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Monday 30 January 2012

Manchester Cycling Strategy

The Interim Strategy for Cycling in Manchester (draft) was recently brought to my attention via the GMCC. The draft can be found here (Hat tip: Manchester FOE). The Manchester Cycling Strategy (MCS) is a result of the Memorandum of Understanding between British Cycling and Manchester City Council. The executive summary on page 4 states,  "Manchester is the home of British Cycling - cycling's national governing body." Whilst it is true that British Cycling is the governing body of cyclesport, the relevance of British Cycling to transport cycling is at best, dubious. Whilst British Cycling have recently started to devote some attention to cycling as transport, they are first and foremost the governing body of cyclesport and not an organisation for furthering the aims of everyday folk who want to use a bike for transport.

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.
  1. Is all of this funding coming out of a single pot for 'cycling?'
  2. 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?
  3. 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.
  4. 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)
  5. 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.


  1. It sounds like either they are squirrelling valuable 'cycling for transport' money away to spend on sports facilities...


    ...they are merely listing (already funded) 'sports cycling' projects alongside their own transport projects to make the bottom line look more impressive - because lets face it, as nice as it sounds to hear...

    "We are spending £3,786,000 on Cycling for Transportation" sounds like a crock of shiteness in comparison with being able to proudly state that...

    "We are spending £30,536,000 over the next five years on Cycling"

    Ayeee wonder where the truth lies...COUGH...CCCREATIVE ACCOUNTING!!!...COUGHCOUGH...

  2. This attitude is, ebay..all bikes are catagorised as 'sport equipment'. the way bikes are regarded starts at point of sale...change these catagories and preconceptions will be challenged.

  3. *along similar lines* this may be a good moment to mention that one of Daughter No1s School Teachers has asked her if we could take some mp4's of us cycling. This is because they are doing weekly Assemblys on a different...wait for it...a different Sport each week (aarrgghh!!)

    Tricky. I've just had a brisk 6 mile blast on my fixie. It wasn't 'Sport' though, but a trip to a Public Library.

    This video clip is likely to contain a Dutch bike & a Raleigh Twenty because that's what we generally ride together (and slowly too). It may have very little to do with the run up to the Olympics, which is probably the whole point of the Assembly :>/

    Could maybe title it (Tran)Sport?!

  4. It was good to see Victoria Pendleton become involved in promoting an explicitly utlity bike. OK, so it's for Halfords, but we can't be too choosy, can we? Shame that the reptiles focussed, with their tongues hanging out, entirely on her "girlie" attire for the promo shots.

    OK, Mark Cavendish, Shanaze Read, et al. Let's see your ranges of practical bikes. Mark could do a men's urban range, and Shanaze a "country" range for badly potholed roads and steeper inclines?

  5. My FoI request for a copy of the Memorandum of Understanding still hasn't been delivered. I wonder how much of this document will be redacted?

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  7. Excellent analysis.

    I was reminded of the comments I got from the University of Manchester Cycling Club ( who explained they couldn't very well tow the "one less car" line when much of their activities involve putting their bikes in vans and carting them around the country.

    Much as they profess to love cycling generally, they are a sports club at heart so I appreciated their honesty on the matter, but I feel it leaves something of a vacuum for the thousands of students who could benefit from Oxford Road being a LOT more bike friendly. Of course there are other organisations, but Biko Bikes ( ) aren't very high profile and UMBUG ( ) tends to be staff focused.

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you explain we are concerned with potential cyclists, cyclists who don't even exist yet (as cyclists). All the people like your Mum (and mine) who express a clear desire to cycle but never will on roads like the ones we have. Unfortunately it's much easier to canvas opinion from people who already cycle, and many existing cyclists may well subscribe to the Cyclecraft way of thinking, because it works for them.

    Tomorrow I hope to attend the monthly UMBUG cycle to work breakfast. And once again all the University employees who cycle anyway will be grateful for a free breakfast, and all the employees who are too scared to cycle will still be too scared and will sit in their cars again.

  8. Apparently that should be "toe the line". I should probably stick to expressions I know the origins of.

  9. @Ian,

    I think you're right, it seems unlikely that there is one pot for 'cycling,' it is more than likely some creative accounting is going on. Despite that, it is interesting to note that ten times more is spent on cyclesport than on transport cycling. Whilst promoting any sport is important in a society as sedentary as ours, people cycling in Manchester are dying because the roads are left in a state which is not conducive to safe cycling. The wider benefits of cyclesport (bar national sporting pride) can equally be derived from transport cycling on a much larger scale, so why so little money for it?

    WRT the school video, I think you should just go along with it and film your lot cycling around to the shops and submit it to the school, see if they realise the issue with their assumption that you all cycle for 'sport.' Another option is to maybe have yourself filmed going out for a loaf of bread quite sedately on the Gazelle but overlay Eye Of The Tiger or the music from Chariots of Fire for a laugh.

    @Rob Bushill,

    I signed your petition as I agree completely. I have also (briefly) touched on the topic myself in the past.

    @Paul M,

    The Pendelton Pashley clone does seem a bit of an odd concept, as she is not know for riding that kind of machine, but at least it helps popularise 'normal' cycling, even if it is coming from an unusual place. It is a bit like a Jensen Button lending his name to a car like the Fiat 500 or Toyota IQ; sure he is known for driving, but not that sort of driving.


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