Chris Boardman outlines his vision as new GM transport commissioner: ‘a network that enables me to choose it over driving’ and signals a change in pace and structure to deliver it

Chris Boardman outlines his vision as new GM transport commissioner: ‘a network that enables me to choose it over driving’ and signals a change in pace and structure to deliver it

Chris Boardman has been appointed to an expanded role as Transport Commissioner for Greater Manchester. In his first detailed interview since taking on the role he answers eight key questions from Walk Ride supporters and shows he means business:

  • His vision is for ‘a network that would make him choose it over driving’
  • A restructure ‘almost certainly’ coming, to deliver the integrated network
  • New Bee Network delivery board -featuring two GM council leaders
  • Will be calling on ‘influential allies’ to help secure Government funding
  • Says road danger has been his biggest failing to date and vows to tackle it including pushing for ‘meaningful consequences for dangerous and intimidating behaviour’
  • Also agrees pavement parking must be tackled – but transition needed as people have got used to using public space this way
  • Says will not fund things that does not meet guidelines and has written to councils reminding them of risks of not delivering 
  • Says if access barriers have to be used – must be a 1.5m gap and his preference is for bollards
  • Says WRGM’s biggest role is building support and consensus with local councillors

You watch the video Chris recorded for Walk Ride GM here, or read the transcript below.

Q1. Congratulations on being appointed Transport Commissioner last month – can you tell us your top three priorities in this expanded role?
A:

I’m an advisor to the mayor with a much expanded brief; trams, trains and active travel – everything people need to not have to drive. 

I’m going to be the person across the details on these modes, to give the mayor considered advice on how best to deliver the Bee Network – and he will take the decisions he chooses. 

I {also} co-ordinate Active Travel on his behalf – everything from discussions with stakeholders, such as yourselves, from councillors to government. 

We’ve now set up his weekly Bee Network delivery board – so he can stay across everything in real time. It’s been a frantic few weeks putting everything in place – a huge learning curve for me personally … and I’m choosing to tackle this very complex world in a simplistic way.

I start with the overriding question – ‘what would I need from this network for me to choose it over driving?’ because ultimately that is what this mission is, and if it doesn’t make me change, it doesn’t work; so super complex and super simple at same time.

As for top three priorities I’ll give you four –

  1. Define what this network must be to ensure it is successful – success being defined as being able to choose it over driving
  2. Ensure the definition of that network is shared by all the districts {10 councils}
  3. Clarify and agree the priority actions to deliver the network – because it won’t be easy 
  4. Bring it all together to get long-term government support to actually get it done

So that’s my work package for the next four months; lots of big scary stuff but also incredibly exciting –  setting up for a genuine recovery, a post Covid world that is sustainable going forward, both ecologically and financially.

Q2. Delivering an integrated transport system presumably needs a different structure to the one we currently have – what changes do you foresee?
A:

By definition this has to be cross border, GM wide, shared, co-ordinated, {the} whole mission has got to be collective. 

Andy has been re-elected so the challenges involved with delivering a successful network are now being addressed {as we} could not do it until he was in post and that’s why he has asked me to set up the Bee Network Board, which at moment consists of myself, the mayor and two leaders, with officers advising us very closely.

So there is really good political oversight of the mission, which is all very new for the city region.

To meet Government’s need, and deliver fast enough to meet climate commitments as well as lots of commitments in other GM strategies that depend on this network being successful, we are almost certainly going to require a different way of working.

Just a few weeks in now, all I can tell you is that those discussions have started.

Q3. When can we expect to see Bee Network branding on the streets – and what’s your take on using it for the whole transport network as Andy Burnham pledged in his manifesto? (and was that your idea??)
A:

It was Andy’s idea to be clear – and I was slightly surprised by it, and I think it’s a really good thing!

Branding on streets {will be there} very soon, in the next few months. 

Branding work is happening right now to ensure that what we do for Active Travel, which got here first, meshes with other elements of the network – specifically buses as they come online.

But active travel, wayfinding and bike hire are almost certainly going to be the first branding that appears – watch this space.

{But} make no mistake Active Travel is the very foundation of the bigger mission – it has to be the first step out of the door otherwise that first step will lead to the car – and nothing after that {decision} matters.

We haven’t solved the branding hierarchy – we have just started that now Andy has flatteringly adopted the Bee Network brand – but we are on it – and Active Travel is going to be a major stakeholder as that develops.

Q4. We know you and the teams are stepping up the pace in 2021 – the year of delivery as you have dubbed it – but we have had multiple questions from people who feel walking and cycling schemes continue to take too long in their neighbourhood and meanwhile roads get busier and more dangerous. What more can be done about this – and how can Walk Ride groups help speed things up?
A:

My role is to co-ordinate and advise of ways around problems but I cannot direct – nor should I.

TfGM can only implement, or help implement, the wishes of each council.

So I’m being repetitive – but as the system is right now, local councillors are absolutely key to speed and ambition – they are the ones who need to know how the public feel and what they want.

And also the ones who should get lots of visible credit for taking brave steps because this isn’t easy for them, and it’s important to recognise that.

For me that should be your focus – getting that message to those people and helping those people – help find solutions for them and keep it high on their agenda.

Another thing likely to change in the next few months is the targeting of overall transport funding settlements from the Government.

Walking, buses and bikes are the key modes to tackle transport emissions and climate change – and to deliver the Gear Change and Bus Back Better policies – which are sensational by the way – so we have some  very influential Active Travel allies in the highest places…

Q5. We are hearing the Government may pull back from a London-style pavement parking ban and leave it to councils – would you get behind a GM wide ban on pavement parking given what a deterrent this is to smooth and safe use of the footways – but also the message it sends about cars having priority over other users?
A:

GM can do this if it wants right now, via traffic regulation orders, and in fact in our response {to the Pavement Parking consultation} we made clear it is our priority to tackle the Bee Network first ..

The double buggy test for walking means pavements need to be clear of parked vehicles, or it does not pass the test – so yes I would get behind measures to get pavement parking under control.

The only area I’ll be happy to compromise on – is the transition. 

People have built their lives around how they have been allowed to use public space – understandably, so they should be helped and given time to adjust.

But to be clear this is about sympathetic implementation not dodging the problem; it’s about making that change in a pragmatic way.

Q6. Road deaths, serious injuries and incidents continue to rise. What’s your plan for how to work with police and curb the dangerous behaviors that deter people from travelling actively in the first place, supressing demand?
A:

The mayor has made a commitment to publish a road danger action plan – not a strategy – an action plan – and I’ve had some really positive meetings about this already.

This isn’t just about policing – which is part of the problem – no one organisation owns this plan – but the mayor via his Bee Network board will pull this together. 

It’s on the agenda literally now, and is the single most important thing for Active Travel and has frankly been my biggest failure in the last three years, and I intend to rectify that if I possibly can.

We’ll {also} take it up at national level too to push for meaningful consequences for dangerous and intimidating behaviour.

Q7. You’ve been very clear there will be/are strict quality control for Bee Network schemes. Why are councils still installing inaccessible infrastructure that disregards both LTN 1/20 {the Government’s guidelines} and Bee Network design standards? 
A:

Access control barriers are allowed in government guidance as long as they leave a 1.5m gap. 

To be clear I don’t like chicane barriers and will recommend they are not used, I prefer bollards if any access control has to be used – so paths are accessible to all and measures are then just visually more appealing.

Everyone has agreed in the standards adopted by the GM Combined Authority to not fund anything that doesn’t meet our, and now Government’s standards, and that is within my gift as commissioner.

But I will not, and can’t really, refuse to fund things that meet the guidance – if only just.

{Having said that} I’m not happy with some infrastructure meeting the letter and not the spirit of the agreed guidance – and so I will be writing to all councils to remind them of the commitments they made to doing this and the risk of future funding and reputation with Department for Transport and Active Travel England for not adhering to LTN1/20. 

Q8. Many communities and grassroots groups are willing and able to gather thoughts and develop plans for improving walking and cycling –  how do we get councils to engage with communities to get these ideas into plans and then delivered?
A:

Gather numbers – as you are.

Discuss with individual councillors, understand their problems and try to help them find solutions. 

Lobby them to take the views of residents forward – ask them to speak to, and get support from, fellow councillors.

Essentially – build consensus.

The collective Covid experience {plus} climate change – {means} the landscape is changing really fast – GM are about three to four years ahead of the game on this and as a consequence this region is more ready than most for the pressures that are coming from above to change at pace.

This next mayoral term is going to be a rollercoaster I think – and not everybody likes roller coasters…

\So watch this space, there’s certainly going to be plenty of news coming forward and thanks for your passion and commitment.



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