Will a new mayor in Manchester encourage cycling?

Caroline Russell has many ideas for Manchester's new mayor

Will a new mayor in Manchester encourage cycling?

Caroline Russell is a cycle campaigner and London Assembly Member. She hopes that Manchester's elected mayor will prioritise cycling in the city.

Greater Manchester is due to have its first Mayor of a new combined authority in May next year.

This new Mayor, whoever it ends up being, will gain significant powers over transport over a huge metropolitan area, from Wigan to Stockport, and from Bury to Trafford. After recent developments, this is arguably the largest transport-connected area in the country outside London.

This is a huge opportunity to shake up how people get around in Manchester, and an opportunity to have healthier streets, better transport options, and, ultimately, better lives.

The new Mayor could opt for a business-as-usual approach of a car-dominated urban area, or they could take a new course, which would help solve the problems that car dependency causes."

Caroline Russell, cycle campaigner and London Assembly Member

The new Mayor could opt for a business-as-usual approach of a car-dominated urban area, or they could take a new course, which would help solve the problems that car dependency causes.

We have big problems in our urban areas with air pollution. In London, nearly 10,000 people die prematurely each year because of air pollution. Unfortunately, this isn’t a problem just limited to the capital. Research by Bath University for the World Health Organisation found that 90% of the UK population live in areas breaching WHO air quality limits, with Manchester listed just below London as being one of the worst-affected areas.

As someone who has campaigned for many years for better conditions for people walking and cycling, my absolute priority is reducing danger on our streets and enabling people to make their local journeys on foot or by bike.

The Greens in the London Assembly have done much to make walking and cycling a big priority in London, along with other transport issues such as air pollution. Manchester needs its political champions too, to push this agenda forward.

The new Mayor should, prioritise walking and cycling across the city. London-style cycle superhighways could be built, allowing cyclists to travel quickly, directly and safely. Separation of people cycling from other traffic is not the whole answer though. We need to put pressure on hauliers to use the safest lorries available.

The Mayor of London has recently announced he will gradually remove high-cab Heavy Goods Vehicles from the streets of London to protect cyclists and pedestrians. A new Manchester Mayor should push for this, as well as giving people more opportunities to use alternatives to cars. Extending the Metrolink light rail system to cover even more areas would be one way to to this.

‘Car free’ days could be mooted by the new Mayor. Although they are no substitute for decisive action on air pollution and traffic reduction, they do send a powerful message about how a city without cars is possible and would have huge benefits for Mancunian’s health and wellbeing. Paris recently closed thousands of miles of roads for their car-free day, and the Mayor of London has hinted that London could do something similar in the future. Manchester could follow suit, but only with a Mayor with the political will to challenge the status quo.

This takes courage, but it’s a massive opportunity to create a healthier, better city. In London, it’s calculated that more walking and cycling could bring £2.2 billion in health benefits. There are massive health benefits for any city that takes a new approach. Until we have a transport system that values active travel, we will continue to live in towns and cities dominated by motor vehicles and polluted by toxic tailpipe emissions.

Let’s hope the new Mayor of Greater Manchester, whoever they end up being, can take the courageous decisions to grasp these challenges.

Caroline Russell spoke at the Cycling UK Annual Member's Get Together in Manchester on 8 October. 

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