After making a local appeal for support for the Prestwich Bike Friday ride I did have a little bit of company this morning for my leg of our critical commute into Manchester city centre. The Prestwich ride leader Jonathan was there without wife this month and their move away from Prestwich sounds complicated so I won’t be taking on the mantle of North Manchester leader this year at least.
One of my mates turned up proudly sporting a fixed wheel bike he’s recently had ‘refurbished’. That word is a bit of a misnomer as only the (heavy steel) frame remains from the 21 speed Raleigh bike he bought as a teenager (and that had to be straightened) and the sentimental fool has spent more on his project than I will probably spend on my new road bike but it looks great and there’s already an emotional attachment. Whilst we waited in vain for a 4th rider to turn up I had a little play on it and the fixed wheel sensation was a strange one which I likened to ‘a tail wagging its dog’ as I struggled at times to forget the concept of coasting.
The ride was quicker than normal, lovely conditions with no excuse for others not turning up. We met up with 30 other riders by the big wheel in Exchange Square and were given our battery charger reward which was generously supplied as an appropriate winter incentive from Manchester Friends of the Earth.
Yesterday I took a day off work to attend Salford City Council’s Big Transport Debate at the Lowry on Salford Quays. There was a certain irony to this as I made a 13 mile round trip in rush hour traffic to a destination just a mile from my office. The BBC are moving to Salford Quays over the next few years with Radio 5’s Peter Allen being ceremonially handed the keys a couple of weeks ago (though he and many of his London based colleagues have made clear their reluctance to move north). It will be 6 months before the first departments move in properly and maybe another year before broadcasts start from the Quays but the BBC will be the cornerstone of Peel Holding’s MediaCityUK development that will draw over 10,000 more people to work on the Quays. The roads are busy now and obviously will get much worse so what is the solution?
As a member of the Cycle forum I had been invited to represent the cycling Joe Public, however the day was dominated by pensioners ranting about the state of the buses. They are appalling to be honest (the buses not the pensioners) and it all went tits up when they were de-regulated in 1986 (again the buses not…). As it would take an act of Parliament to undo this mess we are stuck with it but none of the oldies seemed to grasp this. The bus services are sadly still declining and the only solutions we could suggest were extending the existing subsidies to ensure essential but non-profitable route were maintained, more enforcement of service level agreements and creating bus lanes that would give a benefit to bus travel over cars. I tried to make the case for extended 20mph zones in residential areas to make them safer for walkers and cyclists but nobody really grabbed onto this. The morning of Question Time style debates was interesting with the good and great being placed on a series of panels to be quizzed by us. The opportunity to make a few more local contacts was handy but my afternoon workshop was shambolick with the bus moaners dominating our particular question of "How to tempt more people into walking, cycling or bus travel".
I think cycling will grow out of necessity around the Quays in the next few years. The educated and generally groovy media workers and students will know that if they live fairly local the bike will be the default mode of transport. Traffic will be so gridlocked that we will be by far the fastest movers around. We are going to have a series of footbridges put across the Irwell and Ship Canal that will make movement quicker and safer and I can already get to Deansgate from my office quicker by bike on a mostly traffic free route than anyone could by car. I just hope some of the major junctions we cannot avoid can be made safer over the next few years.