18 September 2007

The last mile (and a half)

My daily cyclommute is 7 miles and on the way down into town it takes me on average 45'. That said, the first 5.5 miles take 30' - 35'. If I set off at 9am from Whitefield, I pass Manchester Cathedral at 9.30am. Where do the other 15' go?

The answer is: city centre traffic design. Yes, I am a bit of a zealot when it comes to traffic lights - I may sometimes join pedestrians when the little green man lights up, but otherwise I never go through red lights. The problem is that, once you reach the Cathedral, traffic lights multiply like rabbits on all main roads leading anywhere. This is compounded by the one-way system. I can't help but think that this is all design with the car in mind, with some provisions to appease pedestrians by providing them crossing points at frequent intervals (in the understanding that, at busy times, they will ignore all lights and just cross when and where they want to), and cyclists just do not feature in these calculations.

I have tried de-touring to side-streets. I have actually measured myself against other cyclists whom I knew were going to the same destination and stuck to the main roads, so I can say that side roads may give you the impression of saving you time, but in effect they make no difference at all - not with any consistency, at least. You see, it all hinges on how the gods of traffic lights look upon you: some mornings they show you nothing but green, other times they conspire to slow your progress to a miserable crawl. The former usually happens in sunny weather, the latter tends to coincide with rain (at least in my memories).

I could, of course, join the legion of cyclists that to their shame simply ignore traffic lights and treat busy crossings as challenges to their balance skills and hand-foot-eye coordination. But I just don't want to - the moral ground, once you get to it, is a very comforting place and I'd like to remain there and feel entitled to be sanctimonious when I want to.

More seriously - and I never thought I'd hear myself say this - the solution... is revolution: pedestrianise more of Manchester, off-set by a park-and-ride scheme (perhaps building on the successful and free Metroshuttle) and thus create the conditions for a network of pedestrian and cycling avenues into the heart of the city.

You may say I'm a dreamer...


Holmesinho said...

Hi George,
I cycle Prestwich to Salford Quays each day via Rainsough Brew and Littleton Road to avoid BNR and all the lights. My route is 6.5 miles with just 5 sets of lights so can do it in about 25 minutes with a favourable wind.
Good on you for stopping at red, so many don't; even the 'proper' looking cyclist on good bikes seem to jump them these days.
cheers, Nigel

George said...


I have sometimes wondered about trying the route you describe, then head into the city centre from Salford (I believe some of that is marked 'National Cycling Route 6'). I've even toyed with the idea of going from Whitefield through Phillips Park, on paper at least that route joins Littleton Rd (at the little roundabout where Agecroft Rd, Rainbough Brew and Littleton Rd converge). But 'exploration' and commuting don't mix well, I'm always in a hurry to get to work, etc etc. I keep saying I'll get up early on a warm and sunny mid-June morning and give it a go. Watch this space.

Anonymous said...

Kudos for stopping on Reds...

...I've found if I time it badly I can find myself hitting every single traffic light on red but this seldom happens.

I would just concentrate on trying finding a bit more speed on the first 5 miles of your commute!

As for pedestrianisation ... I prefer the idea of a congestion charge as that will do more to encourage cycling. Park & Ride is just a reallocation of space and parking all those cars becomes someone elses problem. Pedestrianisation will not do anything to directly encourage cycling (especially when allied to park & ride schemes) and it will just generate more conflict between cyclists and pedestrians.


Holmesinho said...

I'm a Sustrans Ranger for route 6 so my opinion might be biased but I was already using 4 miles of the route through Salford before it was signed. It has to be one of the more useful stretches of the network. Route 6 is sign around the back of Philips Park but it's very muddly and Bury MBC aren't likely to make any improvements at the moment because the area is due for redevelopment in the next few years. I hope a better surface and more direct route will then be defined from Rainsough Brew to the M60 footbridge.
If you follow the route 6 signs through Salford you go over a couple of traffic free bridges bringing you out on Adephi St. Then after crossing the A6 the signed route is currently spoilt by the Middlewood Lock redevelopment, but once it's completed the signs will lead you to the Princes Bridge close to Granada studios and the Science museum. Hope this helps and if you want to meet up I'll be at the next critical commute from Prestwich.
cheers, Nigel

George said...

Ed_O_Brain, you are right re. pedestrianisation... I was just ranting, not proposing policy. If it was a matter of policy, it would have to refer not to 'what is good for cyclists' but what is good for the city in terms of transport, given certain objectives which have to be balanced: environment, economic viability of Gtr Mcr, people's preferences, lifestyle, family committments, work-life balance etc.

As to increasing my speed in the 1st five miles of the journey... theoretically possible, yes. In practice, I fear I've peaked.