Last week, we joined celebrations for the appointment of Chris Boardman as cycling and walking commissioner for Greater Manchester. The appointment of ‘cycling tsar’ Chris Boardman is exciting news, provided he comes with a long-term budget.
Manchester is well-known for its Olympic gold medal factory at the Velodrome, but as Chris has regularly pointed out, everyday cycling is still largely a fringe activity. And the city region certainly needs to change that. The Greater Manchester Health Plan identified that just under a quarter of adults in the region do very little or no exercise. We are the UK’s third most congested city (after London and Belfast), and have breached the UK’s legal limits for nitrogen dioxide every year since 2011.
The city region’s 2015 Bike Life report on attitudes to cycling, clearly demonstrated that people want to see more travel by bike in their area, with three quarters of respondents supporting more investment, at an average of £26 per head. Improving safety was key, with more money spent on cycle infrastructure such as lanes separated from traffic.
Certainly, in the last couple of years there have been some exciting changes for cycling in Greater Manchester. Thanks to funding from the Cycle City Ambition Grant the new Oxford Road cycleway, a ‘Dutch-style’ segregated route to the university area, is now bustling with bikes, while other cycle routes are appearing around the region.
But this funding is set to dry up soon. While the new cycle routes are fantastic, they are only likely to convert the people who live or work close by. One great route shouldn’t be an exception. We need to replicate what has happened on Oxford Road across the whole of Greater Manchester, creating a network of safe, dedicated cycle routes supported by off-road paths and quiet streets. It’s what the people of Greater Manchester tell us they want.
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, recently pledged to spend £17 a head on cycling in the city region, matching the figure proposed in London. In a time of tight budgets, Chris Boardman can help ensure the city keeps this promise, and spend in the right places.
As we have seen in London and Bristol, more safe routes forming a network between homes, public transport hubs, workplaces and schools will inevitably help more people get on their bikes.