Making a Beeline for Manchester

Written by Alex Bennett

Social media executive

Chris Boardman announces £500m walking & cycling initiative for Greater Manchester.

Manchester looks to a Dutch-style network to prioritise cycling.

From Olympic gold medallist to cycling commissioner for Greater Manchester, Chris Boardman is already making a mark in his new role, after convincing town hall bosses to spend the same amount on cyclists and pedestrians as some of the most cycle friendly cities in Europe.

Beelines – a name chosen to reflect Manchester’s worker bee symbol – will include 75 miles of segregated cycle lanes in a style inspired by the well-established infrastructures of the Netherlands, and will be the largest connected network in the UK.

The recently published plans are estimated to have a combined cost of £500 million, and is only the first phase of a £1.5billion investment into cycling and walking.

Velosure’s Managing Director Ken Specter recently attended a meeting in Manchester with partners Sustrans, a registered charity that works nationally to improve the cycling and walking communities in the UK, to hear Chris Boardman outline the plan for the Beelines initiative.

Speaking of the meeting Mr Specter said: “Chris Boardman spoke calmly and with considerable modesty considering the enormous contribution he has made in persuading the local authority and the Mayor to embrace in a pioneering spirit what will surely be a blueprint for the major towns and city centres of the UK moving forward.”

“Sustrans continues to push hard for real investment and improvement and many areas of the country are now seeing the benefits in traffic calming measures and cycle lanes in key areas.”

He also added: “Velosure and its policyholders will work to support these initiatives by highlighting the need for investment and commitment to improving infrastructure. We are pleased to be affiliated with Sustrans, supporting their national mission. As members of the cycling community we want to help by making sure insurance is affordable and relevant to our policyholders cycling experiences day to day.”

Boardman has persuaded Greater Manchester’s mayor, Andy Burnham, to allocate £160 million to the Beeline projects initial four years, which translates to a spend on cycling and walking to roughly £15 per head, the same amount of investment as renowned cycling cities such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen.

It will be the highest investment in cycling and walking than that of any other UK city.

In a statement highlighting his commitment to improving cycling and walking in the region, Boardman said he was “absolutely unapologetic” about taking road space away from motor vehicles.

Speaking to the Guardian, the gold medallist - who also wore the yellow jersey at the Tour De France - said: “If you want to make people change their habits you’ve got to give them a viable alternative and in some cases that’s re-prioritising streets and that’s what we are doing.”

“We’ve given way too much priority to the vociferous minority. We’ve wrongly prioritised road space.”

Once completed, the Beeline network will connect every community within Greater Manchester, opening up as much as 90% of the region.

Boardman also intends to push for a change in traffic light systems, allowing cyclists and pedestrians more time and priority to cross the busiest junctions in the area more safely.

Also included in the plans is a proposal for 1,400 safe crossings and 25 “filtered neighbourhoods” that will prioritise the movement of people, as well as the creation of social spaces for sitting, playing and relaxing.

According to statistics, around 250 million car journeys of less than 1km are made each year in the region, which is the equivalent of a 5 minute bike ride or 15 minute walk. The majority of these journeys are school runs, and roughly 2% of children in Greater Manchester cycle to school. This is in stark contrast to the cycling Mecca of Amsterdam, where around 50% of children cycle to school every day.

Providing a viable alternative to these often unnecessary short motor trips will also help reduce air pollution, something that costs the Greater Manchester region £1 billion every year due to dangerously high levels.

Commenting on the initiative, Mayor Andy Burnham said: “Greater Manchester has a long history of doing innovative things and our approach to Beelines is no different. This proposal is bold and I make no apology for that. If we are to cut congestion and clean up our air, decisive action is needed. I want to make Greater Manchester one of the top 10 places in the world to live and it is action of this sort which will help to deliver that promise.”

Ken Specter also added: “It is no surprise that Manchester has boomed in recent years; this is no doubt due to the innovation and entrepreneurial spirit of the business owners and their staff but it is difficult to achieve without the infrastructure and foundations which a local authority can do so much to support.”