Andrea Sandor looks at who might have put the brakes on the idea
Recently I wrote about the metro-style map of regional pop-up lanes that could soon become a reality. Since then the region has been rocked by a succession of statements from Manchester City Council. As the week draws to an end, let’s recap what’s happened and what we know definitively about what part MCC is playing in the regional plans.
In response to statutory guidance and funding from the government, Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) submitted a bid for £21m on behalf of all ten councils last Friday. This bid is to deliver government mandated walking and cycling interventions to support transport and social distancing as public transport capacity is reduced by 90%. With a third of people in the region not having access to a car, providing a safe alternative transport option is absolutely crucial, not to mention a social justice issue. Andy Burnham confirmed this week that the bid includes 200km of pop-up cycle lanes, but it’s still unclear how many, if any, will be in Manchester.
Pop-up lanes work. If they didn’t, cities like London, Paris, and Berlin would be taking theirs down, rather than expanding them
We know councils like Salford and Trafford have been quick off the mark. Weeks ago they started pro-actively erecting ‘pop-up’ cycle lanes on strategic commuting corridors into Manchester in line with government guidance. However, these lanes currently end at the border with Manchester, dumping people on bikes back into traffic for the final leg of their journey and undermining the safety of the route.
This prompted campaign group WalkRide GM to write an open letter to Manchester council leader Sir Richard Leese, asking for assurance that Manchester’s part of the GM bid would include pop-up cycle lanes and would be linking up with neighbouring boroughs.
Last Friday, MCC’s official Twitter account tweeted they are not supportive of temporary pop-up cycling infrastructure. This was followed on Saturday by executive for transport, Angeliki Stogia, explaining through a string of tweets that the council don’t believe pop-up lanes are safe or that there is sufficient demand. This despite pop-up lanes being in place for months in cities around the world, and cycling booming during the pandemic.
The ensuing reaction to these tweets was immediate and critical, with MPs, councillors, campaigners and residents airing their fury. MP for Denton and Reddish, Andrew Gwynne, expressed his 'anger' and called for MCC to 'play your part' and later tweeted the council were 'endangering lives' by not doing so. Cllr David Meller, cabinet member for economy & regeneration, said Stockport had a 'grand plan' for a continuous pop-up route into Manchester and tweeted, 'We engaged with MCC but were just met with resistance. Their approach has stymied everyone’s ambition.'
🚲 Why I’m angry at @ManCityCouncil’s decision to not participate in @GMcycling pop-up lanes: from the west, you can almost reach ‘town’; from Stockport and Tameside there’s a 5-mile gap.
This is endangering lives and potentially increasing air pollution. Please think again! pic.twitter.com/Fydch0Bv3C
— 🌈 Andrew Gwynne MP (@GwynneMP) June 7, 2020
Lord Berkeley raised the issue at the House of Lords, saying there’s a 'big hole' in the middle of the region’s cycling plans because MCC 'won’t cooperate.' MCC councillors also waded in, tweeting they had requested pop-up lanes in their ward and expressed frustration and confusion over the decision.
Unsurprisingly, conversation turned to who within MCC had stymied the plans. The All Party Parliamentary Group for Walking and Cycling (APPGWC), whose committee consists of a number of MPs and Lords, tweeted 'We understand that @SirRichardLeese is singlehandedly blocking measures for cycling in @ManCityCouncil.' They also highlighted the mayor of Worcestershire City Council who they understood was blocking plans there.
Leese responded with 'You understand wrong. Shame you couldn’t be bothered to ask,' prompting a slew of replies from residents saying they have been asking but had no response from Leese. APPGWC welcomed the reply, tweeting 'Very much welcome the opportunity to set the record straight. Please DM and we can discuss.' Leese then responded with two tweets asking for a retraction and apology. APPGWC confirmed to me Leese had not sent them a private message. APPGWC have responded with 'We look forward to seeing Manchester’s part in the 200km Greater Manchester corridor plan.'
Leese has been critical of segregated cycle lanes in the past. As the leader, it’s hard to imagine the council would have announced it would not be building pop-ups if Leese wanted them. When I asked the council press office who the decision-maker was, they told me: “Given the timescale presented to submit a bid to the emergency fund, the decision was made by the Council's Executive.” I have asked for clarification whether this means all ten executives who sit on the board or specific individuals, but have not received a response at the time of publishing.
By the time Leese asked for his apology, MCC had issued a press release announcing they had bid for £600k as part of the GMCA bid for a number of walking and cycling interventions. Some of these include 'permanently filling a list of existing gaps in the city's cycle network' - presumably starting with pop-up lanes, although this isn’t stated. The bid includes many welcome initiatives, but doesn’t explicitly include pop-up links with bordering councils. Rather, MCC says 'Where neighbouring local authorities are planning to create temporary pop-up cycle lanes which approach Manchester, the council will work with partners in each case, to ensure that safety for all road users is prioritised.'
Yesterday, Stogia spoke on BBC Radio Manchester, suggesting MCC are waiting to see which councils secure funding before working with them: “Let’s see who’s getting funding but we want to cooperate with our neighbours.” However, councils like Trafford have already created a pop-up lane along the A56 which ends on the border, just 300m short of Deansgate. If MCC wants to make good on their statement to 'work with partners,' why aren’t they already doing so? By needlessly waiting, people that are using Trafford’s pop-up lane are being put at risk with a dangerous final stretch. People who might use the Trafford lane to cycle rather than drive are also likely to be put off as the final stretch into Manchester feels unsafe.
In the past few weeks, a number of cyclists have been involved in tragic road accidents. An 80-year-old was recently killed in Stockport at the junction of Charcoal Rd and the A56 Dunham Rd. This is heartbreaking. During lockdown we have seen a boom in cycling, with a new demographic cycling on quieter main roads - including older people, women, and families. It’s wonderful that someone in their eighties felt comfortable and confident enough to ride a bike on the road - and absolutely devastating they were killed because the roads still aren’t safe enough.
It's disappointing that one person appears to be holding up the hard work of colleagues across @ManCityCouncil @greatermcr & @MayorofGM to quickly install pop-up cycle space in the middle of the Gtr M/CR areabefore the tidal wave of car traffic returns.... https://t.co/qkECxAmOiw
— Ruth Cadbury MP (@RuthCadbury) June 9, 2020
Pop-up lanes work. If they didn’t, cities like London, Paris, and Berlin would be taking theirs down, rather than expanding them. Pop-up lanes are a temporary measure and can easily be removed if they’re no longer needed.
As we emerge from lockdown it’s absolutely vital that another safe transport mode is available to people who don’t own a car and who won’t be able to use public transport because there’s not enough space. Without another way to travel, we also risk cutting them off from jobs and further exacerbating the economic crisis locally.
MCC’s pledge to 'work with partners' is a positive step. We must hope they mean it and ensure pop-up lanes extend into and through the city centre. In the case of Trafford, this would mean dropping cones on the remaining 300m stretch into town. What is Manchester waiting for?