Cycling in Manchester: MAMILs beware, here comes Doris
A few weeks ago my company, Remarkable Group, moved its northern office from Salford Quays to the City Centre. As a result, my commuter bike ride from the south of the city shifted. Instead of going through Chorlton, I now cycle down Oxford Road past the universities. And I love it.
Greater Manchester has a fraction of London’s money to spend on cycling improvements. So whereas London has many miles of cycle superhighway, Manchester has just this route. Same old story. But does our one major route work?
More people cycling
The answer is “yes”. I have been cycling into Manchester on-and-off for 15 years and I have never before seen anywhere near as many cyclists just using their bikes to get from A to B.
TfGM have put up counters so you can see how many cyclists are coming into and out of the City Centre on that route. Last week, commuting home in mid-rush hour, I was the 2,034th cyclist to pass the counter on that day. That’s a lot. The counters also record the total number of cyclists over the year, and TfGM may be getting a little nervous that 500,000 – the top of the scale – won’t even be enough to cover 2018, never mind future years.
It isn’t perfect. Retrofitting cycling infrastructure on old city streets is never going to be. But it works. It gets more people cycling which helps to reduce congestion, reduce pollution and improve people’s health. The cost of the infrastructure to allow one person to safely cycle is massively lower than the cost to allow that person to drive or take the train or tram.
The volume of cyclists makes a difference. Just as cars end up bunching together in heavier traffic, you frequently now see groups of 5-10 cyclists.
Because there are so many cyclists, pedestrians know that the cycle paths (clearly marked and grade separated) aren’t places to walk in, so they stay pretty much free of people, even in the crowded university zone.
The improvements were developed with the help of Dutch cycling experts and, as a member of the TfGM Committee at the time, I contributed in a small way.
But here’s the challenge. Cycling in the UK has long been dominated by the MAMILs (Middle Aged Men in Lycra) and their ilk. They like to cycle at around 20mph and, as experienced cyclists, they’re comfortable on the road. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I wish I could maintain those speeds, but there’s a reason my twitter handle is @slowbikeiain.
Go to the Netherlands, though, and these sorts of cyclists are nowhere to be seen – certainly not in the city centres. You’ll see thousands streaming past on cycles in Amsterdam, but they won’t be wearing lycra or riding road bikes. They’ll be people of all ages, wearing everyday clothes, and cycling at between 8 and 14mph.
Faster cyclists hemmed in
That Dutch style of cycling is coming to Oxford Road, and there’s a good reason why you don’t see the faster cyclists so much. They get hemmed in. Five years ago they’d have shot along the road. Now their way is blocked by two students, a construction worker, and an old lady.
There’s limited room for overtaking, so if the cyclist at the front is pottering along at 10mph, it takes a while for everyone to get past them. At the moment, faster cyclists can still safely nip onto the main carriageway when they need to. The more bikes there are, the harder that gets.
So we should beware. As Greater Manchester grows, our modern city needs modern ways to move people around: heavy and light rail, buses, non-polluting cars, cycling and walking must all be part of the mix. But there will be unexpected groups who lose out – like the experienced road cyclists – and we need to understand that and deal with it.
Iain Roberts is a Political Communications Specialist at becg, working to bring businesses and politicians together to improve our built environment. Why not get in touch – we can meet for a coffee and a chat.
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