Last week’s Cycle City Active City conference was buzzing with excitement thanks to the launch of Chris Boardman’s new Beelines proposal for Greater Manchester – potentially the UK’s largest joined up city region network for walking and cycling.
As we sat in the packed conference hall listening to Mayor Andy Burnham confirming his commitment to get behind an ambitious plan including; 1,000 miles of routes, with 75 miles of them fully protected and a network of 25 ‘filtered neighbourhoods’. Even the hardened cycle campaigners amongst us had a warm glow. It felt like active travel was having a star moment.
In England this is the first time outside London that cycling and walking has seen such a strong political buy-in and the money to do it at the same time. We also know from our Bike Life reports that the moment is right. The people in Greater Manchester fully support more investment to make their city region a better place to travel by bike or on foot. This could be the beginning of a people-first revolution in how we organise our cityscape and transport modes.
Beelines is a powerful idea which Boardman as a businessman surely recognised would ‘sell’. Manchester’s worker bee symbol harks back to the city’s industrial heritage, and is currently regaining grassroots popularity as the community spirit of Manchester. This an ingenious way to promote this product and get buy-in from many different audiences. Crucially, Burnham, as a politician, also recognises how this concept, moving people fairly through our city spaces, is one which has real local support. Cycling and walking are no longer fringe activities, resigned to the back room of transport planners offices; we’ve come full circle and about to hit the mainstream again
Recent studies show that boosting cycling can lead to an increase in walking. Walking is easy for most people, does not require special equipment and has fantastic physical health and mental wellbeing benefits. Perhaps surprisingly, we know that 51% of visitors to the National Cycle Network, which is over 16,000 miles and stretches the length and breadth of the UK, are not cycling – they are walking, jogging or running instead.
As Chris Boardman states, positive language that responds to peoples’ needs can help win support. Are we banning pavement parking or creating spaces which pass the ‘double buggy test’, allowing families to take a walk together? Are we building a network for cyclists or creating liveable neighbourhoods and promoting corridors where people can breathe cleaner air? One version is a political hot-potato ; the other a political no-brainer.
Burnham and Boardman have created a powerful political commitment in Greater Manchester. It has the potential to set an exciting precedent which other cities can emulate and improve. Who will take up the baton next?