Saturday 30 November 2013

A Convivial Critical Mass

This lovely comment on Facebook sums up the spirit of last night's ride:-

Just got home from CM, had a great time, didn't know a soul but was made to feel really welcome. Thank you lovely people! Looking forward to the next one.

The theme was dress up like a Criticalmass Tree with lots of LED lights. There were several examples of brightly lit bikes.

These drew the admiring attention of a pair of passing community support offices who normally patrol on bikes. They were very impressed with the lights and chatted for a while before moving on.

The turnout was worryingly small, probably caused by the cold and earlier rain, which had only eased off at about 6pm, but the ride seemed larger than the start.

However, we needn't have worried. As the ride moved off to sample the xmas lights it became clear that the ride was going to be a good one. The corking and communication with the traffic was really good - often 3 of 4 people handling each junction. The ride got held up in traffic, but this didn't spoil the atmosphere.

The abiding memory was of a very friendly ride. Lots of conversation over the music and everyone looking out for each other. I even received help from other riders pushing me up the steep hills.

We took a very unusual route out onto Bury New Road and up by Strangeways,

then crossing Cheetham Hill Road and approaching the new Coop building along Red Bank.

The ride ended at a warm and cozy Popup Bikes,

for the Bikes ‘N’ Such Photography Exhibition which included free beer!

The projected photographs certainly added to the atmosphere.

It was a really lovely ride and it really lifted my spirits.

I won't be able to make December & January's rides because of clashing commitments, so hope to see you all again in February.

Thanks everyone for making it such a lovely evening.


Music playing was by MorPheuSz, Days of Delirium & Nocturnal Nightmares

Sunday 24 November 2013

A Cycle Strategy for Greater Manchester - (CILT meeting)

... or how Manchester won't be Going Dutch, but may be taking a route to Camden with armadillos in the roads.

Photo from James and the Giant Bike Ride

Last Tuesday I went to a CILT (The Chartered Institute of Logistics & Transport) meeting at the Rain Bar in Manchester on the theme of A Cycle Strategy for Central Manchester. The billed speaker was Helen Ramsden, Head of Travel Choices at TfGM, but the talk was actually given by Nick Vaughan of TfGM. The room contained the usual gender bias that afflicts such occasions, Helen Ramsden was present, but was one of only 3 women amongst 24 men.

Nick Vaughan got underway by admitting that his real expertise was in bus routes and that he had only recently taken on responsibility for cycling. He did, however, say that he regularly rides a bicycle, to and from his local station to get to work. He made some good points about the conditions for cycling in Manchester being potentially better than for Amsterdam, including the fact that Manchester has a LOWER average annual rain fall level than Amsterdam, 32 inches against 36 for Amsterdam. He then conceded that a lot of work on cycling in the UK has been focused on cycle sportif and said that we "need to move beyond this" in order to address the key benefits of cycling for health, the environment and the economy.

The figures from the 2011 Census show that there were 25,000 cycle to work trips in Manchester, against 800,000 by car. However, 30% of these car trips were less than 3 miles, and these 240,000 car based commuters are the people that TfGM think can be persuaded to take up cycling.

He introduced the Velocity bid and then talked about how TfGM intend to spend the money, touching on 7 main areas:-

1) Infrastructure

This was the point where the excuses came out. TfGM have clearly decided that they will not be providing Dutch standard cycle routes in Manchester. Their main excuse is cost. The reasons given included drainage and litter, so they are going for what they call "light segregation" using splitter islands and not solid boundaries.

It seems that TfGM are sold on the idea of installing, so called, armadillos to mark the edge of the cycle lanes. These cheap plastic lumps which are bolted onto the road will be trialed on a cycle route in Salford by the end of 2013 (possibly Liverpool Street between cross lane and Albion way).

Photo by Laura Laker from the Cycling Weekly web site.

The idea is that these lumps (available in three heights, 5, 9 and 13 cm) will keep traffic out of cycle lanes. The GMCC Deputy Secretary, present at the meeting insisted on calling these "protected" rather than "segregated" cycle routes. However, whilst they may dissuade all but the largest of cars from using the cycle lanes, they will not protect the lane from being used by taxis and delivery vans as a convenient stopping area. After all such drivers have no qualms about driving onto the pavement in places like Oxford Road, so a few lumps of plastic won't stop them blocking a cycle lane..

In Camden, where these armadillos have been installed, they have not been used in isolation. Large, heavy planters have also been placed along the lanes to clearly mark the cycle lane and deter parking.

Photo by Jean Dollimore of Camden Cyclists

So, we will have to wait and see how TfGM use armadillos in Salford, but I strongly suspect we will not see our schemes being as good as Camden's and there are cycle campaigners who are not happy with what has been built there. The bus stops are just dreadful!

Photo from The Alternative Department for Transport

I do not think that TfGM will ever have the motivation to produce good quality cycle infrastructure in Manchester if some cycle campaigners in Manchester are prepared to give the thumbs up to half baked designs. I do not see a few lumps providing sufficient protection for a cycle route when road traffic law is not enforced in the area.

2) Interchanges

This part of the presentation was all about TfGM's Cycle Hubs. There was lots of talk about the small park-and-ride style hubs that cost users £10 a year at Tram Stations like Bury and absolutely no mention of the big expensive white elephant in Manchester City Centre...

3) Partner Schools

TfGM are looking for a long term cultural shift by encouraging children to cycle . They will be partnering with 10 schools in the area, which seems a very small number to me.

4) Health, Wellbeing & Physical Activity

This section linked into the recent transfer of public health money to local authorities. There is an excellent guidance document from NICE on the topic of walking and cycling.

5) Practical Support and Training

This was all about TfGM's cycle training programme and other measures that are already underway.

6) Marketing and Communications

Again this section restated existing work on the GM cycling maps and other cycling information.

7) Monitoring and Evaluation

The final section was about the development of a "Bicycle Account" for Manchester.

This will be assessed across 5 areas:-
  • Infrastructure
  • Cycle flows and modal share
  • Satisfaction
  • Impact e.g. environment
  • Practical Support and Monitoring

I opened the questions that followed by asking why the presentation had contained nothing about restricting car traffic, when the cities that have high cycling levels have been those that have restricted car use. This triggered a lot of excuses about the failure of the congestion charge in Manchester and some comments that car access will be restricted by the bus priority schemes and other measures. Reference was made to the Transport Strategy for Manchester City Centre as being evidence of this. It was very clear from some of the comments that council officers have suffered from some very nasty reactions from the road lobbyists in recent years, which left me wondering whether cycle campaigners should behave likewise.

I left the meeting feeling that whilst the level of funding for cycling has improved in Manchester, the attitudes of the local authorities need to change radically if Manchester is to get anywhere near its own cycling targets. I would like to see TfGM prove me wrong, but I don't hold out much hope.

Sunday 17 November 2013

The Rochdale Canal - Manchester to Rochdale

This is a set of photos from back in July which I've finally got round to posting as I've done a map of this route for the forthcoming GMCC newsletter.

Whilst this 12 mile route enables an almost entirely traffic-free ride all the way from Manchester to Rochdale, the surface is very rough in places and there are several sets of steps. The narrow parts of the path will prevent trikes, handcycles and trailers from getting through.

The surface is so bad in places this route is not suitable for small wheeled bikes like Bromptons, as proved, rather painfully by a fellow blogger earlier in the year. This route is suitable for robust tourers or hybrids and mountain bikes, or be prepared to walk quite a bit.

As far as I am concerned, the route starts here, at this lovely bridge just off Great Ancoats Street, the site of one of the city's most awful cycle routes. You can ride past on either side, but the tow path is on the right.

Further on the new bridge may be open now and that leads into this narrow section.

After a narrow section of tow path, unsuitable for anything wider than a bicycle, the path opens out and here we join the official cycle route - NCN Route 66.

This is an open grassy part of Ancoats, where the old industrial buildings have mostly gone. However they did leave one old, narrow road bridge which is decorated by a CYCLISTS DISMOUNT sign. This part of the path does flood in winter, so be prepared for wet feet.

A little further along is Victoria Mill, which stands almost entirely alone in the landscape.

From here most of the path has recently been tarmaced, however, they did leave the original cobbles, where they still existed. They are quite large and uncomfortable, even on my fat wheeled tourer.

This section is more enclosed, but new lighting has been installed.

At Queen's Road (NCN Route 60) you hit the first set of steps, just after the bridge.

It is possible to bypass them by going up to road level, and crossing at the lights, but rather slow and inconvenient.

As you head towards Newton Heath there are more trees, and several of the locks here show signs of having been completely rebuilt.

At Newton Heath itself, the landscapes opens up on the right, but the canal & path are in quite poor condition here.

At Old Church Street there is yet another set of steps.

This time the diversion is more difficult, involving going back and over the footbridge. There are the inevitable anti-cycling barriers to make this difficult. You then go back across the canal on the road bridge and first left.

After going under Poplar Street, you see this distinctive chimney.

A bit further along at Ridgefield street are another set of steps. Whilst there are only a few of them, the diversion to avoid them involves a long road diversion.

Warning - coming in the other direction these steps are difficult to spot!

Soon the buildings become very modern and you pass a number of huge retail outlets,

before the canal turns north, with Failsworth Library on your left.

Here the path degrades rapidly. The bridge under Oldham Road is very narrow and uneven, and the cobbles continue from here.

At George Street, there is this semi-stepped and cobbled slope,

and on the other side the cobbles are particularly large and uneven.

The next bridge takes the tram over the canal and there is this bizarre cycle barrier. An example of some idiot, probably from TfGM, wasting public money.

From here the path has a fairly reasonable surface. However, this overflow is not much further along.

This little footbridge at Henshaw Lane marks a distinct change in the scenery

Soon the path branches right and upwards to meet the road,

then left and up further to cross the M60 on this strangely compelling bridge.

After rejoining the canal the path degrades again. This time the cobbles are quite small and flat,

but they are not always present and the path suffers from subsidence in places. This is a largely industrial area with electricity pylons overhead and factories around.

At the join between Grimshaw Lane and Foxdenton Lane is a little swing bridge.

The industrial landscape gives way to trees and housing,

and the canal swings east then north again after Middleton Road

and crosses the River Irk Aqueduct.

Now the area becomes rural, and these poems suddenly crop up.

The canal then goes under the railway. The railway itself is on the second of two bridges, the one in front is unused.

A little further along the path crosses Boarshaw Lane, where there is a single, very large step. The sign points to Middleton Town Centre.

After Middleton, with it's industrial estate on the right the canal goes under Rochdale Road and past this little bridge

you come to Slattocks Top Lock cottages.

Here the canal rises above the landscape, and views open out to the right.

There is one Sustrans sculpture along here.

At the crossing with the M62 the motorway builders failed to provide a towpath.

This usually means a diversion via the A664 Manchester Road

and back via these anti-cycling barriers.

What is supposed to happen is that you can use this pontoon bridge to get under the motorway. However, the day I came past it had been removed and parked here.

A little further along the path swaps sides over a little cobbled bridge.

The path joins Maltings Lane for a bit in this post-industrial area.

At Gorrels Way the towpath runs out again, and you cross the road here and join the pavement on the other side.

then round to the left along Queensway and Edinburgh Way, and across at lights to rejoin the canal. The loss of the path here was caused by the building of the A627M.

Back on the path the landscape improves.

This little bridge over an overflow comes just before

Milkstone Road which marks the point where you turn into Rochdale with a set of anti-cycling barriers. The towpath crosses the canal at this point on the road bridge.

Here you turn left and join the road towards Rochdale. The route is quite mixed, particularly with all the new work to put the tramlines in. The signposted diversion to avoid the tramlines sent me down a very steep and dangerous cobbled road to get to the town centre, so be prepared for problems.

View Rochdale CanalUntitled in a larger map