The biggest problems in the MCS draft are often a result of this confusing mixture of sports promotion and facilitating cycling as transport. A good example to illustrate the absurdity of this is to consider motorsport. Whilst I am sure that there are a good number of people in Greater Manchester who participate in the various disciplines of motorsports, from rallying to formula three, the groups which represent these interests rarely weigh in on transport consultations such as the LTP3. Where they do decide to comment, it is extremely unlikely that they would try to present themselves as the 'voice of the motorist' because clearly they aren't - they are the voice of motorsports. Whilst these two groups are superficially similar, their interests, needs and wishes are (quite rightly) lobbied for by separate groups.
In cycling, the distinction is less commonly made, perhaps because there are so few people who regularly use bicycles for any purpose. The problem with this is that cycling is conflated with cyclesport, giving cyclesport a louder voice than it perhaps deserves, whilst making cycling for transport less visible and less attractive to normal people who aren't interested in getting hot and sweaty in order to go shopping or to work.
This conflation of cycle sport with cycling for transport is illustrated well on page 5 which includes a list of headline figures for investment in 'cycling' over the past five years:
- Over £3.2 million on infrastructure through LTP Highways Capital Programme
- £518,000 on child cycle training
- £56,000 promoting bike week
- £24 million building the National Indoor BMX area
- Over £12,000 in small grants to community groups
- £2.5 million on promoting and supporting club and sport cycling
- Over £250,000 on promoting cycling through initiatives such as Sky Rid [sic]
From this list, several issues stand out to me.
- Is all of this funding coming out of a single pot for 'cycling?'
- What does the National Indoor BMX Arena, supporting club and sport cycling and to a certain extent, the Sky Ride, have to do with cycling for transport?
- If (1.) is in fact the case, how can £24 million for the National Indoor BMX Arena and £2.5 million on promoting club and sport cycling be justified when only £3.2 million is spent on cycle infrastructure for transport cycling, which has the highest potential for growth and thus has easily the highest potential economic, social and public heath returns.
- The cyclesport-oriented aspects of this report should be part of a wider report on the uptake, promotion and enabling of sports in Manchester (which in itself is an important and laudable aim)
- The cycling for transport-oriented aspects of this report should be part of Manchester's wider transport strategy (and dramatically increased in their scope)
Where the report discusses strategies for increasing and improving cycling in Manchester it refers to the LTP3 plan mentioned previously. The LTP3 is worded in a way which allows for the construction of a real network of quality cycle corridors to Dutch standards, the result of which would be immense growth in transport cycling in Manchester and the enormous wider benefits that brings. Unfortunately, it is also vague enough to allow for little change from the status quo, beyond a bit of paint and some crap signage along back-streets; the sort of measures which have already been well-established to be ineffective. The strategy goes on to identify five 'key issues' holding back transport cycling in Manchester:
- Addressing the demand for cycle parking
- Making major junctions safer for cyclists
- Working with partners to reduce cycle theft
- Liaising with City Centre employers to improve workplace cycle parking and changing facilities
- Improving opportunities to cross the inner ring road
Sadly, these issues are more likely 'things which existing cyclists would like fixed' rather than issues which hold back those who wish to cycle for transport but do not currently do so. These issues are likely to be along the lines of:
- Fear of being killed or injured when cycling with motor traffic
- Separated bicycle tracks on main roads
- Junction designs put cyclists (and pedestrians) in unnecessary danger in order to prioritise private motor traffic
- Rat-running makes riding on streets feel unsafe
All of these issues are tackled in The Netherlands road network model; busy main routes have separate tracks and motor-vehicle rat-running (and hence volume) is eliminated on streets where people live (making them attractive for cycling despite the lack of separation). Address these issues (even in the form of a barebones functional network) and cycling rates in Manchester could easily be increased to 10-15 times their current level.
Despite the paramount importance of infrastructure in making cycling into a viable mode of transport for normal people, the only infrastructure mentioned in the MCS draft are the three cycle centres to be built in the city centre. These will only improve the experience for existing cyclists, they will provide little or no benefit for would-be cyclists. My mother doesn't ride a bike, not because there is nowhere for her to park her bike, shower and stash her lycras in a locker. She doesn't cycle because she (entirely understandably) feels unsafe when cycling on our roads as they currently exist. Providing facilities which would be unnecessary in a mainstream cycling culture is not the way to build a mainstream cycling culture. Where cycling for transport is mainstream, people ride in whatever clothing they need to be wearing at their destination (possibly in addition to a coat and gloves) with the idea of needing to shower and change after cycling to work being something which is utterly irrelevant in a mass cycling culture.
The MCS at least does not explicitly exclude measures which would actually allow cycling for transport to grow, but unfortunately it takes the traditional approach of 'tinkering around the edges,' focussing on marginal improvements for existing cyclists whilst completely ignoring the reasons why normal people would never consider cycling for transport. In addition to the desperate need for vastly increasing the scope of the measures proposed to increase cycling for transport, the inclusion of so much irrelevant material pertaining to cyclesport confuses the issues for all users of cycles. Ideally, the cyclesport content in the MCS should exist as a part of a wider 'Sport in Manchester' strategy in order to prevent the needs of those participating in these two largely unrelated activities being confused. The report also focusses on leisure cycling separately. It is my belief that leisure cycling does not require a huge amount of specific 'strategy' to grow, provided that cycles are considered during the design or renovation of parks & towpaths etc. The measures which will make cycling for transport attractive to normal people will also increase the appeal of cycling for leisure.