“It’s understandable,” Chris Boardman MBE, Manchester’s cycling and walking commissioner, says when asked about what he makes of some of the responses to Levenshulme’s newly-installed traffic-calming measures.
“A lot of this is new territory – it has never been done before on this scale.
“It’s going to be a year of people saying that they didn’t know about it as they begin to notice and pay attention to what’s happening.”
The traffic-calming measures, installed on Monday (January 4) as part of a six-month trial in Levenshulme, aim to turn the area into an Active Neighbourhood, by using methods that encourage people to make journeys by foot or bike instead of by car.
The trials have seen the introduction of new plant boxes, or modal filters, that aim to reduce rat-running and divert traffic away from some residential streets.
But, the filters have proven controversial. Following their installation, some residents attempted to knock or move them in order to bypass the diversions.
While Manchester’s cycling commissioner says he expected there to be some public opposition to the trials, he says he will not stand for vandalism.
“We’re looking into it as it’s just straight vandalism of public property,” Chris says.
“There’s no way we’re going to be intimidated by a few vandals who want to stop something that benefits the vast majority of residents.
“If people don’t agree with it then fine, but they need to tell us in a consultation. We cannot tolerate people just damaging public property because they don’t like it.
“That’s not what democracy is – we shouldn’t stand for it.”
Manchester City Council has since acted to secure the planters to the streets with brackets, in order to deter any further acts of vandalism.
Engineers have since carried out additional assessments and, in response, are installing bollards at the majority of filter locations.
The bollards will prevent cars from mounting the kerb and attempting to drive around the planters, while maintaining access for pedestrians, people on bikes and people with disabilities.
Earlier this week, a lack of signs and visibility surrounding the project were raised by residents. Manchester Council has since began to install additional signage on local streets and on the planters themselves to increase awareness of the filters during the six-month trial.
Chris says many of the issues raised are ‘easily fixable’ and he says this has already demonstrated to him why starting the project on a trial basis was so crucial.
“I’m a massive fan of temporary measures,” he adds.
“I think we should try before we buy. Let’s try it, but do it properly, for six months – a meaningful amount of time. Let’s then assess it and see if we want to change it or take it out.
“If this isn’t going to make lives better, we shouldn’t be doing it. But to know if it’s going to make lives better, we need to be willing to try something different.”
The Mayor’s £160 million Cycling and Walking Challenge Fund has helped to kick-start a vision for Greater Manchester to become the first city-region in the UK to have a ‘fully joined up’ cycling and walking network.
Chris says there are currently 30 Active Neighborhood schemes in development this year across Greater Manchester as part of the Bee Network proposal.
“There are now 1.7 billion more miles being driven on Manchester’s residential streets than there were ten years ago,” he explains.
“In that time, we’ve taken away the right to travel without a car. People have got used to driving their kids to school when it’s just an eight minute walk away.
“30 pc of journeys in Greater Manchester in a car are less than 1 km – we’re trying to change that.”
In March 2014, Waltham Forest in London announced it had secured funding to start implementing changes to its residential streets as part of a new ‘Mini Holland’ project.
The scheme received similar opposition from local residents, who in some extreme cases were seen protesting in the street while carrying coffins saying it was the ‘death of the village’.
But, Chris says that now that people have seen the impact the project has had on the area, less than 2 pc of residents want the area back to the way it was beforehand.
“There’s always going to be people that are unsettled because you are implementing something new,” he adds.
“People don’t like change but support and approval for the project is routinely above 70 pc – the evidence is there if we choose to look at it.”
He says he is incredibly proud of how well the Bee Network project has been received so far and said he ‘loves the fact’ that Manchester Council has been so in favour of the plans.
But, ultimately, he adds, it isn’t up to him.
“I’m an advisor – I listen to people and provide solutions,” he explains.
“But I don’t own the roads. The roads are looked after by councils and their ambition and courage is what decides the pace of schemes like this.
“It’s also up to the residents who back those councils, or not as the case might be.
“Nobody else in the country has got this right just yet, but I think that’s because we’re not leading with the right questions.
“It’s not a case of should we be doing it, it’s a case of don’t you think this would make for a nicer place to live?
“Wouldn’t you like the option to not have to drive your kids to school? Wouldn’t it be great if you could move around with less traffic?
“I hope that the people of Levenshulme are willing to give it a chance and see what happens when people are given the choice of not having to drive or allowing our kids to safely play in the streets.”
Providing an update to the scheme, Executive Member for the Environment, Planning and Transport, Councillor Angeliki Stogia, said Manchester Council would be closely listening to feedback from residents.
“This six-month trial will provide evidence to show how an active neighbourhood scheme works in practice for Levenshulme and was always intended to be responsive to residents’ feedback,” Cllr Stogia said.
“We know that some members of the community fully support the aims of this scheme, while others have expressed reservations about how it could affect the neighbourhood. That is why we consulted at length prior to installing any planters and only proceeded at locations where a clear majority of those responding were in favour.
“The behaviour of a small number of individuals who have vandalised the planters is unacceptable and particularly disappointing when we consider that this is a scheme which has the potential to significantly benefit the local area.
“Likewise, those who have illegally driven on the pavement have acted appallingly and I urge any residents who witness such dangerous behaviour to contact Greater Manchester Police.
“We’re working hard to give this trial scheme the best chance of success, which is why we want feedback from as many people as possible on all elements of the trial. Please get in touch with us to share your views on the scheme and make sure your voice is heard.”
Any comments about the ongoing trial scheme can be emailed to [email protected], or visit www.manchester.gov.uk/consultations.