As I write this piece from my fourth floor Northern Quarter office in Manchester, I look down upon the rooftops of the city and wonder what being a ‘cycling city’ actually means. We might have had the Olympic and yellow jersey successes which were bred at the Velodrome, but it is still quite clear (to me) that this has been not transferred to the streets of ‘the second city’.
According to reports, only 2.8 percent of journeys are done by bike in the UK. This number pales into insignificance when compared to other countries in Europe, especially Holland, and also Copenhagen where 40% of journeys are made by bicycle. As an avid cyclist and a man who cycles from Sale to central Manchester each day on my way to and from work, I am well aware that there are many problems. Problems that put people off ditching public transport and their cars for two wheels – despite the obvious financial and health benefits.
In an hours time I will hop on my bike and head past Piccadilly Gardens, avoiding trams, busses, people and potholes on my way. I then head down Oxford Road before then turning right and heading through Hulme, Old Trafford, Stretford and eventually reaching Sale. I’ve seen it all, I’ve been cut up and shouted at by drivers, nearly driven off the road by bus drivers and also nearly hit pedestrians who are more interested in checking their facebook status than following the green cross code. These problems don’t stop me, but life could be much easier for everyone if a long term plan was put into place.
I think there are two issues, firstly the infrastructure is just not there. Secondly it is the attitudes people have towards cycling in general.
It’s a dangerous game heading out of town in rush hour on two wheels. Add the typical Manchester drizzle and you have a frightening cocktail. It is like a mad computer game or hazard perception test, the only difference is you can’t respawn if you die. The roads are in a terrible state, more people should be encouraged to ride but in all honestly, who would really want to – only the hardened really dare. The situation is wrong. There have been talks of the introduction of a 20mph zone for cars in the city, it would be better if they were banned altogether.
People actually still ride the Metrolink. I wouldn’t be surprised if the are lobbying against the creation of proper cycle lanes whilst they slowly creep their ticket prices up.
I propose the introduction of a cycle superhighway which heads along the bridgewater canal to the south of the city. Believe me, it can be done. There is a stretch of canal which passes under Old Trafford stadium, its a quagmire, a muddy mess populated by angry geese. A bit of imagination and investment could turn that stretch into an area fit for commuters and leisure. There is a great opportunity there, the canal runs through Castlefield and into the city – I have coined it the ‘cycle superhighway’ but as yet there are no plans. Instead, we fight the 263 as we head along Chester Road, avoiding ever deepening potholes and increasing numbers of drivers, not to mention those amazing disappearing cycle lanes. I imagine there are similar situations and untapped opportunities is the same across the rest of the city’s commuter routes.
Perceptions need to change
In a city where you can’t buy an inclusive tram and bus travel ticket, the lack of alternatives is disturbing. There is no reason for people to be dying on the roads, the sad case of student Joshua Jarvis highlights the problem. It’s such a tragic situation that needn’t happen. We have the highest student population living in our city, what better incentive to get people riding – I’m thinking like a northern version of Oxford. It’s got to be better than sitting on a stinky bus through Rusholme for 40 minutes and only travelling a few miles.
Jumping on a bike really is liberating, you can see the city in a new way whilst increasing overall happiness and also banishing health issues. More Mancunians need to be safe in the knowledge that the roads are safe, or at least something is being done to improve the infrastructure.
It’s sad that nobody really cares about each other, taxis park in cycle lanes and open their doors, drivers cut each other up while speeding past before being stopped 100 meters down the road by a red light. Consideration is the main thing, looking out for each other – but with a rising population and increasing stresses on everyday life, the negative attitudes will probably continue to rise.
There has been slight progress though, TFGM have opened a cycle hub under city Tower in Piccadilly Gardens where there is safe storage for clothing and bikes for between £10 – £20 a month, but only for a couple of hundred bikes, this is some way from the public bike racks in Amsterdam which seem to stretch beyond the horizon. The council also offer a service where you can report potholes in order for them to be inspected and fixed, but it remains to be seen how quickly they act on any submissions.
By riding safely and attentively, I can just about get my road bike back in one piece. Still, avoiding all the hazards which cross my path is a risky challenge. There is no need for it to be a challenge. Things that could be done include: reducing speed limits, marking out proper segregated lanes with smooth tarmac and more education for everyone. All can go some way to really encouraging people to begin riding in the city. I mean, inflation has driven the price of bus, tram and rail fares up – why waste your money being stuck in traffic when you can whizz past it whilst simultaneously giving your body a free workout. As the fattest nation in Europe, and money being cut from frontline NHS services, we could help each other and ourselves out with a bit of pedal power, but i guess its much easier to clog the roads up and lazily give cyclists bad names.
Reading this back, I realise I may seem a tad angry but I am one of the lucky (or brave) ones who has discovered an alternative. An alternative to the shambolic transport companies’ bus and tram services. I believe there is huge demand for an improvement in cycling infrastructure. The first thing people say is either: ‘It’s too dangerous’ or ‘Do you wear a helmet’ or even ‘Have you had any accidents’, which really gives you an insight into the underlying cultural problems we have as a nation.
We need to get to a stage where anyone can feel comfortable hopping on a bike, this could be a lady with a basket on the front of her classic model or a child sat in a seat at the back. At the moment the roads aren’t nearly inviting enough – our culture has us at each others throats, arguing over who owns the roads or who pays road tax. It’s petty and counterproductive, we could really learn from the northern european countries like Belgium and Holland – afterall, Manchester is pretty much as flatter a city that you will find in Britain.
Safety is the issue, with stand offs between cyclists and drivers, coupled with a lack of direction and funding, when will we truly become a cycling city?