Review: WalkRide GM’s 1st Birthday General Meeting
Words by Charles Ward.
Photographs by Jonathan Keenan.
The first birthday of WalkRride GM was celebrated on 3 December at the Friends’ Meeting House, along with 100 enthusiastic attendees.
Proceedings were opened by Nadia Kerr, who reminded everyone of the sterling efforts of the founding members in late 2018, spurred on by Helen Pidd’s initial campaign for improved safety on the Fallowfield Loop. Over the first year, the core group’s campaigns have been:
- Bikes on trams
- A pedestrian and cycling friendly cycling city, focused on the pedestrianisation of Deansgate
- A ban on pavement parking; and
- Civilising the school run
Progress on each has been mixed and each was covered in more detail as the meeting went on.
Claire Stocks then took the audience through the 12 days of Christmas, with the highlights being community engagement, the beginnings of the Bee Network, quick wins (including parklets and lift sharing schemes), car-free streets and progress on public transport (including improvements to the tram network and bus consultation – don’t forget to respond by 8 January, via this link).
More recently, we’ve seen additional funding for Sustrans, which will lead to improved infrastructure on the Fallowfield Loop, as well as schemes in Bolton, Bury and Salford.
Chris Boardman – Bee Network
Greater Manchester’s Cycling and Walking Commissioner, Chris Boardman, then talked through his view on progress this year. He admitted that 2017 was a watershed moment for him when he was “handed” £1.5 billion, but had no idea what to do with it. Since then, the Bee Network has received £160 million of actual funding, his team now comprises 50 people and they have delivered over 5,000 hours of training.
Chris’ team has approved 82 schemes, which are worth over £500 million and cover 500 miles of infrastructure. There are also 15 active neighbourhoods signed off and public feedback on the first parklets has been overwhelmingly positive.
His team is now being held to account, thanks to a TfGM tracking site, which was inspired by active travel campaigner Sam Cycles.
The key challenges for Chris are the scale of the challenge – 600 councillors to persuade – and the inertia of what’s gone before.
Chris acknowledged that Manchester is not the leading city, but his focus is on “fast change” and he encouraged us all to be vocal, to challenge the local authorities and to publicise our successes.
During the Q&A session, Chris dealt with a number of issues, including the availability of funding (there but keep pushing), maintenance of implemented schemes (essential, part of Bee Network), cultural change for drivers (poor – we all need to push for better policing) and bike share schemes (slow and harder than he thought).
Finally, Chris highlighted the £250,000 being spent on the implied zebra scheme, which should demonstrate evidence to the ‘risk’-averse Department for Transport that they are safer than nothing. Results are due to be published in April 2020, so this should lead to implementations in 2020/21.
Overall, he was optimistic that, after two years of planning and navigating the status quo of local authorities’ management structures, we will see spades in the ground in 2020, and it will be difficult to count the number of schemes being moved forward.
Dafydd Trystan – Ysgol Hamadryad car-free school
We were then treated to a truly inspirational session from Dafydd, who is a governor at the UK’s first car-free school. The full story is available to read here, but the key achievements and strategy points we took away were:
- Active travel plans for each child in the school, which is now a requirement of all new applicants
- Challenging established mindsets and design standards, e.g. “appropriate” number of car parking spaces versus bike parking spaces – BREEAM ‘excellence’ standards said 40 cycle parking spaces would cater for 420 kids!
- Engagement strategy with all key stakeholders, not just the parents, including road planners, governors, local residents and the wider local authority
- The need for hard infrastructure as well as local enforcement / naming and shaming
Dafydd also summarised the ongoing challenges, including school timetables (necessitating multiple walking buses, rather than just one) and “21st century school” guidance, and teachers (50% still drive).
The next steps for the school are to implement strategies for staff, visitors and deliveries; to implement a shared bike scheme; and to lobby for a new walking and cycling bridge across the river adjacent to the school grounds. He also warned of the potential for unintended consequences such as an increase in resident parking/traffic as a result of banning commuter parking in the area.
Questions after the sessions covered whether there is a requirement for helmets (he said that this is considered a personal choice, as it should be); how the health benefits are being measured (he said this is work in progress); and provision for the disabled (he said that personal plans / strategies are crucial).
WalkRide Prestwich (Nick Hubble and Andrea Sandor)
We finished the evening with a presentation from Nick and Andrea about their experiences of being involved in WalkRide Prestwich.
Nick started by talking through the timeline of the group coming together, which has culminated in a bid being submitted to the Bee Network.
His biggest challenges have been dialogue, particularly with local councillors and the fact that it needs more than social media; there is a need to engage with the community.
The key to the group’s success has been the lively core members, positive engagement with individual communities and the establishment of a Walking and Cycling Forum within the local authority.
Andrea then talked about her experience as a female cyclist. Having not cycled as a child (due to numerous highways surrounding her high school), she embraced her bike after moving to Dundee and enjoying the fantastic local (off-road) provision. However, on moving to Manchester, she initially stopped cycling (particularly when faced with Bury New Road), but has since engaged on local group rides and started commuting to work.
Sadly, the advent of winter has stopped this, which reinforced Andrea’s view that safe infrastructure is key and that this will lead to behaviour change. She explained how the WRP group has engaged on this by running a number of projects to move things forward, including community events, street audits, on-street surveys and monthly meetings. More good things will follow…
Finally, Claire wrapped up with a summary of what lies ahead in 2020 – the key messages being:
- There has been progress, but not enough.
- We should all lobby for improved policing this year.
- We are a force to be reckoned with in the region and we should continue to work locally, but speak with a region-wide voice.
- We should continue to pressure our local representatives where they are not doing enough and praise them where they are.