Manchester is finally beginning to embrace the cycling revolution

An artist's impression of the Oxford Road cycle routes, now largely complete. Image: Transport for Greater Manchester.

A flat city like Manchester which is home to Europe’s largest student population should be a biking mecca.

Only a few years ago this goal was still a long way off, with many would-be cyclists put off by a combination of safety or practical issues, as well as Mancunian weather.

However, like other cities across Europe, Manchester realised it needed to improve this situation. It needed to understand the needs of cyclists, experiment with solutions, and learn what worked to get more people in the saddle.

It was precisely these elements which provided the framework for the Manchester Cycling Lab research project that I began back in 2015 with my colleague Gabriele Schliwa. Our aims were quite simple: to work alongside other initiatives in the city to make cycling a mainstream, everyday form of transport via a network of newly-built or enhanced cycling routes.

We set out to learn who already cycled in the city, which roads they used, and how often. We also wanted to compare our work with comparable cities across Europe such as Berlin, which has been particularly successful at increasing cycling levels in a relatively short space of time.

Sustainable development

Fast forward to today and it looks like the Lab succeeded in delivering its core goal: namely to implement a living lab model to support sustainable development in the city.

The project linked seven research students at the University with key stakeholders to maximise the collective impact of research capacity. The project team also sought to test out the potential to engage users in cycle infrastructure planning through a range of engagement techniques, including digital media.

Our key partners certainly found the living lab model a useful one. For instance, Manchester City Council told us that the project had “added enormously” to the city’s understanding of how cycling can add to its economic, environmental and social objectives, saying it had been of “immense value” not just to the council but also to Transport for Greater Manchester and the strategic health authority.

Our robust evidence-based analysis improved decision making, while we had provided support for existing projects such as the cycle infrastructure investment along Oxford Road, right beside the University.

Indeed, Oxford Road shows what can be achieved in a very short space of time. The Oxford Road Corridor project has now banned all cars along stretches of the road at certain times, while at the same time improving pedestrian and cycle facilities. The sense of space that cyclists can now enjoy is quite remarkable.


Evidence base

Our research has also provided a valuable evidence base to support and inform those who make critical policy decisions surrounding investments in Manchester’s cycling infrastructure and programmes towards a leading sustainable transport system.

In particular the research on Berlin’s cycling transition as a potential twinning relationship with Manchester has engaged further key stakeholders and provided evidence that can guide future thinking and policy making. Furthermore, opportunities have been identified to expand the research collaboration with schools and with health professionals across the city.

In short, the living lab method of engagement has been effective in identifying the specific strategic knowledge needs of the city concerning cycling, and offers an effective way to link the needs of the city with the resources of the University.

James Evans is professor of geography at the University of Manchester, on whose blog this article originally appeared.

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London’s rail and tube map is out of control

Aaaaaargh. Image: Getty.

The geographical limits of London’s official rail maps have always been slightly arbitrary. Far-flung commuter towns like Amersham, Chesham and Epping are all on there, because they have tube stations. Meanwhile, places like Esher or Walton-on-Thames – much closer to the city proper, inside the M25, and a contiguous part of the built up area – aren’t, because they fall outside the Greater London and aren’t served by Transport for London (TfL) services. This is pretty aggravating, but we are where we are.

But then a few years ago, TfL decided to show more non-London services on its combined Tube & Rail Map. It started with a few stations slightly outside the city limits, but where you could you use your Oyster card. Then said card started being accepted at Gatwick Airport station – and so, since how to get to a major airport is a fairly useful piece of information to impart to passengers, TfL’s cartographers added that line too, even though it meant including stations bloody miles away.

And now the latest version seems to have cast all logic to the wind. Look at this:

Oh, no. Click to expand. Image: TfL.

The logic for including the line to Reading is that it’s now served by TfL Rail, a route which will be part of the Elizabeth Line/Crossrail, when they eventually, finally happen. But you can tell something’s gone wrong here from the fact that showing the route, to a town which is well known for being directly west of London, requires an awkward right-angle which makes it look like the line turns north, presumably because otherwise there’d be no way of showing it on the map.

What’s more, this means that a station 36 miles from central London gets to be on the map, while Esher – barely a third of that distance out – doesn’t. Nor does Windsor & Eton Central, because it’s served by a branchline from Slough rather than TfL Rail trains, even though as a fairly major tourist destination it’d probably be the sort of place that at least some users of this map might want to know how to get to.

There’s more. Luton Airport Parkway is now on the map, presumably on the basis that Gatwick is. But that station doesn’t accept Oyster cards yet, so you get this:

Gah. Click to expand. Image: TfL.

There’s a line, incidentally, between Watford Junction and St Albans Abbey, which is just down the road from St Albans City. Is that line shown on the map? No it is not.

Also not shown on the map: either Luton itself, just one stop up the line from Luton Airport Parkway, or Stansted Airport, even though it’s an airport and not much further out than places which are on the map. Somewhere that is, however, is Welwyn Garden City, which doesn’t accept Oyster, isn’t served by TfL trains and also – this feels important – isn’t an airport.

And meanwhile a large chunk of Surrey suburbia inside the M25 isn’t shown, even though it must have a greater claim to be a part of London’s rail network than bloody Reading.

The result of all these decisions is that the map covers an entirely baffling area whose shape makes no sense whatsoever. Here’s an extremely rough map:

Just, what? Image: Google Maps/CityMetric.

I mean that’s just ridiculous isn’t it.

While we’re at it: the latest version shows the piers from which you can get boats on the Thames. Except for when it doesn’t because they’re not near a station – for example, Greenland Pier, just across the Thames to the west of the Isle of Dogs, shown here with CityMetric’s usual artistic flair.

Spot the missing pier. You can’t, because it’s missing. Image: TfL/CityMetric.

I’m sure there must be a logic to all of this. It’s just that I fear the logic is “what makes life easier for the TfL cartography team” rather than “what is actually valuable information for London’s rail passengers”.

And don’t even get me started on this monstrosity.

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