The Netherlands in Manchester

A view of the new and old cycle lanes on the Curry Mile

This Easter weekend, I visited family in Manchester, and took the opportunity to cycle down the Curry Mile. Manchester was one of the cities, along with Birmingham, to receive Cycle City Ambition Funding from central government, and I was interested to see what had been done with that money. I am sometimes (well, actually, often) accused of idolising the cycle infrastructure found in the Netherlands, and told that it can not be built here. Well, cycling down the Curry Mile I felt that I could have been in the Netherlands, and indeed the infrastructure was better than some that I have seen there (albeit not much of what I have seen there). We do now have Dutch-level infrastructure in a busy British shopping street that we can point to as an example of good practice.

I have put several photos at the end of this article, with extensive comments on each for you to read. For those who want to see more details, Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign have a PDF of the plans on their website - See the Oxford Road and Wilmslow Road Corridor PDF on this page.

Some general points:

Firstly, the cycle lane is protected by parking and bus stops. That means that it is right up against the pavement, and the pavement is certainly not as wide as it could be. A shared use pavement in this same width would not have worked, in my opinion, because pedestrians would have spread across the whole space. I feel that the narrower width of the pavement does not matter, as pedestrians can use the whole width of the pavement in comfort. They do not have to worry about falling off the kerb and under a lorry, which is a worry for pavements that are next to the general motor traffic lanes. Having the clear separation between the pavement and cycle lane gives a better experience for cycle users as well, because even when pedestrians are walking in the cycle lane, it is much easier to ask them to move out of the way. On a shared use pavement, you can not ring your bell loudly without seeming very rude, but it would be acceptable on a cycle lane.

Secondly, the bus stops are 'floating', which means that the bus passengers have an area to stand and wait, but need to cross the cycle lane to get to and from the bus stop. Last November I got the opportunity to see a good example (the last photo on this page) further up Wilmslow Road, but on a section of road with very wide pavements. This time I could see floating bus stops implemented in a more confined space. The benefits are that the paths of buses and cycles do not cross as the buses pull into and out of the bus stops. Both bus drivers and cycle users therefore have less to worry about. Pedestrians are given clear crossing points and can predict where the cycles will be, which is an improvement over shared-sue pavement cycling. Further down Wilmslow Road there was an example of a bus-stop bypass in a very constrained environment, where the pavement could not be continued alongside the cycle lane. Even with pedestrians having to cross the cycle lane twice, I think that this compromise is acceptable because of the benefits it brings.

Thirdly, the parking spaces are outside the cycle lane, with the passenger door rather than the driver door opening into the cycle lane. Statistically, there are fewer passengers than drivers (think of all the single occupants in cars), so this reduces the risk of a cycle user being 'doored'. But also, the physical kerb separating the parking space and the cycle lane provides a buffer both for the passenger to stand in and to reduce the width of the door intruding into the cycle lane. This physical separation simply would not be possible if the cycle lane was on the outside of the parking, and drivers parking would have to look out for cycle users on the cycle lane.

Fourthly, drainage is a problem that will need to be planned for, as the carriageway appears to drain into the cycle lane and large stretches of standing water have already been reported along this road. In the photos you can see some of the puddles formed by the rain earlier in the day. This will cause a hazard in icy weather, as well as making cycle users unpopular when they splash pedestrians. Future projects will need to plan drainage better than this one has.

Finally, junctions are still an issue. While this scheme does have some good features to help cycle users at junctions, side roads still are being given wider mouths than they perhaps need. Having motor vehicles turning into a side-road at an inappropriate speed is a common cause of collisions for cycle users. There are measures that can be taken to combat this, but they involve either extra space or the inconveniencing of motor vehicles through the use of ramps. This is still a challenge in the UK and we do not yet have many good examples of best practice that we can point at.


Curry Mile photo 1

A view of the old and new cycle lanes on the Curry Mile
Here we can see the radically different lines that the old and new cycle lanes have taken. The old lane was outside the parked cars, in the 'dooring' zone, with cycle users having to squeeze between parked and moving cars and other motor traffic. The new lane is away from the moving motor traffic and on the passenger side of the parked cars.


Curry Mile photo 2

A cycle lane protected by car parking spaces
Here we can see a passenger getting into a car, with the driver on the other side. The car door will protrude slightly into the cycle lane, but the kerb separating the two takes up much of the width of the car door. I did not feel that I had to worry about the door blocking my route. There are bollards on the kerbs to discourage parking in the cycle lane, but I did not see any cars parking in the cycle lane along here. Everyone seemed to be parking in the spaces provided, although the street may not have been at its busiest.


Curry Mile photo 3

A bus stop bypass on the Curry Mile
As well as parking spaces being on the outside of the cycle lane, the bus stops protect the cycle lanes. Here we can see a bus stop on a floating island, with a dropped kerb and tactile paving to indicate the crossing point for pedestrians. There is ample space for the bus users to wait for buses and get on and off without conflicting movements with cycle users.


Curry Mile photo 4

Pedestrians in the protected cycle lane
Here we can see (in the distance) pedestrians in the cycle lane. While most people were observing the pavement / cycle lane boundary, a few people did walk in the cycle lane. Because this was a cycle lane, and not a shared-use pavement, I felt comfortable asking them to let me past, and they did not give me any nasty looks. Everyone was happy to make space for me. Having a split level between the pavement and cycle lane like this certainly helps, I feel. And having clear pedestrian and cycle space helps to remove any irritation that a shared-use path might engender. That being said, I was cycling along at a sedate 10 mph or so. It might have been a different experience if I had been belting along to get to the office on time. Also of note is the opening for cycle users who want to cross the junction to get to the other side road. This thoughtful detail makes a lot of difference.


Curry Mile photo 5

A pedestrian island for a signalised crossing.
This photo has two points of interest: The first is the floating light-controlled pedestrian island here. The cycle lane by-passes the traffic lights here, giving a continuity to cycles that motor vehicles can not have. This is very important for favouring cycles and making their use more attractive. So, what should we do to meet the needs of pedestrians? Here we can see that the pedestrians first cross the cycle lane. This is narrow and cycles are not as threatening as buses or cars, so pedestrians have an uncontrolled crossing so they can fit between the gaps in cycle users. This solution acknowledges the inherent differences between cycle and motor traffic. The second is the way in which the junction has been designed to facilitate cycle users joining the cycle track. Next to the yellow hatched box, there are gaps in the kerb for cycle users joining Wilmslow Road from the side road to directly join the cycle lane. This gives an added convenience for cycle users. The junction is not perfect, however, as cycle users wishing to turn right off Wilmslow Road here have to join the general motor traffic by entering the ASL (see the give-way lines visible at the bottom of the photo).


Wilmslow Road photo 1

A bus stop bypass on Wilmslow Road
Here we can see a bus stop bypass on Wilmslow Road that is not ideal. The cycle lane has been taken behind the bus stop, but there was no space to provide a continuous pavement, so all pedestrians will have to cross the cycle track to the bus stop island and then cross back. I don't know the area, so I do not know if this is a busy location. I think that this is an acceptable compromise. It is better than having buses cross the cycle track twice, as cycle users pose far less risk to pedestrians than buses pose to cycle users. And it is good to have a clearly demarcated cycle track, so that pedestrians can predict where the cycle users will be going and can avoid them. This is better than a shared use pavement, and is a better compromise than a shared use pavement would have been.


Wilmslow Road photo 2

A segregated cycle lane on Wilmslow Road crossing the mouth of a side road
This photo shows the end of the bus stop bypass (the pedestrian crossing at the bottom of the photo) and how the cycle lane is taken across this side road. The cycle lane has clear priority over the side-road, and has been painted a clear green colour. That having been said, the physical protection has not extended right to the edge of the side road mouth, and my fear is that motor traffic may take this corner too quickly. Physical protection closer to the road mouth would have forced vehicles to take a tighter turning circle, and so travel more slowly. Just up the road from here is another side road with a wider mouth that may also have problems with motor vehicles taking the corner too quickly. On a positive note, the physical protection for the cycle lane continues, discouraging motor vehicles from parking in it or letting their wheels over run the line.


Wilmslow Road photo 3

An old hybrid cycle-track on Wilmslow Road
This photo shows the older infrastructure that was built previously. This particular section is good, with a clear kerb line to protect the cycle track and a bus lane outside the cycle track. However just past here, the cycle track stops at the bus stop, and restarts afterwards. More investment is needed to bring the rest of this road up to the standard shown by the new works.


Bus Stop Bypass at the start of Wilmslow Road

A bus stop bypass on Wilmslow Road
This bus stop bypass is an example of best practice. The pavement is very wide here, so space is not an issue, but this design can be used in more confined spaces. This has not been paid for by Cycle City Ambition Grant money, I believe, but instead through money allocated for improving the bus corridor along Oxford Road. The decision was made that buses would find it better if they were not crossing cycle lanes to get into and out of bus stops, as the bus drivers would have one less thing to worry about. The clearly defined cycle lane lets bus passengers predict the movement of cycles, and there is a mini zebra crossing in the middle, to give clear priority to bus passengers if necessary.