Greater Manchester’s cycling plan is radical – but it needs funding

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

The advantages of switching from cars to bikes in cities are well known – for health, urban air quality and the climate. Now, the “Change a region to change a nation” report, which outlines Greater Manchester’s walking and cycling plan, proposes a radical investment in cycling infrastructure.

The plan would see £1.5bn invested in the Bee Network, 1,800 miles of cycling and walking routes over the region. The goal is to create a model which could be replicated across the country. This network is something that even London, with all its cycling advances under the pro-bike (now former) mayor Boris Johnson and his cycling commissioner Andrew Gilligan, did not manage to accomplish in its time.

The Greater Manchester plan contains many, if not all, the vital elements necessary for a region to make real advances in transport politics. These are political resolve, reformed governance and open communication channels, a network plan and a budgeted work programme. The plan is rooted in a history of cycle campaigning that seeks to make travel by bike accessible for all, and – according to the plan’s authors – it has local backing. Above all, it offers a revolutionary alternative to a car-focused society.

The plan is led by Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham and Chris Boardman, former professional cyclist and now Manchester’s cycling and walking commissioner. In the plan’s foreword, Boardman dives right into the heart of the matter: we must address our society’s dependency on cars, built into our cities by decades of urban planning. This is a brave step and very timely indeed, after decades of administrative inactivity on transport matters.

According to Boardman, discussions held in Manchester over the last year mean that the public are “now more aware than ever that the way we travel, using cars for even for the shortest of journeys, is one of the biggest contributors to the problem [of the climate crisis]”.

The economic case

The Greater Manchester network is priced at £1.5 billion over 10 years. In a region of 2.8 million inhabitants, this equals a spend of about £50 per person per year. This is by no means outlandish. In the Netherlands, €30 (£25) per person per year is spent on cycling infrastructure alone.

The finances presented in the plan show a benefit-cost ratio (BCR) of 4. This means that every £1 invested is projected to return £4. The benefits consist of improvements in health and productivity such as increased physical activity, neighbourhood connectivity, boost to local business, congestion relief, and noise and air quality. The economic case is overwhelming.

A typical UK road scheme is classed as having “very high” value for money when it is calculated to yield a BCR of 4. In overall terms, a reliance on cars costs society dearly, while cycling has consistently shown to bring societal benefits at a typical BCR of 5.

The numbers add up. But here is the catch. All the benefits aside, where is the seed money supposed to come from for such a radical transformation? To invest in cycling and reap the rewards, Greater Manchester is appealing to the national coffers of the UK Treasury.

Rooted in activism

The foundation of the “Change a region to change a nation” report and the Bee Network is a new approach to campaigning for active travel. My PhD research looked at campaigning tactics to capture the shift that took place in the last decade.

In the past, cycling campaigners favoured on-road solutions: cycling mixed with motor traffic. From 2011 onwards, however, led by the London Cycling Campaign under environmental campaigner Ashok Sinha, cycling organisations began to concentrate on the arrangement of urban space as the main obstacle to everyday cycling.

A focus on urban space put cycling in direct and concrete conflict with a car-first society that single-mindedly prioritises motor vehicles’ use of city space. This conflict politicised cycling and put cycling firmly on the political agenda.

Road space must be given over to cycling if we want to construct cycling conditions where short journeys are habitually made by bike, where shopping by bike becomes a possibility, older people have stress-free and calm cycle environments for their free participation in public life, parents can cycle with children and children can cycle by themselves. This approach has a particular focus on journeys of care such as visiting friends and relatives, shopping and child minding, and many of these claims were made by women activists.

Looking at the names on the report, and wider cycling politics, it feels as if current culture still requires men to press through change. Thankfully, for one thing, the imagery used in the Greater Manchester plan is inclusive and diverse.

But there remains an ingrained car-first approach in national politics. For the Bee Network to fully succeed, regionally and UK-wide, that now needs to be challenged.

The Conversation

Katja Leyendecker, PhD candidate in Architecture and Built Environment, Northumbria University, Newcastle.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Urgently needed: Timely, more detailed standardized data on US evictions

Graffiti asking for rent forgiveness is seen on a wall on La Brea Ave amid the Covid-19 pandemic in Los Angeles, California. (Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images)

Last week the Eviction Lab, a team of eviction and housing policy researchers at Princeton University, released a new dashboard that provides timely, city-level US eviction data for use in monitoring eviction spikes and other trends as Covid restrictions ease. 

In 2018, Eviction Lab released the first national database of evictions in the US. The nationwide data are granular, going down to the level of a few city blocks in some places, but lagged by several years, so their use is more geared toward understanding the scope of the problem across the US, rather than making timely decisions to help city residents now. 

Eviction Lab’s new Eviction Tracking System, however, provides weekly updates on evictions by city and compares them to baseline data from past years. The researchers hope that the timeliness of this new data will allow for quicker action in the event that the US begins to see a wave of evictions once Covid eviction moratoriums are phased out.

But, due to a lack of standardization in eviction filings across the US, the Eviction Tracking System is currently available for only 11 cities, leaving many more places facing a high risk of eviction spikes out of the loop.

Each city included in the Eviction Tracking System shows rolling weekly and monthly eviction filing counts. A percent change is calculated by comparing current eviction filings to baseline eviction filings for a quick look at whether a city might be experiencing an uptick.

Timely US eviction data for a handful of cities is now available from the Eviction Lab. (Courtesy Eviction Lab)

The tracking system also provides a more detailed report on each city’s Covid eviction moratorium efforts and more granular geographic and demographic information on the city’s evictions.

Click to the above image to see a city-level eviction map, in this case for Pittsburgh. (Courtesy Eviction Lab)

As part of their Covid Resource, the Eviction Lab together with Columbia Law School professor Emily Benfer also compiled a scorecard for each US state that ranks Covid-related tenant protection measures. A total of 15 of the 50 US states plus Washington DC received a score of zero because those states provided little if any protections.

CityMetric talked with Peter Hepburn, an assistant professor at Rutgers who just finished a two-year postdoc at the Eviction Lab, and Jeff Reichman, principal at the data science research firm January Advisors, about the struggles involved in collecting and analysing eviction data across the US.

Perhaps the most notable hurdle both researchers addressed is that there’s no standardized reporting of evictions across jurisdictions. Most evictions are reported to county-level governments, however what “reporting” means differs among and even within each county. 

In Texas, evictions go through the Justice of the Peace Courts. In Virginia they’re processed by General District Courts. Judges in Milwaukee are sealing more eviction case documents that come through their courtroom. In Austin, Pittsburgh and Richmond, eviction addresses aren’t available online but ZIP codes are. In Denver you have to pay about $7 to access a single eviction filing. In Alabama*, it’s $10 per eviction filing. 

Once the filings are acquired, the next barrier is normalizing them. While some jurisdictions share reporting systems, many have different fields and formats. Some are digital, but many are images of text or handwritten documents that require optical character recognition programs and natural language processors in order to translate them into data. That, or the filings would have to be processed by hand. 

“There's not enough interns in the world to do that work,” says Hepburn.

Aggregating data from all of these sources and normalizing them requires knowledge of the nuances in each jurisdiction. “It would be nice if, for every region, we were looking for the exact same things,” says Reichman. “Instead, depending on the vendor that they use, and depending on how the data is made available, it's a puzzle for each one.”

In December of 2019, US Senators Michael Bennet of Colorado and Rob Portman of Ohio introduced a bill that would set up state and local grants aimed at reducing low-income evictions. Included in the bill is a measure to enhance data collection. Hepburn is hopeful that the bill could one day mean an easier job for those trying to analyse eviction data.

That said, Hepburn and Reichman caution against the public release of granular eviction data. 

“In a lot of cases, what this gets used for is for tenant screening services,” says Hepburn. “There are companies that go and collect these data and make them available to landlords to try to check and see if their potential tenants have been previously evicted, or even just filed against for eviction, without any sort of judgement.”

According to research by Eviction Lab principal Matthew Desmond and Tracey Shollenberger, who is now vice president of science at Harvard’s Center for Policing Equity, residents who have been evicted or even just filed against for eviction often have a much harder time finding equal-quality housing in the future. That coupled with evidence that evictions affect minority populations at disproportionate rates can lead to widening racial and economic gaps in neighborhoods.

While opening up raw data on evictions to the public would not be the best option, making timely, granular data available to researchers and government officials can improve the system’s ability to respond to potential eviction crises.

Data on current and historical evictions can help city officials spot trends in who is getting evicted and who is doing the evicting. It can help inform new housing policy and reform old housing policies that may put more vulnerable citizens at undue risk.

Hepburn says that the Eviction Lab is currently working, in part with the ACLU, on research that shows the extent to which Black renters are disproportionately affected by the eviction crisis.

More broadly, says Hepburn, better data can help provide some oversight for a system which is largely unregulated.

“It's the Wild West, right? There's no right to representation. Defendants have no right to counsel. They're on their own here,” says Hepburn. “I mean, this is people losing their homes, and they're being processed in bulk very quickly by the system that has very little oversight, and that we know very little about.”

A 2018 report by the Philadelphia Mayor’s Taskforce on Eviction Prevention and Response found that of Philadelphia’s 22,500 eviction cases in 2016, tenants had legal representation in only 9% of them.

Included in Hepburn’s eviction data wishlist is an additional ask, something that is rarely included in any of the filings that the Eviction Lab and January Advisors have been poring over for years. He wants to know the relationship between money owed and monthly rent.

“At the individual level, if you were found to owe $1,500, was that on an apartment that's $1,500 a month? Or was it an apartment that's $500 a month? Because that makes a big difference in the story you're telling about the nature of the crisis, right? If you're letting somebody get three months behind that's different than evicting them immediately once they fall behind,” Hepburn says.

Now that the Eviction Tracking System has been out for a week, Hepburn says one of the next steps is to start reaching out to state and local governments to see if they can garner interest in the project. While he’s not ready to name any names just yet, he says that they’re already involved in talks with some interested parties.

*Correction: This story initially misidentified a jurisdiction that charges $10 to access an eviction filing. It is the state of Alabama, not the city of Atlanta. Also, at the time of publication, Peter Hepburn was an assistant professor at Rutgers, not an associate professor.

Alexandra Kanik is a data reporter at CityMetric.