Steven Pleasant is the Chief Executive of Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council and the lead in the Combined Authority for Greater Manchester on Health and Wellbeing. He cycled with our Chief Executive Xavier Brice and our team on Quietway 1 in London, stretching from Waterloo to Greenwich.
Steven has been closely following the changes taking place in London following the introduction of Superhighways and Quietways, both as a cyclist and as part of his work in supporting public service improvement and transformation.
When the opportunity arose to cycle along Q1 with Xavier, Steven was keen to try the route for himself and experience the benefits of dedicated cycle lanes and quiet roads, having heard such good things about their development and impact.
Taking a ride on Quietway 1
It was a bright, cold December day when we met at Sustrans offices in Farringdon and picked up our Bromptons to start the tour of London’s first Quietway. Although I ride to work everyday, I’ve never tried a Brompton before and one of the engineers in our team hadn’t got on a bike for a very long time, but we all loved it.
We started at the new Cycle Superhighway at Blackfriars Bridge, which was really good to see. It was so busy and you could be forgiven for thinking you were in Copenhagen. The latest figures show the number of cyclists in the area has increased by 50% since the Cycle Superhighway was introduced. The Quietway links to this, so it was interesting to see both from a design and practical perspective how these two styles of route -the Cycle Superhighway being a completely segregated cycle lane and the Quietway’s quiet paths and roads- really complement each other.
The route was very well-signed and laid out and I always felt safe. Throughout our ride there were lots of cyclists around and we had a number of conversations with people along the route. It was a friendly atmosphere and I felt a real sense of community. Many people told us their journeys had improved immensely since Quietway 1 opened earlier this year.
Overcoming design challenges
Cycling on Quietway 1 is such a far cry from my daily commute down the busy and polluted A57 in Manchester. I was particularly impressed that the designers had overcome some major challenges to create a practical route. There were a number of small pinch points through estates, for example, that must have been difficult to negotiate, but the Quietway passes through them so it feels easy, with few barriers or need to slow down. Good design is really important. We know compromises on routes can have a cumulative impact which means people just don’t use it.
“ People overwhelmingly support cycling investment. ”
Public support for cycling investment
We have done a lot to improve cycling infrastructure in Greater Manchester, but there’s so much more to do. The Bike Life report in Greater Manchester last year was very telling as it showed that most people, particularly women, don’t feel safe cycling on our roads. All the international experience shows that those countries where cycling is popular, have higher numbers of women on bikes; we should aim for that.
Bike Life showed that people overwhelmingly support cycling investment and we know from our recent consultation with 4,000 people on the population health transformation strategy that physical activity is the number one thing people say would improve their health. We need to translate that latent demand to get people on their bikes.
Looking into the future of cycling outside London
On the same day we cycled the Quietway, the London Mayor Sadiq Khan announced £770 million investment in new cycling infrastructure. I’d really like to see this scale of ambition and political leadership in Greater Manchester when the new mayor is elected next year.
We need a new holistic approach which recognises that improved cycle lanes help make our city region a nicer place to live and work. Cycling investment shouldn’t be restricted to single budgets like transport or public health.
Over the next 20 years, there is a need to deliver continued sustainable economic growth, creating more jobs and new homes for the people of Greater Manchester. We need to work together to deliver infrastructure to manage growth sustainably and ensure the health and wellbeing of our communities.
Both in Manchester and across the UK, we need to cultivate the growing demand for cycling and at the same time deliver the infrastructure to enable more people to walk and cycle, as a way to also deliver clean air, health and deal with growing population challenges around transport.