Greater Manchester just unveiled plans for its 1,000 mile “Beelines” cycling network, so here are some maps

An artist’s impression of a new filtered area of Greater Manchester. Image: TfGM.

There are times, you know, when I wished I lived in Manchester. It has a combination of characteristics – a strong civic identity; a visibly ambitious city government; a complete disinterest in the existence of London – that is familiar from many continental European cities, but all too rare in British ones.

Normally it’s the trams, and the authorities’ obvious ambition to keep extending them, that makes me want to evangelise for Greater Manchester. This week, though, it’s Transport for Greater Manchester’s plans for a whole different transport network that are to blame.

The Beelines – named for the worker bee that’s the emblem of Manchester and its industrial history, and also for the concept of ‘lines’ – will be a new network of 1,000 miles of cycling routes across the conurbation. Of these, 75 miles will be Dutch-style segregated cycling lanes. (Something of this sort already exists on the Oxford Road, through Manchester’s university district.)

Besides that, the city plans to make around 1,400 crossings safer for cyclists, and create 24 cyclist-friendly “filtered” neighbourhoods: there’s an artist’s impression of one at the top of this page. The whole lot will cost £500m.

Chris Boardman, the Olympic gold medallist who’s now Greater Manchester’s walking & cycling tsar, told the Guardian he was “absolutely unapologetic” that his plans would take space from cars.

“If you want to make people change their habits you’ve got to give them a viable alternative and in some cases that’s reprioritising streets and that’s what we are doing. We’ve given way too much priority to the vociferous minority.”

Good for him.

Anyway, here are some more artist’s impressions. First off, here’s one of an improved crossing:

And here’s a segregated cycling lane:

Look closely at that and you can see a blue and yellow sign, telling cyclists where they are on the network. Zoom in and it’d probably look a bit like this:

Or maybe this.

But this is CityMetric, of course, so what you really want is maps. There is a proper interactive one on the Mapping Greater Manchester site. The only problem is it’s a bit slow – sorry, very slow – so I’m not entirely sure it’s loaded properly.

Nonetheless, here’s the Central Business District. Yellow routes already exist – that long one heading south south east is Oxford Road – while blue are proposed. The same colour scheme applies to the dots, which represent crossings, while the shaded area around Ordsall is a filtered neighbourhood.

The orange lines, meanwhile, are “corridors or crossing points on busier roads that will require a higher level of design intervention to improve cycling and walking” – whichh seems to mean the new segregated routes. Here’s the map.

They don’t quite cross the city centre, alas – but nonetheless, that’s a lot of new cycling routes.

This is the same map, zoomed out to show a much wider area. Not entirely sure if the gaps around Droylsden represent a gap in the plan, a gap in the data or a failure to load, but all the same, here it is:

On TfGM’s website you can find complete maps of each of the conurbation’s 10 boroughs, both before and after intervention. These are a bit hard to read to be honest, but since we’ve come this far, here’s the City of Manchester as it is now:

Red areas are defined as “closed off” neighbourhoods - that is, those which lack safe crossings, enabling people to cycle in and out of them; green areas are open. Orange are in between. Look at how much the Beelines network will improve things:

You can see the other 10 boroughs here.

This is the sort of ambition that would be taken as read in many European cities, but you almost never see in Britain. Hell, even London – which really shouldn’t whine about anything to do with transport, let’s be honest – has a fraction of this ambition when it comes to cycling.


Of course, there’s a big difference between making plans and delivering them. But nonetheless: good start, Greater Manchester. As a faintly incompetent cyclist, I am officially jealous.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as Jonn Elledge Writes.

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All images courtesy of Transport for Greater Manchester.

 
 
 
 

In South Africa's cities, evictions are happening despite a national ban

An aerial view shows a destroyed house in Lawley, south of Johannesburg, on April 20, 2020. The city has been demolishing informal structures on vacant land despite a moratorium on evictions. (Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images)

On the morning of 15 July, a South African High Court judge ruled that the city of Cape Town’s Anti-Land Invasion Unit had illegally evicted a man when it destroyed the shack where he was living.

That afternoon, the Anti-Land Invasion Unit was out again, removing shacks in another informal settlement.

Evictions were banned in South Africa for nine weeks, after the national government placed the country under a strict Covid-19 lockdown in late March. At present, eviction orders are automatically suspended until the country moves to a lower “alert level” and can only be carried out with a special order from a judge.

Yet major cities including Cape Town, Johannesburg and eThekwini (created through the merger of Durban with several surrounding communities), have continued to use municipal law enforcement agencies and private security companies to remove people from informal housing. In many cases those operations have been conducted without a court order – something required under regular South African law.

Around 900 people were evicted from three informal settlements in eThekwini during the eviction ban, according to the Church Land Programme, a local NGO. Its director, Graham Philpott, says it’s also aware of evictions in other informal settlements.

While evictions aren’t a “new experience” in these communities, the NGO released a report on lockdown evictions because they were “so explicitly illegal”. “There was a moratorium in place,” Philpott says, “and the local municipality acted quite flagrantly against it. There’s no confusion, there’s no doubt whatsoever, it is illegal. But it is part of a trend where the eThekwini municipality has acted illegally in evicting the poor from informal settlements.”

Evictions also took place in Cape Town and Johannesburg during so-called “hard lockdown” according to local activists. In eThekwini and other municipalities, the evictions have continued despite restrictions. In Cape Town, authorities pulled a naked man, Bulelani Qholani, from his shack. That incident, which was captured on video, drew condemnation from the national government and four members of the Anti-Land Invasion unit were suspended. 


The cities say they’re fighting “land invasions” – illegal occupations without permission from the land owner.

“Land invasions derail housing and service projects, lead to the pollution of waterways, severely prejudice deserving housing beneficiaries and cause property owners to lose their investments over night,” Cape Town’s executive mayor, Dan Plato said in a statement. (Plato has also claimed that Qholani did not live in the shack he was pulled from and that he disrobed when municipal authorities arrived.)

South African municipalities often claim that the shacks they destroy are unoccupied. 

If they were occupied, says Msawakhe Mayisela, a spokesman for the eThekwini municipality, the city would get a court order before conducting an eviction. “Everything we’re doing is within the ambit of the law,” Mayisela says. But “rogue elements” are taking advantage of Covid-19, he added.

“We fully understand that people are desperately in need of land, but the number of people that are flocking to the cities is too much, the city won’t be able to provide housing or accommodation for everyone overnight,” he says. 

While eThekwini claims to be a caring city, local activists say the evictions show otherwise.

In one case, 29 women were evicted from shacks during the hard lockdown. With nowhere to go, they slept in an open field and were arrested by the South African Police Service for violating the lockdown, Philpott says.

“These evictions are dehumanizing people whose dignity is already compromised in many ways,” says S’bu Zikode, the president of Abahlali baseMjondolo, a community organization whose Zulu name translates to “the people of the shacks”. 

“It has reminded us that we are the people that do not count in our society.”

Municipal law enforcement and private security contractors hired by cities regularly fire rubber bullets, or even live ammunition, at residents during evictions. Some 18 Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed since the organization was founded in 2005, Zikode says, most by the eThekwini Land Invasion Unit and Metro Police.

(Mayisela says that if city employees have broken the law, Abahlali baseMjondolo can file a complaint with the police. “There is no conclusive evidence to the effect that our members have killed them,”  he says.)

Other Abahlali baseMjondolo activists have been killed by what Zikode calls “izinkabi,” hitmen hired by politicians. Two eThekwini city councillors were sentenced to life in prison 2016 after they organized the killing of Thuli Ndlovu, an Abahlali baseMjondolo organizer. A member of the Land Invasion Unit who is currently facing a charge of attempted murder after severely injuring a person during an eviction remains on the job, Zikode says.

South Africa’s 1996 constitution is intended to protect the public from arbitrary state violence and guarantees a right to housing, as well as due process in evictions. But for Zikode, the South African constitution is a “beautiful document on a shelf”.

“For the working class and the poor, it’s still difficult to have access to court. You’ve got to have money to get to court,” he says. 

The actions by municipal law enforcement are breaking down social trust, says Buhle Booi, a member of the Khayelitsha Community Action Network, a community group in the largest township in Cape Town.

“There’s a lack of police resources and those very few police resources that they have, they use to destroy people’s homes, to destroy people’s peace, rather than fighting crime, real criminal elements that we see in our society,” Booi says.

For him, it’s a continuation of the practices of the colonial and apartheid governments, pushing poor people, most of whom are Black, to the periphery of cities.

Around one-fifth of South Africa’s urban population live in shacks or informal dwellings, according to a 2018 report by SERI. Many more live in substandard housing. City governments maintain that the shacks destroyed during anti-land invasion operations are unfinished and unoccupied. But Edward Molopi, a research and advocacy officer at SERI, says that this claim is an attempt to escape their legal obligations to get a court order and to find alternative accommodation for affected people. 

The roots of the current eviction crisis go back to apartheid, which barred non-white people from living in cities. Between the 1940s and 1970s, tens of thousands of people were forcibly relocated from neighbourhoods like Johannesburg’s Sophiatown and Cape Town’s District Six to remote townships.

In the 26 years following the end of apartheid, deepening economic inequality and rampant unemployment have limited access to formal housing for millions of South Africans. Government housing programs have mostly focused on building small stand-alone homes, often on the peripheries of cities far from jobs and amenities.

While these well-intentioned projects have built millions of homes, they’ve failed to keep up with demand, says Marie Huchzermeyer, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism & Built Environment Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Government-funded housing projects “will never on it’s own be enough,” she says. “It has to be accompanied by land release.”

Government policies call for the “upgrading” of informal settlements and the formalization of residents’ occupation. But “there are still very, very, very few projects” of that nature in South Africa, Huchzermeyer says. “Even if it’s an informal settlement that’s been around for 20 years, there still seems to be a political wish to punish people for having done that.” The government wants people to go through the formal process of being given a house, she says – and for them to be thankful to the government for providing it.

At the municipal level, change will require “real leadership around informal settlement upgrading and around ensuring that land is available for people to occupy,” she says. 

Despite the end of enforced racial segregation, spacial apartheid remains a factor in South Africa. There are few mixed-income neighbourhoods. Those who can afford to often live behind walls in sprawling low-density suburbs, while the poor live in overcrowded slums and apartment buildings.

The creation of the apartheid city “didn't happen by chance,” says Amira Osman, a professor of architecture at the Tshwane University of Technology. “It was a deliberate, structured approach to the design of the city. We need a deliberate, structured approach that will undo that.”

Since last fall, Johannesburg’s Inclusionary Housing Policy has required developments of 20 or more units to set aside 30% of those units for low-income housing.

The policy, which faced significant opposition from private developers, won’t lead to dramatic change, says Sarah Charlton, a professor at the Centre for Urbanism and Built Environment Studies, but it is “an important and significant step.”

Zikode isn’t optimistic that change will come for shack dwellers, however.

“People in the high positions of authority pretend that everything is normal,” he says. “They pretend that everyone is treated justly, they pretend that everyone has homes with running water, that everyone has a piece of land – and hide the truth and the lies of our democracy.”

Jacob Serebrin is a freelance journalist currently based in Johannesburg. Follow him on Twitter.