while in reality only about 1.7% of people travelling into the city (1,700) were getting there by bike. Of course, we can't account for the divergence in those numbers, but I would say that 18,300 people are indicative of much more than just a lazy population.

I hope that TfGM does use the cycling grants effectively and I hope that we will have a 'true cycling culture' by 2025, but until that happens I will not welcome expensive promotional bandwagons with snazzy websites and photo-friendly cycling champions. In my view the money used for this glossy marketing exercise would have been more effectively spent if it had been used for actually making it safer for people to ride their bikes in Manchester.

In light of my chosen specialism I get to speak to a lot of people about cycling. One of the most oft-repeated concerns is how unsafe people perceive cycling to be and that if it was safer they would cycle. If Manchester was truly safe for cyclists TfGM wouldn't need expensive marketing campaigns like this one and the fact of its existence suggests that TfGM is failing in its provision for people who ride bikes.

 

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Nadia Kerr is a Bicycle Accidents & Personal Injury located in Manchesterin our Personal Injury department

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