Manchester eyes further cycling and walking changes

Manchester City Council will use lockdown easing to find more ways to encourage walking and cycling across the city, according to council leader Sir Richard Leese.

Responding to Boris Johnson’s address to the nation on Sunday regarding the changes to lockdown measures, Leese said it was “vitally important that here in Manchester we continue to be cautious as we continue the fight against Covid-19”.

“Strict social distancing will still be necessary and as some people return to their place of work, making sure that our transport systems remain safe is paramount. For this reason, those of us who can remain working from home should do so.

“This will free up capacity on public transport to allow those who have to travel to be able to do so safely. Staggering work patterns and travel times will also be important to limit congestion and allow ample space in our workplaces.”

The last seven weeks of lockdown have seen an increase in roadworks, across Manchester as well as other cities such as Liverpool, as local authorities seek to take advantage of quieter roads.

The Covid-19 outbreak has also resulted in a drop in pollution levels across the UK, and as climate change targets remain in place, actions being taken to ensure environmental improvements are maintained.

Earlier this month, Manchester City Council announced a large portion of Deansgate would be pedestrianised, in a pilot scheme to encourage an increase in footfall in the city while also enabling social distancing.

Leese has now called on Manchester’s neighbourhoods to put forward further ideas for improvements to walking and cycling routes.

“During the lockdown, our highways team has been working to widen busy footpaths to make sure pedestrians can keep 2m apart at all times – and we will pilot the pedestrianisation of parts of Deansgate to test how we can make our city centre more attractive for people who want to walk and cycle.

“We would welcome ideas from within our communities as to how we can make their neighbourhoods safer. This crisis provides us an opportunity to think differently about how we use our towns and cities, and we must take it.”

In Manchester City Council’s emerging lockdown plan, released to the council’s executive last week, increased emphasis on walking and cycling will form a large part of the city’s coronavirus recovery, allowing some return to activity without risking infection from over-crowded public transport. Increasing use of walking and cycling is seen as essential in many UK cities which would struggle to cope with more cars on the roads.

The announcements chime with Government priorities, with transport secretary Grant Shapps announcing a £250m active travel fund to create cycling lanes and wider pavements.

The money is the first phase of a £2bn investment which was in the pipeline prior to the coronavirus outbreak and was revealed in February.

The Government’s latest position on lockdown is to allow some return to work, particularly in construction and manufacturing, if social distancing is still able to be maintained. Workers who can work from home still should.

However, while the Government has asked workers to avoid public transport where possible, an increase in bus and tram use is still likely. This has led to concerns from Greater Manchester’s politicians that public transport will become strained as more workers use the network, however more services will be required to allow passengers to space out.

A statement from the Greater Manchester Combined Authority said already more people were using public transport as a result of the changes announced by the Government on Sunday night.

“But no extra funding has been provided to run the extra services needed to enable people to follow social distancing requirements,” the statement continued.

To date, the Government has agreed to cover 73% of Greater Manchester tram network Metrolink’s current monthly costs on a service operating at 20-minute intervals with much-reduced capacity. Changes in Government guidance are expected to bring more passengers back to the system but there is no funding to provide the extra capacity needed.”

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