COVID-19 Cycling Walking

Letter on walking & cycling in Manchester during Covid19 sent to city council leader Sir Richard Leese

We’re publishing this letter sent to Manchester City Council leader Sir Richard Leese as it outlines our position on why it’s important to take positive, rapid action to support walking and cycling as part of the post-lockdown recovery of our city and Greater Manchester regional centre.


Dear Sir Richard,

I am contacting you on behalf of Walk Ride Greater Manchester’s groups and members in Manchester to ask for some information & clarification on the City Council’s active travel policy/priorities/intentions.


I know you’re concerned, as we are, about the economic and social impact of Covid19 on Manchester as we come out of lockdown and the way transportation can help or hinder Manchester’s recovery.


It’s been good to see some of the measures being taken to aid physical distancing, such as the part-pedestrianisation of Deansgate, widening of sections of Princess Street and Wilmslow Road for pedestrians, expansion of the Thomas Street scheme and other moves, including the acceleration of the Levenshulme active neighbourhood.


We are keen to hear what further action is being planned in Manchester at this crucial time, to understand more about the council’s priorities, and find out how we and others can contribute.


We understand the wide range of difficult issues the city and council is facing in these unprecedented times – and were therefore pleased to see there is now ring-fenced funding available and statutory guidance from the Government to prioritise walking and cycling as essential services and key to the economic recovery post-lockdown.


Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, has said: “Towns and cities based around active travel will have happier and healthier citizens as well as lasting local economic benefits. The government therefore expects local authorities to make significant changes to their road layouts to give more space to cyclists and pedestrians.”


It’s clear from the guidance, that these awards are likely to go to those councils which demonstrate firm understanding of the role active travel can play in making cities and district centres cleaner, greener, fairer places to travel around in order to live and work well.


We’re therefore keen to understand how your team are working towards Manchester as one of those, and how we can be of assistance to ensure we don’t pass up this clear opening to #buildbackbetter.


Like you, we’re very much concerned about the welfare and economic issues facing our city where hundreds of thousands remain furloughed, many sectors face a big struggle to restart and city centre businesses are challenged by getting staff back into workplaces and customers back into shops & food & drink outlets. We’re also acutely aware of the financial problems facing councils through lost income and increased expenditure.


For this reason we believe it’s all the more important to make good use of the nearly £16m of Emergency Active Travel Funding from the Department of Transport to Greater Manchester councils (via the GMCA).


We are keen to understand if Manchester City Council is planning to apply for this funding via / with the GMCA, and if so what the plans are for its allocation?


Below we share the reasons why we think action is needed and our ideas for what could be done.


Why do we believe action is needed right now?


  • There is ring-fenced funding available – By our calculations, there has been an initial £500k from TfGM/GMCA under #SafeStreetsSavesLives, £15.87m Emergency Active Travel fund for GMCA from which Manchester could justifiably claim at least £3m, plus a further £225k for bike storage at Piccadilly station, and £488k from the Reopening High Streets fund. This means Manchester could have access to £4m or more over this period – and more if schemes were ambitious and met the criteria


  • Walking and cycling are now essential travel services with government instructing local authorities to reallocate road space to pedestrians and cyclists and providing a toolkit: Guidance says measures should be taken “as swiftly as possible, and in any event within weeks, given the urgent need to change travel habits before the restart takes full effect”. The toolkit is for immediate interventions and none of it is new: “they are interventions that are a standard part of the traffic management toolkit, but a step-change in their roll-out is needed to ensure a green restart.”


  • Nearly half (45%) of households in Manchester do not have access to a car *: with most of these people from the least well-off families** With capacity on public transport slashed due to social distancing requirements + public fear of risking infection, people need alternative ways to travel especially to be fair to lower-paid workers without cars.

There’s urgent need for two things;

    • improved pedestrian routes within and between neighbourhoods
    • safe cycling routes for journeys too far for most people will walk (e.g. 1-4 miles)
      • (*2011 census data, most recent available)
      • (** Bike Life 2019 GM report, Sustrans)


  • The future economic outlook is shaky, meaning we need to build a truly resilient transport network to enable people to get to jobs: Unemployment has soared, and there’s very good reason to believe that will continue. It’s quite possible even more people won’t be able to afford a car, and/or will default on their car finance. With public transport largely out of the picture for many for the foreseeable (and already at high capacity pre-Covid), this is all the more reason why we need a more resilient transport network to get people into and out of the city centre. The more options people have for how to travel, the more likely they will be able to access jobs, and retail and food & drink outlets rather than, for instance, driving to outlet centres such as the Trafford Centre


  • Supporting the food and drink economy: Removing non-essential traffic from more of the city centre will provide more space for restaurants and cafes to enable patrons to socially distance outside and help revive the food and drink economy. This again means needing ways for people to get to the city centre without car or public transport


  • There is a public appetite to travel more by foot and bikeactive travel journeys are up 33%, with cycling up 42% or higher – and on some days we hear there have been as many as 170,000 journeys being made by bike. Some are for leisure – but more are  for essential journeys. Lockdown has clearly demonstrated that more people will choose active travel if they share space with fewer vehicles. With more cars on the road again, we need more protected space to encourage this behaviour to persist. In Manchester we have the further advantage of a large areas of flat geography and relatively short distances travelled (77% of journeys in the UK are five miles or less). Moreover, we’re going into four months of summer with warm, long days.


  • We agree with your point last week that walking is a priority (and see our ideas below for how that can be further supported).  However, we also need to get people into the city centre from greater distances: To do that – we should be prioritising making it easy and safe for people on bikes, because :
    • public transport will remain very limited
    • almost half households don’t have access to cars (according to 2011 data)
    • roads into the city cannot take more vehicles than pre-lockdown without gridlock / and even more anti-social rat-running in residential areas such as Hulme & Ancoats
    • A big influx of cars will also fill up existing car-parking in the city centre and people will be forced to park anti-socially/on pavements, further restricting pedestrians and making it more difficult to socially distance (we are already seeing in this in areas like the top of Oxford Street)
    • our city centre businesses, shops, bars & restaurants need customers – and cycling is the one transport over longer distances that has capacity, at the moment, to grow and fulfil some of that need



  • To increase cycling, we need to help new cyclists become more confident and feel safe: During lockdown, we have seen a new demographic taking to bikes with bike shops booming and selling out – but our newcomers need help. Research has long shown the key barrier to cycling is perceived safety concerns, and the number one thing to turn this around would be safe, segregated cycle lanes on main roads.
    • On foot or wheelchair the priorities are: wider & smoother footways; low or no-traffic streets where access is limited to those on foot or bike; and a crackdown on pavement parking and introduction/enforcement of slower speeds 
    • By bike (some of which are also used as mobility aids – see Bike Life report), the priority is safe, segregated cycle lanes on main roads to get people to jobs and in and out of the city, and around it.
    • And for both modes, we’re hoping you are planning urgent measures to provide safe walking and cycling for kids, so they can get to school on foot or bike so we can avoid a school run explosion from 15 June when schools start returning fully


  • Lastly, the Council acknowledged a need to reduce traffic into the city centre even before Covid-19: As laid out in the city’s guiding policy documents (such as the Clean Air Zone, Zero Carbon Framework, Made to Move, draft City Centre Transport Strategy); we’ve agreed as a city there’s a need to reduce traffic into the city centre – to reduce congestion, pollution, carbon emissions and levels of physical inactivity. With active travel already a key target for the council and city, this crisis means we have a choice to take proactive interventions to enable and maintain these changes. If we wait until traffic increases again, doing so will only get harder and more expensive


What do we suggest the Council do with this funding?




  • Large scale ‘filtering’ of Manchester city-centre – For example the Northern Quarter has a community led scheme with strong business and resident support to remove on-street parking, all through traffic and create delivery-only streets for the whole district. They have collaborated to identify essential access points and places where full pedestrianisation would be possible, all to help local businesses recover and residents, many of whom have no gardens or places to exercise, make better use of the streets. This approach can be expanded into other key retail, food & drink areas such as the full-length of Deansgate, Cross Street and others* – prioritised as per footfall/space requirements and economic spending data, for instance


  • Safer walking routes between destination points in the city centre: In the city centre, please enable safer, easier, clutter-free routes from key points across the centre

For example popular thoroughfares such as:

    • St Peter’s Square to Piccadilly station
    • Upper Deansgate to Piccadilly station
    • And so on – using footfall/usage data to inform the choice of routes


  • Outside of the city centre; Safer walking around our districts: More people will carry on working from home and accessing local shops. Action to facilitate safer walking should be prioritised in district centres especially around shopping & entertainment areas


  • General: Slow down traffic by introducing 20mph or even lower speeds in residential areas and improve pedestrian crossings/add more temporary crossings at ‘desire line’ points ie where people want to cross, not inconvenient and indirect routes.


  • Clear communication against pavement parking – including: funding signs to deter idling engines and pavement parking; and a request for the government to bring back the planned consultation on restricting pavement parking in England (as it is in London) and allow councils to benefit from enforcement revenue (was due this summer)





  • The Triangle: three key city centre cycle routes to facilitate safe, direct journeys across the city and keep bikes away from pedestrians 
    • Whitworth Street (linking Piccadilly to Oxford Road/Deansgate station)
    • Deansgate full length (linking Deansgate station with Victoria/Northern Quarter)
    • Victoria – Piccadilly (expanded route linking all the way through the Northern Quarter)


  • City Connections: Ensure walking/cycling provision on arterial routes from outlying areas is joined up: Walking & cycling routes in a neighbouring borough need to continue across borders to ensure people can get between their homes and jobs eg Trafford A56 route ends at Manchester’s border; Stretford cycle land ends on Manchester border. All outlying routes into the centre need to connect up to the city.


  • Highways teams cycle lanes/resurfacing – add painted cycle lanes, don’t remove them


  • Provide low-cost temporary secure bikes – we understand there is to be an e-bike rental scheme from spring 2021 which is welcomed, in the meantime, is it possible to ask TfGM to consider  a deal with some of the big bike rental companies and manufacturers to provide affordable/free bikes to more of our residents especially key workers (we understand this could be covered by the funding)


  • Provide low-cost temporary secure bike parking via eg on street hangars to prevent bike theft perhaps using some of the £225k awarded from the same Emergency Active Travel Fund


On cycling as a final point, having looked at current cycle provision within the city as well as the proposed routes into the centre, it’s clear that further provision is urgently needed. At present, the closure of upper Deansgate to vehicles has highlighted just how few routes there are across the city.


What is the Council doing?


We do know there is lots of work going on around this topic for which we are thankful – and clearly not everything we have outlined above is possible with these funds – but we would really like to understand more in the short and medium to long term.

This is so we can understand your priorities and align our work, our public engagement and our messaging. We’ve partnered with other GM Councils to work together and provide our assistance and hope we can do the same in Manchester.


We understand that the deadline is as soon as this Friday, or thereabouts, for any submissions to this fund.

Please could you let us know:


  • What is Manchester’s proposal for a share of the £16m to enable safer walking in Manchester?


  • What is Manchester’s proposal for a share of the £16m to enable safer cycling in Manchester?


  • Does Manchester support the pop-up bike lanes on strategic corridors from outlying areas into the borough of Manchester and on to the city centre that have been proposed by the GMCA (a plan reported here)
      • A6 from Stockport
      • A57 from Tameside
      • A62 from Oldham
      • A56 from Bury/Salford
      • A34 & A5103 from South Manchester
      • A56 from Trafford



  • In addition, could we ask what alternative plans you have to enable safer cycling for journeys of 1-4 miles? (We understand and support moves for safer walking but this is a specific question about cycling)


Why we’d like to work together with you & your team


Finally, we would like to enter into a dialogue about this important issue and request a meeting to discuss short and longer term plans for the borough and city centre, with yourself and the Executive Member Angeliki Stogia.


We know Manchester has ambitions to be a world-leading city and scores highly on many metrics – increasingly the provision for walking and cycling and how they contribute to healthy place-making and community well-being are right at the top of that list, as is being swiftly grasped by cities like Paris and Berlin.


It’s not just on the continent though, change is happening more quickly in the UK too. Not just in London, which is introducing the largest car-free zone in Europe – but in cities just like ours such as Birmingham, accelerating it’s radical traffic-free city centre plan, Glasgow announcing a range of short and long term measures including strategic active travel corridors and school car-free zones, and Liverpool, which is investing £2m in 100km of pop-up lanes.


While we realise there will be much call on both your time at the moment, we do believe you both agree that this has the power to further transform our borough and help us #buildbackbetter.


We hope you will welcome a chance to engage with our grassroots organisation supporting active travel, and discuss how we can use our passionate support for this mission to benefit our community, especially at a time we know council resources are stretched thin and where we might be able to help.


Finally – may I pass on a heartfelt thank you for the hard work of yourself, other elected members, and all the council teams through this crisis to date,


Kind regards,

Walk Ride Greater Manchester, in Manchester

(Sent Tuesday 2 June)




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